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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

Modi is Gujarat

By Tushar Charan & Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

For those who have taken the boastful claim that the BJP, or more precisely Narendra Modi’s, victory in the Gujarat assembly poll will be the ‘turning point’ in Indian politics perhaps the only matter of interest will be the coronation of the Hindu Hridaya Samrat (Modi) in New Delhi. But others familiar with the usual BJP bombast will still like to hedge their bets about the ascendancy of Modi from the confines of a state to the ultimate seat of power in India, or, for that matter, the prediction that the UPA is finished.

Headline writers in India tend to believe that they play a big role in determining the course of Indian politics—a kind of vainglory they increasingly share with poll forecasters. But even if Modi has won the Gujarat assembly poll with a more impressive margin than the exit poll and pre-poll forecasts it will still be premature to see the final polls outcome as a decisive push for him (as the BJP candidate) to spring from Gandhinagar to 7, Race Course Road, New Delhi.

While discovering with the help of hindsight the pitfalls of the Congress strategy in the Gujarat polls, the media is nearly unanimous in giving all credit to Modi alone for the Gujarat victory. To find fault with the losing party’s election strategy has begun to look a bit facile but it needs a mention that the Congress strategy of poaching on the rebel BJP candidates had looked headed for disaster, especially when the Congress remains divided in Gujarat and lacks a leadership that can connect with a wide section of the people to give Modi a run for his money.

There have been many examples of leaders of some standing in a party proving to be ineffective after deserting it. Congress should have known this well before it rushed to embrace many BJP rebels in Gujarat, a state where some of these defecting leaders were actually among those whose names were bracketed with the abetment of crimes during the 2002 riots. Modi would not have unduly lost his sleep after some of the state level BJP leaders deserted him before the polls and joined or extended support to opposition.

Obviously, the BJP will not agree that the Gujarat assembly poll results can be attributed solely to Modi because that would belittle, among others the BJP’s own Iron Man, L.K. Advani. It has been said that the move to declare that Advani is BJP’s prime minister in waiting was aimed at pre-empting any further march of Modi towards the capital.

During the pre-poll days in Gujarat many observers thought that Modi was on a shaky ground because of the rebellion in the party against him and many sections in the state—Patels, farmers and Advisasi etc—coming out in large numbers to demonstrate against the BJP rule. Modi, however, was said to be unconcerned and hawking ‘development’ issues instead of his aggressive Hindutva during his whirlwind campaign. But all that supposedly changed dramatically after Sonia Gandhi’s ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ jibe at Modi. It reportedly became a vital factor in reviving Modi’s electoral fortunes overnight.

It can at best be only partially true. Modi did not renounce his hardcore Hindutva in any public meeting that he addressed where he continued to launch his veiled attacks against the minority with his defence of extra judicial killings. He did talk about development but if the fate of some of the past chief ministers who were credited with pursuing development agenda is any guide it is not an issue sufficient to guarantee victory for an incumbent chief minister and his party.

To most casual observers the poll battle in Gujarat did look like confined to Modi on the one hand and the rest that included sections of the Sangh Parivar and, of course, the opposition Congress party, on the other. Modi was not keen to have ‘national’ BJP leaders at the pre-poll rallies in the state. After his poll success fanciful projections are being made about him with the added contention that Modi has proved to be an astute politician and an efficient administrator who has shown that ‘development’ can be the major—and a winning-- issue at the hustings.

His exact contribution to Gujarat’s economic growth may be debatable but there is no disputing the fact that in trying to appear as a no-nonsense ruler he did not hesitate to stub critics within his own party and the ‘Parivar’ of which the BJP is an integral part. He fell out with two powerful former (BJP) chief ministers and a bosom pal in the VHP who is known as a rabid Hindutva votary.

The ‘Parivar’ leadership might have turned against him but it would appear that the rank and file in the Hindutva organisations did not desert him. There were perhaps two reasons for this: he had not diluted his brand of extreme Hindutva and he had built himself as an exclusive ‘brand’ that appealed to the majority of Gujaratis. He did not need his party’s ‘national’ leaders to build that image. From the time of the previous (2002) assembly polls, he has concentrated on making himself synonymous with what he calls the ‘asmita’ (pride) of Gujarat. Each time he was criticised for his egregious acts, beginning with the 2002 pogrom of Muslims, he hit back by saying that his critics were maligning the Gujaratis and attacking Gujarat’s ‘pride.’ But some blunt criticism of Modi by the opposition had become necessary because Modi still does not feel apologetic about the 2002 pogrom.

His harping on Gujarat’s ‘pride’ struck a chord with many Gujaratis who have resented their relegation in Indian politics. Mahatma Gandhi was a Gujarati but they feel that after him some other towering figures from the state were given the short shrift, the two more prominent names being Sardar Patel and Morarji Desai. Now they have a man who, they think, has a pan-India appeal and, hence, the potential to ‘avenge’ for the injustice suffered by other state leaders to restore Gujarat’s full ‘pride.’

Modi cannot be grudged if he identified himself with the cause of restoring Gujarat’s ‘pride’, but it is a different matter whether such a sentiment and his assessment as a pan-Indian leader will also fulfil his ambitions beyond Gujarat. The in-house hurdles--not to speak of the dilemma that he poses for BJP’s so-called ‘secular’ allies--on his way to further journey are fairly well known. A timely reminder came when BJP workers were celebrating the victory in Gujarat while shouting slogans against the party president, Rajnath Singh.

- Syndicate Features -

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