To tell the truth, Ram Vilas Paswan never left the NDA because of the 2002 Gujarat riots. He clung to his ministerial ‘gaddi’ so long as he had the charge of the telecom department. On being moved to a less important ministry, Paswan suddenly discovered the Gujarat riots. A few days later, he was making much to-do about secularism and found himself in the company of Laloo Yadav and others of his ilk. That was an opportunistic move. And if secularism was an excuse to protest his relegation to a less lucrative portfolio then, the hope of a better future under the overall BJP umbrella would explain his return to the NDA fold in circa 2014. For, communalism and secularism are hollow terms used as vehicles to transport footloose politicians from one winning camp to the other. Now that the Narendra Modi-led BJP seems to be on a comeback trail, Paswan has decided to dump the Lalu-Sonia combine in favour of the saffron party. If you think any higher principles inform Paswan’s desertion of poor Lalu, you will be entirely wrong. Ideology-driven, principle-based politics is dead as a dodo for a vast majority of our politicians. (If you are in Maharashtra, you will know how the Shiv Sainiks, of all the people, are donning the secular colors of the NCP and the Congress and how the latter are embracing them as long-lost brothers. A Sanjay Nirupam can hurl the foulest of abuse at the top leaders of the Congress Party and yet, much to the chagrin of all decent people, become an ardent follower of the same leaders the next day. That reflects poorly as much on Nirupam as on those in the Congress Party who granted him admittance.) Ideally, the BJP should have shut the door on people like Paswan, but the party seems to be keen to bolster its position further, by tying up with various caste leaders in Bihar. Paswan is supposed to have a loyal vote-bank of some three per cent of the socially and economically backward castes. Combined with the BJP’s middle- and upper-caste support base, this vote-bank can prove decisive in at least half-a-dozen parliamentary seats. Besides, Paswan’s return to the NDA would help nail the Congress canard that BJP’s Modi is an untouchable. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar gambled badly, opposing Modi’s anointment as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. He did not reckon with the wider acceptability that Modi enjoyed not just in Bihar, but throughout the country. If Paswan discovered the Gujarat riots only after he was shifted out of the telecom ministry, Kumar had clung on to the railway ministry long after those riots. He probably thought that his opposition to Modi’s prime ministerial candidacy would be opposed successfully within the NDA by him, and within the BJP, by L K Advani. Both Kumar and Advani were proved wrong – how wrong can be gauged from the opinion polls, which predict a massive win for the NDA and a rout of the Congress. Without labouring the point any further, it is instructive to note how the smaller parties in Tamil Nadu are now negotiating a pre-poll alliance with the BJP, even though the latter does not have much organisational presence in the state. What does it indicate? That the pro-Modi vote in Tamil Nadu can be successfully converted into a few seats in alliance with the DMDK, PMK, MDMK, etc. Indeed, smaller groups in UP and elsewhere too are showing similar interest in finding an anchor in the Modi-led BJP. Clearly, everyone recognises which way the electoral wind is blowing.
Of course, it is early days yet. The poll is still a few weeks away, but the way things are, it is unlikely that the anti-Modi forces would be able to regroup in any effective manner to challenge him. What we are seeing is a phenomenon bigger than the one the country had last seen in the late ’90s in favour of Vajpayee. However, this seems to be stronger and has a much wider sweep than during the peak of the Vajpayee phase. Maybe Vajpayee had taller leaders to contend against, and, frankly, the nation was not in such great a mess as it is now. Modi has none other than the ten years of the UPA arrogance and misrule to thank for his extraordinary popularity. If the footloose players are now headed for the Modi tent, it is because they see percentage in teaming up with him. It is as simple as that. Secularism and communalism are empty words politicians use to further their own selfish interests. Nothing else. Politics has been fully de-ideologised. Opportunism — some prefer to call it pragmatism — rules the roast.