Massive challenges await Modi
The BJP’s success marks a sea-change in Indian politics for more than one reason. For the party itself, it has now acquired a responsibility at the national level which he had never done before, not even in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time when it was a part of a 25-member coalition. Moreover, it predictably fell apart when a familiar trait of the party’s functioning – its anti-minority outlook – came to the fore during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Now, the BJP will no longer be dependent on allies. Although it has run governments on its own in the states – and that, too, successfully – this is the first time that it will do so at the centre. Not only that, the party will have to prove unequivocally that it no longer subscribes to the kind of mentality which was behind the 2002 riots.
That will be its first test, even more than implementing its promise of development which is behind the ‘wave’ which has swept it to power and which is evident virtually all over the country except in parts of the south and the northeast. The task of curbing the party’s and the Sangh parivar’s inbuilt communal instincts will not be easy because there are elements in both who believe in the concept of a Hindu rashtra where minorities will be second class citizens.
However, if anyone is able to alter the party’s DNA in this respect, it is Narendra Modi. This is ironical because he is the man who is widely believed to have either aided or abetted the 2002 riots or turned a blind eye to them because of the ingrained belief that the Muslims need to be taught a lesson. Indeed, it was his failure to observe the raj dharma of neutrality towards all communities during the riots which was held responsible by Vajpayee for the BJP’s defeat in 2004.
Now, he has to ensure that raj dharma prevails on a much larger scale than ever before. Yet, if it is believed that Modi will be more successful in this endeavour than any other BJP leader, it is because he gives the impression of being someone who follows a carefully prepared plan. This attitude is evident not only from his decision to change his image from being a minority-baiter to a person committed to economic growth, but also in being able to reinforce this perception by preventing any communal disturbances from taking place in Gujarat for over a decade.
If anything has raised the percentage of the Muslims voting for him, it is this achievement, especially because he has accomplished this feat by neutralizing the pugnacious Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the state. The realisation among Muslims that development helps everyone irrespective of caste and creed must have helped to dilute the fear which the community is believed to feel about Modi. The belief that the Congress has been cynically exploiting this fear without doing anything specific for the minorities undoubtedly boosted Modi’s position.
What may have also helped Modi is his purposefulness which is in sharp contrast to the Manmohan Singh government’s ineptness and, particularly, the prime minister’s perceived subservient attitude towards Sonia Gandhi. It is worth noting in this context that where Manmohan Singh saw Sonia as the real power centre, the RSS has already acknowledged that it will have no say in the matter of cabinet formation, as it did when it stopped Vajpayee from appointing Jaswant Singh as the finance minister in 1998.
There is little doubt that Modi’s macho image is recognized by friend and foe. It is unbelievable that any minister will take his time to stand up when he enters the cabinet room, like Arjun Singh in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. It is now up to Modi to dispel the belief that he is insular and distrustful, as the Wikileaks recently said, quoting an American diplomat.
This show of openness may be difficult to project given his present overwhelming political position where the Congress has been virtually decimated and Modi may feel that he has no one to fear. For this state of affairs, the Congress has only itself to blame, for if it had not reposed its faith in the mother-and-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, neither of whom is known for intellectual acuity, the party might not have proved itself to be a doormat for its opponents.
For instance, if Sonia had not placed all her faith in the so-called rights-based entitlements for the poor and derailed the reforms, a buoyant economy under the guidance of an unshackled Manmohan Singh would have taken the sheen of Modi’s purported development agenda. But, with an enemy like the Congress, Modi did not need any friends. If Modi carries on from where Manmohan Singh faltered, the country will again see high growth rate. But, that can only take place if there is social peace. No one is more aware of this reality than Modi because of his Gujarat experience. The lessons from his past, therefore, will determine whether he can usher in a successful future. IPA