Millennium Post

Banking on Mr. Modi’s mistakes

Even as Narendra Modi’s one-man show, to quote L K Advani, goes on full steam, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has faltered on several counts.

The first was his welcome to errant prodigal sons like B S Yeddyurappa and B Sriramula into the party. By ignoring the objections of a senior leader like Sushma Swaraj, he showed that voices other than his own did not count except of those which echoed him, as his acolyte Arun Jaitley did by pooh-poohing Sushma’s focus on ‘marginal issues’.

Perhaps encouraged by Modi’s seeming unconcern for an entrant’s tainted past, the party’s Karnataka unit eagerly admitted the Sri Ram Sene gauleiter, Pramod Muthalik, only to expel him a few hours later as the realisation dawned in Delhi, not in Bengaluru, that not all norms of decency could be thrown to the winds. If a Hindu fundamentalist can say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ in a hurry, can a Muslim bigot be far behind? The Muthalik drama was re-enacted when Sabir Ali’s admission into the BJP had to be cancelled following queries about his dubious credentials.

But, these were not the only missteps of Modi. Apart from the denial of tickets to those who are not his camp followers, like Jaswant Singh, who was subsequently expelled, Harin Pathak and Navjot Singh Sidhu, and the eviction from their preferred seats of Murli Manohar Joshi and Lalji Tandon, Modi’s characterisation of Arvind Kejriwal as an agent of Pakistan and a dushman (enemy) of the nation shows that he can descend to any level to lambast an opponent.

He can perhaps do so because Kejriwal is a soft target, as Shashi Tharoor was when Modi mockingly accused him of having a Rs 50,000 crore girl friend. The reference was to the now-diseased Sunanda Pushkar and her suspected involvement in an IPL scam. While Tharoor hit back by saying that his wife was priceless, Kejriwal has said that such intemperate language does not suit a prime ministerial aspirant.

However, the reason why Modi flew off the handle is not far to seek. Although he has emerged victorious in his internal battles against detractors like Advani who finally accepted Gandhinagar as his constituency despite the fear that Modi may undercut him, there is little doubt that the Gujarat chief minister has been under considerable mental strain.

It isn’t only that his critics within the party have shown that he cannot control everything – as Sidhu’s refusal to campaign for the BJP in Punjab or Yashwant Sinha’s decision to wait for the election results before announcing his political future demonstrate – it is now almost certain that the BJP will fall well short of the magic figure of 272 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.
Moreover, it is also believed that the BJP will not be able to attract new allies if Modi is at the helm. Hence, Jaitley’s announcement that Modi will not be replaced, presumably to counter suggestions that someone more acceptable to the allies like Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan or even Advani will head the NDA after the elections.

It is understandable, therefore, that Modi will be concerned about the challenge posed by AK-49, as he calls Kejriwal to recall the latter’s 49-day stint as Delhi’s chief minister. The Gujarat strong man will undoubtedly win in Varanasi. But, if AK-49 cuts substantially into his margin of victory, it will be a blow to Modi’s standing because he not only wants everything to go his own way, but to do so in a manner which does not leave an iota of doubt about his primacy in anyone’s mind.

In this respect, Kejriwal can be a spoiler with his protestations about battling the entire ‘corrupt’ political establishment, which includes both the Congress and BJP. His uninhibited naming of the big guns in the political and corporate fields may be defamatory, but impresses his core base of middle class supporters. That the BJP has begun to take his challenge seriously is evident from its production of a short film, Arvind Apna Propaganda Party, which recalls how Kejriwal called himself an anarchist.

If, for Modi, it is a question of ‘so near yet so far’, the Congress appears to have reconciled itself to defeat despite Sonia Gandhi’s assertion that she does not put much trust in opinion polls, which usually put the party’s tally at around 100 seats. Defence minister A K Antony’s comment, therefore, that the Congress may be part of a ‘secular’ front in alliance with the Left, as in the 2004-2008 period, is a hint that his party has begun to look at other options.

However, the Congress must be avoiding at present any consideration of the possibility that the chaotic nature of such a hastily-formed combination will be a replay of all other such attempts, notably after the fall of the V P Singh government in 1990 and again between 1996 and 1998. All that the party can expect, therefore, is that a stalling of Modi’s coronation via a short-lived secular front will stop him from making a second attempt because the failure will encourage his opponents within the BJP to line up against him.

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