INSIDE STORY: Modi's game-plan for the top post in 2014
Sheela Bhatt speaks to BJP insiders and those privy to Modi's thinking, to piece together the Gujarat strongman's plan/journey that aims for the biggest prize in Indian politics.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's last two speeches in New Delhi have pushed political speculation to fever pitch. His speech before students of Sri Ram Commerce College and his fiery and focused political speech in which he indulged in Gandhi family bashing before the top 5,000 district and state leaders of the Bhartiya Janata Party has gone down very well in party's core constituency all over India.
In the 2009 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party got 18.8 percent of the national vote. Many senior leaders, who attended the BJP national council meet, told rediff.com that amongst BJP's loyal voters there is a distinct 'Modi wave' not just an undercurrent. A BJP leader from western India says, "One out of every five Indian voters today favours Modi as prime minister."
Modi's second speech was particularly successful in hitting the target because, literally, the BJP crowd anointed him as the first amongst equals.
It was a warming up exercise to enthuse the cadre and Modi did it with success. Seeing the trend, BJP President Rajnath Singh went out of way to ensure that Modi got his due so that as president he can move on with the agenda of appointing a new team and more importantly occupy the number two position during the volatile period when the next general election is held.
Singh has bought time and peace by praising Modi sky high. When he asked over the mike for Modi to be given a standing ovation, he literally forced stalwarts like L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, to stand up and bow to Modi's popularity. After the applause of 5,000 BJP loyalists it is time to ask what next for Modi?
Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt talked to a cross section of BJP's state and national level leaders, who are ardent supporters of Modi and couple of whom are privy to Modi's moves, to find out his game-plan and what's on his mind and how he and his team are assessing the current situation in national politics.
This FAQ gives an insight into Modi's game-plan as seen from the Modi camp.
What is on Modi's mind?
Believe it or not India has not yet seen the real Modi.
"After the thunderous applause that he got in New Delhi Narendra bhai must be thinking that he has almost become a prime minister. Of course, he won't share this and will strictly prefer to keep a low-profile on the matter till the election is won. But now it has started dawning on him that he can become prime minister of India," said a BJP leader, who knows Modi well since 1980, in an off-the-record conversation with rediff.com.
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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a rally
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
Modi thinks he has no competition in the BJP
What factors give Modi such bold confidence?
Modi derives his confidence or over-confidence -- depends who is assessing him -- from many events and trends. One, Modi gets confidence from the realities that exist at the BJP's Ashoka Road headquarters. He thinks there is no real competition to him in the party today.
Since the last decade he has absolute contempt for the armchair ideologues and television studio-hopping leaders who, according to him, talk big without winning elections or without understanding the intricacies of running the Indian state machinery.
Soon after Atal Bihari Vajpayee's health started deteriorating in 2003/2004, Modi had foreseen the opportunity to lead the party one day. With much advance planning, perseverance and abundant political quotient he has moved on since 2003 to arrive at today's position.
What has added hugely to his efforts is the United Progressive Alliance's disastrous record in improving the fundamentals of the governance of the country. He also used the decade to improve his oratory skills, a crucial element in today's politics.
Advani's sympathetic comment on Mohmmad Ali Jinnah during his tour in Pakistan provided additional advantage to Modi's ambitions. Modi, being former pracharak, understands the complex dimensions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's thinking.
Then, he guessed that Advani will never be able to rise to his pre-Jinnah position within the party cadre. Once Advani fell from grace in eyes of the RSS, Modi's ambitions took concrete shape.
The lack of a strong leadership with a grip over the Indian governance systems in New Delhi gave Modi confidence, or what some call over-confidence. The scam-tainted and unfortunate term of the UPA-2 is also proving fortunate for Modi.
"Show us one strong neta in the BJP's New Delhi office," say his loyalists. Also one must recall that Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley handled the 2009 general elections, without Modi. The result greatly dampened the party cadre as BJP lost national vote share by 3.5 per cent compared to the 2004 election when it had 22.16 per cent of the votes.
That's the way he may be looking at his position within the party-fold, but what makes him confident to take on the Congress at the national level and the regional parties at the state level?
Modi's camp knows well that it's easy to hit out at the Congress and the Gandhi family right now when its stock is down, but the BJP won't find it easy to fight the regional parties.
Modi's calculation will surely go awry if the anti-Congress votes go en-block to the regional parties in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal etc. The BJP gains only if the anti-Congress votes get divided in UP. But if the anti-Congress voters do not come the BJP's way and largely goes to the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party then the BJP will face tough competition in the form of a strong grouping of regional parties after the election. It is established now that in UP, the BJP gains only if the Muslim votes get divided.
Modi is confident only in harnessing the anti-Congress emotion in the country but regional parties are real threat to him and his party.
At a personal level, surely he is concerned about the taint of the 2002 Gujarat riots or the issue of the denial of an American visa.
But he is trying his best to make virtue out of the problems.
Recently a senior BJP office bearer was asked by a senior official from the US consulate in Mumbai if Modi is going to apply for a visa? They were worried that the US embassy will have to reject it but at some cost and huge controversy. The BJP leader told the American, "Modi has told us that he will never ever ask for an American visa. One day the Americans will come to him with the invitation."
