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Will Modi magic work in Central theatre?

Monday, 24 December , 2007, 20:07

Ahmedabad: The assertive re-election of Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister should have been a foregone conclusion for anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence about the State. The most important question now being raised is whether his solid victory means Modi has something more in store.


Most outsiders do not seem to grasp the simple fact that a majority of Gujaratis see Modi as a symbol of their regional identity. His ideology, his religious zealotry, and even his personal abrasiveness are secondary.

Like all manifestations of regional identities in India's fractious polity, Modi too is a broadly collective expression of the Gujarati community. One may question the quality of that expression but one cannot be dismissive about the level of commitment that a decisive number of the people of the state bring to bear on it. In re-electing Modi, a significant majority of Gujarat is merely extending their innate ability to choose the right stock.

There is no great analysis needed for the Congress party's debacle in Gujarat except saying that it continued with a failed approach in not being able to create a strong counter to Modi's brand of unabashed chauvinism. There is something inherently unbeatable about chauvinism mixed with a strong economic growth. If the economic growth keeps up its pace, especially in a highly industrialised State like Gujarat, people tend to disregard the cost at which they achieve it.

However, the inevitable question now being raised is whether his solid victory means Modi is poised for a future high profile national role on behalf of his party. It is pointless speaking in ambiguities. The question is can he become India's prime minister in the near future? It is not altogether improbable as long Modi recognises that India is not Gujarat and he will need far greater flexibility, serious ideological dilution, skulduggery and inclusiveness to fulfil the mandate as a national leader.

It is not as if the national leadership has a history of having only accepted stellar figures. Consider Charan Singh, Inder Kumar Gujral, Chandra Shekhar and Deve Gowda, who were all marginal men catapulted to prominence by cynical politics. So let's not make too much of the benchmark that we have set for a national leadership role.

At least for now, Modi's own party has effectively blocked his way from becoming prime minister should it win in the next general elections. Having already projected the 80-year-old Lal Krishna Advani as their prime ministerial candidate in clear pre-emption of any ambition that Modi might be harbouring, the BJP has revealed its preference. Whether or not the party leadership admits it publicly it does find Modi a bit of a renegade who sees himself as a singular figure in whose political life the party has fast become incidental.

It is obvious that the BJP is in dire need of second tier leaders who can step in as the founders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani gradually fade away. It is undeniable that among the younger leaders Modi is arguably the most influential figure. It may not necessarily be true but Modi's conduct gives one the impression that he could not care less about what his party might think of him. In that sense he has bypassed the party as the middleman and struck a direct deal with the people of his state. That strategy can work in a single state but is unlikely to produce results on the national level where so many competing daggers come out when it comes to deciding who the national leader is.

The Gujarat victory offers Modi a brilliant opportunity to repair his serious image problems. Wedded as he is to the cause of Gujarat even Modi would not like to spend the rest of his political career in the State. If he has any ambitions of a greater public role, it would be politically expedient for him to seriously reach out to the Muslim community in the State and demonstrate he cares for them as well.


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