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‘Gujarati middle class is strongly behind Modi’

Ahmedabad: Achyut Yagnik, prominent social thinker and co-author of books 'Creating a Nationality: Ramjanmabhoomi Movement and Fear of the Self' and 'The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond', is no fan of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He calls him a 'narcissist' and a clever 'propagandist'. But, in a free-wheeling interview with Firstpost, he also admits that Modi's chances of losing the elections are slim.

Narendra Modi’s political positioning of himself has three distinct phases: first, the Hindutva phase, then Gujarat Asmita phase when he addressed Gujarati pride, and third, where he projects himself as the development messiah. How do you interpret the shift from one position to the other?

It's political necessity. If you notice, the hard line Hindutva phase lasted till 2004. In the years before that the communal hint in his speeches was sharp. It coincided with the growing popularity of the BJP in the state. After the BJP-led NDA rule ended at the Centre, Modi shifted to Gujarati pride and aggressive branding of the state. Now that his focus has shifted to the national stage, the accent is on development. That is what impresses the middle classes everywhere.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Can he abandon the development plank and win elections solely on Hindutva?

No. It will drive the middle class, his strongest backers, against Modi. The Gujarati middle class is known for its strong entrepreneurial traits. It goes back in history a long time. The trait has helped the class expanding its social and economic prominence since early 20th century. It wants development and modern development that suits its requirement. If the government of the day fails in this, then it will turn its back on it.

What is your opinion of Modi?

He is a clever politician, a brilliant propagandist. There’s no doubt about it. He has achievements to his credit but he is also narcissistic. That’s the reason you find no one close to him in the BJP’s hierarchy in the state. He has turned the BJP into a one-pillar party, him being the only pillar. Imagine what will happen to it once he moves to the national stage.

What is driving a section of Patels to Keshubhai Patel who is past his prime as a political force?

It has to do with the perceived disparity between SMEs and the big industries. Modi’s accent on huge industries ever since he took over as chief minister has not gone down well with the Patels, who dominate the small and medium industries sector. They apprehend a threat from the overwhelming dominance of a few industrial houses such as Adanis and the Reliance Group to their businesses.

Do you think Modi will retain power with higher number of seats?

No. The talk of 128 seats or more is just tall talk. The victory margin will be lower this time, considering the old guard of the Sangh Parivar is up in arms against him. He has managed to divide the BJP and the RSS too by giving tickets to the younger generation of leaders. He has developed his own network of loyalists in both. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, which has a million members, is staunchly against him. These were not big factors in previous elections but this time they certainly are.

The Congress has been on a decline since the 1990s and even a decade before that. The vote share gap between it and the BJP has been growing. What’s the reason for that?

The Navnirman movement, essentially an urban-based students’ movement of the 70s, was a great challenge to the Congress. To offset its impact, it drew up the KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) formulation. It paid rich dividends in the 1980 elections but it also drove the powerful upper castes—Bramhins, Banias and Patidars (Patels)—who formed the educated middle class, together as they felt a threat to their political and economic domination in the state. They spearheaded a strong anti-reservation movement in 1981, which culminated in unprecedented caste violence. In 1985, there was another round of anti-reservation agitation which made the bonding between the upper castes stronger. By now the Congress had alienated an electorally influential section.

Where does the BJP come into the picture? How did it manage to expand its base at the cost of the Congress?

The BJP, traditionally an upper caste party, participated in both the movements and was able to enlist the support of the upper middle class. However, aware of the numerical limitation of this combine, the Sangh Parivar started reaching out to backward communities through several yatras. By 1990, it had a section of Dalits in its fold and a section of tribals too. The Congress, which had already lost the upper caste support, had started witnessing erosion of its core voter base as well. In 1995, the BJP captured power for the first time and after that there has been no looking back for it.

Can the Congress recover its position and throw a challenge to the BJP?

This time there’s a semblance of unity in the faction-ridden party. And it’s working to a strategy. While Modi is busy attacking the centre, the Congress has been silently working among the people, raking up grassroots issues such as farmer suicides and the low Human Development Index in the state. There manifesto addresses a range of local issues. However, it may not be enough for it to ride back to power. There’s little chance that it will benefit hugely from the Keshubhai factor.