The campaign has come to a close and it is question time in the saffron circles. Has the BJP already lost Gujarat to the cult of Narendra Modi?
In recent days, party patriarchs and peers flew in and out of Gujarat making little or no impression on the voter. None other than Lal Krishna Advani personified the irrelevance of anything or anyone other than Modi.
Advani’s was a token presence in the campaign in which Modi refrained from making even a passing reference to the BJP’s man for the PM’s office. In fact, the Gujarat CM’s acolytes agreed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the move sought to pre-empt their leader’s claim to the slot.
But Advani represents Gujarat in Parliament. Shouldn’t the party have made it a talking point in the polls? “No. Why?” counter-argued a BJP functionary. “He’s not a Gujarati. Here, the people view him the way the Assamese view Manmohan Singh.”
There is scope for normal courtesies in the rough and tumble of politics. But Advani’s marginalisation has a lot to do with his inability to read the writing on the wall. He did not campaign in Saurashtra, where the anti-Modi rebellion was the strongest. The few meetings he addressed elsewhere were sparsely attended.
Modi’s oratory, his larger than life image and magnetic appeal among urban Gujaratis reduced most other leaders to mere guest artistes. A BJP campaign manager placed Rajnath Singh and Navjot Sidhu as distant second in terms of political gravitas and entertainment value. No other party figure, no matter what status he had in Delhi, counted for anything.
Social scientist Achyut Yagnik employed a Gujarati adage to decipher Modi’s organisational model: “He cuts the tree while sowing the mango seeds.”
The subtlety of the message lay in the mango tree’s five year growth cycle. Politically, it meant discarding the old and rearing a new crop of foot soldiers before polls every five years. “His 2004-2007 bandwagon is very different from the one that backed him from 2002-2004,” said Yagnik.
Did Modi discard the 2002 Hindutva minstrels — the very mention of whom brings back images of a venom-spewing Praveen Togadia — as part of a corporate political approach to retain a band of youthful foot soldiers? Or was it his overbearing style that triggered caste duels that ran counter to the saffron parivar’s and Modi’s brand of Hindutva.
The Patel and the Koli rebellion against the CM has made smaller, even minuscule communities, resort to identity politics for a share in the power pie. The kumhaars (potters) count for nothing in Gujarat. But they held a big meeting in Surat to declare allegiance to any party that sets up their candidate. Brahmins with a three per cent vote share also resorted to such show of strength.
So, if Modi wins, he’ll face a very demanding, very atomised Hindu entity. “The 2002 victory was on an emotional plank. The challenge now is tougher — a bigger duty of meeting popular aspirations with a lesser majority in the House,” conceded a BJP insider.