The road ahead for Modi

By : Rajeev Sharma

Now that Narendra Modi has capped his eight-month-long arduous battle he fought as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and has taken over as India’s 15th prime minister, he has two paths to choose from; both leading to opposite directions.

One, prove his critics and detractors wrong and become a truly inclusive leader who thinks of all religions, communities and castes and has a statesman-like vision. Two, act like a wily politician and take up the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) agenda now or in the second half of his tenure and polarize the Hindu voters completely that he successfully did as three-time chief minister of Gujarat.

Modi will be committing a blunder if he were to exercise the second option at all, now or anytime later. It’s a whale of an opportunity for Modi to become a strong leader, not only of India but the entire world.

The last time when India had witnessed one single party getting clear majority on its own was way back in 1984 when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had got 414 seats out of a total of 543 in the Lok Sabha. But even despite this road roller majority, when the BJP had been reduced to just two seats, Gandhi’s fall started within months and the voters rejected him as well as the Congress in the 1989 elections.

Modi has, in many ways, done better than Rajiv Gandhi, though his 282 seats are much less than Rajiv’s 414 seats. Rajiv got such a huge mandate riding on a sympathy wave because of the assassination of his mother and sitting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Modi, on the contrary, had no sympathy factor. In fact, he was hounded by each of his political rival, inside BJP as well as the opposition parties.

He emerged as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate on Sept. 13, 2013 when the stock of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was at an all-time low and people of India were sick of scams, nose-diving economy, depressed markets and a completely moribund government that did anything but govern.

Modi’s historic victory was a combination of a positive vote for his strong personality (pitted against an insipid Manmohan Singh and an inexperienced Rahul Gandhi) and a negative vote against the Congress party. Indians voted for Modi for the cause of development, though he did not use development as his sole election plank during his campaign. Modi tried virtually every single arrow in his quiver — caste, religion, jobs, economy, inflation, defense and internal security and, above all, India’s pride. In West Bengal, he polarized Hindu voters by threatening to throw out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, but he never said anything against the Muslims. In Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, he invoked Mother Ganga, but avoided mentioning the temple issue in his election rallies throughout the country.

Modi’s strategies paid off as he cleverly got the bulk of Hindu votes and succeeded in confusing and dividing the Muslim voters. He managed the impossible by nullifying the all-important caste factor as evident from his good showing in states like UP and Bihar, which have voted on caste lines for decades.

Modi will be committing a blunder by taking up three core Hindutva issues: Temple in Ayodhya, repeal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir which accords a special status to the state, and bringing in a Uniform Civil Code aimed at drastically amending Muslim personal laws.

Nobody will realize it better than Modi that divisive politics does not pay in the long run. He has been hounded within India as well as abroad for his alleged sins of omission and commission in the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 even though no court of law ever found a shred of evidence against him. He was tarred with a black brush merely on suspicion.

The Congress as well as major regional parties like Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have indulged in politics of appeasement toward Muslims for decades. While Modi would not appease Muslims, he should not be seen as an anti-Muslim politician either.
RSS leaders like Mohan Vaidya have already started making noises about the saffron agenda and demanded concrete steps from the Modi government in this context. Modi has kept quiet so far. He would go a long way in instilling Muslims’ confidence by declaring that his single-point mission is focusing on all-round development of the country without rejecting outright the saffron agenda of the RSS.

After all, it is too early for that. If he focuses only on development issues and avoids core Hindutva issues, he would make revival of the Congress party doubly difficult and emerge even stronger by the time next general elections are held five years later.

The writer is a New Delhi-based independent journalist and a political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha





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