CAN THIS MAN BE STOPPED?
Narendra Modi might be daydreaming. His final refuge just cannot be South Block. It might be, predictably, somewhere else
Akash Bisht Delhi
On September 9, 2011, senior BJP leader LK Advani, high on 83, refusing to retire and still desperately seeking the PM’s chair, dropped a bombshell when he announced yet another rath yatra aimed at “good governance and clean politics”. The proclamation signaled bad omen for a lot of people in the party. It was all the more deadly because barring the viciously polarising rath yatra preceding the Babri Masjid demolition, all his four rath yatras later have been superb box office flops. Besides, as BJP’s PM candidate in the 2009 polls, he led his party to a resounding defeat.
Earlier, he was forced to quit the top job in BJP by an angry RSS after his ‘pseudo secular’ posturing on Jinnah during his Pakistan visit in 2005. Standing before Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi, Advani described the founder of Pakistan as “secular” and an “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.
Taken off guard by the decision, a rattled and faction-ridden BJP leadership, some among them nursing big ambitions, seemed miffed with the veteran leaders’ unilateral repositioning for the next Lok Sabha elections. The fact is, the leadership race within BJP is still wide open and several names are doing the rounds – except that of the octogenarian politician. Even RSS was disgruntled with Advani’s decision.
The RSS leadership called him to Nagpur on September 21 and told him to back off. He was told to categorically state that he is not in the race, to not contest the next Lok Sabha polls, and to delink the yatra from the leadership issue. However, a wily Advani praised the RSS and kept the issue open to conjectures. It should be remembered that when RSS had earlier told him to quit the post of BJP president, he kept dragging his feet.
Reportedly, Advani’s protégé, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, too, was miffed. Advani has been seriously dependent on Modi for his election from Gandhinagar. Modi apparently was so upset that he called up Advani and asked him how he can take unilateral decisions without consulting the party. The self-styled loh purush of BJP, who had initially decided to commence his sixth rath yatra from Porbandar in Gujarat on October 2, later shifted the venue to Sitabdiara village – Jayaprakash Narayan’s birthplace in Bihar – owing to the muscle flexing by Modi.
Significantly, Advani was reluctant to speak from the dais during Modi’s three-day Sadbhavana fast. Later, he made a non-committal speech, restricting Modi’s ‘greatness’ to Gujarat. “Whatever he (Modi) has said about the rise of six crore Gujaratis, he is telling you the right thing. No other province could manage a growth rate of 11 per cent like Gujarat.”
Later, Advani skipped his annual Somnath yatra as well as Modi’s ‘Maha Rally’ on September 25. Observers interpret this is a signal of a rift between the two.
Even Sushma Swaraj, another contender for the PM’s post, was publicly reluctant to endorse Modi’s one-man show; she avoided it for the first two days. Once Modi called her on phone, she made a hesitant entry on stage. Even she made no mention of Modi’s pan-India ambitions, referring to him only as a “Gujarat leader”. She said, “No development policy in Gujarat is made with the aim of serving a Hindu or Muslim. When 108 (ambulance) gets an emergency call, it does not ask whether the caller is Hindu or Muslim… I am a big fan of Narendrabhai’s one quality – to carry on irrespective of the criticism. Modiji does not govern from AC rooms, but out there among his people in the sun and dust.” The irony of this air-conditioned, State-sponsored fast was transparent.
Besides, except Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Uttarakhand Chief Minister BC Khanduri, chief ministers from big BJP-ruled states in the Hindi heartland – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – did not attend the event. NDA ally Nitish Kumar avoided the show, while his party openly criticised it.
Modi upped hisante after the September 12 Supreme Court order. The court sent Zakia Jaffrey’s petition on the Gulberg Society massacre during the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, to a trial court, while refusing to pass an order. This was no clean chit to Modi(also read ‘Clean Chit?’on pg 38). In fact, legal experts argue that he can still be implicated and chargesheeted in the days to come. That will render Modi vulnerable.
