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Why the Modi story is bigger than the Gujarat elections

by Akshaya Mishra  Dec 21, 2012 20:35 IST

#Gujarat Elections 2012   #Narendra Modi  

The suspense over possibly the most over-hyped election in the country is finally over. Narendra Modi has romped home comfortably, the Congress has bitten the dust yet again and the X-factor in this election, Keshubhai Patel, has gone down in a whimper. Frankly, no one expected a big surprise in Gujarat. It was always a Modi vs Modi affair, his margin of victory being the only matter of interest. So what was all the hype and hoopla about?

It was not about the election per se, it was more about the direction of developments beyond it. Modi’s victory here would set him on course to a role in national politics. Maybe he would like to be projected as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014 by his party or possibly, being a skillful organisation man, he would like to be in charge of the organisational network of the party. This would, after a point, make him the automatic choice for the top job. But more than Modi, the anticipated developments are more about the fate of the BJP.

Gujarat Chief Minister-elect Narendra Modi. PTI

These are about the future of the party which should be the only genuine claimant to power at the Centre if the electorate decides to throw the Congress-led UPA government out. At present, its ability to make that claim is under doubt. It’s vote share in every state it has contested polls since 2011 has been either stagnant or on the decline. It has lost some states it should have won and has not had any success beyond its strongholds. Considering the plight of the main rival Congress in the last two years, it should be bursting with confidence at this point and should have positioned itself for a takeover already. But it looks listless.

The party is beset with acute leadership crisis with too many conflicting egos at the top. While the leaders have kept busy undercutting each other, the cadre remains in desperate wait for ideological direction and coherence in plan of action from the top. And, there’s this cumbersome Sangh-BJP relationship that needs to be taken care of too. It is clear that the present set of leaders is incapable of putting the BJP in order. A new leader, not too familiar or patient with intra-party machinations in Delhi, has to be imported.

Many in the party, particularly in the middle and lower rungs, believe Modi’s emergence at the decision-making layer of the party could offer a way out of the current sense of drift. Thus the excitement over Modi’s election in Gujarat is more about how things will shape up in Delhi. If he decides to stay put in Gujarat, chances are that the central leaders under the weight of the cadre pressure would be forced to shift him to the centre.

But the task for him is not going to be easy. Modi is certain to set afoot a churn at the leadership level. His victory here does not make him the obvious first among equals in the party. He will need to cut through several layers of egos, aspirations, and even intrigue to firmly establish himself as that. His presence would set off new equations and alliances within the top leadership of the party. His prominence could lead to resistance and rebellions. However, if the party is serious about its long-term future, it would need to place him in an important position in the organisation. It simply cannot waste him in a meaningless role.

The second layer of challenge is the NDA. Modi arrival on the big scene is certain to cause realignment within the formation. With secularism being the sore point, partners such as JD(U) may quit the coalition and new ones such as the AIADMK and the BJD may join in. The changed scenario may even benefit the Congress in the short run. It might end up finding strong allies in Bihar and West Bengal. If Modi at all gets to manage the BJP’s affairs, it would take him considerable time to have a new-look NDA in place.

The third layer of challenge would be to set in order in Sangh-BJP equations. To grow up as a political party, the BJP needs considerable elbow room to make its moves. These might require sacrificing a bit of the Sangh ideology for political pragmatism. For those familiar with the ways of the Sangh would be aware that it is easier said than achieved. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the tallest among the BJP leaders, had problems on this front as did party stalwart LK Advani. Will Modi, an individualistic leader, be able to withstand the pressure from the RSS? It’s difficult to predict that at the moment.

The BJP requires Modi to stay relevant at the national level. He brings a baggage of risks with him but given the state the party is in now, the risks are worth it.