Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is perhaps one of the very few examples of democratic politics where a villain has gone on to become a hero within a decade. The reasons are obvious. His fourth term as the CM is unprecedented. In last week’s by-elections, Modi took away six seats from the Congress, winning the Lok Sabha seats of Porbandar and Banaskantha with margins of over 1.28 lakh and 71,000 votes each, as well as Limbadi, Morva Hadaf, Jetpur and Doraji seats.
This is being used as the justification to prove that he is the first among equals.
Modi’s popularity with most state leaders and cadres is because his agenda is very clear. He is the one seen as Mr Development, in spite of L K Advani’s endorsement of Shivraj Chouhan having done better in Madhya Pradesh. He is seen as Mr Clean as well, untouched by any sort of scandal. He is also perceived as a decisive leader who is willing to call a spade a spade. His ideological position is very clear — he is right of the Right. His acceptability with India Inc cuts across businesses and personalities. All opinion polls predict massive victories for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls if he is made the party’s prime ministerial face. Modi’s centrality in the media is undisputable: on TV and in print, the Goa meet is more about Modi than BJP. After Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi, Modi is the only leader who has become bigger than the party.
He has left his peers behind by miles. He will project a nationalist development agenda. He doesn’t need anyone to endorse him, with corporates and most of the media eating out of his hands and even ambassadors of various countries queuing up to meet him. Modi is unabashedly corporate-friendly; he flew all the way to attend the wedding of Mukesh Ambani’s niece in Chennai, staying there for most of the day. Similarly, he did that for Gautam Adani’s son’s nuptials in Goa. He doesn’t feel defensive about his corporate connections and they have returned the favour with massive investments in Gujarat and public support for all his policies.
After the death of Pramod Mahajan — the BJP’s main strategist and fund raiser — the party has been unable to fill the gap. Narendra Modi can. Besides, he moves fast with the times: the Gujarat Chief Minister is very technology oriented, with original election-friendly ideas like 3D projections during his campaigns. His tweets are updated with a speed not even the prime minister’s office can match. People see him as more liberal than the Singh Parivar of Manmohan and Montek.
Man over Matter
Modi has come a long way in a decade; from a villain in 2002, demonised as an anti-Muslim despot, his government facing many cases of complicity in the Gujarat riots and his confidantes jailed. Ironically, an adverse judicial verdict could be enough to plummet him into a zero from a hero. However, in Goa his confidant Amit Shah was present at his side wearing a tusser kurta many a time. Modi played on the sentiments of the cadres and the office bearers because he knew the BJP was bereft of an ideology and missing a leader. Modi was like a good mason who knew where the cracks in the edifice were and how they had to be cemented properly to prevent a collapse. For the first time, the BJP national executive would be focusing on an individual instead of issues. Outside the protected environs of the Marriott hotel where the meet was being held, it was Modi mantra all the way—both the media and grass roots supporters were focused on the events swirling rapidly around the Gujarat honcho, particularly on whether he would be nominated as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. As party patriarch, senior leaders stayed away from the seaside resort. Modi, as the democratic dictator had the last laugh. Leaders like Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, openly called for Modi’s appointment as the party’s election chief.
The Goa Factor
For a state sold on susegat (laid back in Konkani language) attitude, the drama associated with the ruling BJP was proving too much to handle. Starting from the huge cutouts, advertisements in the newspapers—Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi as the main protagonists, local BJP has made sure that Goa proves to be second-time lucky for Modi. In 2002, he had survived a possible sack — ironically with last minute support from L K Advani after the then-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted him removed after the Gujarat riots. The overcast skies not only kept the Goans inside, but also clouded party affairs. Advani’s absence was the biggest sore point. “When the season changes, people get unwell,” Prakash Javadekar, party spokesman said. Though the pun was unintended, the statement reflected power shift within the party. It was for the first time since the inception of the party that Advani chose to stay away from a national executive meeting. However, victory is a long way off for Modi. Even if he is made chairman of the campaign committee, the membership process will not be easy. None of the senior leaders would want to work under him as they have held much senior posts. Questions are being raised whether this will be acceptable to senior leaders. There is speculation on whether BJP president Rajnath Singh is playing his own games and would use Modi’s unacceptability to the senior leadership to induct GenNext leaders like Rudy, Shahnawaz Hussain, Dharmendra Pradhan, Smriti Irani types as members. The Goa conclave is likely to yield the answers to such questions. The security at the venue was tight; even the news hungry media and TV reporters looking for a controversy were kept out of the proceedings. Modi will speak on Sunday twice at the conclave. All eyes will be on his speech to workers as it is likely to reveal his vision for the party and the way he wants to take the fight against the UPA ahead.