It isn’t only the expectation of economic growth which is driving Narendra Modi’s successful juggernaut. There are other plus points for him as well. On top of the list is his uncommon energy, which is evident from the rapidity with which he criss-crosses the country. His forceful rhetoric is another factor.
Moreover, he is also seen as someone who is breaking away from the divisive pro-Hindu agenda of both the BJP and the RSS.
What defines this departure is the shedding of what is described as “identity” politics based on appeals to caste and community. Considering that BJP’s rise in the 1990s was due to the highlighting of the Hindu religious identity, which was said to be under threat from Muslim terrorists and Christian evangelists, Modi’s turning away from such a community- and religion-based approach is praiseworthy.
In this context, the deafening silence of anti-Muslim provocateurs like Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj is not without significance. No less important is the recent observation of a senior RSS functionary, Suresh Bhaiyaji Joshi, that only those who follow Hindu rituals are Hindus. This observation is in striking contrast to the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat’s assertion that all the Indians are Hindus, though in a cultural sense.
It has to be noted that Bhagwat made no mention of the concept of “love jehad”, which was the mainstay of Yogi Adityanath’s hate campaign, or of the threat of conversions by Christian missionaries, in his traditional speech on the occasion of Vijaya Dashami which, in a break with tradition, was telecast live on Doordarshan, much to the anger of the secularists.
Even more importantly, the RSS chief was silent about the construction of the Ram temple, which used to feature prominently in his earlier speeches. Subsequently, the RSS, at a meeting, announced its decision to leave it to the government to take up the issue according to its convenience. Has Modi send a back-channel message to the saffronites not to queer the pitch when he is focussing on development?
There is little doubt that if he has done so, there is no one inside or outside the BJP to oppose him. The reason is that he has established an iron grip over the party based on the perception that only he is capable of notching up one success after another. By leading the BJP to victory in Maharashtra and Haryana, he has confirmed this impression, wiping out the memories of the earlier by-election setbacks.
Although the BJP has been unable to secure a majority on its own in Maharashtra, it has achieved its longstanding objective of marginalizing the Shiv Sena by making it a suppliant in search of office rather than the No. 1 party in the saffron alliance as before. The BJP’s belief is that after its supremo Bal Thackeray’s death, the Sena cannot claim its earlier primacy of position.
The BJP’s objective now is to appropriate the Sena’s Hindu as well as Marathi vote base.
In the process, the Sena’s Marathi parochialism is likely to take a hit, which is out of sync any way with a modern, industrialized society. Already, the other Sena led by Bal Thackeray’s nephew, Raj, has faded out, suggesting that the ordinary people are losing faith in the aggressive sub-nationalism of the insular local outfits.
In Haryana, too, the BJP’s choice of a non-Jat chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, means that, as in Maharashtra, the BJP is not pandering to identity politics. It can afford to do so because of the belief among ordinary people that Modi’s development agenda cannot but do away with such sectarian considerations.
Modi’s confidence in his wide acceptability is such that he hasn’t spurned the National Congress Party’s (NCP) offer of support in Maharashtra although he had described the NCP as a naturally corrupt party. The prime minister seemingly believes that his own Teflon image of incorruptibility will be a shield against any stain as a result of the NCP’s proximity.
It is patent enough that if Modi’s “make in India” campaign to turn India into the manufacturing hub of global companies proves to be a success, there will be no stopping him. The only concern will be the environmental impact of such industrial projects. But, for the moment, the emphasis will be more on employment generation via a buoyant economy.
Politically, however, it is evident that Modi is on a roll. Apart from his focus on development, his machismo vis-à-vis China and Pakistan is also appreciated, as Congress leader P. Chidambaram has admitted. The approval is all the greater because the Manmohan Singh government was seen as too timid, as even the normally circumspect Dalai Lama once said.
Modi has been helped, of course, by the fact that virtually all his opponents have been decimated. The Congress is in poor shape, largely because the mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi is perceived to be devoid of the requisite energy and inspiring ideas to revive the party.
It is not impossible that even some of the regional parties like the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, which withstood the Modi “wave” during the general election, will succumb to the Modi magic because of Jayalalitha’s legal problems and Mamata Banerjee’s failure to check the growth of Islamic terrorism. Modi appears quite unstoppable at the moment.