Nothing could have made Narendra Modi happier than the Congress and all the so-called champions of the secular brigade swallowing his bait and reacting to his observations on Sohrabuddin, the suspected terrorist killed in a fake encounter by the Gujarat police. The reactions were exactly on the lines that Modi would have wanted since it has helped bring hate-politics back on the agenda in the run-up to the assembly polls. The reaction has also helped the CM’s sagging campaign from dwindling further.
Modi who had created a facade of pushing forward a ‘positive’ poll campaign in the name of development which was not getting him anywhere has now set the ground rules for the elections on his own terms, yet again. He will now try to polarise voters in the name of religion and caste, and use the development plank only to create a false veneer over his real style of functioning.
It doesn’t take much to figure out what Modi is. He may have become an iconic figure of sorts but he is certainly not a leader who can inspire confidence of many in his own party. His style of politics has not changed and his talk of development is only aimed at misleading the intelligentsia.
He is the leading practitioner of hate-politics and his so-called development strategies may have got good media projections. but he has not impressed his party’s senior leaders or others in the state. Modi, in fact, has also not endeared himself to large sections of the RSS or the VHP, primarily because he wants to push his own brand of Hindutva, where he alone is projected as a demi-god.
When Modi first talked about development, the BJP’s spin-doctors, especially those close to LK Advani, endorsed his strategy and insisted that this would ensure the CM’s continuation for another five years. But half-way through the campaign, when Modi failed to attract crowds as big as those at the Congress meets, the myth about development as a successful strategy was busted.
In India, development has never been a successful plank. Had it been, many of our politicians would never have lost elections when they did. Indira Gandhi lost from Rae Bareli in 1977 despite nursing her constituency so meticulously. HKL Bhagat, singularly responsible for laying the foundation of development in East Delhi, lost from there in 1991. In Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala’s track record for development was impressive, but his party was trounced by the Congress in 2005.
The BJP has tried the development plank earlier, too, to camouflage its real agenda. In the 2004 parliamentary polls, it attempted to create an impression that the ‘Shining India’ campaign and ‘feel-good’ factor, based on a flawed ‘development’ perception, would see them through. But the campaign flopped and it lost both power and prestige.
Development is not about the construction of roads or the building of bridges. It is about economic gains being shared with even the lowest rung of the electorate’s hierarchy. The BJP members who talked about ‘development’ failed to realise that the word has become a euphemism for corruption in our country. It is not a coincidence that the top functionaries in most states lay special emphasis on construction activity in the name of development, since it helps them fetch huge kickbacks.
When the Congress lost power in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in the 2003 assembly polls, several BJP leaders who excel in coining terms that are easily picked up by an unimaginative media, attributed the defeat to the ‘bijli, sadak and pani’ factor. The attempt was to give the BJP victory a development dimension, when the fact was that in Madhya Pradesh, the polls became a battle between the forwards, led by Digvijay Singh, and the backwards led by Uma Bharti and so the Congress lost.
In Rajasthan, the saffron victory was due to the fact that the BJP, for the first time, contested from 55 odd seats. In addition, Ashok Gehlot was not the most popular CM and had succeeded in alienating large sections of his own party cadres, similar to what Modi has now done in Gujarat.
But Modi is not Gehlot and knows how to capitalise on the sentiments of the Gujaratis. The Congress, by reacting to his observations, has helped make hate-politics part of the agenda. Modi was losing ground and his development talk was proving a non-starter.
His opponents from within the parivar — Gordhanbhai Zadaphia, Keshubhai Patel and Praveen Togadia — were making his life miserable and his image of being the saffron brigade’s leader was taking a beating. But now he is back in the race from a position where he had almost been ousted. He has also used the opportunity to join issue with Sonia Gandhi whose ‘merchant of death’ remark is being cited as ‘provocation’.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad’s petition has led to a showcause notice issued by the Election Commission to the Chief Minister. It is unlikely that anything would emerge from this. In fact, the petition and the notice will help Modi more since the issue that got created will continue to be in focus. Activists like Setalvad also thrive because of the likes of Modi and both, in many ways, need each other to remain in the news.
The Tehelkha exposé, of what was already known, had inadvertently helped in creating an issue that suited Modi. The Congress, on its part, has been tackling the latest issue by using the country’s best lawyers to profess its views. No one is for fake encounters, but by defending Sohrabuddin, first a suspected terrorist and then a Muslim, the party has allowed Modi to create an impression that the Congress wanted an appeasement approach even if it involved the elimination of terrorists. Using politicians to counter Modi’s gimmicks, perhaps, may have had a better impact.
The focus should be to win the polls and not score points on provisions laid down in the Constitution. All that can be done later. The battle in Gujarat is entering its decisive stage and Modi has inched back into the fight from a seemingly losing position. The game is now open. Between us.