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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014
Winning friends, influencing people
Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times
April 11, 2013
First Published: 23:21 IST(11/4/2013)
Last Updated: 23:26 IST(11/4/2013)

Is this the season for strange bedfellows? So it seems from Narendra Modi’s praise of Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s of LK Advani. Even the NCP found virtues in the Gujarat chief minister the other day.

But divergent poles don’t normally meet in the run up to the polls. That happens after elections. Reason: Protagonists aren’t worried about dangerous liaisons impinging on their vote-banks. In 1999, rationalists in the DMK acted against their grain to back the Brahminical BJP; Mulayam and Mayawati supported post-elections the Congress they fought in Uttar Pradesh in 2009.

The out-of-character statements one hears now aren’t aimed at chat mangni pat vivah kind of partnerships. They will be retrospectively used by smaller outfits to justify power-sharing tie-ups in the aftermath of the 2014 elections.

So when the NCP’s DP Tripathi argues that there aren’t any permanent blots (read Modi’s 2002 record) in politics, he’s laying the ground for a contingency that might arise after elections. The plan, if at all, will unfold if the BJP gets within striking range of forming a government under the Gujarat strongman.

A host of factors influence post-electoral permutations-combinations. But the stock excuse to dignify chameleon politics in a fractured verdict is that the electorate has voted for parties to bury their differences and work together.

In this backdrop, Mulayam’s indulgent portrayal of Advani or Modi’s exuberant praise of Mamata are premature overtures. Such publicly pronounced love might go unrequited in the absence of an overwhelmingly anti-Congress post-poll arithmetic.

Expediency will drive smaller groupings if the single largest party is ahead by a considerable gap. Ideology will be cited to ostracise the BJP if it’s ahead of the Congress but impossibly short of the half-way mark.

The Congress’ predicament could be comparable with its 1989 decline. At 197 seats, it was the single largest party.

It sat in the Opposition rather than bid for power because it was also the biggest loser — down from the brute 415 in a house of 545.

But the political terrain has since changed. The broad anti-Congress front that catapulted Congress rebel VP Singh to power with the outside support of the BJP and the Left isn’t possible post-1992 (Babri) and 2002 (Gujarat riots).

Modi’s praise of Mamata at the Left’s expense in Kolkata was an admission of that reality.

The other hard truth the Gujarat CM ignored or failed to fathom is better appreciated by his West Bengal counterpart.

There are 28% Muslim votes in the state. If seen in Modi’s company ahead of the polls, she’d have problems retaining the constituency that hasn’t permanently given up on either the Left or the Congress.

Mamata’s other worry: a three-way contest in West Bengal could help the CPM regain with its allies the ground it lost in its erstwhile citadel. That’s primarily because a pan-Indian compromise isn’t plausible between Muslims and the Modi-led BJP.

What’s clear as daylight to Mamata cannot be lost on Mayawati or Mulayam, regardless of his unilateral praise of Advani. But there’s a difference. Having crafted the BJP’s 1992 Ram Temple thrust that brought down the Babri masjid, the former deputy premier is at pains now to rewrite his political profile.

Advani’s proposal for including a “charter of commitment to minorities” in the BJP’s agenda is an audacious reassertion of his leadership at Modi’s expense. More so when the idea is bound to find favour with the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar whose association with the saffron parivar is predicated on the Gujarat CM’s exclusion from the prime ministerial race.

The BJP’s 2014 electoral foray could be acutely lonely if its central leadership gives in to the pressure from within for Modi’s projection as its PM candidate. Many in the party’s rank and file believe it’s a risk worth taking. The flip side of it could be a Muslim polarisation that no amount of nationalistic Hindutva pitch can match in a caste-riven polity.

Modi’s rightly focusing on his governance record in speeches outside his home base. But the appointment of his major domo from Gujarat, Amit Shah as the BJP’s general secretary, runs counter to his strategy of diverting attention from 2002.

On the ground, Modi’s battling perceptions. That leaves one wondering whether the national projection of the former Gujarat minister who’s under trial for fake encounters, serves his cause or that of Advani in his attempted pro-minority make-over. The puzzler’s hard to crack.


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