Friday, June 14, 2013

Political Manthan

By Swapan Dasgupta

Contrary to what some people love to believe, politics isn’t all about plots and conspiracies. Politicians normally base their actions on the strength of assumptions which may or may not turn out to be correct. And often, like players in the marketplace, they embark on high risk gambles based on nothing more than instinct.

That Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was clear in his mind that he would not fight an election with Narendra Modi as the face of his main alliance partner was no secret. His allergy to his Gujarat counterpart stemmed from a combination of personality mismatch and electoral calculations, and he had clearly warned the BJP that he would jump ship if Modi was anointed de-facto leader. Yet, despite making preparations for the survival of his government in the event of his Janata Dal (United) breaking with the BJP, the Bihar Chief Minister refrained from taking any hasty action. In hindsight, the reason was quite obvious: Nitish was banking on the BJP old guard led by L.K. Advani to prevent NAMO from dominating the BJP centre-stage.

To what extent, Nitish and Advani planned their symbiotic relationship is a matter of conjecture. However, ever since Modi quietly refused to host the inauguration of Advani’s zero-impact yatra against corruption and black money, there has been a growing convergence of interests of Nitish and Advani.

The chronology tells its own story. Last week, Advani didn’t attend the National Executive meeting in Goa as a last-ditch attempt to stop or delay the announcement over Modi. He calculated (as did many commentators who hadn’t grasped his growing marginalisation in the BJP) that the party leadership wouldn’t dare go ahead with Modi’s anointment out of deference to him. Yet, when the announcement was made last Sunday afternoon amid boisterous celebrations and the bursting of crackers, the reaction of the JD(U) was uncharacteristically muted. “It is an internal matter of the BJP”, was the matter of fact reaction from its TV brigade. In short, there was still a strong belief that even at this late stage, Advani would be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat and puncture the Modi balloon. By last Monday evening when it was clear that the BJP Parliamentary Board would not be pressured by Advani’s resignation and churlish letter, the JD(U) strategists wrote off their involvement in the NDA. Their continued alliance with a party where Modi was the unquestioned star would only serve one purpose: provide some relief to a very beleaguered Advani and give him some time to regroup his forces. However, after the outcome of the Maharajganj by-election, Nitish’s own elbow room was limited. The JD(U) could either strike out on his own now or risk being squeezed between a re-energised Lalu Yadav and a charged-up BJP. For Nitish, his own political self-respect counted more than being Advani’s life-guard. And he seems to have decided to part ways with the BJP.

Of course that leaves a very crucial question unaddressed. On the face of it, Nitish appears to be on the verge of joining hands with Babulal Marandi, Naveen Patnaik and providing substance to Mamata Banerjee’s Federal Front dream. At the same time Nitish has also despatched an advance team which has been in contact with the Congress. The reason is simple: Nitish would rather have the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan on his side in the triangular fight for Bihar’s Lok Sabha seats. In the battle of competitive minority wooing, he may well believe that the incremental addition of the Congress would convince Muslim voters that the JD(U), rather than the RJD, has better ‘secular’ credentials to check the Modi advance.

Nitish, it would seem, is banking on the presence of Modi raising the communal temperature in the country. His reading of the BJP campaign is based on the assumption that Modi’s appeal is primarily that of a miltant Hindu and, by implication, an anti-Muslim leader. In the last months of its regime, the UPA Government too is driving home this perception with renewed enthusiasm, as witnessed by its frenzied interest in the so-called encounter killing of terrorist Ishrat Jehan in Gujarat, 2005. The UPA has decided that at all costs Modi must not be allowed to rise above controversies that are rooted in sectarian issues.

However, what if Modi disappoints his opponents by travelling down a very different path?  This would seem impossible for those who are unable to transcend the image of Modi 2002. For them, Modi minus strident communal politics is a big zero. However, the more awkward reality is that Modi made the transition from a regional leader to the BJP’s national icon precisely after he shifted Gujarat’s agenda from communal politics to economic development. In the past decade or so, Modi has carefully steered clear of all issues that are remotely associated with militant Hindu nationalism. This explains why the likes of Pravin Togadia view him as a traitor to the cause.

My guess is that the BJP campaign in 2014 will not resemble the strident 1991 campaign which made it the principal non-Congress party. On the contrary, it will be a campaign that will be focussed on national pride, youth energy and the appeal of Modi. We may have the bizarre situation of the Congress and the likes of Nitish talking incessantly about ‘secular’ politics and the BJP bypassing that for the “one India” theme.

Moreover, the demonization of Modi is based entirely on his unacceptability to Muslim voters and the assertion that Gujarat isn’t India. What has been insufficiently factored is the likelihood that the anti-Modi campaign has increased the levels of curiosity about the man. If, within the next three months, opinion polls show a far greater measure of awareness about the BJP’s new leader, he has only to thank his detractors from Advani to the foul-mouthed JD(U) spokesman. Quite unwittingly, they have cast Modi as the man who is being relentlessly hounded at the behest of a pampered few. For the Gujarat leader, that is excellent publicity. 

Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle, June 14, 2013


krishna kumar G M said...


My admiration for your views and analysis has increased 10 time after watching your discussion on Advani episode on CNN IBN and NDTV.I hope and believe BJP leaders who are trying to lobby with Nitish get your points and understand that there is no point in shamelesly following like of Nitish.

I strongly beleive BJP will gain more by going on own with Modi as the face and as you have rightly mentioned united opposition to modi by so called pseudo secular parties will create more awarness about modi to help him suceed..

Dhananjay said...

One of your most incisive articles about the most decisive leader of India that opponents are desprately trying to project as divisive! casn't wait to enjoy the political thriller ahead of us for the next 12 months - rality beats fiction!