Manmohan Singh is to the whole of India what Jagannath Mishra was to Bihar. The greasy younger brother of Lalit Narayan Mishra, who was killed in Samastipur, destroyed governance in a state which still boasts some of the best minds in the country, together with Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Had Nitish Kumar not fallen into the trap of key BJP leaders who hoped to derail Narendra Modi’s ascension as the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee by seeking to veto the anointment, Bihar would have recovered much more than already took place from the wreck that Mishra left behind. However, these days, both Nitish and his party are inchoate, and governance in Bihar has once again slipped, although not yet to the Mishra-Lalu levels. The man, whom current CBI director Ranjit Sinha once gave a clean chit to in the fodder scam, deepened the swamp created by Jagannath Mishra, who apparently auctioned each decision of his. Given the choice between a return to Lalu and backing Nitish Kumar, voters in Bihar are likely to ensure that the majority of seats get won by Narendra Modi in a context where the UPA is being seen as auctioning decisions exactly the way Mishra did in Bihar.
It may be recalled that it was The Sunday Guardian which first popularised the fact that Modi comes from “the most backward of backward castes” and that “his first job was as a tea boy”. Admirers of Modi were angered by the fixing of a caste identity on a man, who has never used that tag in his politics, and by recalling his only regular job until L.K. Advani got him made the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, but if Modi carries his party to victory in May 2014, it will not be because of good governance or his relative honesty, but his backward caste identity and his humble beginnings.
In the coming elections, so deep is theanger at the Congress Party that Narendra Modi has become the most credible anti-Congress face.
Just before the last US presidential poll, this columnist ran into Ashley Tellis, who has been as friendly to India as it is possible for a US policymaker to be, this time in Shanghai. When the staunchly Republican Tellis mentioned the election, the response of this columnist was that “gays, women favouring abortion and minorities would ensure Obama’s re-election.” And so it proved. Voters back a candidate for reasons that are often alien to the starched, pressed and neatly packaged analyses of “experts” in newspapers and universities, and so it will be with Narendra Modi, who has won the backing of voters on a scale not seen since Indira Gandhi trumpeted her desire to “Garibi Hatao” in 1969. Garibs (poor) believed her and voted accordingly. Srikant Verma, the brilliant if somewhat inebriated Congress sloganeer, gave the call of Na jat par na paat par, mohar lagegi haath par(do not vote on the basis of caste, vote for the hand), and this is what happened. In the coming elections, so deep is the anger at the Congress Party that Narendra Modi has become the most credible anti-Congress face. While Arvind Kejriwal is striving daily to usurp that role, the fact that he owes his job to the Congress Party has somewhat diluted the force of his anti-Congress rhetoric.
Voters are looking at three “Cs”. They want a leader who is pro common man, but who is implacably opposed to both Congress as well as corruption. The Aam Aadmi Party’s tally is likely to fall below ten, because (a) voters are not sure if Kejriwal will do a deal with Congress the way it has in effect happened in Delhi, and (b) even its most ardent backers do not believe it can come to power nationally. Hence, many sympathisers who are nevertheless anti-Congress are going to vote for Narendra Modi, who is the only BJP leader to have consistently opposed Sonia Gandhi in a context where others in his party have been deferential to her.
What is carrying Modi forward is as much an anti-Congress wave as it is a pro-Modi current. Rather than his party, it is Modi that voters wish to back. Indeed, the only fear of several is that the BJP may assume power with a PM other than Modi, or that Narendra Modi will have a Union Cabinet filled with Vajpayee-era personalities. It is no secret that some in the BJP would welcome such a situation, especially the former. The Gujarat CM will find that the hard part has only begun, should he get sworn in as PM in mid-May. And that the primary obstacle to his success will be from within his own party, exactly as it has been for Manmohan Singh.