Modi, BJP turn divergent entities: How one week saw the party's stock fall while PM's rose

By Ambikanand Sahay

The overall direction of politics in India appears to be taking a turn with three rather obvious pointers having already emerged on the surface: First, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity remains more or less intact, even as the BJP seems to be going downhill in elections across states. Second, Modi swears by the Constitution — both on the floor of Parliament and outside — while RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calls upon people to be prepared to make sacrifices for the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Finally, both Houses of Parliament start functioning without too many hiccups.

The last is no mean development. The passage of the otherwise vexed GST Bill and other proposed legislations seem to be on course. In spite of their differing views on many things with regard to past, present and future projections, both treasury and Opposition benches are discussing issues. The nation, in the process, is heaving a sigh of relief.

 Modi, BJP turn divergent entities: How one week saw the partys stock fall while PMs rose

File image of Narendra Modi. Reuters

But how and why did all this happen? It was simple: the prime minister first made a conciliatory speech in the Lok Sabha during his reply to the debate on the Constitution on 27 November. He followed this up immediately with telephone calls to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh inviting them for “chai par charcha” on the GST Bill. Sonia and Manmohan reciprocated.

Modi’s gesture carried, without making it too obvious, a decisive political message that the man who had thus far been bedeviled by arrogance, perception-wise, was now prepared to be modest. It was also clear in political circles thata Modi, who had so far been known as the poster boy of the RSS representing the Hindutva ideology and anti-Congressism, was now prepared to change — and change for the better. Little wonder then that the cordiality seemed to last. The prime minister, on his part, took the spirit of conciliation further on 3 December.

Replying to the debate on the Constitution in the Rajya Sabha, he delivered another rousing speech talking about inclusive growth, tolerance and strength of federalism. He even subtly warned, if not rebuked, his party for claiming a patent on patriotism by saying no Indian needs to prove his patriotism. It was indeed a pleasant image makeover for the prime minister within the country. He had already won the hearts and minds of the Indian diaspora on his many foreign tours. He had also been hailed by world leaders including President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron as “India’s reformer-in-chief” and a “man in command of the globe’s largest democracy”.

But in politics, extending olive branches to world leaders and doing public relations abroad successfully is just not enough. You need to remain endeared to your countrymen equally strongly. Otherwise, what happened to Sir Winston Churchill could happen to anybody. Churchill lost the elections immediately after winning the Second World War.

After the “chai par charcha”, the prime minister made it a point to swear by the Constitution in the strongest terms possible. Stressing that the Constitution was both a legal and social document, he saluted all the founding fathers including Jawaharlal Nehru. The House did notice the change in Modi’s tone, tenor and content. His style of speaking had changed completely. At times, he even sounded like a rebel vis-à-vis the Hindutva brigade. Modi and BJP looked like different entities, especially in the backdrop of the dwindling fortunes of the saffron party in states that went to polls this year.

Indeed, 2015 happened to be a very bad year for the BJP. It could win only three seats in a House of 70 in Delhi. Then came the UP panchayat elections. The BJP, which fought the elections on its party symbol for the first time, was wiped out even in Varanasi — Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency. The party’s social base that existed during 2014 Lok Sabha elections had shifted majorly to the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. Even the Congress looked better-placed here and there.

Then came the shock of Bihar. The Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav-Rahul Gandhi Mahagathbandhan saw to it that the BJP bit the dust. But the BJP’s discomfiture didn’t end there. Within a month of the Bihar results came news from Modi’s home state, making it clear that rural Gujarat had by-and-large slipped out of the BJP's grasp. Nobody can, at this point of time, say with certainty if the saffron party’s dwindling fortunes will be reversed in the coming elections in other states. What’s surprising is that Modi’s stature has not been dented despite the BJP’s losses.

There is an even bigger problem lurking on the political horizon. And it comes again from Bhagwat’s direction. The RSS chief has reiterated his call for construction of Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. What remains to be seen is if Modi — who espouses the cause of the Constitution — and the rule of law, and the protagonists of the Ram Mandir can swim along peacefully in the ocean of Indian politics.

The 2014 Lok Sabha polls showed that the BJP is nothing without Modi. While that has not changed, Modi is acquiring an identity other than that of the party and the parivaar. And if that goes well, we will remember the seven days between the chai par charcha and his two Parliament speeches as a turning point for Modi.

And indeed, India.

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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2015 12:58:12 IST