If the exit polls are correct, Narendra Modi may be about to storm back to power in Gujarat tomorrow. More importantly, he is likely to overturn national politics in the years to come.
The problem is for political analysts who have always demonised Modi. Having got it wrong repeatedly, on his electability and their hopes for a Congress revival in the state, they are busy floating wilder theories on what could happen now.
Some of these theories include the following: That the Congress wanted Modi to win, so that it can scare the minorities into voting for the party in 2014 ( heard this on TV last Monday); that Modi’s first challenge will be in his own party and the RSS (Dileep Padgaonkar says so in The Times of India); that Modi may have won due to Gujarat’s communally polarised social polity, but he won’t get anywhere on the national scene (many columnists have said this); that Modi will have problems getting allies for the NDA, and if does get them, they will tie him down (Swaminathan Aiyar says this); that Gujarat is not India (sure); and that minorities outside Gujarat will not accept Modi at any cost (almost everyone’s assumption).
There is some validity to all such arguments and we have heard them before.
The real truth is, neither his critics nor his fans may be right on his challenges. They may both be underestimating his strengths and opportunities, and overestimating his challenges.
When you unleash an irresistible force in national politics, there is no way anyone can foretell what the impact will be. For three reasons: one can’t presume that Modi will not change his tactics, whether it is towards allies, or party rivals or towards minorities; two, one does not know how his known antagonists will react (among them, minorities or parties dependent on the minority vote); and, three, the doubtful assumption that all other political parties will live up to their professed secularism the way the media expects them to.
But power has its own logic. If the Communists in Kerala can team up with rank communalists from Muslim groups (breakaway factions of the Muslim League in the past, the PDP of Abdul Naseer Madani in 2009), the possibility that every so-called secular party in India will continue to treat the BJP under Modi as an untouchable is laughable.
The history of Indian politics also proves that even so-called principled parties get into opportunistic alliances for electoral advantage (the CPM has tied up with both DMK and AIADMK on different occasions, Mamata Banerjee was with the NDA and UPA, Nitish Kumar is even now in bed with the BJP, and the CPI was actually in Deve Gowda’s government).
The only thing that can be said with certainty is that when Modi enters the national scene, the law of unintended consequences will apply. His initial challenges lie within the BJP, but not in the direction everyone assumes. It is not Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley or Nitin Gadkari or the RSS who will try to scuttle his chances, but the powerful CMs of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, of whom at least one nurses national ambitions. Of this, more later.
For a start, let’s question the assumptions that experts make about Modi and his inappropriateness for the national stage.
First, assuming that there is only one party playing the Hindu card and several vying for the minority vote, the competition will thus be for the regional minority vote. Those who say India is not Gujarat are basically saying that unlike Gujarat, which has less than 10 percent Muslims, in the rest of India the minority vote cannot be ignored.
The fact is, three-quarters of India’s Muslims live in seven or eight Indian states – Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, West Bengal, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Kerala. It is here that minority votes matter most.
Every other state has minority populations below that of Gujarat. As for states with high minority concentrations, the fact is these are precisely where there are high chances of a reverse polarisation – especially states such as UP and Assam, and possibly Bihar. In UP, the BJP was the major party all through the 1990s, and in Assam it could well emerge as one. In Karnataka, it has been the ruling party in the last five years. In Maharashtra, it has always been a contender for power along with the Shiv Sena.
This is not to suggest that Modi will try — or should try — to polarise votes along communal lines, but the assumption that Gujarat is a special case is open to question. Every state is a special case, and a lot would depend on how Modi plays his cards in each one of them.