Pracharak, Pied Piper, PM?

If BJP has 180-190 seats, there will be a softer hue & less dominant Modi

n January 1993, when the Sangh Parivar was flush with a sense of victory after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a leading thinker of that fraternity wrote an ingenuous article in Organiser, the official organ of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He argued that the time had come to change the name of our nation because India was a foreign-sounding name. So what should it be? Bharat could be a possible new name – but he found a problem with it because passports would have Bharatia or Bharati stamped in the nationality column and thus “read like a surname”. Hindustan could be another option – but there were too many ‘Stans’ around, he argued while rejecting that name. The best option would be Hindudesh. This will resolve the principal issue of minorityism in the country because every national of the country would be known as Hindu. Even if some sections of people disliked it, there was no way of avoiding being called Hindu even when they were headed for the annual Haj!

It is easy for doomsayers to conclude that this scenario is about to unfold. After all, if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister, it will be the most euphoric moment for the Sangh Parivar since the demolition of the disputed medieval shrine at Ayodhya. Mr Modi’s elevation as PM will be a bigger event for the RSS and its affiliated organsations than even Atal Behari Vajpayee assuming office, because the latter had been a compromise candidate that the organisation opted for because of the need for public moderation. In contrast, Modi has been unabashed about the posture he adopted between March and November 2002. Despite all speculation that he would tone down stridency and become moderate, in the course of the campaign he has not done so.

In the 2014 campaign, he did not repeat old forms of insinuations like calling riot relief camps ‘baby-producing factories’ or referring to Pakistan president as ‘Miyan Musharraf’ to underscore the latter’s Muslim identity more than his Pakistani nationality. But Mr Modi did constantly call the UPA government ‘Delhi Sultanate’ and Rahul Gandhi ‘Shehzada’ – both words meant to convey their Islamic cultural and linguistic connotations. Why did Mr Modi not call the UPA government ‘Samrajya’ and Rahul Gandhi ‘Yuvraj’ or ‘Raj-kumar’? What was the need to argue that Pakistan toys around with three AKs – AK47, the Kalashnikov rifle, defence minister A.K. Antony and Arvind Kejriwal?
In his interview to ANI, Mr Modi said that during campaigning, certain excesses were committed by both sides. Mr Modi’s prejudice-promoting facet of his campaign could have been dismissed as part of this had it not been for the embedded nature of this worldview in his governance over the past decade or more. But while that may be his real intent, India may still be spared of the ‘worst-case’ scenario. There are different possibilities of what looms ahead.

Everything about what kind of PM Mr Modi will be will depend primarily on the mandate that he secures on his own and the power that gives him. The closer Mr Modi is to the halfway mark of 272 on his own, the less dependent he will be on allies both inside the Sangh Parivar and on alliance partners. Before reading into the varied implications of this formulation, it is important to understand the clever mix of ideological commitment and quest for political power in Mr Modi’s persona. To give examples, he is definitely not as much ideologically committed to the RSS worldview as, say, someone like its present Sarsanghcha-lak, Mohan Bhagwat. While Modi may make a few compromises in securing political power, which is his primary goal, the latter has stayed away from wielding political power directly and is unlikely to do for the rest of his political career. Yet Mr Modi is not as ideologically flexible as someone like Mr Vajpayee. This is where Mr Modi is going to be a bit like the former PM, yet also be distinct from him.

To a great extent, the mix of various elements of his characteristics will vary on the basis of the number of seats the BJP wins on its own. If he has seats in the range of 180-190, there will be a softer hue and a less dominant Modi. This Modi will perforce have to be fairly amiable towards political opponents and more accommodating towards allies. Modi’s sociability, both within his own political fraternity and in the coalition, will start declining as the number of seats in his kitty rises. For every 10-15 seats, there will be a harsher grade of Mr Modi in evidence. This, however, will not have a uniform impact on policy.

Mr Modi’s chance of becoming Prime Minister hinges on the support of two distinct sets of voters. The first is the group that has stayed with him from 2002 and admires him for his plain-speak, hardnosed aggressive stance towards social issues and no-nonsense approach towards religious minorities. His refusal to express regret for 2002 or not donning the skull cap is a communicative tool aimed at this group. The other group that has gravitated towards Mr Modi in greater numbers since 2008 are those who got disillusioned with the UPA government owing to two principal reasons: recurring graft charges and policy paralysis. In contrast to this, Mr Modi projected himself as the alpha male and a leader who would not allow himself to be reined in by a paralysing system of dual power centre.

As a result of this, his first priority regardless of the hue of saffron that is integrated into his citadel will be to focus immediately on sorting out the economic disarray. He will look at ways of controlling inflation and clearing stalled projects. Despite his pro-industry posturing, his approach will perforce be tentative. One must comprehend that Mr Modi will be hamstrung by the campaign of adversaries that his government will primarily cater to the interests of corporate giants – Ambani and Adani, specifically. There are varying attitudes towards the pursuit of business and multiplication of wealth in different parts of the country. Gujarat had a homogenous political and economic culture, but that is not the case outside. Given Mr Modi’s political foresight, one expects greater circumspection from him. Modi will find it tough to pursue policies immediately that encourage crony capitalism blatantly.

On paper, Modi has sounded extremely reasonable. He has promised to practise political federalism, consult states while evolving foreign policy, and has talked about giving a thrust to manufacturing and services sectors while modernising agriculture. Modi has spoken of continuing urbanisation – but this also fits into his political strategy – and makes no bones about the need to step on the accelerator when it comes to infrastructure development. On foreign policy, Mr Modi, from whatever little he has spoken, has not sounded jingoistic and argued that now is not the appropriate time to lock the adversary in an eyeball to eyeball conflict while underscoring that India’s dignity will be maintained by his government.

Since 2001, when he was given charge of Gujarat by the BJP despite the fact that he had no prior administrative experience, he has succeeded electorally by sheer grit and ability to reinvent himself. Mr Modi will be aware that in the course of the campaign he waged incessantly since 2011 autumn when he launched his Sadbhavna programme, he has made at times contradictory promises to different social and economic groups. This has generated different levels of expectations from people. If Mr Modi becomes prime minister, the first challenge will be to balance these different sets of anticipations.

For all the rhetoric of Mr Modi ushering in a Fascist regime, the biggest check on his autocratic style of functioning will be his own searing political ambition. Over time, a considerable amount of his energies will be spent in managing his own contradictions and resolving conflicts in his political edifice. The worst case and best case scenarios will have a direct co-relation with the elbow room he has.

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist and author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times

( Source : dc )
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