rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » North Indian Muslims will keep Modi's prime ministership ambitions at bay

North Indian Muslims will keep Modi's prime ministership ambitions at bay

May 22, 2012 21:15 IST

The BJP's succession battle will resolve itself only when it is in a position to form a government.'

'Even if the numbers are on the BJP's side, many regional leaders can't afford to support a Modi-led government for fear of losing their Muslim vote blocs,' argues Shivam Vij.

There is a lot of talk about whether Narendra Modi could be India's next prime minister. The very question scares many of us, because we have seen how Modi presided over, if not caused, the mass murder of over 1,000 people in Gujarat 10 years ago.

Having done that, he has consolidated the Hindu vote in his favour and has been in power since.

Not only has there been little justice for the 2002 violence, Muslims in Gujarat suffer worse discrimination and lack of opportunities than anywhere else in India.

It is not about Muslim discrimination alone: Modi has generally emerged as an authoritarian figure who brooks no dissent.

The talk of making him PM is ostensibly based on his good performance as chief minister -- we are told how Gujarat's economy has grown by leaps and bounds, how Gujarat is a prosperous state, one that is ably governed and is corruption-free, one that attracts investment from across the world.

Much of this is exaggerated and much is true. Gujarat was always ahead of many other states in economic indicators -- Modi knew how to take credit for it.

The talk of Modi-for-PM has also gained ground because the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government is so discredited that its own leaders don't expect to return to power. This results in the likelihood of a Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance returning to power. In which case, could Mr Modi be prime minister?

The question hinges on three variables. Firstly, can the BJP exploit the sentiment against the UPA and get enough seats to form even a coalition government? Second, is Modi the BJP's choice for the top job? Third, if Modi is the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, will various coalition partners support a Modi-led government?

The Lok Sabha has 543 members; a government needs 272 votes to be formed. For a coalition government, it is considered that the leading party needs to have 180+ and can then go around look for 92 votes from potential allies.

In 2009, the Congress won 206 seats and the BJP 116. Even with the Congress at its most unpopular, can the BJP cross the 180 mark?

India's general elections are a sum of the states. If you go state by state you will see the BJP in 2009 did so well in many states where the Congress has a good presence that its seats can only come down -- 8 of 14 in Jharkhand, 19 of 28 in Karnataka, 16 of 29 in Madhya Pradesh, 15 of 26 in Gujarat, 10 of 11 in Chhattisgarh, 3 of 4 in Himachal Pradesh. Only in Rajasthan does it await major gains, where it won only four of 25 seats. The BJP is likely to make minor gains in Uttarakhand (where all five seats are held by the Congress), Punjab (where it has one of 13), and so on.

In other words, the BJP could at best reach 150 seats. The Congress's decline will help the BJP only as much as it will help regional parties, whose share could go up. The only thing that could change that is a political wave that is not only anti-Congress, but also decidedly pro-BJP.

A BJP worker I met near Allahabad during the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in March 2012 told me that announcing Narendra Modi as the party's candidate for PM would be a game-changer. It would polarise voters, it would make Modi the issue, it would force people to take sides.

In other words, it would be like the Babri Masjid movement of the early 1990s which turned the BJP into a serious player.

With that or any other calculation in mind, will the BJP declare Modi as its prime ministerial candidate? The BJP is unlikely to do that because it has too many prime ministerial candidates.

L K Advani, who has forever been the prime minister-in-waiting, must be a very hurt man these days. Just because he could not become prime minister in 2009, why should it mean that the brothers and sisters of the great Hindu family have started disregarding the Karachi-born Sindhi hardliner?

He continues to be active in politics despite having announced 'retirement' because he fears he will become unwell like Vajpayee if he simply sits at home.

It is said that no age is too old to become prime minister -- once you get the post you suddenly become fit enough to last five years.

But there's a restless, young lot in the BJP. There is 'Bharatiya Nari' Sushma Swaraj, who hopes to be the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh's choice. The RSS is the mother of the BJP. I asked an RSS insider who the Sangh's ideal choice for PM would be. "Believe it or not," he said, "Nitin Gadkari."

Gadkari is party president. He was forced to the national stage by the RSS. Despite his sagging popularity, the RSS thinks he's a nice guy, because he's after all a Marathi Brahmin, just like the RSS top brass in Nagpur.

Then there is Arun Jaitley, the suave lawyer, darling of the English media, who hopes to be Modi's mukhauta in the manner that Vajpayee was the 'moderate' mask of a hardline Advani. Having used the RSS and its sister organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in the 2002 pogrom, Modi kicked them aside like a used napkin.

Modi has not shown any willingness to mend his relations with the Sangh Parivar or even reach out to BJP leaders. Good fascists never say sorry. "The ball is in his court," a BJP leader close to Gadkari told me.

It's not as simple as that, though. Gadkari and the RSS have gone on the offensive against Modi by daring to induct into the party his bete noire Sanjay Joshi, an RSS activist, because of whom Modi did not campaign in the UP election nor is he planning to attend this week's BJP national executive meet.

The BJP's post-Vajpayee succession battle will resolve itself only when power is nigh, which means, only if the BJP is in a position to form a government. For that it will need to woo regional satraps, many of whom have prime ministerial ambitions of their own.

Even if the numbers are on the BJP's side, many regional leaders cannot afford to support a Modi-led government for fear of losing their Muslim vote blocs. These include Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.

In other words, North Indian Muslims will keep the tormentor of Gujarati Muslims in check! Even other potential allies, such as Naveen Patnaik, aren't particularly great fans of strident Hindutva.

All in all, the chances of Modi as prime minister of India in 2014 seem very remote. Why then is there such a lot of buzz around the question?

The buzz is a creation of Modi's PR machinery and is aimed at positioning himself more within the BJP than without, for the moment.

In December, Gujarat will have its third assembly election since the 2002 pogrom. Many predict that Modi will lose some votes and seats -- some even say he may have to leave the chief minister's chair. Interesting times are ahead of us.

Shivam Vij