After Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat, where does the BJP stand?
Is BJP’s, more specifically Mr. Narendra Modi’s, winning in Gujarat good for the nation as a whole? I personally think it is since not only does it provide continuity of governance in Gujarat but also strengthens the BJP at national level. This augurs well for the national political scene since a strong second party is always a good thing in any democracy, be it India or elsewhere.
There is a lot of debate on Mr. Narendra Modi, his style of functioning and what he has actually achieved (and not achieved) in Gujarat. Today, for the Congress party the main opposition seems to be first Mr. Narendra Modi and then BJP. Surprisingly in the whole build up to the Gujarat election, every Congress leader and every political commentator was referring to Mr. Modi, in some context or the other, directly or indirectly, in every second sentence that they spoke. This just goes to show the kind of effect Mr. Modi has had on the Congress and political thinkers in this country. Add to it the fact that the Congress could not even put up a reasonably viable leadership in place in Gujarat to face up to the Modi challenge. I wonder if it would be reasonably correct to assume that Mr. Modi does seem to have got under the skin of Congress as a whole and is making the Congress leadership at the centre very uncomfortable. The BJP has managed to deliver the first straight punch on the Congress party’s nose for the 2014 challenge at the national level. Assuming that the punch has hurt and the Congress is a bit dizzy from the impact, it may be worthwhile for the BJP to push their luck a bit further so as to increase the discomfort. This may mean moving Mr. Modi to a central role in the BJP hierarchy and keeping the option of his being a Prime Ministerial candidate open. I think the mere presence of Mr. Modi at the centre is going to make Congress apprehensive since whatever his detractors may say; Mr. Modi does have an increasing acceptance at national level.
It is often said of Mr. Modi that he has a dictatorial style of leadership that may not be acceptable at the centre. I am afraid this argument does not hold too much water. History shows us that India and Indians thrive under a little stricter and autocratic style of functioning rather than a totally democratic style of functioning. Late Mr. Kairon showed that in Punjab, Mr. Bansi Lal proved the same in Haryana and Indira Gandhi showed that at the centre. No one can doubt the success achieved by all these stalwarts in their respective roles for the betterment of their states and the nation as a whole. Yes, undoubtedly there were aberrations in the process but one cannot deny that the positive results outweighed these heavily. Further, I think it will be knave to assume that Mr. Modi is unaware of the issues involved for being successful at the centre and the need to modify his current style of functioning if he has to be counted as a national leader. At the same time, his decisive style of functioning should be taken as an asset rather than a limitation since it is no secret that most of our current leadership at the centre is more often than not shy of taking hard and correct decisions in the interest of the nation. It is time we have more leaders, both at state and national levels, who are strong, decisive and driven by what is good for the nation. We need leaders who can move from rhetoric to action so that the nation can move ahead towards realizing its full potential. We need leaders who are experienced and proven rather than having mavericks thrust on the nation to keep dynastic politics alive.
Another charge leveled at Mr. Modi is that he has polarized Gujarat since Muslims and some minorities are not part of the main stream. They further argue that the benefits of development have not filtered down to all, specially the minorities and Muslims of the state. This is a very subjective charge and probably not tenable in today’s Gujarat. If there are good roads in Gujarat or if 100% villages are electrified, this just shows that the development has touched the entire state without any bias. If the industrial climate is vibrant, it offers equal opportunity for growth to every state subject irrespective of his caste, religion or colour. The state laws do not discriminate between its subjects; same laws are applicable to all. I think the only reason such absurd charges are leveled are because of the minimal representation of the Muslims and some minorities in the BJP’s political hierarchy in the state. But that is true for other political parties too. At least in case of the BJP, there seems to have been a very concerted effort to include minorities and Muslims at the block and municipal level elections. This is a beginning and a move in the right direction. It is obvious that if a community was not active politically and devoid of political leadership, you cannot thrust such leadership role to it overnight. Such transition takes years of planning and development before a meaningful representation can be assured to such communities. Now that the process has begun, hopefully in years to come we will see more representation of Muslims and minorities in political leadership roles too. In any case, why single out BJP or Mr. Modi on this issue, the Congress did nothing while it ruled Gujarat for decades before the BJP came to power in the state. If they had initiated the process a few decades ago, we may have had a different situation today.
