That Narendara Modi won and why has filled the pages of all the national dailies . Therefore, R.K. MISHRA tells us what are the lessons we need to learn from his victory and tries to answer pertinent questions.
The schoolboy who began the journey of life from small town Vadnagar in north Gujarat has transformed into an iconic political brand along the way. He has broken through the restricting boundaries of his state to unleash a national appeal which is making his own party top brass queasy.
The Congress weakness in Gujarat is the BJP’s problem in Delhi. The principal opposition party planned to battle an anti-incumbency saddled ruling BJP in the state. Instead it found itself facing a popular brand called Narendra Modi. The best lesson from the just completed election process in Gujarat is that you cannot fight a strongly imprinted brand with a faceless team. The Congress has learnt it the hard way.
The fact of the matter is that brand Modi has become bigger in public minds than brand BJP and even brand RSS. In Gujarat, for all practical purposes the BJP has long ceased to exist in the state. Brand Modi has cut across all divides, even political symbolisms to emerge as both the party and the persona.
It is common knowledge that BJP patriarch Keshubhai Patel and his Gujarat Parivartan Party which came to nought at the recent hustings was a mere bolt in a big machine called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Patel who nurtured both the Jan Sangh and later the BJP in the state is too much of a hardened organization man to break away from the RSS. The headmaster (RSS) used him just as a cane to discipline an errant, headstrong but bright pupil who it found difficult to control. The student ended up outclassing both.
The RSS calculation through the use of Patel was to restrict Modi to a poll figure of around 85 to 90 seats and use the 5 to 10 seats that the GPP may pick up to keep him in check. Patel succeeded but only to a limited extent. He was able to bring Modi’s tally from what would have been around 130 to the 115 seats that he actually got.
It is clear in hindsight that Modi knew that the patriarch was a creation of the founding fount. Not once did he say a word against Patel right through his rebellious and outraging harangues against Modi. Nor did he allow any state party leader to speak a word against Patel. The only exception was when former cricketer and now party MP Navjyot Singh Siddhu was unleashed against Patel. His terming Patel as an anti-national unleashed a virtual storm of indignation, halting the attack.
The elections over, Modi was not being merely magnanimous in victory when he went calling on Patel and bowed to touch his feet. The gesture of large-heartedness was for public consumption. Tactically it was meant to mollify the mount and to convey to Nagpur that he still remained their offspring, howsoever irreverent.
The victory address at the state party headquarters after the results were announced was in the same spirit. A practitioner of aggressive politics, Modi began on a subdued note, sought forgiveness signalling magnanimity but then was back to whipping, first the media and then the opposition. He played down self and emphasised team BJP. This was as much a gesture meant to reassure the party leaders in Delhi as to placate Nagpur which has been unhappy with the treatment meted out to Sanjay Joshi.
The right wing voter views Modi as an emerging, strong leader capable of leadership position. However his own party national leadership has strong reservations on this count. Modi is seen as headstrong and too full of himself to be a team leader. His, my-way-or-the-highway, style of autocratic functioning is not in demand in Delhi. Thus there is more opposition to contend with inside the BJP leadership for Modi than outside.
The communal baggage of 2002 becomes heavier to carry as you climb higher. Additionally the first thing needed to be a prime minister in the reckoning is national acceptability forged through a softer but carrying-all and caring for all image. Modi sought a change of image when he went on his three-day sadbhavana fast at Ahmedabad last September. He was also determined to give tickets to at least three Muslim candidates in the 2012 elections. But the Keshubhai Patel factor forced him on the back foot and he stopped short.
In his hour of victory Modi has a lot of introspection to do. The road to Delhi is paved with hurdles. The aggressiveness and disdain for authority, which he himself brandishes to captivate the youth is not something much in demand in Delhi. The irony is that he is himself authoritarian and yet his persona shows a disregard for it. He will thus need a change of image. If the Congress in Gujarat, weakened over decades, for want of throwing up a strong personality now has a problem in projecting a leader against Modi.
So does the Gujarat chief minister. It is very difficult for a brand to effect changes in its persona without alienating a section of its client base. When Modi sought to reach out to the Muslims through his sadbhavana mission, there were tremors in his ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ hard-line support base, to cite just one example. It is lonely at the top. And who knows it better than a loner!