The fifth straight win for the BJP in the Gujarat elections, and Modi’s third, has already been trumpeted by the right as the beginning of their march to Delhi. But will it be a Triumphal March, winning state after state in 2013, or a Mao-like Long March? Or, as my title says, is he doomed to live in Gandhinagar to a ripe old age?
Those who think he will have a Triumphal March can take comfort from many things. One is his unassailable formula that has won him Gujarat thrice – a call to Gujarati ‘asmita’, and centre-right economics. Two is the Congress’ self-destruction since 2010. Three is the way his rivals within the BJP are falling like ninepins.
A bit of linguistics here. In 2002 he used ‘Gujarati Gaurav’, and was attacked by Sonia for using the term, because she felt he had lowered Gujarat’s pride in the eyes of the world. However, gaurav usually means ‘self-esteem’ in Gujarati, the word for pride is ‘Asmita’. Willy-nilly, Sonia implied that Gujaratis should give up their self-esteem, which is as terrible an insult as can be. Gujaratis banded around Modi. In the 2007 and 2012, Modi has shifted to ‘Asmita’, thinking he’s earned it because of all the ‘vikas’ that he has done – roads, private factories, Narmada water in Ahmedabad and so on.
The Congress’ brand of Nehru-Indira socialism also sits uneasy with the (stereo-typically) enterprising Gujaratis. By making Gujarat seem a China-like destination for investment (good roads, 24X7 electricity and water, easy approvals for projects), he has the Chambers of Commerce cheering. So when you appeal to the asmita of six-crore Gujaratis and give them freedom from the license-quota raj, it’ll be surprising if you can’t win three terms in a row. Riots? What riots?
(Interestingly, in 2007 he used ‘five crore Gujaratis’, when the state population was 5.5 crore, and by the way, a tenth of the population was Muslim. Now it is six and he’s saying six. He’s also saying ‘sadbhavna’. Just saying.)
The Congress’ self-destruction has only helped him, as the embarrassments (no need for explanations) have continued since 2010. The downfall of his rivals too makes things easy for him. The strongest rival was eliminated (literally) in 2006 when Pramod Mahajan was shot by his brother. Vasundhara lost her way in Rajasthan, Uma Bharti’s career imploded. Raman Singh and Shivraj Chauhan are stuck in their states, Gopinath Munde has faded away. Nitin Gadkari is wobbling. Sushma? Arun Jaitley? Arun Shourie? Yashwant Sinha? Jaswant Singh? Ha ha ha!
Yet, the odds are, it will be a Long March. Here’s my thesis why:-
a) India has 27 other states. The BJP now rules only 5 of these – Karnataka (shaky), MP, Chhattisgarh, Goa (tiny), Jharkhand (coalition). In the plains, where any power base with which to make a claim in Delhi must be built, the BJP is irrelevant. In Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and Bengal, it either never made a mark or is a junior partner. In UP, it’s chief rival is the Congress, for the bottom. It lost tough elections in Uttarakhand and Himachal. The North-east doesn’t exist for it (consider how Nitin Gadkari was to be exiled to Itanagar when the Purti Group allegations were hot). In the South, Karnataka has been a mess; in AP, TN & Kerala it is a non-entity. In Maharashtra, the party is riding a tiger (well, a cub now. Maybe two.).
b) The Gujarat dilemma: If he is to get to the 272 seats in the LS to get his South Block office, Modi will need MPs from the plains (and other states). Which means party building, which means campaigning extensively in these states in the run up to summer 2014. He doesn’t have that luxury – he was given a ‘mandate’ to govern Gujarat, after all. In any case, his rival no. 1, Rahul Gandhi has had that luxury and few results to show (unless you think Mandsaur voting for Meenakshi Natarajan counts). If he does choose to start his campaign now, he’ll have to neglect Gujarat or rule by proxy (Amit Shah?). An extended election Mitt Romney style campaign might exhaust him, and also risk losing ground in Gujarat (Romney lost his home states of Massachusetts and Michigan).
