Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Turning to Modi?

The BJP's acceptance of Narendra Modi as its pre-eminent leader with an eye to the next general elections could vitiate the political climate.
Amidst the clutter of power struggle, infighting and turmoil in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its cohorts in the Sangh Parivar, which get more intense and ugly by the week, a salient development stands out. This is the emergence of Narendra Modi as the party's pre-eminent leader and its likeliest prime ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha elections.
It would be no exaggeration to say that with the BJP's May 24-25 national executive in Mumbai the long contest for primacy within the “second-generation” leadership following the eclipse of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani has more or less ended with Modi as the winner.
That is the unmistakable message from the capitulation of the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh to Modi's aggressive self-assertion and his arm-twisting tactics demanding that his bete noire, RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi, be thrown out of the national executive, which he was to attend as a special invitee. Modi threw down the gauntlet by defying the BJP leadership over many months and finally sending his security detail to Mumbai while making it clear that he would only attend the meeting if Joshi was dropped.
Modi, true to form, did not want to offer Joshi an honourable exit but insisted on rubbing his nose into the ground. The decision to expel Joshi was communicated to him by BJP national president Nitin Gadkari past one o'clock in the morning. Joshi was also forced to cancel a scheduled railway journey to Gujarat.
The RSS – the BJP's progenitor, ideological mentor, political master and organisational gatekeeper – was clearly party to the sacking of Joshi, a lifelong pracharak and a fierce Sangh loyalist. It revealed its “pragmatist” (read, opportunist) face and decided that discretion was the better part of valour: if Modi's ascendancy seems unstoppable and his pre-eminence unquestionable, so be it.
The RSS decides to indulge and cave in to Modi despite his terrible angularities and extreme individualism and his role as a sharply polarising figure who cannot shake off the stigma of 2002. It calculates that these disadvantages are outweighed by Modi's ability to inspire the party cadre through his demagoguery, his martial image, and his vicious war-mongering rhetoric.
Joshi is little known outside the Parivar and holds no public office. He does not seriously threaten Modi's career prospects. But he crossed Modi's path in the late 1990s, when he worked closely with then Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, took charge of the State BJP unit, and had Modi banished to Delhi.
In 2006, a scandalous CD allegedly involving Joshi surfaced. Although questions were raised about the CD's authenticity, Joshi had to resign as BJP general secretary and go into political exile.
Gadkari recently brought Joshi back into the BJP with RSS backing and appointed him the party's chief election organiser in Uttar Pradesh. In retaliation, Modi refused to campaign for the party in the five recent State Assembly elections. Modi thus defied the Sangh, something one does not generally do if one wants to get ahead in the BJP. The RSS, somewhat uncharacteristically, swallowed the insult. Then, before the national executive, Modi went for the jugular. He emerged triumphant.
The RSS leadership extracted only one concession from Modi: Gadkari would get a second three-year term as BJP president beyond 2012 through an amendment to the party constitution. This pre-empts the immediate possibility of Modi controlling the national party organisation as president. But whether it effectively acts as a restraint on him remains unclear.
Going by the thundering applause he received from party members at the public meeting concluding the Mumbai session, Modi's ascendancy as the BJP's supreme leader is uncontested. Not many missed the absence of Advani and Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, at the public meeting. Their boycott was a symbolic, but largely ineffectual, act. So was Advani's blog the following week implicitly criticising Gadkari and Modi, which was not even discussed when senior BJP leaders met in Delhi.
Modi has become the BJP membership's biggest hero to whom everyone must kowtow. But Modi also proved himself petty-minded, parochial, egotistic, viciously self-serving and vindictive. Whether or not this is compatible with the stature of a national leader, the RSS seems to have decided that Modi is the winning horse; he must be backed.
Resistance within
Modi's anointment is unlikely to go unresisted in the Parivar. An editorial in the BJP mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh and an article in the RSS' Panchajanya a few days after the national executive criticised Modi for his style. But it is unclear whether such attempts will halt his ascendancy.
Modi's elevation has little to do with the fact that he was recently exonerated by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court under former Central Bureau of Investigation director R.K. Raghavan for the massacre of 69 people, including former Member of Parliament Ahsan Jafri, in the Gulberg Society case. Nor does it have much to do with Gujarat's much-touted “development” under Modi's “dynamic” stewardship.
Rather, it is attributable to the BJP's internal dynamics, its electoral calculus, and the fact that Modi brings big-time money with him. Every major industrial magnate, from Ratan Tata to Anil Ambani, and from Mukesh Ambani to Sunil Bharti Mittal, not to speak of home-grown businessmen such as Gautam Adani and Karsan Patel or of all important industry lobbies and chambers of commerce, has lavished praise upon Modi and bought into his “Vibrant Gujarat” and “Swarnim (golden) Gujarat” campaigns. Modi in turn has rewarded them with sweetheart deals.
In doing so, the captains of industry have given the go-by to all considerations of the rule of law and ignored the fact that Modi has blood on his hands from the butchery of more than 1,000 Muslims in 2002.
Ten years ago, there was some criticism of Modi from business representatives such as Tarun Das of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Mumbai-based industry executive Deepak Parekh. The criticism became increasingly muted as the CII faced total ostracism from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and was crippled in its role as a lobby group. Now, for many years, criticism has given way to hyperbolic encomiums to Modi as “an inspiring leader” with whom Gujarat is “blessed”, whose “flawless execution” of Gujarat's “development model” deserves to be emulated everywhere, making Modi the ideal “next leader of India”.
Mediocre development record
In reality, Gujarat's social development record is at best mediocre. Gujarat is a misgoverned State with unflattering macroeconomic indicators, including a higher per capita debt-ratio than many States. In social sector spending as a proportion of total public expenditure, it ranks a lowly 19...

Continue Reading at: