We will have the Gujarat result in a week from now. Some are calling the state poll the mother of all elections. It is presumed that the outcome in that mock- Gandhian state will in great measure set the tone for the next parliamentary election, and, most probably, also have a bearing on who the next Prime Minister is going to be.
Is Narendra Modi in or out of reckoning? That really is the question, not whether the BJP can do a hop, skip and jump and manage to arrive as the first party of the next Parliament.
There is no novelty if merely the latter were to come true. There has been a BJP Prime Minister before, after all. But about Modi’s prospects there is a deep curiosity, mixed with anticipation among his supporters, not a little worry among his opponents, and competitive anxiety among his BJP peers.
On a television programme recently, Arun Jaitley noted that it was the Modi model of development which his party was extremely proud of, and he thought that it was this which had pushed the Gujarat leader to the front. Such an observation should worry us all.
It is true this model has got the chief minister many admirers of late who are outside of the RSS fold. So it’s necessary to know what it is at its core.
Briefly put, the “model” stands for quick growth of certain economic indices but also noticeable indifference to below par performance on the social side, suggesting that the fruits of higher economic yields bypass the non-elite strata.
Malnutrition is high; morbidity and mortality (disease and death) numbers cannot instil pride; Gujarat’s school enrolment figures compete with data from states that are chronic economic laggards; and industrial employment is not buoyant even when output advances.
Modi recently said that young girls in his state were skinny and anaemic because they were too fashion-conscious and preferred to avoid putting on weight by not eating. That is hardly what you might expect from a caring leader. Ten to one, if such a development formula were to be applied to the whole country, mass discontent will become unavoidable.
To add to all this is the paranoia among some Muslims, traceable to the post-Godhra violence that many believe was state-triggered and state-managed, although the ongoing judicial process is still to establish this beyond all doubt.
Modi’s sadbhavna programme has done little to reassure the minorities. Only a few days ago, BJP’s prime NDA ally JD(U) publicly endorsed the perception that the minority community is given short shrift in Gujarat.
If the Modi way were to become India’s way, social discord on an unmanageable scale becomes highly probable, placing national unity at serious risk, a situation akin to the crisis of confidence caused by the Ayodhya demolition which has taken years to retrieve.
BJP leaders should thus think twice about reinforcing the Modi agenda or image, and show statesmanship. It is bad enough that the party’s rank and file, with Hindutva ingrained in them, are wont to flaunt their anti-Muslim prejudices (look at the cheering reserved for Varun Gandhi) and are in love with the Modi persona which to them would mean nothing if it didn’t have the Muslim edge to it.
If Modi wins again in Gujarat, and even if his tally were to be as high as, say, 175 on 182 (meaning a blank slate for all other parties), I am more than persuaded he doesn’t stand a chance of becoming Prime Minister unless the BJP can muster a majority of its own and is liberated from having to depend on its alliance partners. Now, how likely is that? Just look at Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh for answers. So, all this thrilling expectation in Gujarat that one of their own may be headed for greater things looks foredoomed.
I am just as certain BJP’s top leaders think exactly as I do but dare not say this out aloud. In the past, BJP had no hesitation saying Atal Behari Vajpayee or L.K. Advani would be their man for the top job if the party won. But when the same question is now asked about Modi, the party’s senior leaders turn evasive.
This is because they know better than anyone that even an oblique hint about the present Gujarat Chief Minister being their man for Prime Minster will put all their NDA allies on the warpath, possibly even the Shiv Sena.
It took the BJP nearly 10 years after the collapse of the Janata Party government in 1979 to break out of the political isolation to which it had been consigned by every single party in India. The saffron party is unlikely to want to return to its previous state of forced seclusion in order to pander to the obsessions of a local strongman.
About a quarter century ago, Advani — then at the height of his powers — used to hope that BJP would turn out to be like Germany’s Christian Democrats. I think he was earnest. But I recall urging that this was impossible as his party was rooted in Hindu supremacist thought while the Christian Democrats were produced by Weimar era leaders, a totally different set from RSS-style leaders. In the end, he proved me right by embarking on his catastrophic rath yatra. The gleam of short-lived glory was in his eye.
Modi is a child of that act of misconceived passion.
Given the great diversity of India, even if this is set into a massive Hindu template, this strain of Indian politics cannot but have to kowtow to others to rescue it from the margins. That factor alone rules Modi out, no matter how much love the people of Gujarat may lavish on him. It would have been another matter if the vision of a Christian Democracy-type party could in any way have been possible to realise. But then there would be no place in it for someone like Modi.