Surprisingly, and completely contrary to expert legal opinion that this was no clean chit for Modi, BJP celebrated the apex court order. A mad dash to praise Modi was orchestrated with leaders singing paeans in praise of BJP’s poster boy. Praising him lavishly, Advani told reporters, “In the political history of India, there hasn’t been such misinformation and propaganda against any other political leader.” Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “Narendrabhai has passedagnipareekshatoday. My heartiest congraulations to him. Satyameva jayate. Varshon baad aaj satya ki vijay hui.”
Basking in this sham ‘victory’, Modi tweeted, “God is Great.” Sections of the media too conspicuously failed to grasp the legal implications of the judgement and went hysterical. “This chest thumping by Modi and BJP is a ploy to terrorise judges. With antics like these, Modi is only trying to create enormous public and political pressure on the judges,” says Congress general secretary and former Gujarat in-charge, BK Hariprasad.
On cloud nine, an elated Modi announced a three-day fast for social harmony on September 13. In an open letter he wrote, “One thing is apparent from the Supreme Court’s judgment. The unhealthy environment created by the unfounded and false allegations made against me and the government of Gujarat, after the 2002 riots, has come to an end. For the past ten years, it has become fashionable to defame me and the State of Gujarat. I humbly submit before you that as part of this responsibility to strengthen social harmony and brotherhood, I am thinking of starting a movement of Sadbhavana Mission.”
Adding fuel to the fire, an insignificant US Congressional report showered praise on Modi and projected the Gujarat CM as BJP’s top contender for the prime ministerial berth in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. The ‘not so credible’ Congressional Research Service (CRS) report reads, “…Yet, among the party’s (BJP) likely candidates for the prime ministership in future elections is Modi, who has overseen impressive development successes in his state, but who is also dogged by controversy over his alleged complicity in lethal anti-Muslim rioting...”
Gloating, Modi missed another high-level US report, issued annually, which yet again reiterated the ghastly episode of killings and human rights violations in Gujarat under his leadership. Modi, to his utter shame, has not been given a US visa, for his apparent role in the Gujarat genocide.
Sources in Ahmedabad say that a belligerent Modi is basically extremely jittery with the unfolding cases, including the fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife, Kausarbi, and Tulsiram Prajapati, for which his former home minister Amit Shah was jailed. The Ishrat Jahan case, widely perceived to be a fake encounter, is also under investigation.
The sadbhavana show, involving massive government expenditure, sources say, was not only meant to showcase his ambitions, but also to use this manufactured hyperbole to put political pressure on all concerned. Both Modi and BJP are aware that without power in the Centre, it’s not going to be easy to wash away the crimes of 2002; the bloody ghosts will keep coming back.
Even the RSS, which believes in collective organisation work and long-term vision of a Hindu rashtra, is not happy with Modi’s one-dimensional one-upmanship. An RSS leader told Hardnews that “Modi’s bad reputation is a baggage which the entire Sangh Parivar has to carry”. It is said that the appointment of former BJP general secretary Sanjay Joshi by BJP president Nitin Gadkari (himself an RSS appointee) to oversee the crucial UP elections has annoyed Modi. Sanjay Joshi, reputed for his exceptional organisational skills, was an RSS strongman in Gujarat, until Modi got him sidelined. He was mired in a controversial CD scandal also – and fingers were pointed at his “arch enemy”. His appointment as strategist for perhaps the most important state in the BJP scheme of things, therefore, is also a signal to Modi.
Besides, Modi has alienated and sidelined several BJP and Sangh leaders in Gujarat. The VHP is terribly unhappy with him. Even Praveen Togadia, who had threatened to repeat the “successful Gujarat experiment” after the 2002 killings, has reportedly become an enemy of Modi.
Indeed, even BJP insiders are aware that the hyped up sadbhavana fast turned out to be a big farce. “The hypocrisy of the entire set-up of self-praise and glorification of Modi was just too apparent,” says a BJP insider. “Come what may, Modi can change his mask a million times, but the blood of the carnage will not wash,” says a journalist. The fast has also led to a slow but strong polarisation of Muslims and secular Indians all over India. His opponents alleged that he spent more than Rs 55 crore for the show. Modi has been served a notice by the Gujarat governor to explain the expenses. “He claims to be against corruption. If this is not corruption, what is?” asks a Congress leader.
