The Modi threat: How Omar's statement reflects UPA’s fear

“I think it would be foolish for us (UPA constituents) to ignore the Modi factor. In fact, it would be a dangerous mistake,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told Hindustan Times in an interview. He could not be more candid, more blunt and so right in making an assessment. Coming from someone who heads the most trouble-torn state of the country and whose actions have ramifications for the country, both internally and externally, the observation needs to be treated with the gravity it deserves.

 The Modi threat: How Omars statement reflects UPA’s fear

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. AFP image

Omar’s statement gains additional significance because he is considered a personal friend of Rahul Gandhi and his father Farooq Abdullah is a minister in the UPA government. This also means that he is not at all convinced with Rahul’s assertion in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, that “In 2014, a government of the youth will come to power, which will change the country”. Rahul and Omar were born in same year and both are 43 now.

But the National Conference leader’s feedback from the ground and personal assessment must have weighed so strongly that it didn’t matter to him that after Rahul’s speech so many senior Congress leaders thought he had the galvanising charisma and credentials to lead the next government of the youth.

Elaborating on the ‘Modi factor’, Abdullah said, “Six months ago if you had asked me I would have said the Modi factor would have no effect at all, but today it would be foolish on my part to do that. Modi has galvanised the cadre and there is an expectation even in Jammu that they (the BJP) would return to power under Modi. A galvanised cadre can be a make or break factor in an election.”

Abdullah admitted that the UPA constituents, including his National Conference, had failed to offer an alternative discourse. “It is my failing,’’ he said. “It is not helping us to allow him such a long rope - so as to allow him to hang us. As a constituent of the UPA, it is binding on me to devise an alternate discourse but our strategy is to keep our powder dry. I hope we don’t find that we kept it dry for too long,’’ Harinder Baweja wrote in Hindustan Times quoting Omar.

What Abdullah couldn’t say that he felt troubled by the Congress being in the denial mode about Modi. Kashmir is an ideological issue for the BJP and Modi. Should he come to power he will certainly like to make his influence felt in the valley.

His other concern could be that Congress’ failing that it first tried to ignore him completely, then tried to paint him just as another chief minister, in the league of a Tarun Gogai or a Sheila Dikshit, who was fighting for glory that he didn’t deserve, then treated him as a self-styled regional satrap who’s only worth was to be countered by Gujarat Congress leaders, almost all of whom had either not contested elections or had lost their respective MLA seats in the assembly elections only 10 months ago. The essence of Congress’ strategy was: how dare a regional upstart, even if he was projected prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition party, dare ascend on the national scene and challenge the might of the Gandhi-Nehru family in a manner nobody ever dared or considered prudent.

Omar is right when he says “a galvanised cadre can be a make or break factor in an election.” A Congress leader confided that a change in their party’s thought process as also among the UPA partners, came after seeing how people began to respond in areas where the BJP did not have a single MP - Hyderabad, Trichi, Rewari, Delhi - and the kind of buzz that he was generating ahead of his maiden appearance in Uttar Pradesh on October 19.

Incidentally, Omar is the third UPA leader in last 10 days to acknowledge the Modi threat. On October 1, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his way back from the USA, a trip which was torpedoed by Rahul Gandhi “complete nonsense” ordinance outburst, told the media delegation on board Air India One flight: “I sincerely hope that all secular forces would combine to face the onslaught of people like Mr Narendra Modi. And I have every reason to believe that that will happen. You wait for some time before the people realise what they are up against.”

This was first official admission of the hard fact by the Congress, that Modi had become far too serious a challenge for the ruling party and his party alone was not capable of fighting him and needed “all secular forces to combine” in an anti-Modi front to take him on. Manmohan Singh most trusted minister, strategist and one of the most articulate voices in the Congress party, P Chidambaram soon followed suit. What he said in criticism of Modi in an interview to Reuters, in fact, looked like a grudging compliment to the BJP prime ministerial candidate - “gaining some traction among urban youth” and “uniting BJP’s rank and file”. He also appealed that “Don’t write us off so easily”.

“I don’t know if he is gaining any momentum. I concede that he has united the rank and file of the BJP. The rank and file of the BJP was divided, the leaders are still divided. But he has been able to unite the rank and file. Perhaps he has gained some traction among urban youth but I think it would be a gross exaggeration to say that people are not worried about his positions, his policies, his past, his track record. It will be a gross exaggeration to say that he is sweeping the countryside. It’s a gross exaggeration to say that he will win in every state. All this is largely media created,” Chidambaram said just a day before he left for USA on an official trip.

The Congress’ organisational structure does not want to believe that Modi could be a phenomenon in making and devise its strategy accordingly. Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who’s public statements are rare, said in Vadodra only two days ago that "Modi's nomination does not make any difference to the Congress. We are not bothered about it. It is the prerogative of a political party to nominate its candidate for the post". An influential section of Congress leaders believe that since Modi is a deeply polarizing figure, the Congress would automatically gain because the individuals, social groups and parties opposed to Modi will counter polarize in favour of the Congress in an election, which it wants to fight on the secular-communal plank.

The Congress leaders could take some solace in the fact that the Third Front concept may have lost its appeal but the CPM, CPI, Samajwadi Party and JD(U) are coming together on a "secular" platform. Nitish Kumar will fly to Delhi to address a convention against communalism (read against Modi) on October 30. The protagonists of this “secular” platform hope and wish to rope in the BJD, the AIADMK, and the YSR Congress in due course.

The Congress’ optimism lay in the fact that this secular front, whatever numbers they win, will have no other option but to give support to the Congress in the Modi versus rest fight. Will people oblige?

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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2013 20:24:07 IST