How Modi can be top regional leader
Modi is India’s tallest national leader. He could be India’s tallest regional leader too.
The trouble with repetition is that the emphasis could backfire. During every election campaign, state and national, both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah attack the Congress for wrecking the nation. Last week in Dehradun, Shah blasted its namaz politics for destroying Uttarakhand. Modi has blamed Nehru for the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede and the Congress for everything from the stratospheric petrol prices to Partition to betraying the Assamese. While both men, astute politicians and veterans of many bitter battles, know all this not to be true, why do they beat the same drum? Even the poorest and most illiterate Indian knows that seven-plus years have passed since Modi sent the Congress packing. Besides, the Congress does keep winning state elections, even though is toppled later by defections.
Why then the echoes? Is the Goebbels wisecrack that the repetition of a lie makes it the truth behind the monotony? Whenever India’s top political wizards rant against the Congress, it is presented as the fiefdom of the dynastically demonic Nehru-Gandhis, dead or alive. But India is a self-aware nation, and the BJP can’t boast of having antibodies against dynasty or nepotism. People endorse Modi not because they hate the Congress, but because they love Modi. The more the spotlight falls on the Gandhis, the sharper the reminder that they are still around to give a fight; as bumblers, autocrats, naïve netas or neo-Hindu copycats—but still around. Ironically they can thank the BJP for their larger-than-life image. The Congress is still in the fight. Significantly. This week’s byelection results showed that its shock value is intact by sweeping Himachal Pradesh and keeping Rajasthan. But the Gandhis have shrunk to being just an idea and not a political reality, outside their party. Even that idea is fast fading, erased by the very Hindutva politics Indira Gandhi had raised to win elections under the garb of secularism. The strategists at 24 Akbar Road have positioned Priyanka Gandhi as Yogi Adityanath’s alternative in Uttar Pradesh, something Rahul Gandhi should have done in 2012 against Akhilesh Singh Yadav. But the arrogance that only Indraprastha is the Gandhi destiny missed both the point and opportunity. If anyone has done Rahul in, it is himself. The Congress is fighting itself, not the BJP. To claim credit for a certain victory in Punjab, the Gandhi kids humiliated Captain Amarinder Singh by favouring Navjot Singh Sidhu who functions more to the BJP’s advantage than his own party’s. It is open season in Punjab now. They could be making the same mistake in Chhattisgarh. And Priyanka’s UP realpolitik has pitted her party not just against the BJP, but the rest of the Opposition.
Now is wake-up time for Modi. The BJP’s real enemy is resurgent regionalism which is challenging nationalism. It is the TMC in Bengal, Samajwadi Party in UP, DMK in Tamil Nadu, TRS in Telangana, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, AAP in Delhi. TMC won the by-elections convincingly. The phantoms of the Independence movement cannot nationally resurrect the Congress, irrespective of the states it wins. Before Indira, India was run by regional chieftains in the Congress. It could happen again, though by regional parties. Modi is India’s tallest national leader. He could be India’s tallest regional leader too. As the badass queen Cersei in Game of Thrones series says, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” To take all the thrones, stooping to conquer the low ground may not be a bad idea.
Ravi Shankar (email@example.com)