Ritesh K Srivastava
The record voter turnout in the two-phased assembly elections in Gujarat gave enough indications that Narendra Damodar Modi will get a third straight term (and fourth as CM). Even before the announcement of assembly elections, it was never a question whether Modi will get the popular mandate to rule Gujarat again, but by what margin.
So, the Modi-led BJP government’s landslide victory in Gujarat has been pretty much on expected lines. By winning a third straight term, Modi has proved to his political opponents and critics that Gujarat is his empire and only he calls the shots here.
The victory in Gujarat- the fifth in a row for the saffron party- holds significance not only for the BJP, which is today a party of disgruntled leaders and hopes to gain some ground against an unpopular UPA government, but also for Modi who has moved a step closer to realizing his prime ministerial ambitions.
The BJP government’s brilliant performance in Gujarat’s keenly contested electoral battle has undoubtedly propelled Modi several notches above other top contenders for the prime minister’s job within his party. Modi’s impressive track record in Gujarat makes him a formidable challenger to Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, who is largely seen as the Grand Old Party’s trump card for 2014 General Elections and an ideal candidate for the country’s top job.
So it is quite obvious that after conquering Gujarat, the campaign managers of Modi and his loyal supporters will now project him as an ideal candidate for the prime minister’s chair with renewed conviction. But in all probability, Modi’s journey from Gujarat to Delhi will not be easy and his ambition to take centrestage in the national politics will face several obstacles.
There is no doubt that with his accomplishments, strong leadership and good governance, Modi clearly outweighs front-row leaders like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, but he is still a tough choice for BJP.
In the absence of any worthwhile challenger, the saffron leadership may be compelled to make Modi as its main face in 2014 polls but, in doing so, it also faces the risk of losing key NDA allies- given his image of an anti-minority leader. While a section of BJP leaders believe that only Modi can reinvigorate the Hindu nationalist party, there is an equally strong lobby which opposes him on grounds that it will distract the minorities. For BJP, having Modi as its prime ministerial candidate could throttle the party`s efforts to recapture lost ground in northern states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have a sizable chunk of Muslims and send a large number of MPs to Parliament.
While BJP risks losing key allies it needs to form a national government, Modi`s projection will also prevent potential allies like BJD and the Trinamool Congress from joining the NDA. Not to forget the repeated warnings from Bihar Chief Minister and Janta Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar to sever ties with a BJP-led coalition with Modi at the helm. Modi can’t also be a safe bet for the BJP as it could drive the minorities towards Congress. These could have been the main reasons why BJP central leadership has so far avoided a direct reply on ‘who will be its face’ in the 2014 electoral battle and shielded self by coining stock phrases like the party having a "galaxy of leaders".
Given the situation, BJP has two options- either contest 2014 polls under Modi even if it polarizes the anti-BJP vote or chose a safe bet like Nitish Kumar or Sushma Swaraj. But nonetheless, the clamour for ‘Modi as PM’ is bound to grow after his coronation as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Following are the areas where Modi needs to focus to widen his reach and to increase his pan-India following.
Building bridges with minorities: General Elections are several months away and Modi can utilize this time in improving his image among the minorities. Post-Godhra riots, Modi has made serious attempts to win over Muslims, softened his image of a hardline leader and promoted religious harmony but more needs to be done. The 2002 communal riots in Godhra continue to haunt Modi and he is still seen with suspicion by the minorities and the international community. In this election too, he denied tickets to Muslim candidates, arousing suspicion about his change of heart. So, he needs to work towards the development of 60 million Gujaratis, without any bias, and give an assurance of security to the minorities in his state.
Personality traits:Modi is seen as an authoritarian and vindictive leader. He is someone who tolerates no form of dissidence or opposition and demands unquestionable loyalty. He needs to learn to cohabit with adversaries and respect the views of other top leaders of his party.
Win back support of the Sangh Parivar:Although, Modi is a hard-boiled politician from the RSS stable, his rise and strong leadership has fuelled fears that he may overshadow BJP’s parent organization. His constant diktats and his tussle with Praveen Bhai Togadia, Sanjay Joshi, Keshubhai Patel, Nitin Gadkari and others has alienated a section of BJP, VHP and the RSS leaders, who will try to sabotage his chances of becoming PM - some openly, while others covertly. So, he needs to win back the confidence of Sangh Pariwar in order to become the universal face of the party.
Win more allies: Modi can’t succeed with his `ekla chalo re` philosophy. He should realize that he can not repeat the Gujarat model and achieve a cult status at the national level without the support of other allies. According to poll pundits, BJP will not be to touch the prestigious 200 mark in the 2014 polls despite directing all its energy, so it will be important for its PM candidate to cobble up an alliance with existing and other potential allies. Modi may get the support of the NDA allies like Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena but bringing Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) on board will be difficult. Modi shares a good rapport with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa but the latter can join hands with Naveen Patnaik (BJD) and Mamata Banerjee to cobble together the Third Front. The support of these three parties, that will come for a huge price, will be crucial for Modi and test his ability to keep adversaries together.
Look beyond Gujarat: Since the 2002 communal riots, Modi has completely dominated the political landscape in Gujarat and has in a way converted it into BJP’s laboratory of Hindutva politics. Modi’s aggressive brand of politics created a personality cult making him the biggest face of the saffron brigade. However, he needs to look beyond Gujarat and make his presence felt in the every nook and corner of the Indian society. He needs to deliver the promises he has made to the people of Gujarat. He needs to weave a dream in millions of ordinary Indians that Gujarat’s success can be translated into the other states. Modi has so far refrained from taking up issues of national importance such as cross-border terrorism, Kashmir imbroglio, foreign policy matters and India’s equation with Pakistan. He needs to speak of peace and tranquility and bring the Hindus and Muslims together to strengthen the country’s secular fabric. He must project himself as a crusader for human rights and justice and a global democratic leader.
Modi, a mass leader and an excellent orator, is the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ of millions, who sees him as the future Prime minister of India. Despite the all odds, it is believed that he will leave an indelible mark both at the national level and the international arena. Today, when politics has become a cesspool of corruption, Modi shines for his impeccable integrity on this account. He has built Gujarat through his strong leadership, able administration and good governance and achieved phenomenal economic growth. The fact that the highly calculative Gujarati voters have repeatedly reposed faith in him speaks volumes about his acceptance by the masses and his popularity.
It will be interesting to see how Modi deals with his detractors, brings his adversaries within NDA on board and charms minorities in future. He should also learn from the fate of Deve Gowda – once a strong chief minister in Karnataka, who failed as PM and lost his support base when he returned to his state later.