Indefatigable changes have been wrought on India’s polity since Narendra Modi was anointed as the Prime Ministerial candidate by BJP in September 2013, with NaMo acting as the fulcrum of correction. The 11 March results have brought to relief the contours of that conversion. Established notions of politics have been decimated. A new paradigm has emerged.
Neither media nor the non-BJP political class could fathom the undercurrent. Even a large section of otherwise pro-Sangh commentators were sceptical whether the BJP sweep in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections could be sustained. Propensity of the first ordinary political worker, who has risen over the period of a decade-and-a-half from oblivion to the office of the Prime Minister, to oust entrenched interests and turn caste-oriented Uttar Pradesh to a development seeking electorate was not fathomed by most.
Narendra Modi came to New Delhi as an “outsider” and introduced into national politics his close aide Amit Shah as BJP president soon thereafter. This duo then went on to remodel politics by inducting as state BJP chiefs many unknown faces. Known faces were ignored when Chief Ministers were chosen in Haryana and Maharashtra. This trend has been continued in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh now.
The day Modi became Chief Minister in Gujarat in early October 2001, this writer was with a close aide of the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee when the news came in. The aide smiled and said, “So, an RSS pracharak will now be CM.” Till then RSS pracharaks were not considered for high political office. Organisation was deemed to be their forte. Four years later, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, another pracharak emerged as CM in Bhopal. The choice of Manoharlal Khattar in Haryana and Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand has further catapulted pracharaks to the chief ministerial office. In Uttar Pradesh the name of Suresh Khanna did its rounds.
In UP, an extreme choice emerged: Yogi Adityanath, the ultra-right mahant of Gorakhpur, who has immense mass following, was chosen as the leader in Lucknow. Pressure from within the BJP ranks seems to have prevailed over the initial choice of Manoj Sinha. The Gorkhnath Math, which Adityanath heads, is not shunned by the Muslim populace of Gorakhpur, though he has the image of being a hardline Hindutva face.
In UP, an extreme choice emerged: Yogi Adityanath, the ultra-right mahant of Gorakhpur, who has immense mass following, was chosen as the leader in Lucknow. Pressure from within the BJP ranks seems to have prevailed over the initial choice of Manoj Sinha. The Gorkhnath Math, which Adityanath heads, is not shunned by the Muslim populace of Gorakhpur, though he has the image of being a hardline Hindutva face. Apprehension that this choice will not be received well may be somewhat misplaced.
The Uttar Pradesh election strategy so far had been determined by two considerations—caste equations and sensibility of the Muslim voter, who constitute a fifth of the state’s electorate. The Modi-Shah strategy circumvented both. And BJP polled votes cutting across caste-communal lines. Even in a predominantly Muslim seat like Deoband, BJP won. Thus the notion that special dispensation needs to be rolled out to appease caste or communal sentiments was bulldozed. If the 2017 trend is sustained then it will be yeoman service for a truly secular, welfare based polity.
The electorate in 2017 has dispelled many myths. In far away Manipur, Irom Sharmila, who was the headline maker for many years, polled only 90 votes when she sought people’s endorsement. The Punjab voter disappointed Arvind Kejriwal and Goa decimated his AAP. Jat voters in western UP gave just one seat to Ajit Singh’s RLD, perhaps to keep the legacy of Charan Singh alive. Mayawati, who had been pursuing Kanshi Ram’s caste agenda, which first surfaced as DS4 in 1980, found to her dismay that Modi had borrowed from Marxian class analysis and decimated caste appeal. The development plank of BJP coupled with the absence of major scams in Modi rule catapulted the voter from caste considerations and brought to fore class ambitions.
Modi’s approach to the poor is based on their need and their aspirations. Take the case of LPG allocations. I know of poor employees in Delhi who visited their village homes to ensure their family benefited from the scheme of LPG distribution to rural homes. Modi is not the first to think of the hazards of smoking chulhas: Rajiv Gandhi spoke about them three decades back. Rajiv Gandhi also spoke of the need to provide LPG cylinders to rural and especially tribal areas to combat deforestation. But in gthe Congress regime the LPG symbolised patronage—gas agencies were disbursed to the chosen few to help them earn a good livelihood. The use of LPG and such modern tools for welfare of poor remained clichéd.
Modi is talking about India’s demographic advantage—of having 65% population below the age of 35 and is catering to their aspirations. Here too, he is perhaps echoing what Rajiv Gandhi said while addressing an AICC meeting in Mumbai’s Shanmuktananda Hall in 1982 (he was general secretary then). Congress only mentioned the statistics. Modi is taking advantage of the enumeration and planning strategy on its basis. Rhetoric has been supplemented by action.
Omar Abdullah tweeted on 11 March that now 2019 is a foregone conclusion and Opposition should now prepare to challenge Modi only in 2024. As things stand, BJP seems to enjoy an unassailable position which Congress enjoyed in the Nehru-Indira Gandhi days. Manoeuvring for anti-BJP unity has begun. Significantly, on 10 March, perhaps anticipating the landslide verdict which was to come the very next day, Rahul Gandhi called on stalwart Sharad Pawar to discuss possibility of uniting against BJP. Congress, though battered, remains a pan-India force. BJP is yet to achieve similar nationwide organisational presence. If Congress gives up its arrogance, Rahul Gandhi looks beyond his fancied coterie and non-BJP forces find common cause then perhaps some challenge to Modi juggernaut may emerge. As things stand, both administratively and organisationally, the Modi-led BJP seems well entrenched.
Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a former Editor of Sunday and of National Herald.