Modi is determined to turn the tables against America, the Maharashtra-born BJP leader claims.
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Image: Senior BJP leader L K Advani
Modi takes on Rahul because he opposes dynasty
Why is he so impolite in his speeches?
That is a debatable issue. He identifies his opponents and goes after them. The language, phrases and symbols (comparing the Congress to termites) that he uses are an integral part of his politics. Take it or oppose him, he won't change it. The editorial writers in newspapers may have an issue but his 'catchment area' absorbs it. He has a killer instinct. He has violent bug to identify his enemy early and go against him/her the whole hog.
Study closely what he has done in the last ten years in Gujarat. He blunted the growth of the Congress so successfully. The Gujarat assembly is almost a defunct body. Even the BJP MLAs do not know what's happening in the assembly at most times.
Modi works closely with his core team consisting of managers, executives, IAS and IPS officers. He is extremely secretive. The Chief Minister's Office in Gandhingar is the all powerful body that has been successful in achieving the targets set by Modi. IPS and IAS officers are pawns in his games and they deliver because their actual power remains more than the elected MLAs of ruling party.
The Gujarat cabinet is a rubber stamp. Most of his colleagues are no match for Modi and some are so subservient that it even irritates Modi sometimes. Since the last ten years he has been ruling without obstruction to his 'not-so-refined' style. It's unlikely that he will change just because a few forces in New Delhi demand sophistication from him.
Isn't he emerging as leader impatient for power in New Delhi, as compared to Rahul Gandhi's softer and almost philosophical approach to power politics?
Come on! Real Indian politics is desi territory. Modi belongs to the school of thought where you can almost hear him proclaim with pride, 'I have earned my position on merit. I am not begging before the central leadership or the RSS to declare me a prime ministerial candidate. I don't follow the media. It is the media that follows me. I have no fear in going with full force to get what I deserve and what my supporters think I deserve.'
Also remember that notwithstanding Modi's brash behaviour, corporate India, big fat cats of the western world and even 'vested interests' in vital ministries in his state and in New Delhi are backing Modi. Try and talk to the shadowy middlemen and you will know why they back Modi. They want a 'decision maker' in New Delhi -- which is an image Modi has built up successfully.
Modi takes on Rahul Gandhi, the way he does, because he really believes that the Congress dynasty must be opposed politically. Like Swaraj and Jaitley or earlier Atal Bihari Vajpayee he doesn't like to play soft once in a while with his well-identified political enemies and public adversaries.
A Modi supporter asked a cunning counter-question while debating Modi's so-called loutish approach against Rahul Gandhi: "Can you ever think of the BJP making Jayant Advani (L K Advani's son) a prime ministerial candidate? Just because Rahul is born in the Gandhi family, why should the Congress project him as a PM candidate at all? Is it tolerable for any Indian who really believes in democracy?"
His loyalists, repeatedly, claim that he is a complete politician who is not dependent on any external sources for his growth. He is a self-made leader who toiled hard with robotic precision to reach this level. He has no advisors in the real sense and he will be 'impolite' because he has never been anything else in all these years in public life.
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Image: Rahul Gandhi during an election campaign
Photographs: Vijay Mathur/Reuters
Modi has and will continue to divide the country's opinion
What is Modi's focus to target the UPA government?
On expected and obvious lines -- dynastic politics of the Congress, price rise and corruption are three issues that Modi will take up furiously. The BJP firmly believes that price rise and corruption issues have percolated down to the village level.
The Modi camp also thinks that Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal have hit the Congress at vulnerable points and they have performed their job to take away few bricks from the UPA edifice. The anti-Congress mood can favour the BJP in states where it is pitted directly against the Congress.
In Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Goa the anti-Congress trends will be further cultivated by the BJP in the coming months.
Please note that the CMO in Gandhinagar is flooded with invitations. Modi is coming to New Delhi on March 16 to give lecture on himself at the India Today Conclave. He will speak on 'Namo mantra -- will it work for India?'
In Mumbai on March 17, the BJP is putting up the mother-of-all-political-shows to greet Modi for his assembly victory in the central suburb of Sion. The state BJP is claiming that it will be a never-seen-before public meeting that will exhort Modi to move ahead. This is all being done to ensure that Modi gets properly invited to join the BJP's parliamentary board and also in the process he wants to get placed above the rest in the race for the top leadership.
Sorry to put it in a straight and simplistic way but should one seriously take Modi and his gamble for the prime minister's post seriously?
It depends on your politics. Modi has and will continue to divide country's opinion. The Congress has strength in its planks of secularism but Modi means reality. People who think that there is life beyond the 2002 riots, and those who think that the Indian nation is much, much bigger than the debate of Hindu-Muslim relations in India will take a certain stand and take him seriously but those who firmly believe that the intentional hurt to the minority's pride and security is a violation of the ethos of the Indian Constitution will keep opposing him.
There is also another issue to consider. Even if the BJP/Modi wins or loses the next election the fundamental argument of both sides will not be won or lost. The debate will go on because it is about who we are and how the Indian nation should assimilate various shades of India fairly and within the framework of Indian democracy.
