On Sunday morning, I received a text message from a friend in Gujarat informing me that chief minister Narendra Modi, after forcing Sanjay Joshi to resign from the BJP’s national executive, also compelled him to cancel his return to New Delhi by the Pashchim Express and take a flight back to the capital.
Much as I abhor the dictatorial manner in which Modi functions, I was rather startled that Joshi’s growing popularity in Gujarat would make Modi so nervous so as to reveal this big chink in his armour. It is becoming obvious to most political observers that Modi is not doing as well in Gujarat as he would like the people to believe – there are rising voices of dissent and most of these are from the BJP. In fact, a top national functionary of the BJP had admonished me some months ago about the manner in which the media continued to rail against Modi: “You guys concentrate too much on just the communal angle. Why don’t you visit Gujarat and see for yourself how he is marginalising our own workers. No party man can do anything in Gujarat except to toe Modi’s line and that is not good for our party.’’
That, I discovered, is very true. Modi reminds me of the Mughal emperors. It is a little noted fact but a study of Mughal history reveals that Akbar had decreed that no girl born to the royal household could ever be married, though she would be well taken care of throughout her life and enjoy powers almost parallel to that of the Empress. That is because in the early days of his reign he had been greatly troubled by his own noblemen who attempted to grab his empire by hook or by crook – and at least a couple of these noblemen were married to his sisters.
Accordingly, unlike in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, titles (like that of Amir) in the Mughal empire were neither for life nor hereditary. A nobleman could remain one so long as he enjoyed the confidence of the emperor and could be deposed in a moment if he ever incurred the displeasure of his master. But while the emperor smiled upon him, he could gather unto himself with both hands and no questions would ever be asked.
Modi, I can see, operates in much the same fashion in Gujarat – tickets are decided by him, even the party high command has no say in the matter. And if any BJP legislator or MP incurs Modi’s displeasure, he can kiss goodbye to his job forever. That is why there is so much corruption in Gujarat – because no one is sure if they are returning to a second term, despite their good work among the people because that good work alone could incur Modi’s displeasure for he starts to look at these do-gooders as potential challengers. But, while perhaps not corrupt himself, he is known to look the other way so long as his ministers and MLAs do not pose a threat to him. That is why, I am told, he opposes the appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat, lest that institution upset this applecart that has been rolling for long without let or hindrance.
However, Joshi has found many supporters in Gujarat among those whom Modi has denied tickets. One of these is former BJP MP Kashiram Rana who had planned to felicitate him at the Surat and Baroda railway stations with bands of other disgruntled BJP workers and turn him into a hero for the ``supreme sacrifice’’ that Joshi had made by resigning from the party’s national executive.
Joshi told our Gujarat correspondent, Mahesh Langa, that he had changed his plans, to fly to Lucknow instead for local self-government elections. But reading between the lines, it is clear that on this score, too, Nitin Gadkari, who asked Joshi to proceed to Lucknow, could not stand up to the main fund raiser of the BJP and sacrificed Joshi all over again, twice in as many days.
But whatever Gadkari’s compulsions, I am very surprised by the fact that the all-powerful Modi should feel threatened by the gathering support for Joshi, a comparative political midget, and run him out of his state.
So is the so-called ‘Lion of Gujarat’ worried about the possibility of his own extinction?