This is the moment of reckoning for the principal opposition party that has shown itself to be as clueless as the ruling coalition in the face of grave economic and political uncertainty. What transpired at the Mumbai meeting of the BJP this week was far more important than a Sanjay Joshi getting the sack or Swaraj and Advani missing a crucial meeting. It was a moment of transition – from a dithering, squabbling bunch of amateurs to disciplined soldiers forging columns behind the Leader.
By letting Modi dictate terms to BJP president Nitin Gadkari in the matter of terminating Sanjay Joshi’s services, the RSS has underlined the Gujarat CM’s position in the party hierarchy. The Sangh rolled down the red carpet and Modi walked in like the conquering hero; overshadowing all other events and personalities. Even Nitin Gadkari managing a second term for himself was reduced to a non-event as the BJP’s biggest trump card was finally revealed.
It was clear in the rally that marked the conclusion of the party’s crucial strategic session that the workers, at least, are overjoyed. Modi is the undisputed king, or “Gujarat Ka Sher (The Lion of Gujarat)”, as the workers hailed him at the rally.
There may or may not be an official announcement to this effect. Modi may continue to spearhead the BJP’s campaign in the run- up to the general elections in 2014, unless the unthinkable happens and the Congress manages to defeat him in Gujarat assembly elections.
The Sangh Parivar, meanwhile, has started the Great Game. Given their own experience with Modi in Gujarat and the latest Sanjay Joshi episode, the RSS naturally has first- hand experience in just how vindictive Modi can get. They are also aware of the fact that Modi is the biggest polarising factor in India. There is a near hundred per cent chance that the minority vote will consolidate behind the Congress if he is the PM candidate. But the Sangh also realises that none of the central leaders – Swaraj, Arun Jaitley or Rajnath Singh – have Modi’s capacity to galvanise the party cadre. So, while he may polarise the minority vote, Modi also has the capacity to trigger reverse polarisation of the party faithful.
This is not necessarily in Modi’s capacity as the man under whose watch the 2002 anti-Muslim riots took place. For a large section of the urban middle class that moved away from the BJP in the last two general elections in favour of the more urbane/ educated Manmohan Singh, Modi has now come to symbolise delivery of services and corruption-free government. As the anti-corruption movements led by Ramdev and Anna Hazare have shown, this is a section that is currently clamouring for a change.
They are willing to overlook, indeed in some instances even celebrate, the perception that Modi has “taught a lesson” to the Muslims. And he has topped this by remodelling himself as the “development man” i. e. Vikas Purush, an epithet once used for the tallest leader the BJP ever produced – Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The RSS has been testing waters for Modi’s anointment by first invading Hazare and Ramdev’s movements. This was a process of assessing the disenchantment against the corruption-hit UPA in general and Manmohan Singh in particular for what is projected as his “weak” leadership. The conclusion clearly is that the time is ripe for providing the country with a truly strong alternative in the form of the strongman from Gujarat.
Another question being asked in the context is – whether Modi will be acceptable to the allies, both present and potential. This is relevant presently only to the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The rest, be it Mayawati, Jayalalithaa or even Mamata Banerjee, there has never been any public aversion towards Modi. In fact, Jayalalithaa has actively sought Modi out on various occasions; offering him a famous 45-course meal at some point in her palatial residence at Poes Garden.
But secularism is a shield that is wielded only when numbers are not with the BJP. Let us not forget that Nitish Kumar was the railway minister when bogeys of the Sabarmati Express were burnt at Godhra on February 27, 2002. Kumar did not visit the spot nor did he order a statutory enquiry into the incident.
He had no issues in supporting Advani’s projection as NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, despite the leader’s association with the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Naturally, both Nitish and the BJP understand alliances are all about numbers in the Lok Sabha. If Modi can rustle them up, political acceptability will automatically follow. The RSS seems to share the sentiment. They have clearly decided to take a chance with Modi. Because without him, there may not be a chance at all.