Friday, January 4, 2013

Chickens are counted before they hatch

(First published in The Pioneer dated December 14, 2012)


In less than a week from now, the winner of the election to the Gujarat Assembly will be known. Many people — and they include members of the media who are vehemently opposed to Chief Minister Narendra Modi — believe that the result is a formality and that the Modi-led BJP will surely register a win. That may be so, but there is no point in counting the chickens before they hatch. Actually, there is a point, which is why the un-hatched chickens have been counted by commentators ever since the election campaign kicked off formally a month ago. Not a day has gone by when the experts did not dwell on the various titillating scenarios that are on offer once Mr Modi wins Gujarat for the BJP. What will be the margin of victory? Will it be strong enough for the Chief Minister to claim a place on the national stage? Will he emerge as the BJP’s candidate for prime ministership in the next Lok Sabha election? If he does arrive as a national leader, will the established guard of the party accept him or sabotage him? Will some NDA partners walk out of the coalition if Mr Modi is projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate?
The informed discourse that we have heard over the weeks in the run-up to this election has, thus, dealt very little with issues that concern the people of Gujarat and more with the impact that the result of the election will have on national politics. In that sense, therefore, Mr Modi has already been placed on the country’s centre-stage. The ‘Modi versus Rahul Gandhi’ and the ‘Modi versus the rest’ (including sections of the BJP) refrain that we have been subjected to through various print and electronic media coverage confirms the obsession of the Press and the people with the Gujarat Chief Minister’s future outside his State. It would seem that he is pitted against many dangerous rivals within and outside his party who are just waiting to finish him off as soon as he sets foot in New Delhi.
These various possibilities have provided fodder to 24x7 news channels and the print media to sustain their ‘special coverage’ of the election. And, because Mr Modi is not going to take over the prime ministership tomorrow, the media will have many more days and months to continue analysing the prospect and attracting television rating points in the process. Interestingly, all these initiatives are only serving to add to the larger-than-life image of the Chief Minister. Mr Modi has had few reasons to object, therefore, although in the process he has also ended up getting stinging comments from participants in television debates and analysts in the print media. It’s a small price, veteran observers will say, to pay for securing a place under the sun.
So, it’s not as if Mr Modi’s detractors have been mute spectators to the foretelling of his victory. They began by first rubbishing the impression that the Chief Minister is on the course to lead his party to a third straight Assembly win. Not managing to go far with that assertion, they took to wondering whether the claims of development which Mr Modi had been making across the State were not canards at worst and selectively true at best. Again, failing to strike a chord with that argument, his critics in the media and outside then presented a different perspective: Is the development plank alone sufficient to propel Mr Modi to victory? Now, that is a strange train of thought indeed, because one would have believed that the politics of development is the best recourse to take. Have these experts then been suggesting that Mr Modi should have exploited communal or casteist issues to polarise votes in
his favour?
The fact is that his detractors were desperately eager that he bring up those matters so that they could rip him apart. It would have also given the Congress a platform to raise the issue of 2002 violence and the ‘plight’ of the minorities in the State under Mr Modi’s rule. But, while the Chief Minister had enough material to draw the attention of listeners — witness how he panned the Prime Minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi in his inimitable style —the Congress was left without anything substantial to say. The party’s leaders were terrified to directly mention either 2002 or the ‘terrorisation’ of the Muslim community in the State, for fear that they would play into the Chief Minister’s hands. They had to then fall back on the issue of development — much to Mr Modi’s delight.
In the eventuality, the Congress settled down to an insipid campaign with no catchy issues to exploit. Worse, the party’s rising star, Rahul Gandhi, made a mere guest appearance on the last day of campaigning for the first phase of polling. And he said nothing that set the Sabarmati on fire. Nor did Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Manmohan Singh, who had campaigned earlier.
Those who claim to have seen what they believe is the writing on the wall (that Mr Modi is going to win, regardless of everything bad he may have done) — and they also include the Chief Minister’s diehard critics (regardless of everything good he may have done) — have begun to prepare the ground to explain away the presumed victory. One theory is that the voters of Gujarat have become so polarised over the years since 2002 that there is little hope for a ‘secular’ victory, at least as of now. If that is the case, these people must explain what the ‘secular’ parties have done this past decade to ‘de-polarise’ the voters and ‘secularise’ them. Besides, it is an insult to the voters of the State to condemn them as being communally driven.
It’s true that polarisation took place in the aftermath of the 2002 violence, but the effects have since worn off. In 2007, Mr Modi fought on the development plank. The fact that the Congress had done fairly well in the State in the 2009 Lok Sabha election goes to show that voters are willing to look beyond the BJP if only they are offered a credible alternative. Polarisation of voters cannot be used in perpetuity as an excuse to explain the rise of the Modi-led BJP in Gujarat.

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