c) The BJP’s ally-making (and more importantly, ally-keeping) skills are terrible. It couldn’t keep Chandrababu or Amma, Naveen chose to dump it when he felt it was a liability to him. The DMK and Trinamool have slept around. It’s relationship with the Akalis is of total subordination. In JD(U) it has an uncertain (and ambitious) partner. It’s marital quarrels with the Shiv Sena are only outshouted by the other marriage in Maharashtra. Other allies have gone to semi-oblivion (remember the HVP? AGP?) or turned into deadly enemies (BSP).
d) The Communists. Once they ruled 3 states and aimed for Delhi. They came close in 1996, before the ‘Himalayan blunder’ that Jyoti Basu cribbed about for the rest of his life. Their chance to be the power behind the throne was demolished in 2008. Yet they still rule, often by setting the opposition agenda. As the Indian Express keeps writing, a lot of the opposition’s stance has been crafted by the left (opposition to FDI in retail, insurance etc) and blindly followed by the BJP. What signal do the enterprising banias, who faithfully donate bricks for the Ram Mandir, get? What signal does USA (whom the NDA wooed when in power, with the Jaswant-Talbott talks) get?
e) Personality cults. Modi isn’t the only one. Mayawati and Nitish have multi-state cults, while Mamata, Naveen and Amma are no pushovers. Even Sheila Aunty (though that is now tarnished). Sharad Pawar has a cult of sorts, and the Gandhi ‘magic’ hasn’t faded away completely. There are still posters of ‘radu naka, ladha’ (don’t cry, fight) for the late ‘tiger’ on Mumbai’s streets. Why, Ajit Singh has one. There’s Yeddy in Bangalore & Reddy in Hyderabad. Chandrashekhar Rao. Achuthanandan. P K Chamling. Manik Sarkar. Plus all the dynasties – the Badals, Yadavs, Abdullahs, Sangmas. People still love them, however misguided Modimaniacs may consider them.
e) Indians. Will Modi ever talk of 120 crore Indians and Indian Asmita the way he goes on about Gujarat? And navigate the gaurav-asmita semantic minefield?
The Dalit movement, although fractious, is still a powerful force in UP and Maharashtra, and is certainly not enamoured of Modi’s ‘manuvadi’ policies. The BJP’s blocking of the SC/ST promotion reservation bill will irritate them. The Dravidian movement is not going to accept him either, certainly not if he keeps speaking in his folksy, jokes-y Hindi. Too much Moditva might also rankle the Akalis (who retreat to a ‘panth-is-in-danger’ plank when in electoral danger themselves). The Marathi manoos (aka Shiv Sena voter), though appreciative of ‘vikas’ in Gujarat, has a perpetual flame at Hutatma Chowk, Mumbai to remind him of the bullets fired at him the last time a Gujarati was his political master (when Morarji Desai’s police killed 106 Samyukta Maharashtra agitators in January 1960).
As for his centre-right ‘vikas’ economics, will his no-freebies election campaign work in laptop-giving UP or colour TV-giving TN? Are Indian voters as open to free enterprise as Gujarat, and being weaned off giveaways like NREGA and cash transfers? Bijli-sadak-pani was a plank on which BJP CMs have won elections, only to be backstabbed later (vide Vasundhara, Uma Bharti). Chandrababu Naidu tried it and failed. And does anyone remember India Shining?
(Well, I wonder whether Gujaratis have total consensus on Modinomics. In Sanand, which was such a showpiece for Modi, the voters chose the Congress. And as Digvijay Singh tom-toms, voters did vote Congress in the constituencies Rahul baba campaigned in.)
No one is shaking Narendra Modi from the CM’s office in Gandhinagar when he is alive. Unfortunately for him, I suspect he’ll become an old, old man still sitting in it. Like Jyoti Basu.