Astatue of Sardar Patel taller than the Statue of Liberty — this is something Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s prime minister in waiting Narendra Modi wants to build. His own ambitions soar far above this. Like the statue he wants to build, Narendra Modi has built his career painstakingly, smoothing out the rough edges, chopping and changing the design, calling in expert opinion. And the result is that he is now being talked about, somewhat prematurely, as being within striking distance of the throne in Delhi, the customary preserve of inheritors.
Whether you like him or not, whether you agree with his politics or not, the man in action is a marvel to behold. His giganormous rally in Delhi dazzled even his worst detractors. To look at he is no oil painting. But once on stage, he seems magically transformed, a volcano of political talent. In Delhi, as he thundered and raged against the UPA government, against Pakistan, against the Gandhi dynasty, the crowds seemed to be completely in tune with him. In Mumbai, he electrified the crowd, always sticking to his theme of putting down the ruling party and the ruling family.
To my mind what has been transformational has been the nature of the BJP after Modi was elevated to the position of first among equals. A few months ago, it seemed almost comatose as far as its ambitions for Delhi went. It frittered away its time and goodwill taking on the most frivolous of issues. True that Modi’s passage to India has not been smooth. The smouldering patriarch, LK Advani, unwilling to let go of his unfulfilled ambitions tried to put a spoke in Modi’s works. Enigmatic as ever, Modi projected an image of calm reason while I am sure he must have been seething inside. For has he not delivered time and again for the party in his state and put Gujarat on the world map as the place where governance is promised and governance is delivered?
If you had told me even three months ago that the BJP would suddenly look dangerous in the electoral arena, I would have laughed you out of court. But today, the party’s amorphous and seemingly irreconcilable parts suddenly seem to have come together into a mean fighting machine. Advani, the man who would never be king, seems to have moved from the margins to the shadows. His petulant refusal to acknowledge Modi’s attempt to touch his feet made the man who once modelled himself on Sardar Patel look small. His contribution to the creation of the modern BJP is the only thing that marks his relevance today.
But for all his superb oratory, his flammable vocabulary, his verbal barbs that hit home all too often, Modi has to reinvent himself in the mould of AB Vajpayee. The great BJP leader was an inclusive figure and had public recall across India. Like Modi he had a silver tongue except that rarely did a nasty word cross his lips, rather he resorted to poetry and flowery speech to get home his point.
Modi’s advantage over all his political rivals is his enviable mastery over social media. His public appearances are supported by high tech pyrotechnics. He has to use all this to gain a truly all India appeal if the BJP is to get the numbers which will draw in the allies.
I am not a great subscriber of the theory that the allies are all so ideologically motivated that they will not throw in their lot with Modi whose track record is tainted by the riots of 2002. I think that by and large they are an opportunistic lot who will go where the power is. If it is with the Congress, they will be at the doorstep hat in hand in a trice trying to get the best bargain. If Modi races ahead, they will find reasons to throw in their lot with him. Perhaps they will say that this is the only way they can keep a check on him and ensure that he becomes secularised. Nothing should surprise you too much unless suddenly the CPI(M) were to begin singing Modi’s praises.
So in effect the arrival of Modi on the centrestage has led to a metamorphosis of the BJP from hopeless to hopeful. Not a bad job by a man reviled as a polarising figure. The crowds at his rallies also show how wrong the armchair analysis that the essentially secular soul of most Indians will recoil from Modi has turned out to be. On the contrary, fed up with an ineffective and scam-tainted government, they seem willing to try a new flavour even if it is a bit of an acquired taste.
Now the Modi juggernaut needs to roll southward. Here the BJP has little resonance. The one government it managed to capture, and that too long ago and far away, was an exemplar of venality and sloth. I am talking about Karnataka. In Andhra, Jagan Mohan Reddy has sent out tentative feelers praising Modi’s administrative skills while expressing apprehensions about his secularism. The Congress must be losing a bit of sleep over this.
Of course, much can go wrong on the road from Gandhinagar to Delhi. The rank and file of the party and shadowy RSS, which controls the BJP, have to fall in line. But, for the moment, everything seems to have taken the backseat to the incandescent performance of Narendra Damodardas Modi.