The popularity of Narendra Modi with India's corporates and middle class has brought with it a broader acceptability of his organisation. The Bharatiya Janata Party had gone through a similar phase before, in the period Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading it, when he was believed to be the moderate face of Hindutva.
But Modi has expanded the constituency of the party and made it acceptable to people who would otherwise have been put off by the BJP and its policies.
Modi's appeal is crafted on two narratives. The first is his record on Hindutva. This is formed by his work as a lifelong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, as the organiser of LK Advani's Rath Yatra, as the administrator under whose watch Gujarat burnt and continues to smoulder. Modi does not need to amplify this side and his record is manifest.
The second part of his appeal is his image as a strong administrator and someone who is both incorruptible and uninterested in pushing his own family. In both aspects, he is someone who is decisive and firm.
This second part to Modi is what has made BJP more palatable to those groups. It is not easy to talk about the BJP today without being challenged on the Congress record.
It would seem that both parties are the same and represent the same sort of dangers to Indians. That while the BJP did its damage over Ayodhya and Gujarat, the Congress cannot be absolved on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and dozens of other skirmishes over the decades.
Is this an accurate comparison? I don't think so. The fact is that the BJP is more dangerous than the Congress. While it's true that the Congress has been opportunistic in its behaviour, it must be understood that the BJP has created its mischief.
Three thousand Indians died in the violence that Advani's Ayodhya gambit produced. In his autobiography Advani absolves himself by saying little violence happened in the areas his Rath Yatra had visited, but he is aware of the fires he lit. He led a fired-up mob to the mosque and then expressed suprise when they razed it and he was unable to stop them.
Modi's aide and his deputy home minister, Amit Shah, said in a recent interview to rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt that the violence in Gujarat was inevitable given the massacre at Godhra. In his words: "The BJP has nothing to do with the riots of 2002! The riots were the reaction of the people to the Godhra incident. The reaction was so huge that the established machinery could not meet the challenge of these spontaneous reactions."
What he doesn't say is that it is that the BJP over the decades had so polarised the state that a single incident led to a state-wide orgy of revenge. The reason that so much anger and bitterness and hatred exists in Gujarat is because of the divisive language and policies of the BJP. These remain unchanged in the era of Modi but have been papered over by the second aspect to his image.
Congress is guilty for the massacre of Sikhs, but it must be acknowledged that the party has tried to make up for its crime.
Under Sonia Gandhi, we have had a magnificent gesture to Sikhs in the face of Manmohan Singh. His two terms as prime minister have done much to heal feelings of Sikhs and non-Sikhs offended by the way the community was treated in Delhi. The other way to judge how effective Congress's outreach to Sikhs has been is to observe the politics in Punjab.
The fact is that the Congress has made its peace with Sikhs there. To see this we need to only go through the names of Punjab’s legislators. Of the 46 Congress MLAs, 33 are Sikh (on the other hand 10 of the BJP’s 12 MLAs are Hindu). It is the Sikhs who elected Congress to government twice in Punjab after 1984.
How different this is from the BJP in Gujarat, where no Muslim has been given a BJP ticket to contest in three Assembly and two Lok Sabha elections under Modi. The record shows that it is not wise to see the BJP and the Congress as being alike, even if Modi's popularity has convinced many to see it this way.
Updated Date: Oct 14, 2013 08:01 AM