Narendra Modi has pulled off a near-impossible feat. Months in advance of the general election being called by an increasingly nervous Congress-led coalition at the Centre, he has managed to transcend the squabbles of long-entrenched and rootless power-brokers in Delhi, and get anointed as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate, and lead its bid to unfurl the Tiranga at Red Fort.
In a deeper sense, this is a triumph of aspirational India (young, middle-aged, and old alike) that has stood unwaveringly behind the Gujarat Chief Minister’s leadership, which, though much touted as a ‘development’ model, is essentially a charismatic mix of strong and decisive leadership, with a sense of purpose about how to achieve its chosen goals.
This is why, though Modi’s ‘development model’ spawned many copycats, most notably Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who felt his second electoral victory entitled him to claim the mantle of the NDA’s leadership because he was also ‘secular’ (whatever that means), they failed to gain traction with the people. They neither had the vision to attract investment and growth at the same scale, nor were they able to inspire the honest commitment to public service that Modi inspired in his entire bureaucracy, which is the invisible steel frame of his raj.
State-level Chief Ministers, with their own grassroots appeal and achievements had no such difficulty in acknowledging Narendra Modi as the first among equals. Hence he was more readily welcomed by leaders like Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and Shivraj Chauhan, who do not need his support to win their own seats, or elections, but nevertheless appreciate the extra floating votes that he might bring the party at the hustings. Such honest ‘generals’ have doubtless quietly contributed to this triumphant moment, the likes of which independent India has never seen in any political party.
It will now be a direct contest between the Gujarat Chief Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi as there seems little chance that the Amethi MP will feel bold enough to lead his party directly. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has generously declared Rahul Gandhi as Congress’ next candidate for the office, and offered to work under his leadership, few have taken the Gandhi scion seriously. In Congress, the race for the next surrogate-PM would now begin, though BJP would be making a mistake to be complacent with Narendra Modi’s elevation.
Party president Rajnath Singh deserves congratulations for having the vision to appreciate Narendra Modi’s popularity as a positive for the party, rather than as a threat to his own ambitions. He found the gumption to decide that enough was enough, and sidelined the sulking stalwart LK Advani who simply cannot come to terms with the fact that his political life is over. He was given a chance to lead the party to victory in 2004 and blew it, and he forced the RSS and BJP to give him a second chance in 2009, and was decisively trounced by the electorate. In such circumstances, a third shot could only be suicidal.
The RSS on its part seems to have drawn some lessons from the past, and has at least understood that ‘national’ leaders who need the support of State leaders to win their own seats, who have to shift from one state to another to return to Parliament, cannot be allowed to hold the party to ransom. The first hint of the new thinking was apparent at Goa in June this year when Rajnath Singh declared Modi leader of the party’s central parliamentary board. Then too, LK Advani chose to sulk, rather than give in with grace. Since then, challenges to Vasundhara Raje have been smoothed in Rajasthan (narrowly lost in 2008). There is no local challenge to Raman Singh or Shivraj Chouhan, but the BJP would do well to gets its act together quickly in Haryana where there is a vacuum in the opposition ranks due to the troubles of the Chautala family and the Congress regime is riddled with land scandals.
An immediate issue to be addressed is Karnataka, where the humiliated BS Yeddyurappa must be wooed back on war footing. In future, BJP’s central leadership must ensure that on no account are grassroots leaders in the States are humiliated by those who owe their positions to patronage and manipulation of the levers of power.
As for Manohar Parrikar, he must be ruing his bizarre anti-Modi statements of recent times. What is pertinent here is that the RSS and the BJP leadership must ensure that Pope Francis is not allowed to visit India to further the Church’s conversion agenda.
The India that welcomes Narendra Modi’s elevation as Prime Ministerial candidate today is an India that supports the vision unveiled at the Capital’s Shri Ram College of Commerce, an India that wants to exchange fire fighting for a model of visualising the future and working to achieve it. But Modi must remember that while India does have over 65 per cent of its population below the age of 35 years, it equally has a huge stratum above 35 years of age that is in the work force and supports whole families and needs job security.
The message for the future is that Narendra Modi is being supported across large swathes of the nation because of the stench of corruption under which the UPA led by Sonia Gandhi has drowned the nation. His record of corruption-free governance for over three terms now has to be redeemed at the Centre.
Most importantly, the economy has to be given the confidence to revive. This will be a long haul, but Narendra Modi and the BJP will build public confidence if they resist the rumoured moves to sell 500 tonnes of gold by extorting it from Hindu temples. The real economy can be revived by giving real benefits to farmers, small traders and medium industrialists who provide employment and self-employment. It would be a serious mistake to put more funds in the hands of crony capitalists who have tanked the economy because they did not use loans extracted from public sector banks to set up manufacturing and generate jobs. Strangely, those with floundering concerns in India seem to have huge war chests for investments abroad. There is something deeply rotten that needs to be investigated and fixed.