The Gujarat Chief Minister’s elevation means the 2014 battle will be between a secular India and a communal India
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has finally subsumed the Bharatiya Janata Party. By installing Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi as the symbol of Hindutva, the RSS has done to death whatever little pretensions the BJP might have had of wooing minorities, or at least presenting a more liberal, less communal face. In doing so the RSS, in its limited wisdom, has decided to take the BJP back to the roots of its birth wherein it seeks to replace democratic, secular India with a “Hindu nation”.
The last few days have revealed a great deal really. One, the obvious: That is all is not well in the BJP, with party stalwart LK Advani leading a revolt of sorts to prevent himself from being marginalised. His decision to resign had the RSS and BJP leaders running to make peace, and in the process Mr Advani endorsed Mr Modi&’s elevation in the party but also ensured that he was kept in the loop. It is no secret that Mr Advani was not being consulted by the RSS on matters of top urgency, and the details of the current pact suggest that he will not be so totally side-lined now. In other words, the Advani versus Modi face off had little to do with matters of ideology or for that matter strategy, but was just a feud between a leader who had virtually made the party, and was being forced to give up the reins to a junior who had never really been active on the national front.
Secondly, it is clear that the RSS now finds in Mr Modi all that it lost with the Babari Masjid and more. The demolition of the mosque had left the RSS and the BJP without an issue, and efforts to milk it over subsequent years had failed considerably as the mosque was no more, and hence could not be used as a mobilising force for Hindutva supporters. The disarray visible in the BJP over the last few years is a direct result of this absence of effective symbols and issues, with the party finding little to differentiate it from the Congress for instance, except the issue of governance. Mr Modi symbolises all that the BJP had lost, in that he has the credentials that make him an effective symbol. He comes from a Hindutva background, and demonstrated it during 2002, when hundreds of Muslims were killed under his watch in Gujarat; he gives the impression of being a ruthless administrator and a disciplinarian, both qualities that the RSS and the BJP take great pride in; and he has the personality and the support from the influential corporate and media sectors that place him ahead of all other competitors.
Third, his apparent popularity, at least some sections of society, has encouraged the RSS to discard its no-one-individual rule, to embrace Mr Modi the individual and allow him to breathe larger-than-life air into the balloon that is being created for national consumption.
Four, the RSS trusts Mr Modi to take the hard Right ideology forward to a point where a Hindu state at least does not appear as just a mirage in the distance, and begins to acquire some contours of reality.
And five, in the RSS’ assessment, the BJP has a chance of winning the next elections only under Mr Modi, and no chance at all without him. The patience of yesteryear RSS leaders has been replaced by an impatient younger lot today, which has decided to ride roughshod over any one (and this includes Mr Advani) who has reservations about Mr Modi and is determined to push the BJP to take a real shot at winning the elections. The general elections will thus be fought by the RSS as it strives to place its man in the seat of power.
The BJP might have baulked at naming Mr Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate at this stage, but there are no such reservations within the RSS that is clear about its goal for 2014. Uttar Pradesh has been selected as the target state, as victory here is essential for any political party hoping to come to power at the national level. Mr Modi&’s right hand man, Mr Amit Shah, has been dispatched to the state to bring the warring BJP into a united whole, to identify specific constituencies for special attention, and to ensure that the BJP moves to emerge as the single largest party in this crucial state.
But the dynamics of India often belie the most sound calculations, and the RSS and Mr Modi will probably find that UP is rather different today than in 1990, when karsevaks emerged from behind every bush to demolish the mosque, and catapult the BJP to power in a subsequent election. Two strong regional parties, namely the Samajwadi party and the BSP, have a good grip over the Muslim, Dalit and backward votes, which constitute a big majority in the state. The Rajputs are divided between all parties, leaving really only the Brahmins open to Mr Modi&’s seduction, particularly as they are in search for a viable alternative in the state. Also, UP is very different from Gujarat, and Mr Amit Shah, despite his dramatic beginning, might find it very difficult to counter opposition from the state veterans from within the BJP who are all not particularly happy about this interference in UP affairs, and given Mr Shah&’s brash style of functioning are likely to be unhappier as the days turn into weeks.
The RSS sees in Mr Modi the magic bullet that it hopes to turn the tide with; but there is still little indication that he is regarded as such by the Indian masses living outside Delhi. Except for one regional party, namely the AIADMK that has praised Mr Modi, the others are all keeping a distance with the Janata Dal (U) poised to part ways with the BJP after Mr Modi&’s elevation. Ms Jayalalitha&’s support comes with the knowledge that the BJP is non-existent in Tamil Nadu and hence counts for little at this stage. The others like the Biju Janata Dal and the JD (U) are aware that Mr Modi will be a highly polarising factor in the general elections, and are trying to place themselves in a pre-poll advantageous position to benefit from the counter reaction that is bound to follow his high pitch campaign across the country.
The RSS is thus playing for high stakes in the hope it will win what is little more than a gamble at this stage. It has thrust a highly divisive individual to lead the BJP in the general elections, to test the waters as it were. It is using the gambit of development and growth and good administration to hide an essentially Hindutva agenda with the drum-beating by the media and big industry creating the necessary smokescreen. The contest thus is not between a Modi and a Rahul (Gandhi), or an Advani and a Modi; it is between secular India and communal India, with the vote in 2104 determining the direction of the nation&’s polity.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman