Modi's big gamble


Every political thinker and columnist has already pronounced that Narendra Modi is no more than a much dreaded Saddam Scud. And their unanimous...

Every political thinker and columnist has already pronounced that Narendra Modi is no more than a much dreaded Saddam Scud. And their unanimous verdict is that Modi is a liability for the BJP, which wants to recapture its shining days with the Gujarat leader as its mascot. The way every word of Modi is put under the scanner to make it a fodder for a tweet is, indeed, as surprising as the way Modi is going around the country as the helmsman of India in waiting. All this boils down to one thing, and it is that Modi has arrived and is making his rivals squirm with unease. Now whether Moditva is the taraka mantra for BJP's power nirvana is no longer relevant because, from all accounts, the anti-BJP camp is determined to stymie Modi's stride just as the shortsighted Sangh Brotherhood is pump-priming him. Whom the Brotherhood promotes and how is no concern of ours. Also how he sells his dreams, if any. What is of concern is the way the anti-Modi brigade is going to town with its own spin. It is not picking up issues and ideas he appears to throw up. Its zeal and zest to puncture Modi is making it zero in on words which have long lost their shelf life in this country since the political compulsions have more or less obliterated the dividing line between communalism and secularism and consigned what is left of it to the air-conditioned seminar rooms. Nehru's Congress, by pitting a Muslim against a Muslim and a Brahmin against Brahmin in Uttar Pradesh, the State that mattered to the rulers, then, as now, had pushed ideology to the electoral backburner. His successors in the Congress and his contemporaries and their successors in other parties sounded the bugle for the Last Post to value-based politics. A natural corollary of the process is caste and cash based politics and street smart politicians with an abundance of street fighters amongst their ranks. It may be patently unfair to describe a chief minister who has won three straight elections as a street smart politician. But the fact is that either on his own or, more likely, under borrowed wisdom he has assumed the role of a street fighter with a colourful vocabulary that is aimed at provoking the opponents. Throwing verbal darts at rivals is not new to our election campaigns. Sonia Gandhi herself is a practitioner of the art with epithets like Maut ke Saudagar reserved for Modi not too long ago. Where Modi scores is the manner in which he is not giving breathing space to his rivals to visit their strategy board. He is making them do no more than an 'Antakshari' with him. So, in a manner of speaking, Round One has gone to Modi, whether the non-Modis like it or not. Expectedly, there is a school which does not share this perception. It believes that Modi has fallen into the secularism trap set by the Congress. From this hypothesis follows the theory that the Grand Old Party (GOP) has once again managed to steer the discourse away from Manmohonomics and the UPA scams from coal to spectrum, which are perceived as its biggest liability, and that it converted, like the US did under President Bush Junior after 9/11, the debate into "with us or against us". It sees in the Food Security regime a weapon powerful enough to decimate the challenger. Like in Cricket, the game of glorious uncertainties, in politics also, what looks as bench strength need not necessarily lead to victory at the hustings. There is always an X-factor at play. You need cadres who convert crowds thronging the rallies into crowds who queue up before a polling booth and vote on your party symbol. The Congress is weak in this department as Rahul Gandhi had learnt the hard way in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The situation is no different in the adjoining States, and even in the States which are far removed from the cow belt. The Congress may not like to admit blandly but reality is that there is a premium on its secular credentials. Otherwise, it could have captured the commanding heights it had once occupied, and there would have been no need for stooping to conquer a Mayawati and a Mulayam by turns in Uttar Pradesh, and to pamper a Nitish, ignoring the Ram Vilas Paswans and Lalu Prasads in Bihar. The giveaway to its electoral plight is Digvijay Singh's discovery of Congress DNA in YSR Congress and the high command's sudden fixation with T. Since we are primarily a two-party State, the Congress has benefitted from the plus of its allies and the failures of its rival alliance since the end of the Rajiv era. The Congress under Sonia Gandhi has not shown the electoral spark to go beyond the bench strength PV had bequeathed. In fact, the party has made no visible effort to grow in strength in the past decade. This failure has not stood in the way of its power gains. And its squires have gone to town making the faithful miss the wood for the trees, and the not so faithful to see the shallowness of their claims. Seen against this backdrop, Narendra Modi's references to a puppy or a burqa make sense. The main pull of his speech is not centred round these topics, though. He believes that targeting not just the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family but every sycophant shining under the Congress Sun is the highway to Raisina Hill with his penchant to make fusion of reality with fantasy and his ability to mock at crudely as the bait to trip his rivals. It is a big gamble. Before it runs its course, he runs a great risk and it is of facing a burnout. It is the price that awaits any runner who is the first to be off the block before anyone reaches the track. (The writer, a Delhi-based journalist, can be reached at
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