The nation has yet to begin to come to grips with the aftershocks of Narendra Modi’s third triumph in Gujarat. Modi is not the first Indian chief minister to have recorded a hat-trick in a state legislative election. Jyoti Basu won five consecutive elections in West Bengal. Before him, Bidhan Chandra Roy was a five time chief minister of West Bengal who had also won three consecutive elections. More recently, Tarun Gogoi performed a hat-trick in Assam, as did Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. Modi’s victory is different because of its widespread fallout.
Its biggest impact will be felt in the Bharatiya Janata Party. And, it will also shape the politics of several states and determine the political options of the parties which govern them. These consequences will become clear only in the days to come.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari might now have to say goodbye to a second term in January. There will be demands to anoint the victor of Gujarat in his place. Who knows, Modi might even sacrifice the chief minister’s job to gain an additional halo — saying that his work in Gujarat is now over i.e. the job should now go to another party worker (say, his confidant, Anandi Behn Patel). It would be impossible to stop him if he decides to be the next party president.
As party president, Modi could precipitate two major confrontations within the BJP — one with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS); and the other with the moderate leadership of the party.
The party would become more disciplined but the writ of the RSS over the BJP would weaken. The RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have already been forced to play second fiddle in Gujarat — this might now be repeated in Delhi.
It is quite possible that some BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, will capitulate before Modi. However, the moderate leaders of the BJP are not going to oblige Modi by keeling over and playing dead. The mass leaders in the party who have contested and won more elections than Modi and who see a political future before them will not let themselves become his cheerleaders. However, there will be a stark choice before the BJP leaders — to be with Modi or be counted against him. The moderate leaders could well team up with the RSS to prevent his installation in Delhi — if they leave that decision for too late then they may not be able to do anything to dislodge him as in Gujarat.
Modi’s takeover of the BJP will halt the process of its evolution from a far-right party to a centrist one. While Atal Behari Vajpayee spearheaded the party’s transition from Balraj Madhok’s Bharatiya Jan Sangh to the present-day BJP, Modi could turn it into a potent right-wing Hindutva party backing strident capitalism.
A communal polarisation of Indian politics would also begin — if it has not already begun the moment the Gujarat election result became apparent. Because of this the BJP might gain electorally in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will see a three-way division of the Muslim vote during the state Assembly elections while the Hindu vote will get relatively consolidated. Jammu will go the whole hog for Modi. The polity in Gujarat and Maharashtra is already polarised communally. Similar polarisation could take place in other communally sensitive areas of the country — especially those districts, towns and cities which have seen communal strife in the recent past.
Such communal polarisation, however, might not be comprehensive because of the size and diversity of India. The majority community is caste-riven and this may thwart communal consolidation. The other factor which could come in its way is the youth — those under 35 account for nearly half the population of the country and they may not find Modi’s divisive politics attractive.
The NDA will most certainly break up if Modi becomes the BJP president. There will be a political realignment of regional parties. While Modi’s ascension will make no difference to the BJP allies in Punjab and Haryana, the situation would be quite different in other states. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar might exit the NDA and explore an alliance with the Congress.
In Andhra Pradesh, the TDP will also have to decide which way to go — it cannot go with the Congress and with Modi at the helm of affairs, it would not be able to go with the BJP either. The AIADMK, too, will have to take a difficult call on Modi. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s options for alliances at the national level would get limited. She has been with the NDA in the past, but it is doubtful whether she would be able to do so again as Muslims constitute 28 per cent of the state’s population.
The big question is: Will Modi be the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister in 2014? If he becomes party president, he most certainly will. And even if he does not become the BJP’s PM candidate, his being the party president would ensure that people perceive him as such. There are many who argue that Modi has been trying for an image makeover and hence the emphasis on development, holding of the Vibrant Gujarat mega events and getting endorsements from corporate honchos.
He might do well to learn from the experience of Advani who, having communalised this country through his “Ram rathyatra” in an air-conditioned bus, has tried for over two decades to shed his communal image. He even went to Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s grave to offer prayers and called him a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity.
However, none of that could wash away his communal past. Modi oversaw the massacre of 2,000 Muslims as chief minister and reincarnating him as a secular avatar is not going to be easy. It might not be easy to convince India and the world of a new and improved Modi. India also cannot have a Prime Minister who can boast only in India and not be able to travel to the United States and Europe.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi