Shifting BJP further rightwards

26 Sep

Through his outlandish, melodramatic three-day fast, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Milosevic Modi aimed to catapult himself to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s apex and emerge as the prime ministerial nominee of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The fast consolidated his hardline Hindutva image, but achieved little else.

Mr. Modi’s fast won’t make him acceptable to the Muslims, who suffered Independent India’s worst state-organised butchery under him in 2002.

Mr. Modi didn’t express remorse or moderation. He came through as arrogant, duplicitous and hubris-driven. Yet much of the BJP’s senior leadership danced attendance upon him, encouraging him to flex his muscles. He belittled his former mentor LK Advani by making him sit in a smaller chair than his own.

Indeed, Mr. Modi’s wanted to undercut Mr. Advani’s bid for pre-eminence through his unilaterally announced rath yatra. To be launched next month, it is designed to politicise religion through the image of a mythical warrior riding a Bollywoood version of an ancient chariot. The RSS has since further snubbed Mr. Advani.

Two other motives inspired Mr. Modi: to celebrate the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Zakia Jaffri petition as a “clean chit” for him; and second, to show that the opposition political space isn’t entirely occupied by civil society; the BJP too counts.

However, the Supreme Court didn’t exonerate him or endorse the report of the Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, which holds that there’s no prosecutable evidence against him.

The court sent the case to a Gujarat trial court, but directed it to examine that report, as well as its analysis by amicus curiae (friend of the Court) Raju Ramachandran, and give the petitioners a hearing.

The trial court can prosecute the accused even though the SIT didn’t charge-sheet them. How the court acts within Gujarat’s vitiated political climate remains uncertain, but it cannot accept a closure report without hearing the petitioners, and summoning witnesses if necessary.

Mr. Modi’s fast was a parody of the Hazare original: pointless, artificial, insincere, cheaply self-justificatory, and patently lacking in introspection. It drew ridicule from the BJP’s most valuable ally, Janata Dal (United), with whom it shares power in Bihar.

The support extended to the fast by the Akali Dal, widely expected to lose the coming elections in Punjab, and the Tamil Nadu-based AIADMK, which isn’t even remotely considering allying with the BJP, doesn’t mean much.

Mr. Modi hasn’t overcome even an iota of the stigma from the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. It’s of course shameful that he wasn’t criminally prosecuted, and even politically punished, for falsely communalising the Godhra train fire, and organising the ensuing violence, which claimed more than 1,000 lives.

India’s political class failed to compel the ruling NDA to dismiss the Modi government for manifestly violating the Constitution-mandated citizen’s fundamental right to life. Arguably, had the Congress’s Sonia Gandhi, the Communist parties’ Harkrishan Singh Surjit, Jyoti Basu and AB Bardhan, and Centrist leaders like Laloo Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, insisted on its dismissal through a sustained agitation, the NDA would have had no choice.

Similarly, Assembly elections were held in 2002 despite Gujarat’s communally charged atmosphere, the terrorising and disenfrachisement of Muslims, and absence of rehabilitation of the victims. After rightly raising objections, the Election Commission held elections, citing a questionable precedent.

Mr. Modi capitalised on Hindutva hubris and won. The Congress’s soft-Hindutva line made it the BJP’s ‘B Team.’

Instead of being in prison, Mr. Modi has occupied the seat of power in Gujarat. He has tried to cover up his crimes while his police intimidated witnesses. His presence has been poisonous, not just in Gujarat. Nobody has brought as much international disrepute to India. No other chief minister has been denied a visa in numerous countries for complicity in gross human right violations.

Mr. Modi rules Gujarat despotically, and pampers Big Business while sacrificing public welfare. Gujarat has stagnant or falling indices in health, education and gender equality:

Seventyfour percent of Gujarat’s women and 46 percent of its children are anaemic. Its female-male ratio is an abysmal 487:1000 in the 0-4 age-group and 571 in the 5-9 age-group (national averages, 515 and 632). Gujarat’s health indices are barely higher than Orissa’s. Its social sector spending relative to public expenditure ranks a lowly 19 among 21 major states.

Mr. Modi’s fast has failed to put even a paper-thin moderate gloss on his image. But he has succeeded in shifting the BJP politically to the Far Right. Even Mr. Advani now says Mr. Modi can handle “any responsibility,” presumably including the prime ministership.

Mr. Modi’s ambition is to win the Gujarat elections next year, and then become BJP president. This would give him a definite edge over other “second generation” leaders like Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Arun Jaitley. He then hopes that with the backing of powerful business lobbies, he will become the NDA’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

However, such a pre-poll arrangement can be safely ruled out. The JD(U) will oppose it. It’s also extremely unlikely that former NDA constituents like Biju Janata Dal and Telugu Desam will return to the alliance under Mr. Modi.

It’s only in the unlikely event of the BJP winning 200-plus Lok Sabha seats that a post-election alliance will emerge. But it’s difficult to see how the BJP can increase its tally by over 70 percent (from the present 116) unless it does miraculously well in Uttar Pradesh, where it’s Number 4.

Ironically, by shifting the BJP Rightwards, Mr. Modi will have narrowed its base and electoral appeal. A hardline Hindutva line will massively and irrevocably repulse the religious minorities, which form one-sixth of the national vote, roughly one-half of what’s needed to win a national election.

Narrowing of the BJP’s base will probably open up new political spaces while weakening bipolarism. This would offer interesting opportunities to secular Left-of-Centre forces, admittedly amidst national-level instability.

The BJP could soon find that Mr. Modi, with his insufferable arrogance, megalomania and ultra-individualism, is a liability.




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