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Lal’s NDA-plus is Modi’s NDA-minus

During the run-up to the BJP-JD(U) breakup, a sentence in a TV news programme which crawled along with others at the bottom of the television screen, said that Narendra Modi has asked Rajnath Singh to talk to Nitish Kumar. 

That was the only occasion when the BJP’s poster boy showed signs of interest in the ongoing drama. Perhaps, he had realised that his prime ministerial ambition may not come true if the NDA fails to form a government because of a paucity of allies.

Before or since that appeal to Rajnath Singh, Modi was a silent spectator to the unfolding crisis. Yet, as a front-ranking leader, he might have been expected to play a more active role even if he himself was in the eye of the storm. No one can say what might have happened if he had made a personal call to Nitish Kumar to keep the alliance intact. Even if the Bihar chief minister had turned down his request, the episode would have shown Modi in a mellower light.

But, it isn’t in his character to be seen reaching out in a friendly manner to others, especially those who he perceives as his adversaries. Instead, his habit is to be scathing in his diatribes against personal and political targets, as his ‘Miyan Musharraf’ jibes during the 2002 and 2007 Gujarat elections, and the Ahmed Miyan Patel taunt in 2012, showed. As did his mocking of Muslims with his ‘hum panch, hamare pachis’ dig at Muslim families with their supposed disregard for family planning norms. In the same callous category was his heartless description of the camps of the riot victims in Gujarat as child-producing factories.

At the conference of chief ministers in New Delhi before the rupture in the NDA, television cameras pointedly showed how Modi walked past Nitish Kumar without looking at him. The Gujarat chief minister was then still in the same alliance as his Bihar counterpart. Yet, he pretended not to see him. Arguably, it was this blatant show of disrespect which might have helped Nitish Kumar to make up his mind to bid goodbye to the JD(U)’s ally of 17 years.

Apart from the suspicions of his complicity in the 2002 riots, the one factor which can be said to have undermined Modi is his arrogance, which apparently convinces him that a conciliatory gesture is a sign of weakness. Hence, his refusal over the years to apologise for the Godhra riots. There are two reasons, of course, for this adamancy. One is that it is against his nature to be placatory. The other is that he knows that any such gesture, especially towards the minorities, will undermine his USP among the communal Hindus, his main base of support, who see him as someone who taught the Muslims a lesson in 2002 and will do so again if the need arises.  A perusal of the abusive comments of the netizens, whose word for ‘secular’ is ‘sickular’ and for Congress – run by the ‘Maino mafia’ - is ‘Khangress’, will convince anyone of the kind of vitriol which sustains Modi. There is no place in his politics of the ‘charter of commitments’ which L K Advani wanted the BJP to offer to the minorities at the party’s national council meeting in March when he called for a change in the ‘mutual equation’ between the party and the minorities. The veteran leader said at the time that he was in favour of converting the alliance into NDA-plus. But, now, it has become NDA-minus.

With Modi’s rise, a groundswell of communalism, reminiscent of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, must have convinced Nitish Kumar that any further continuance of the alliance with the BJP will amount to playing into Lalu Prasad Yadav’s hands where the support of the Muslims is concerned. The outcome of the Maharajganj by-election, where Lalu Prasad’s RJD won by a huge margin, was the stark message which the JD (U) leadership could not but heed.

Although Modi has sanitised his image by talking of development, the bush telegraph at the ground level must have detected how enthused the saffron cadres are at the prospect of the ‘modern-day Nero’, the Supreme Court’s phrase for Modi, entering the national stage with a decisive say in his party’s affairs.

It is not without reason that the RSS, the ‘cultural’ organisation which used to be wary of Modi earlier because of his haughty individualism, is now backing him at the expense of the old warhorse, Advani, who has committed the crime of becoming a moderate a la Atal Behari Vajpayee. 

The diminution of the NDA from a 24-party group under Vajpayee to one of three at present comprising avowedly sectarian parties – the pro-Hindu BJP and Shiv Sena and the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal – means a decline in its chances of success in 2014.

Besides, not only has the alliance shrunk, its dwindling prospects cannot but intensify the rumbles within the BJP, as Advani’s comments on an adverse fallout from Modi’s elevation have shown. IPA
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