When the monsoon session of parliament opened in August 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited opposition leaders for dinner. The BJP declined because central agencies were proceeding against Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah. This stand instilled great fear in the ranks of the treasury benches. Note how the BJP rallied behind Narendra Modi, the rising star.
Such was the state of funk in the ruling party that the monsoon session passed without Amit Shah’s name being mentioned even once. For this act of grace, there was repayment in kind. Foreign Policy, Palestine, Economy, Nuclear Liability, forward trading in food grains, Kashmir, even Pakistan – all these issues remained uncontested.
That was then. Last week, there was something of a dejavu. Outlook magazine had a bold cover story: “UPA’s Rs.54,500 crore Gas Rip-off”. That was not all. The three deck headline rested on another line in bold fonts: “And the BJP’s Shocking Silence”.
How “shocking” BJP’s silence is on this and other issues – for instance, the list on which Foreign Direct Investment has been most generously allowed – will become clear in the coming monsoon session.
Today Modi is not just a rising, but a risen star. If coordination between major parties is the name of the game, it would be appropriate to understand the level of coordination for all round benefit. All round benefit means benefit to India Inc headquartered in Mumbai, Congress, BJP and the multinationals who have gauged India as a trillion dollar market which could be utilized for global economic recovery, after which we may have time to consider the Indian People too.
It is elementary that Modi is no coalition builder. Since only a coalition, a UPA-III or an NDA-II, are possible after the 2014 general elections, why is Modi being projected? And what is he being projected as? There is an Urdu expression, “mubham” or “vague” which does not quite convey the meaning. French drivers have a vivid expression for dusk, “neither wolf nor dog”.
The BJP has not announced Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. He is the chief of the party’s campaign panel, a position earlier held by Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley. And yet, there he goes flying, higher and higher, on the winged horse called the media.
Shikar or hunting is out of fashion in India but the sport offers an interesting insight on current politics. The easiest bird to shoot is the one in flight. Place Modi in that analogy, and he makes for an easy target for all the party leaders who threw a ginger fit at his elevation in the Goa conclave. Gaining height prematurely is risky politics.
It is also something of a puzzle, though, that all the leaders who had trooped into L.K. Advani’s Prithviraj Road residence, imploring him not to resign and who established instant contact with RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat to intervene and restore the balance away from Modi, have, one by one, fallen in line with the elevation given to the Gujarat strongman.
Have they fallen in line with the Goa decision because they have realized that Modi is not the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014? A serious candidate for the top job will have to be a coalition builder, one who can deliver NDA-II. This Modi certainly is not.
What is he then? A Mahatma in the making because he is indifferent to power? That would be the implication if he is indifferent to coalitions. A leader of ideological purity, one who calls a spade a spade, who does not obsequiously discard the puppy image when referring to Muslims, whose larger than life posters in Mumbai proudly proclaim him as a “Hindu Nationalist”?
Since 2007, just before the assembly elections, Modi’s Public Relations has been globally managed by APCO Worldwide which boasts of former US ambassador to New Delhi, Timothy Roemer, as a hands on manager with offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. APCO has an impressive record of servicing dictators like Sani Abacha in Nigeria, for instance.
APCO’s extraordinary projection of Modi could well polarize the national mood and yet augment the UPA’s vote share in the short run. By this logic, UPA-III seems to be the emerging outcome in 2014. Which will be fine for the corporates and their multinational links provided key enabling legislations are pushed through parliament by the two parties.
Another reason why Modi’s support team have been able to impose a fait accompli on the BJP is because of an acute fear that Modi and his Sancho Panza will, sooner or later, trip up in the course of investigations under way in Gujarat. Modi’s fall will then be the BJP’s fall too. But if Modi is allowed to fly high on a platform of Hindu nationalism, his being grounded will be blamed on intrigue by the forces of “pseudo secularism”. This pits Modi as an embodiment of an idea shaded in dark saffron, projected in Presidential style, against the secular formations, pale and wan, poised precariously on a rickety Parliamentary platform.
The real battle, then, is not being envisaged for 2014 but more like 2016.
By Saeed Naqvi, who is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs