Forget Anandiben Patel, BJP needs a Modi-like charismatic leader to save Gujarat
Gujarat was the finishing school from where Chief Minister Modi graduated to become Prime Minister Modi, a feat no other chief minister has accomplished.
Enough ink has flowed in speculating on the reasons behind Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel’s resignation as well as suggestions on what the BJP needs to do to hold on to its posterboy state.
Indeed, the situation in Gujarat today was perhaps only to be expected when Narendra Modi resigned as chief minister to make his bid for the prime ministership.
Whatever the reasons maybe, the fact remains that it will take a long time for the BJP to find someone even remotely close to Modi’s charisma, political adroitness and stature to occupy the Gujarat CM’s chair.
As Sandipan Sharma observes in this Firstpost article, although the BJP has undoubtedly been the most powerful force in Gujarat for over two decades, the state has also been a "tricky" one for the BJP. "Such was the level of infighting, bickering and factionalism that no chief minister before Modi was able to complete his term.”
The notable trait that made Modi Gujarat’s most successful chief minister for three consecutive terms was his ability to not just manage crises but to thrive in crisis management. We note that post the 2002 riots — when he was trying to find his feet — there has not been a single religious riot in Gujarat even though the state has a history of being a repeated target of Islamic incursions. Equally, the manner in which he withstood a decade-long, vicious witch hunt is also a great pointer at his ability to thrive in calamitous situations.
Then there was the manner in which he simultaneously began to build Brand Gujarat beginning with the first Vibrant Gujarat Summit in 2003. Within a decade, he had almost the entire business fraternity rooting for his PM candidature demonstrating how well he had internalised Kautilya’s maxim of Dharmasya moolam arthaha, Arthasya moolam rajyam (the root of Dharma is money, and the root of money is political power).
His understanding of grassroots organisation and ideological and cadre-based politics helped him quell internal rebellion and manage dissent, and reduce the Opposition to irrelevance by the sheer force of his personality.
While this has invited criticism on the grounds of dictatorial tendencies etc, more pragmatically, this is perhaps the only way to move ahead in the kind of democracy that is practised in India. As history shows, no party is free from this. All Congress dynasty members have been, well, autocratic. Leaders of regional parties have been patriarchs and matriarchs.
The fourth and most important trait was Modi’s image of incorruptibility and Gujarat as a state “where work got done without greasing palms”. This contributed vastly to his ultimate success in May 2014. After a decade rife with gargantuan national loot by two successive UPA regimes, this trait stood out as a luminous beacon of hope for the voter.
Gujarat thus became the finishing school from where Chief Minister Modi graduated directly to become Prime Minister Modi, a feat no other chief minister has accomplished.
This backdrop helps put Anandiben Patel’s resignation in perspective. Beyond political machinations, party directives, anti-government agitations, etc, there’s the real, everyday fact of the factor of personal leadership. What are the odds that the Patidar agitation and the Una killings would have occurred had Modi still been Gujarat CM?
At a more fundamental level, the lack of an equivalent, or at least suitable replacement for Modi in Gujarat is a long-term lacuna for a cadre-based and ideology-driven political party like the BJP. It continually needs to groom leaders in the stalwart mould, which produced among others, a Vajpayee, Advani, Modi and Amit Shah to a great extent. More importantly, this grooming should occur in the context of changing time, social mores and aspirations.
As the experience of several states shows, winning elections even with thumping majorities is only half the battle won. Even at the national level, with an absolute majority of 282 Lok Sabha seats, the narrative appears to still be in the hands of the combined Opposition, primarily led by the Congress-Left ecosystem.
Despite the slew of economic and all-round progress that Modi has initiated, there seems to be no pervasive outlet to air the results of this progress. Of course, direct outreach efforts like Mann ki Baat, etc are making an impact but the overall narrative is still tinged with Leftist overtones.
It remains to be seen to what extent the BJP’s fortunes in Gujarat in 2017 will be impacted after Modi’s exit. It might still do well given that the Congress still doesn’t pose a serious challenge. However, it is undeniable that the BJP’s vise-like grip over the state has swiftly loosened in just two years.
And if the BJP is serious about stemming this early slide into decline in its most important state, it needs to bring in a decisive leader exhibiting a strong force of personality and an image of incorruptibility.
More importantly, although the party has emerged as a formidable election-winning machine under Amit Shah, it still needs to invest in building institutions and platforms that attract and nurture top talent drawn from various fields. This was accomplished to a significant extent in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but was squandered away subsequently. The result has been hasty responses to motivated campaigns of say, award wapsi, intolerance, and the rest while these should have been anticipated in the first place.
And this need is urgent — between now and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP stares at four significant state polls: Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
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