Trash Modi at your peril
Gone are the days when elections were fought on issues or on anti-Congressism or anti-BJPism or communalism or any other ‘isms.’ Today, increasingly, the political parties are moving towards personality-based politics. The 2014 Lok Sabha polls might well turn out to be a Modi versus the rest contest.
The Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has built up a personality cult to such an extent that the political parties are revolving around whatever controversial statement he makes on a daily basis. Within weeks of his appointment as the BJP’s campaign committee chief (the committee is yet to be constituted) Modi has turned a political battle into a Modi-centric contest. He expects that the sharp attacks against him could improve his position, both within the BJP and outside.
Partially, he has achieved what he wanted as the BJP spokespersons are busy defending Modi’s statements, while the Congress spokespersons are examining them with microscopic precision. The war of words between the Congress and Modi is becoming louder and boisterous. But the debate is going nowhere as the real issues are forgotten by the two national parties. This might put off the voters when the time comes to choose.
What is Modi’s game plan? As a senior BJP leader points out he has to sustain the campaign for the next eight months and create an atmosphere favourable to him. In his anxiety to come to the centrestage, he has started his campaign too early. His recent controversial public statements are designed to polarise the pro-Hindutva vote to counter his rivals attempting to consolidate the minority vote against him making it a communal versus secular debate. Modi has already provided a direction to the poll campaign amidst reports that Ram Mandir will become a poll issue with the blessings of the RSS. At the same time he is also talking of development confusing his core voters about what he stands for.
So far, he has indulged in Congress bashing talking about terrorism, Pakistan beheading Indian soldiers, policy paralysis in the UPA, price rise, increasing dollar rate, the dynastic rule and also about secularism as practiced by the Congress.
Modi could have used a polished language in his controversial comments like the ‘puppy’ analogy or Congress hiding behind a ‘burqa of secularism’ but that is his strident campaign style. Did he not talk of ‘Mia Musharraf’ in his 2002 elections or ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ comment made by the Congress chief in 2009 Assembly polls? His calculated response in a recent interview that he is a Hindu nationalist is also meant to polarise the voter. His voice might become more shrill nearer the polls.
But not the entire party is behind Modi as some top leaders think Modi is not consulting others and that the issues are getting blunted. It was the BJP patriarch L K Advani who apprehended that if Modi were made the campaign chief, the real issues would be lost, as it would become a ‘secularism versus communalism’ debate. He has proved to be correct. Another BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has echoed the same pointing out that the more Modi speaks, the more controversy he will create, with the result the serious issues like the price rise and economy will not get debated.
Also they feel that the campaign is getting too personalised. Modi has been hogging all the attention, leaving little space for other seniors including the BJP chief Rajnath Singh. They fear that the anti-Modi polarisation will help the Congress in the months leading up to elections as both the major parties scout for new allies.
The Congress, on the other hand thinks that Modi’s projection is godsend as it has been groping in darkness about issues. The arrival of Modi, a divisive figure, seems to have given a new focus to the Congress, which is facing too many scams. Some senior leaders in the party privately admit that while the party was groping for issues, now it can convert the electoral battle as one of communalism versus secularism with Modi at the centrestage.
The Congress is delighted that it is no longer on the back foot as Modi-bashing could get them Muslim votes. Moreover, the Gandhi scion Rahul has been spared as he has been kept out of the debates. The backroom boys of the Congress are working overtime to come up with a strategy to take on Modi.
This brings us to the question whether the two responsible national parties – the Congress and the BJP should be trading barbs rather than thrashing out the real issues. Should they go for a negative campaign rather than focusing on a positive campaign? How are the voters concerned about the ‘puppy’ or ‘burqa’ remarks when they are unable to get jobs or eat two meals a day? Can they not score points on those issues while debating them publicly?
Modi is taking a risk by walking on this razor’s edge. He got a standing ovation when he came to Delhi to talk to the Shri Ram College of Commerce students about getting jobs and to the FICCI ladies about entrepreneurship. But now, he is moving towards a divisive politics and it might boomerang as he might win some verbal battles but lose the ultimate war. The Congress, too, should be careful in making Modi the main election issue.
It is a debatable point whether Modi has fallen into the Congress trap or the Congress has fallen into that of Modi’s. It’s only the spokesperson of the two parties who are currently fighting the battle in the TV channels. There would soon come a day when the TV watchers and newspaper readers hungry for real issues might ignore these senseless debates.