As the last votes of the Gujarat Assembly elections were being counted, Narendra Modi sought to send a politically correct message. He made his way to the home of his one-time senior colleague turned bitter political rival Keshubhai, to call a truce and seek his blessings for the journey ahead.
Around two hours later, standing on the victory podium in front of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state headquarters in Khanpur, Modi, dressed in his trademark saffron short sleeve kurta, played victim and vengeful hero to an audience, which by all accounts, had its sights set on Delhi.
To ensure that what he spoke was properly understood by all concerned, he spoke in Hindi.
Now since elections are over, the audience — those present at venue and those watching on their television screens — was not confined just to Gujarat. He tried to show humility by seeking forgiveness from all six crore Gujaratis for the mistakes that “he may have committed as a human being” and for the “hard decisions that may have upset his fellow Gujarati citizens, groups, villages and even his own colleagues but decisions that had to be taken because of the needs of governance and pressure for development.”
However, for his critics — the “political pundits” and the “anti-Gujarat groups” he had a different message: he nurses an anger that won’t be easily pacified.
He then proceeded to give a long and often repeated narrative of why he was agitated.
“The more muck you throw at me, the more the lotus shall bloom. I will use the stones you throw at me to make stairs and climb up on them. The political pundits will not able to digest this victory… I don’t know whether they will be able to sleep tonight. They should be ashamed of their intellectual manhandling… after all, what are they going to get by running down Gujarat? Victory is after all victory, it is all that matters. Even if we got 93 (seats), the chief minister would have been of the BJP, they should at least get their arithmetic right,” he said
While the “political pundits” were treated harshly, Modi tried dispel the much-talked about notion that “Modi was BJP and BJP was Modi” in the state.
In 2007, he had spoken on the same lines but then this time around the stakes for him are much higher. He did not fight these elections with just Gujarat in mind. He fought them to make Brand Modi go national. And has he succeeded?
“Without the party, you can’t be really achieve anything. You are practically a nobody. Whatever I am, is because of 40-50 years of hard work of the people in the party, dead or alive today.”
All the senior state leaders were on the dais to celebrate the occasion with him but the presence of senior RSS functionary, V Satish was perhaps even more meaningful.
The ‘Modi for PM’ faithful didn’t wait much longer to let their demands be heard outside Ahmedabad. His supporters, present in big numbers at the victory rally, knew that this would be televised live all across the nation. They started chanting ‘Delhi… Delhi’ even as Modi was trying side-step the issue and talk just about Gujarat.
Then, true to his showman ways, he readjusted his white shawl and said: “I want to tell you, if this is what you desire (pausing) I will go to Delhi for a day on December 27.”
That was all it took. The crowd quickly moved on to the next topic on their mind. The chants became even louder and more frantic but only this time, they weren’t talking about just Delhi: “PM… PM… PM.”
It would have been unwise or crude on Modi’s part to directly talk about any move to Delhi at this juncture. But even during the electioneering, his constant reference to Prime Minister and the ‘Gujarat model versus Centre’s model’ and his supporters talking about the Delhi aspect had everyone in Gujarat thinking about it.
Modi for “Bada-Pradhan” was a call that originated in his native village in Vadnagar but soon spread to all other places where his supporters openly pledged their support and vote.
Given the conflicting command structure in the BJP at the central party headquarters and the belief as perpetuated by the RSS that decision-making in the party, at least of this level, will be made at the ideological fountainheads in Nagpur, he is aware that his imminent shift to Delhi for a bigger national role has to hit many awkward speed breakers, mostly without any visible signs.
But his supporters are sure that the magnitude of today’s victory will make it easier for him to negotiate all those obstacles. After all, he is no longer just the poster boy of the Sangh Parivar, he has proven his capacity to deliver.
In the post Vajpayee-Advani era, the RSS loathes the idea of making heroes out of individuals and thus it experimented by making a relative unknown Maharastra leader Nitin Gadkari the BJP President and stressing on the idea of collective leadership.
But then Modi remains a problem child to the RSS. The law of nature does not allow a vacuum to exist. BJP needs leadership and Modi’s victory is both a celebration and a challenge to the RSS and the other senior BJP leaders.
On his part, Modi has already told the people through his nationally televised address that “good economics does not mean bad politics. Good governance and politics can’t go hand in hand”.
The message, like many others delivered today, was for the rest of India, the land beyond Gujarat.