Indian politics has perceptibly shifted from an idea-based to a personality-based orientation. Most parties have been unable to evolve an effective agenda to inspire voters. Most regional parties revolve around a single personality, as we see around us. Now the Bharatiya Janata Party too has jumped on to this bandwagon, by anointing Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, as its prime ministerial candidate. Its old agenda failed to garner votes and its investment in an amended approach for the 2004 and the 2009 elections did not pay dividends. It did experiment with the Vision 2004 Document, making a generous offer to the minorities, with even personal appeals by Atal Behari Vajpayee, but it failed to capture minority votes.
NaMo’s anointment brought euphoria among its cadres as they believed that no other leader could or would take them closer to power. Even the Congress felt forced to counter this BJP personality projection. Demands were already going up from within the party to usher in Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi family. Party members believed that the prime minister’s weak leadership and the unsatisfying performance of his government on several counts were a huge deterrent to confronting the Modi challenge. Of course, this oft-repeated demand without regard for the consequence only served to further
weaken the government and damage the party.
The search for a new messiah begins only with waning faith in the old. This demand was tantamount to admitting that the Manmohan Singh government was a failed experiment. Pressure continues to mount to name Rahul Gandhi as the party candidate for the prime minister’s post at the AICC session commencing on January 17. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, meanwhile, declared his intention to stick on and pass on the baton to the new leader only after the 2014 Lok Sabha election. If Rahul Gandhi is anointed as the new chief on January 17, it would mean the party has discarded Manmohan Singh three months before the event. It will reduce him to a man in the saddle without the power to keep his writ running, a move which could only spell disaster. The Congress can hardly afford this political risk.
The BJP had to look for a new campaigner after Lal Krishna Advani failed the party in 2009. Advani had virtually attempted to force his services on the party that did not seem to want him and his services. It would not have survived the shock of yet another defeat. The shift towards NaMo has brought into the open the prevailing confusion in the party over what constitutes a winning formula. The Sangh is loath to give up its old agenda of Hindutva, despite its failure to win votes and NaMO demands the drive to modernise India. For him, glory lies in the future, not in the past. His third victory in the Gujarat polls in December 2012 set the dice rolling. A misconception prevails that the BJP is an independent political outfit. It is not so. Its high command only endorses orders emanating from the Nagpur establishment. It was directed to declare NaMo as the candidate, disregarding the reservations of L K Advani group. Only later did the Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, bring around Advani into endorsing the decision. By this time, Advani too could sense his isolation, and, in any case, being an obedient Sangh disciple, he fell in line.
It was not an easy choice for Bhagwat either. He could not risk another dictator in the ranks. NaMo displays precisely the personality that makes him unsuitable for a position from where he can rule supreme and ignore every opinion. Time and again, he has proved that he would prefer to walk alone, not sharing the glory with anyone. NaMo also offered a way out to break the tightening cordon of the OBCs around the upper castes.
The Sangh Parivar had earlier faced danger during the freedom struggle, as Mahatma Gandhi enveloped the masses against the British Empire by inspiring every Indian to adopt, as the own sole objective of life, the slogan by Lokmanya B G Tilak, “Swaraj is my birthright.” Until then, freedom had merely been a matter of debate limited to the upper castes and professionals. They vented their ire in open forums and adopted resolutions, but no direct action. Gandhi brought the other classes on to the streets for direct action. His inspiring them to assert themselves sent chills down the spines of the upper classes and thus was born the Sangh Parivar, to counter Gandhi politics. They perceived a serious threat to their power and status in his politics than in the continuation of the British rule over India. They had, for 3,000 years, suppressed the other classes, keeping them confined to the lower rungs of society. The numerical
superiority of the awakening of these lower classes constituted a danger to their power. The dislike for Gandhi’s politics intensified into a hatred, which eventually took the life of Mahatma Gandhi.
The upper castes perceive a similar danger today. The Congress and the BJP are locked in direct combat only in 100 Lok Sabha seats in six states. In the rest of the states, which account for the remaining 440 seats, a third option is available, with the consolidation of the deprived. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the OBCs and the Dalits have snatched away power from the upper castes ever since 1990. Other states show trends of consolidation that push the upper castes to the margins. Narendra Modi, an OBC man, is a better weapon to counter their influence. The BJP hopes are pinned on Modi only because he is seen as the instrument to break the consolidation of the backward classes under the Janata Dal. He is thus the choice of the Sangh Parivar by compulsion. A fact that he has taken full advantage of to imposed himself on the Sangh by creating pressure and threatening the breakdown of its political wing, the BJP.
Some may entertain hopes that he can still be stopped in his tracks once he manages to bring the party closer to power. These are only fond hopes. He will be simply unstoppable once he attains power with a step over the magical mark. Even the constitutional need of the formality of electing a leader cannot be used to prevent him from getting into the saddle. Now the Sangh must think whether he can surmount the fortified barriers in other states. It is an uphill task. It is like hoping for a miracle.