SWINGS OF MODITVA
here’s a decisive bout of Assembly elections in five states, but it is BJP’S prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi who is the most talked about politician of the season. Having won a series of battles within the party to clinch the prime ministerial nomination two months ago, Modi is already well into campaign mode with rallies across the country. Modi’s speeches reveal a struggle to balance the different constituencies he is trying to please. When he talks of development without appeasement, there is a message for the growth-obsessed middle classes who are willing to ignore Modi the polariser for the sake of Modi the moderniser who will provide impetus to the country’s sagging economy. The other message is for the hardcore Hindutva brigade.
At his rally in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, on November 8, Modi said, “In the next elections, the CBI and Indian Mujahideen ( IM) will be fighting to save Congress. Go to the people and face us. Don’t attack us like cowards using underhand tactics.” This is probably the first time that a probable prime minister has equated a major political party or CBI with a terror outfit. At the rally, he also spoke of Gujarat having achieved the target of providing villages with 24-hour power—but it’s his IM remark that will be remembered.
Whether Modi chooses his words carefully or he slips up, “the message does go across the way it is intended to”, says a BJP strategist. Take the fact that Rahul Gandhi is referred to as the Congress’s Yuvraj by the rest of the BJP, but for Modi he is always the “Shahzada” of the “Sultanate of Delhi”. For Modi, Congress does not merely don a garb, it wears “a burqa of secularism” to garner Muslim votes. For urban
and India, there is the Gujarat model of development that Modi has been harping on for years, supported by a treasuryfunded propaganda machinery.
For the cadres and the zealots, Modi’s message remains that of a Hindu strongman or “Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts)”, as a BJP leader puts it. Little surprise then that despite the multiple blasts that killed seven people and injured several others in Patna on October 27, Modi and other BJP leaders did not call off the rally. Modi put others and himself at risk but the act was in consonance with the macho, strongman image he has carefully cultivated over the years. Social media is full of memes likening him to a lion. His own appearance at public rallies or even BJP meetings has been preceded by an advance party of sloganeers shouting: “Bharat Ma ka sher aya”.
When Bihar BJP decided to parade the urns containing ashes of those killed in Patna, Modi faced his sternest test on balancing the requirements of Hindutva and the new, softer image he is trying to build with his twin slogans of ‘Justice for all and appeasement of none’ and ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. Modi realises that while the pressure from the cadres got RSS to relent on his prime ministerial candidacy, if the election is fought on the issues of price rise, corruption and development, he will need to be much more than just Hindu Hriday Samrat. In the best-case scenario for BJP, the party imagines a pro-Hindutva consolidation that will see it first past the post in 2014.
“If this is a wave election, it will have to be due to a consolidation of the Hindu nationalist vote. All waves in the past have been due to a similar consolidation,” says Sudhanshu Trivedi, political adviser to BJP president Rajnath Singh. BJP’s electoral calculus relies on the assumption that all major surges, from the post-Bangladesh war and 1984 victories for Congress, to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that saw BJP capture Delhi, have piggybacked on a consolidation of Hindu votes. Modi does not seem to want putting all his eggs in one basket. When the Bihar BJP unit mooted the proposal for the Asthi Kalash Yatra, Modi suggested he would instead address a condolence meeting at Patna for those killed in his rally. But the BJP brass cleared the demand. Those who favoured the Yatra contended that the victims had died at a BJP rally and deserved special treatment. Modi visited the houses of the victims to offer condolences.
Modi has, of late, tried to underplay his Hindutva image. In Uttar Pradesh, both in Bahraich and Kanpur, on October 19, he did not mention the Ram Temple. That is best left to his trusted lieutenant and BJP General Secretary Amit Shah, who started his stint as the party’s Uttar Pradesh incharge in July with a visit to Ayodhya. Modi
prefers a much more softened Hindutva approach. He’d rather play the development man but with a no-appeasement clause. Gujarat BJP General Secretary Bharat Pandya, who is from RSS and knows Modi’s mind well, says, “The entire Sangh Parivar is one with Narendra Modi regarding the direction he has taken which is based on development, poverty alleviation and national pride. For, the RSS too is against minority appeasement and not minorities.”
So it was not surprising that when Modi said at the Patna rally that poor Hindus and Muslims should fight poverty and not each other, there was no negative reaction from the Sangh. Modi’s speeches include repeated references to Maharana Pratap, Shivaji and Chanakya while speaking about “true Hindu-Muslim unity”. This keeps the hardcore elements happy. Even in his parleys with the orthodox Deobandi Muslim leaders to pre-empt a mass vote against him, Modi has not gone all out to woo them.
Modi’s Muslim nominees have been telling Deobandi leaders that he will ensure Muslims get their share of the development cake, but without special privileges. “An analysis of the (Justice Sachar Committee) report presents a clear understanding of the progress made by Gujarat’s Muslims, especially in comparison to their counterparts in other states,” Modi wrote in a blog in September 2011, days before his three-day Sadbhavana fast in Ahmedabad. The RSS has no problem,” says a Sangh leader, “as long as he doesn’t abandon issues of national interest for Muslim votes.” It is those outside the Sangh parivaar that Modi needs to win over. Follow the writers on Twitter