Strange are the processes of history, which can transform political untouchables into the most sought after allies and leaders, and cause protégés to upstage their mentors. This happened with BJP’s earlier avatar, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, during the Emergency, when BJS merged with Janata Party in 1977. With the taboo’s disappearance, and failure of the Janata Party experiment, BJP came into its own as a political force. Its twin faces, Advani and Vajpayee, helped in the raising of the party’s public profile. Although the two were already jockeying for the prime ministerial position, the rivalry remained veiled behind genteel public demeanor. Moreover, Vajpayee’s liberal values tempered Advani’s aggressive Hindutva posturing. This kept various NDA partners quiet, if not entirely comfortable, vis-à-vis BJP’s core Hindutva ideology. What enabled the NDA regime to complete its tenure during its second innings, which ended in 2004, was a combination of impressive achievements on the economic front, reasonably good governance and groundswell of support from the corporate sector as well as public at large. Nevertheless, BJP’s performance in the 2004 and 2009 general elections under Advani’s stewardship clearly indicated the need for infusion of fresh ideas and younger leaders. Hence, the endorsement of the “Gujarat Model.”
Narendra Modi’s anointment at Goa (although officially he has been made the chief of the party’s election campaign, and not prime ministerial candidate) has not surprised anyone, not even NaMo’s most virulent opponents, or Advani’s committed acolytes. However, the genesis of this development does not lie in the 2002 Gujarat riots, as many political analysts tend to convey, but much earlier – in the rivalry between the two titans, Vajpayee and Advani. To position himself as the party’s undisputed leader, Advani used the Ram Janam Bhoomi Rath Yatra to mobilize mass support for his pet Hindutva ideology and promote his candidature for the PM’s gaddi. It is a different matter that the RSS had to acquiesce to political realities of the time and ask Advani to make way for Vajpayee as NDA’s leader. Advani, having earned the sobriquet of Loh Purush, decided to reinforce this image by taking the likes of Narendra Modi under his wings. When Vajpayee wanted to sack Modi after the Gujarat riots, Advani had successfully opposed the move.
Nevertheless, the protégé had no intention to remain in the shadow of his mentor forever. Advani realized this a bit too late. Even as he was preparing himself to step into Vajpayee’s shoes as BJP’s next liberal-secular statesman, he failed to grasp the changed mood of the grassroots cadres and the Sangh Parivar’s priorities. His attempts at doing a Vajpayee, by mouthing secular-liberal shibboleths, which included praise for Jinnah, only led to the denting of his larger than life image among various Hindutva organizations. To make matters worse for him, Narendra Modi did everything right in the Sangh Parivar’s estimate. After 2002, he gradually toned his communal-jingoistic verbiage and focused on development and governance. Moreover, he ensured that not a single communal riot occurred in Gujarat after 2002. Modi’s regime began to radiate the hues of efficiency, progress and ultramodern approach to development along with upholding the party’s traditional conservative ethos. The Karnataka State Assembly Election fiasco did nothing to dent this image.
Another element that contributed to Modi’s makeover was the use of hi-tech gizmos for poll campaigns during the Gujarat State Assembly elections. His “simultaneous appearance” at more than one place got him closer to the young voter even as the common folks – ever ready to worship a miracle – bowed to this newfound prowess of the demagogue. Even here, he targeted the state’s aspirating youth by keeping his political discourse development oriented, only occasionally going on his familiar saffronite binge. Thus, he projected an image that was a potent amalgam of the ultramodern and the traditional. With one stroke, he became the Sangh Parivar’s poster boy-cum-Prime Minister-in-waiting. Advani suddenly found himself in a position that has actually become his political career’s leitmotif – a perennially potential prime minister. All his exertions to gain ascendancy through various rath yatras like Somnath to Ayodhya (1990) and the later ones like Janaadesh, Swarna Jayanti, Bharat Uday, Bharat Suraksha and Jana Chetna went in vain. Therefore, when Advani boycotted the Goa meeting, he had to undergo the mortification of witnessing his own party’s cadres demonstrating against him in front of his Prithviraj Road residence. Moreover, most of his camp followers had apparently decided that discretion was better than valor, thus leaving the old warhorse alone in his battle for political survival. No wonder, he accepted the peace brokered by Mohan Bhagwat.
Nevertheless, the consequences of Modi’s rise will be manifold. Janata Dal (United), with twenty MPs, may part ways. Already, Sharad Yadav has described the NDA as being “on a ventilator” while Nitish Kumar has not hidden his chagrin at NaMo’s ascendency. Other allies like Akali Dal, Shiv Sena etc are too regional to count for much when chips are down in the post-2014 election scenario. Congress leaders have a reason to be gleeful. A series of corruption related scandals and governance issues had put the Congress on back-foot. The saffron infighting, with the prospects of more seismic developments not ruled out, has given it the much-needed respite. Now, with Modi as BJP’s face for the 2014 elections, Congress leaders are anticipating crystallization of vote banks, with return of the minorities, especially estranged Muslim voters, to its fold. They are also counting on the open infighting in the Sangh Parivar shaking the confidence of those voters who have always looked upon BJP and RSS as paragons of discipline. They also believe that in today’s increasingly liberal ethos, the youth would not like to either be kept on a tight leash, or even be told how to live their lives, and are extremely wary of the Ram Sene type of outfits.
However, Congress may be disappointed, as this scenario may not fructify. JD(U) and BJD are showing inclination towards going it alone or reviving the Third Front in conjunction with other parties like TMC, TDP, TRS, AIADMK, SP and BSP. Now, the question arises, if the Third Front becomes a reality, would it be a game-changer in the country’s electoral politics or merely a potential kingmaker? Who would lead such a Front wherein strong personalities like Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik harbor ambitions for the prime ministerial post? Would there be even a semblance of cohesion?
Let the processes of history decide.
Published in The Financial World dated 13 June 2013