“Modi’s muscle flexing was stage-managed. Party leaders were helpless and had to shower lavish praises for the man, while some even went to the extent of declaring him as their prime ministerial candidate. These overtures made him grow in stature,” says a senior BJP leader. He adds that Modi can actually dissolve the state assembly and seek fresh polls. “He has plans of early polls and will then lobby for the post of BJP president in 2012, when the incumbent Nitin Gadkari’s term comes to an end. Within the party, Modi is on a strong wicket and it would be impossible to stop him,” says a BJP leader from UP.
Others argue that Arun Jaitley would prefer Gadkari to extend his term, so that Modi can be stalled. Once a close associate of Modi, Jaitley too is repositioning himself for a wider, ‘secular’, more modern audience. Sushma Swaraj has never been comfortable with Modi, and would like to present a clean, unsullied image, with no hard Hindutva trappings. Even the RSS is reportedly planning to amend BJP’s constitution to extend the term of the BJP president.
The crisis within BJP is that Swaraj and Arun Jaitley seem to be the only ones offering competition to Modi. However, their popularity among the cadres and the RSS leadership is questionable. “Sushma is not from the RSS and does not have Sangh leanings, though she can be a mass leader of sorts. Only her mentor, former RSS chief KS Sudarshan, could have pushed her case. And Jaitley, though an ABVP leader, does not have a mass base. Jaitley is being entertained because he has promised to help derail the Hindutva terror probe in collusion with a senior UPA minister,” says a senior Sangh pracharak.
He adds that RSS, however, isn’t too keen on declaring a prime ministerial candidate before the actual results come out. It does not want to portray anyone as a possible contender. RSS is wary of Modi’s authoritarian individualism. There is always the fear that an egoist Modi will sideline and eliminate all internal competition.
On September 17,Modi started his Sadhbhavana Mission in Ahmedabad without mentioning a word of regret for the 2002 genocide. Rubbing salt on festering wounds, he declared, “I was in pain for the victims of riots then, and I am in pain for them now.” During his self-praise show, termed the “three-day farce” by critics, Modi repeatedly declared his new-found love for the minorities; some Muslims, especially Bohras and other trading communities, did arrive to felicitate him. Others were brought in, courtesy BJP’s minority cell. Modi ensured that the Muslims sported skull caps and hijabs. SMSes of ‘Miyan Modi’ and chants of Alla hu Akbar mocked the show. The Shiv Sena slammed Modi for moving away from his core Hindutva moorings.
Modi’s hypocrisy was publicly exposed when he refused to wear a skull cap offered to him by a Muslim cleric. The pictures were splashed across all major dailies in India, while visuals of Modi snubbing the cleric appeared repeatedly on TV channels. “It was a durbhavana yatra,” says Arjun Modhvadia.
The arrest of victims of the carnage at Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, lawyer Mukul Sinha, and dancer Mallika Sarabhai, did not help matters. Earlier, Haren Pandya’s wife had created a major embarrassment by sitting on a fast to seek justice for her murdered husband. Pandya’s late father had repeatedly accused Modi of masterminding his son’s murder. The presence of Jaideep Patel on the dais did not help matters. Patel, earlier arrested along with Gujarat minister Mayaben Kodnani, has been accused of direct complicity in the Naroda Patiya massacre. Modi’s mask was slipping.
Apparently, the Sangh Parivar also wasn’t too happy with these apologetic gestures and disapproved of the overtures to Muslims that could breach BJP’s support among the hardcore, fanatic Hindutva constituency. Reportedly, miffed with this ‘minority appeasement’, senior RSS leaders Suresh Soni, V Satish and Ram Lal discussed the issue at an informal meeting held at the Hedgewar Bhavan, Nagpur. The three leaders were present on the first day of Modi’s fast; they were apparently shocked to see that the VHP had boycotted the event.