The election is too small an event to lose or win or change such fundamental beliefs of people, whichever way, on issues like the communal riots of 2002.
How well prepared is Modi?
First, understand his enormously difficult task. There remains no doubt that it can be 'taken for granted' that if the UPA wins enough seats to form the next coalition government then Rahul Gandhi has no competition in getting into 7, Race Course Road. There is no suspense at all about it.
But in complete contrast, Modi's current journey is a fascinating event because there is a huge suspense. The odds are stacked against Modi. Not just the 2002 riots taint that is haunting him but his belligerent, almost anti-democratic political style is no less of an issue. Look at the way he took on Sanjay Joshi, his former friend and colleague. Even his best fans in the party tried to pacify him but Modi remained stubborn and threw Joshi out of the positions of power in the party.
Quite ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly he decimated his mentor Keshubhai Patel without speaking a word against him. The way he has refused, time and again, to apologise for the 2002 riots suggests that he knows what he is doing. He has not fallen in the media's trap.
The CMO in Gandhinagar is the most political and hyper-active office in Gujarat. Recently when the district panchayat elections were held, staff of the CMO kept track of every single seat, voting patterns and even ensured that maximum district panchayats were captured by the BJP.
With a burning desire, unlimited resources, unwavering focus and the RSS's compulsion to back him and a pan-Indian network of supporters he is preparing his campaign to tour India after July. He has solid backing of the party cadre and its infrastructure. Not to forget the money power that makes him best prepared amongst his colleagues to fight the coming election.
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Image: A 'war-room' in Uttar Pradesh, which runs on reporting from the field, monitors the election process.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com
Modi has to shed his identity of being a regional leader
So what are Modi's back of the envelope calculations to achieve his ambitions?
There is nothing light or casual about Modi. His supporters say the BJP will seriously look at fighting only 325 seats out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. Some 120 seats are such where Muslim votes will dominate. It is difficult in a country like India to predict where and how the political mood will swing on the day of the election. But as on March 2013, the BJP is expecting 150/170 seats for itself.
A BJP leader close to Modi told rediff.com that the BJP can expect to improve its Uttar Pradesh tally to 23/24 seats in the best case scenario. Although the Samajwadi Party's stock is down due to Akhilesh Yadav's bad governance, BJP managers think the SP can't get less than 30 seats.
If the Congress loses badly and ends up, say, below 100 then it necessarily doesn't help Modi or the BJP automatically. Because, if the BJP is restricted to around 150 seats and the Congress fares poorly then the regional parties will be the main gainer of the anti-Congress votes at the cost of the BJP.
So the primary calculation presents a tough scenario and sets hard challenges. The stakes are set too high and it's a long, long way to go for Modi.
Will he stand for election from Uttar Pradesh?
Yes, as on today, he is planning to. Modi's difficulty will not end even after the National Democratic Alliance gets a comfortable number of seats. To ensure his claim for the PM's gaddi he will have to stand for election outside Gujarat and win with a handsome margin. He has to quickly shed his identity of being a 'regional leader' and that can happen quickly and forcefully only if he contests and wins from Uttar Pradesh.
To stake claim for the top post this is a must for Modi. Modi is, right now, assessing a few seats in UP's Purvanchal region that falls around Gorkhpur and also Lucknow and Varanasi but the final choice will be such where caste-divide is the least.
Modi will always avoid the caste-mine of Indian politics. He belongs to the Ghanchi-Baniya community that comes in the bracket of 'other backward classes' in Gujarat. But he never highlights his caste in order to keep the Hindu votes united. He thinks that caste essentially divides the Hindu vote-bank. That's why the Congress will have the twin powerful political weapons of the secular card and the caste card to fight the onslaught of Modi.
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Image: A Muslim woman waits to cast her vote in Varanasi during the 2009 general election
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
The BJP outside of Delhi feels for Modi
Is Modi not a pariah for the regional parties? What about the aversion of secular parties to Modi?
The definition of who is secular and who is not in 2013/2014 will be decided after knowing which party gets 170 plus seats. If the BJP is able to muster 170 plus seats then many regional parties will gravitate towards the NDA even if its leader is Modi.
The Congress party and the Left parties obviously will never join the BJP or Modi. Also the Samajwadi Party will never join any alliance where Modi is leading but the rest of the regional parties will certainly come to the negotiation table maybe after 'fine-tuning' the definition of secularism.
Modi's staunch supporter from Mumbai told rediff.com, "Remember, Delhi is not India. Delhi is not the BJP. The real India and the real BJP live outside Delhi. The BJP outside of Delhi feels for Modi."
Another die-hard Modi follower and colleague says, "The leader who keeps ranting "Hum sochenge, hum karenge" can't be elected in today's India. People see in Modi shades of Indira Gandhi. As nobody looks for an impotent husband to trust her life with, the Indian voters too look for strong leaders like Indira Gandhi."
What are Modi's best and worst features in today's scheme of things.
He can provide strong leadership. But his democratic quotient is questionable.
Photographs: Reinhard Krause/Reuters