Print Edition - 2013-06-18  |  India Today

The Age of Modi :Can Narendra Modi unify the party and win India?

- Bhavna Vij-Aurora, Uday Mahurkar
The Age of Modi :Can Narendra Modi unify the party and win India?

Jun 17, 2013-

Living up to his image as the action hero of the Indian Right, Narendra Damodardas Modi was in no mood to bask in the afterglow of his coronation as the warrior-in-chief of BJP in Goa on June 9. Immediately after his elevation as chairman of the party’s campaign committee, a designation that makes him first among equals in BJP and officially marks a generational shift in the Sangh Parivar, the Chief Minister of Gujarat sought out his most trusted aide Amit Shah. He asked him to travel to Uttar Pradesh and “get down to work”. If you want to win India, Modi knows, you can’t afford to lose Uttar Pradesh, which has produced more prime ministers than any other state and which also happens to be the homeland of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Modi has a point to make: He is not just a wonder restricted to Gujarat and the phenom will work in the heartland of Indian politics. Shah, a former home minister of Gujarat and the newly appointed general secretary of the party, has already begun the groundwork. The master is all set to unleash the mother of all campaigns.

In reality, Modi began his national campaign much before Goa, on the day he won the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2002 in the aftermath of one of India’s bloodiest communal riots. A lesser political life would have finished in the embers of Gujarat 2002, but Modi turned the adversity into a political advantage and built on it, in the process changing himself along with the growth rate of his state. A decade ago, he was the one-dimensional Hindutva zealot; today he holds the political patent over Moditva, a best-selling mix of nationalism and development. He won the state thrice, and whenever he was on the stump, the speech was always about the endangered nation. He has been campaigning for the mind space of India for more than 10 years, all by himself, a lone soldier with a single mission, soaring above the party. Post-Goa, BJP’s most popular politician has got the official mandate to win the landscape of political India.

This campaign for a “Congress-free India”, like its state editions before, will be a referendum on the campaigner himself. Modi will be the medium, the message, and the messenger. The much-deconstructed force of polarisation has to become a unifier-of the party as well as the country. The face of masculine Hindutva has to allay the fears of the Muslim minority. The Modi campaign will have to be an emotional as well as a physical journey. If he wins India, 7 Race Course Road can’t be denied to him, Advani or no Advani. Modi undone on a national scale will be Icarus all over again. But defeat is something that doesn’t figure in the CV of Narendra Modi. As he said in his “nation-building” acceptance speech in Goa: “Well begun, half won”. It is all about the second half now, the treacherous half. He has now pitted himself against Rahul Gandhi, who is Congress’s Election Coordination Committee chief, or Modi’s counterpart on the other side of the political divide. His theme song will be about building a new India from the ruins of UPA’s legacy. This is clear from his acceptance speech at Goa, where he ridiculed the Congress slogan: Bharat Ke Nirman Pe Haq Hai Mera. Modi’s take: Bharat Ke Nirman Pe Shaq Hai Mera!

The backward leap

Modi’s campaign managers are planning to use the OBC card, hoping it will reap rich electoral dividends in caste driven states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Both the states have chief ministers who are from backward communities. A Ganchi (Teli) by caste, Modi has always been reluctant to play the OBC card but his handlers are of the view that he will gain by the projection, especially when it comes to the race for prime ministership. Known more by monikers such as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ and ‘Gujarat Ka Gaurav’, party strategists believe that playing the OBC card will help him as he makes the big leap into national politics. It may help the BJP wean away OBC votes from Mayawati’s BSP, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP and the Congress. BJP’s in-house psephologist GVL Narasimha Rao carried out a survey in Uttar Pradesh in April-May to explore two scenarios: If the BJP does not declare Modi as a prime ministerial candidate; and second if it does so. He found that in the first scenario, BJP would manage 19 seats, finishing second, with a 20 per cent

vote share. The SP would get a maximum of 28 seats with a 24 per cent vote

share. However, with Modi as prime ministerial candidate, BJP would get a 33.9 per cent vote share and a whopping 47 seats, a gain of 37 seats over its present tally of 10.

Winning the Muslim Vote

But the big challenges before Modi are how to win over Muslim voters on his development-for-all, appeasement for-none agenda or at least keep it neutral, ensuring that Muslims don’t vote against him as a block. Uttar Pradesh has 18.5 per cent Muslim voters and Bihar has 16.5 per cent, and Modi definitely wants them on his side. “It’s like walking a tightrope,” admits an aide. Wherever it is not possible to convince Muslims about his no-appeasement formula, the plan is to divide them by putting up independent Muslim candidates in Muslim dominated areas. No attempt will be made to woo Muslims openly to ensure that Modi’s Hindu middle class constituency doesn’t get alienated. But a Track-II dialogue will continue. Though Modi wants to project himself as a unifier, seeking to change his image as a polarising figure, he will have to formulate a better answer for the 2002 riots. He will also have to spell out his economic vision: Will the doer of Gujarat become the moderniser of BJP?

Mandate of the mahants

A major part of Modi’s strategy is to make use of his appeal among heads of major Hindu religious organisations across India, especially in states where BJP is weak or absent. His sharing of platform with over two dozen such religious heads and Kathakars such as Baba Ramdev, Morari Bapu and Ramesh Oza at Hardwar on April 26, under the aegis of the Patanjali Yogpeeth of Ramdev, was a significant development for Modi in terms of his strategy. Ramdev plans to stage a nationwide yatra in support of Modi. Modi also addressed another function in Kerala under the aegis of the organisation of the saffron reformer of the state, Shri Narayan Guru. Both the programmes were successful. As a Modi supporter puts it: “The religious heads will work overtime to make Modi the prime minister.”

However, Modi as PM is still a difficult destination to reach. Modi will encounter opposition from allies and also from within the party. As the head of the party’s campaign committee, he has to ensure that BJP crosses the mark of 180 seats in Lok Sabha elections. Then the small and regional parties may well join NDA in a post-poll scenario. BJP as a political force was at its best in its struggle for power in the last decade of the last century. After wallowing in defeatism for almost a decade, this is the party’s best chance to regain India at a time when the corruption-scalded UPA is most vulnerable. The new struggle for power will be led by the party’s most popular fighter-and winner. For Narendra Modi, the fight is political as well as existential.

Published: 18-06-2013 09:27

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