The Congress invariably tries to pull down the achievements of the Modi government and underplays the development seen in the state in last decade and a half. Often his detractors’ present statistics, manipulated or selectively filtered, to show that all growth and development claims are superficial while actually on ground the story is different. I think we should dismiss all such claims by the opposition since more responsible and more authoritative people, both within India and abroad, agree without doubt that the state has seen good development and is going in the right direction under Mr. Modi’s leadership. Agriculture, infrastructure and industry are the bedrocks of a growing economy like ours. On all these counts Gujarat has done well and so the criticism seems to be unwarranted.
Last but not the least, when everything else fails, the opposition rakes up the 2002 riots that took place in Gujarat. There is no doubt that it was and will remain a sad and shameful part of the history of Gujarat. Allegations have always been hurled at Mr. Modi regarding his biased role in those difficult times. But the fact remains that the judicial system has worked overtime to examine each charge leveled at Mr. Modi and nothing has been proved or attributed to him specifically in any case so far. Individuals who have suffered in 2002 will always feel that justice has not been done but I think we need to look at it differently. Now that the law has had its long run for most of the allegations leveled against Mr. Modi and exonerated him of the same, it is time to move on and look at the future. It is tribute to Mr. Modi’s leadership and the people of Gujarat that in the last 10 years no riot has taken place in Gujarat and communal tension has not been witnessed. As far as Congress is concerned, it should not forget the role its leaders played in the 1984 riots which were pan India and the damage was far more severe than in the Gujarat riots of 2002 which were only limited to a few selected areas in Gujarat. Not only that, some of its leaders have also been censured by the courts for their role in the riots despite the party having pulled no punches to save and protect their guilty leaders. But thankfully the people including the community that suffered most in 1984 have moved forward in the overall interest of the state and the nation.
The next question that will now occupy everyone’s mind is when Mr. Modi will make his next move of moving towards a national role. Most, including the opposition, have taken it for granted that this will happen and I will not be wrong in saying that some of them would certainly be losing their sleep over this. The BJP national committee and leadership would certainly have a lot on its plate now that Mr. Modi has scripted a win in Gujarat again. I do hope the decisions taken would be pragmatic and in keeping with times and need of the hour. Any retrograde steps taken by the central BJP leadership at this stage will be counterproductive and will not build on the success it has achieved in Gujarat. In the final analysis the party is bigger than any individual and all decisions must be taken with the sole aim of taking the best shot at the 2014 general elections. The party or its cadres should refrain from taking a myopic view of a 2014 fight between Rahul Gandhi & Mr. Modi. There is still a lot of time and what seems obvious today may not be relevant at all by then. Meanwhile BJP has to explore all possibilities with regards to forming alliances with regional parties since there is very little chance of any one national party securing a majority in the2014. Needless to say that regional parties and leaders with dubious credentials should be avoided at all costs. A strong grass root level campaign to better its position in some key states in the country is essential for BJP since any additional votes will only add to its chances of emerging as the leading party in 2014.
As far as the Congress is concerned, they will take solace in the fact that they have won in Himachal Pradesh and that is no mean achievement. However, their discomfort and apprehensions would have risen many notches since Mr. Modi has emerged stronger than before. But to assume, at this stage, that this makes Mr. Modi the chosen leader of BJP for the 2014 general elections would be very knave. However, the Congress think tank will need to have a ready counter for any such eventuality since one cannot rule out such a possibility. But one thing is very clear and obvious; Mr. Rahul Gandhi is no match for this seasoned and proven leader. The logic of taking pragmatic and correct decisions applies to Congress also as much as it does to BJP. The Congress needs to do some serious internal thinking so as to analyze and understand why despite being in power at the centre, its presence in all major states of the country, barring a couple of them, is pathetic. With just 27% of the national vote in last general elections at national level, there is an urgent need to rethink its strategy instead of feeling content and smug since they hold power at the centre. The other crying need for the Congress is the development of strong regional leaders which it is sorely lacking today. It is imperative that a national party at the centre has a reasonable strong presence in various states too. This will be one potent method of countering regional party pressures and demands which are major impediments in running a progressive and strong government. No one knows or understands this better than the present Congress government after its dealings with the CPI (M), BSP and SP.
Will it be BJP in 2014 or will the Congress hold its own in the general elections? Will Mr. Modi emerge as the Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP or will it be somebody else? Will Congress position Rahul Gandhi as its leader in 2014 despite his obvious unwillingness? How will the regional parties fare in the next general elections? Who will be the king makers in 2014? Will 2014 elections usher in a change at the centre? All these are very interesting and vital questions for the nation and the next eighteen months promise to be very interesting.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.