Many within BJP believe that Modi’s fast has elevated him in the party and advanced his chances of becoming the prime minister. However, there are dissenting voices that don’t read too much into the hype. They are keeping their cards close to their chest. “It doesn’t matter what Modi thinks. It’s the Sangh that takes decisions, not Modi,” says a senior RSS leader.
The BJP has only 116 MPs in the current Lok Sabha. Destabilising UPA-II is clearly an agenda for the RSS, but where are the numbers in the case of fresh mid-term polls, or even in 2014? For the RSS, reviving BJP’s stakes in the Hindi heartland and consolidating voters in UP for the upcoming assembly elections is the main priority. To revive its fortune in UP, the Sangh has brought back Sanjay Joshi despite stiff opposition from Modi. “We didn’t pay heed to his reservations about Joshi, it’s a collective decision. Excessive individualism must be avoided,” says a RSS source.
BJP won 51 assembly seats in the last UP elections in 2007. It was badly mauled, even while the Hindutva and Ayodhya card failed miserably. It wants to double the tally to 100 to become a partner in the UP government, or call the shots from outside. “If we achieve this, then we can polarise the voter in our favour in 2014. With UP being a game changer, this can certainly tilt the verdict in our favour. UP is crucial to our quest for power in 2014,” says a senior BJP leader from UP.
To reach this goal, the Sangh has identified A and B category seats and identified swayamsewaks at block levels. These members would do door-to-door campaigning and consolidate those seats where RSS senses victory. For this, the Sangh Parivar has done intensive ground research.
Moreover, to balance caste equations, Rajnath Singh has been roped in to woo back upper caste ‘forwards’; Kalraj Mishra will work on alienated Brahmins. Uma Bharti, from the Lodh community, who lost very badly in Madhya Pradesh, has been brought in to woo Lodh voters that constitute 4 per cent of the population (also read ‘Modi will disintegrate NDA’on pg 24).Rajnath and Mishra will start their yatras to consolidate voters in western and eastern UP from Mathura and Varanasi, respectively. After the Sangh Parivar and its various fronts fully backed the Anna Hazare movement with numbers, BJP intends to ride on the anti-corruption crusade that has helped it in cornering the UPA government.
The Sangh isalso devising strategies for other states with their eyes set on crossing the 180 mark in the next Lok Sabha elections. According to Sangh’s calculations, the crucial states that would determine BJP’s future are UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and Bihar. Their calculations suggest that Rajasthan could get them 22-23; Gujarat22 plus. MP and Chhattisgarh too could see a rise in numbers, despite the anti-incumbency factor, because Congress is in a shambles in these states, with serious leadership crisis.
A crucial state likeMaharashtrahas, however, become a bone of contention after Modi was seen cosying up to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray, which seems to have upset the equation with Shiv Sena. “If we have to do well in the state, then we need to bring the family together,” says a BJP leader from Maharashtra. In the past, Congress had taken major advantage with the MNS splitting the Shiv Sena vote. Raj had apparently helped Congress-NCP in the last elections by fielding candidates against Shiv Sena.
Small states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand could go the BJP way. Reports coming from Karnataka indicate a sharp cut in numbers due to allegations of massive corruption against the state leadership, and with big funders and ex-cabinet ministers, the Bellary Reddys, under the scanner. One of the Reddy brothers of the mining mafia is behind bars.
Bihartoo is marked with contradictions. If Modi is projected as a prime ministerial candidate, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar might choose to stay out of NDA, and that would dash their big ambitions. “Nitish would have to do some positioning, otherwise Lalu Prasad Yadav would tear into his vote bank,” says a source. InWest Bengal, chances of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee aligning with BJP is almost impossible. “The 27 per cent of Muslim populace that voted for her during the recent elections can also vote her out,” says a Congress veteran.
