Thursday, November 22, 2012

'Modi formidable, but not invincible anymore'

Gujarat EDN
DNA 21AUG2012
'Modi formidable, but not invincible anymore'
As Gujarat heads for another election later this year, there is only one obvious question on everyone’s mind — where does Narendra Modi stand?

He is still strong. But he is no longer invincible. He is formidable but not unstoppable. In a nutshell, this was the overall finding of a fortnight-long tour of political scientists who had clocked 3,000 km touching all parts of Gujarat, meeting all sections — farmers, youth, unemployed, daily wage earners, diamond workers, employees, advocates, academics, businessmen, doctors and activists.

As political watchers would know, the BJP’s Modi or Modi’s BJP is solidly supported by the OBCs, urban educated youth, urban women, big industry and conservative elements in the society that are apprehensive of Muslim assertion. Within the BJP and from among the opposition ranks, no other leader seems to match Modi in stature and from what we heard in the street, he has successfully positioned himself as a ‘no-nonsense’ administrator/leader focused on development. However, the adulation is no longer as pronounced as in the past and the rumblings are too evident to miss.

Rumblings against Modi

The question that arises is who is unhappy and why? Firstly, there is anger over atrocities against women, suicide of farmers, loss of business, jobless growth and poverty. Rural women are either indifferent or not decisive about their preference for Modi. Middle classes are divided in their opinion while the lower middle class and the poorer sections are unhappy over bad hospital services and privatisation of higher education, in particular.

Small and tiny industry owners and those dependent on them for sustenance are nursing grievance that the government is pro-big industry even at the expense of agriculture. The agitation against Nirma by BJP legislator Kalsaria is a case in point. Government employees and even the higher bureaucracy are uncomfortable with the large-scale CM-centric melas. In rural areas, there are complaints that the funds promised under Samarasa (unanimous elections to the panchayats) scheme are not delivered. Farming community has mixed feelings with commercial crop growers of late coming under severe strain.

Caste-wise, the Brahmins are divided although a major chunk is still with Modi/BJP. If Patels desert Modi, the Kshatriya community is likely to move closer to the BJP. Muslims are evidently against Modi but there are strenuous efforts to win over a section of them, especially, the Bohras and other trading communities. However, Muslim vote against Modi or in favour of the Congress is unlikely to be a game changer as their numbers are not politically significant.

Curiously, criticism of Modi is heard more from within the ranks. BJP workers at the grass-root level are unhappy that Modi has weakened them politically. MLAs and ministers too feel disempowered by his style of functioning and it is likely that they could be unenthusiastic in their electoral participation. They might adopt the attitude ‘Modi Jitayega’ and the BJP’s victory is not their responsibility. However, there is an interesting twist. Some sections, although at odds with Modi, would like to vote for the BJP. For some, it is Modi in spite of their dislike for the BJP.

General Observations

Despite the factors that built up against Modi over the years, the most important is that his main rival, the Congress, is both politically as well as organisationally, in disarray. Faction-ridden and without a vision, the party is still not seen as an alternative to Modi’s BJP. Most civil society organisations opposed to Modi lack political overtones to their work and the few which have some political import are championing the so-called minority cause. This might actually strengthen Modi electorally in Gujarat although their work might weaken his image elsewhere in the country.

Those who favour Modi would naturally like him to win. And those who are opposed to Modi are in despair that there is no force fit enough to defeat him. Interestingly, those who are opposed to him are more certain of his victory than his supporters.

Those who said that Modi would certainly win attributed his potential victory to his ‘personality’ and ‘style of functioning’. And those who felt that he might be defeated also attributed it to the same. As things stand today, the most formidable element in Modi’s armoury is his larger than life image and the fact that he is head and shoulders above all other leaders in Gujarat. Like in the previous elections, the personality of Modi is bound to dominate the upcoming battle too. Though the macro trend is in Modi’s favour, it is not going to be a cakewalk.

The article is based on the findings of “People’s Pulse”, a Hyderabad-based organisation engaged in social and political research