Down south, Tamil Nadu could tilt either way depending on how Congress and DMK fare in the next three years. The BJP anyway is no factor in this state. In Andhra Pradesh, calculations suggest that the internal feud within the state Congress and the Jaganmohan Reddy factor could help NDA immensely. In Punjab, the story is gloomy and the incumbent Akali government could be voted out of power, translating gains for Congress. In the northeastern states, Bengal and Kerala, the party has virtually no presence and would seek alliances.
“How can we project Modi as our prime ministerial candidate when we are aware of some of our allies’ anathema towards him? By proposing his name, we do not want to alienate Muslims or secular sections completely. That would be a political disaster,” says a Sangh leader. He adds that their plan is to propel forces like Ramdev and Hazare to give a Rightwing push to the anti-corruption movements. “Be it Hazare or Ramdev or any other person, we must support them. These people are respected. People’s anger has grown over the years and they chose them as their leaders,” RSS spokesperson, Ram Madhav had earlier told this reporter. (http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2011/08/4075)
“Muslims will never support Modi’s candidature as prime minister. Not only Muslims, even justice loving people from the majority community will not endorse it. As far as general elections are concerned, they are quite far away. So how this would pan out can’t be commented on at this particular point. All I can say is that most people in this country are not communal, so it is not going to be a joy ride for the communal forces,” says Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, former vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom in Deoband.
“Narendra Modi is thesubedarwho doesn’t care about BJP, Sangh or any other structure. He gives no importance to RSS or BJP,” former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya had earlier told this reporter. (see interview,Hardnews, March 2011)
Reflecting on Modi’s fast, a senior RSS member says that this was not intended to woo Muslims, but those Hindus who want to see a secular face at the Centre rather than one who has been portrayed as a minority hater. “After Partition in 1947, everyone, including Hindus, blamed the Congress leadership for it. However, they all voted for Congress and not the Hindu Mahasabha, which failed to win a single seat. Even the Hindus voted for a secular face like Vajpayee and not Advani,” he adds.
Modi constantly claims to represent six crore Gujaratis. This is like using a myth to force a lie. A huge chunk of Gujarat did not vote for Modi. The voter turnout in 2007 Gujarat assembly elections was 60 per cent, a tad lesser than 2002 polls. The rest did not vote at all, not even for Modi. Winning 49 per cent votes as compared to Congress’s 38 per cent, Modi got yet another term. Of the registered electorate, only 29.4 per cent voted and the vote percent dips even lower if unregistered voters are accounted for. “So how can he claim that six crore Gujaratis are with him, or that attacks on him for the 2002 carnage are attacks on ‘entire Gujarat’?” asks BK Hariprasad.
“If we get successful in consolidating the Muslim vote and ask them to come out in large numbers against Modi, we could easily defeat BJP. Only 30 per cent of Muslims voted in the last assembly elections; add 10 per cent of new voters, and we could be on a strong wicket. So, how can he claim the support of six crore Gujaratis when the figures suggest otherwise?” he adds.
Significantly, there are reports that the RSS’s main agenda is the establishment ofHindu rashtraby 2025 – a vision with a deadline proposed by Mohan Bhagwat. All its multiple fronts have been instructed to infiltrate all political formations, even enemy camps – a vision harboured by Govindacharya as well. That was the reason they fully backed Ramdev and Hazare. Sources told Hardnews that the Sangh is trying to woo former President Abdul Kalam to become their new face against corruption.
Indeed, Modi’s flight of imagination might be a product of his megalomania and narcissism. In mundane terms, this could be a ploy to escape prosecution for his role in the killings of 2002. The ground reality is bleak for both Modi and BJP. The secular, non-violent, pluralist Indian voter is never impressed with these fanatic polarising gimmicks, or leaders with a bloodlust. Besides, Dalits, OBCs and Muslims, who constitute almost 80 percent of the Indian population, are not impressed with Modi. There is no Hindu or Hindutva vote. In the same manner that there is no Moditva vote. Modi is not a pan-India leader.
The truth is, Modi might be daydreaming. His final refuge just cannot be South Block. It might be, predictably, somewhere else.