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Friday, 7 June 2013

Narendra Modi is the only choice

By Shashi Shekhar on June 7, 2013

Narendra Modi is the only choice

The erosion in public trust that we are witnessing today, in many ways, mirrors the political environment in the country back in 1996. As the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress Government tottered towards its final months, the country saw a record number of Leaders come under the cloud of corruption including several of Narasimha Rao’s colleagues from the Congress Party. The BJP too had to see its tallest leader L.K. Advani withdraw from electoral contests and resign rom the Parliament. The erosion of public trust in the run-up to the 1996 Lok Sabha election campaign was so deep that across the political spectrum, including the BJP, there was only one leader who was untainted. As Minu Roy writing in India Votes, Elections 1996: A critical analysis describes:
“Having Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister made a big difference to their campaign. He was the only major political leader in the country today who was not under a cloud of suspicion.”
Of all the arguments on the rise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee of least relevance to the 1996 campaign was his so called ‘centrism’ or ‘moderation’. As Minu Roy’s analysis of the BJP 1996 election campaign reveals of the 5 issues that LK Advani championed the most, BJP’s core issues from Ram Temple to Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code were made up the majority. If the election centered on Vajpayee’s personality from a ‘personal integrity’ standpoint the BJP’s issues were centered on what were then generally regarded as ‘polarising’ and ‘contentious’.

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In fact, as Vajpayee’s speech in the Lok Sabha during the confidence motion when his 13-day Government fell reveals, he was labelled a Fascist and his Government was derided with fears of Hitler. These are the same labels that are bandied about as carelessly 17 years later even today in the context of Narendra Modi. The most riveting moment during Vajpayee’s speech was an intemperate outburst by CPI-M leader Somnath Chatterjee mocking Vajpayee for being alone and unacceptable. The politics of untouchability against Vajpayee in 1996 resulted in barely four allies standing with him. Seventeen years on, not much seems to have changed it seems as similar political fear-mongering is in the air with a potential Narendra Modi leadership attracting about as many allies.
One of the enduring political myths of our times is the notion of ‘acceptability’. The reality, based on vote shares, is that India has never had an ‘acceptable’ Prime Minister with even the tsunami of sympathy that saw Rajiv Gandhi get absolute majority in the Lok Sabha in 1984 but with less than 50 per cent vote share. The reality, based on seat shares has been such that India has not had an ‘acceptable’ Prime Minister since that tsunami election of 1984 with even the Vajpayee-led NDA pre-poll coalition in 1999 falling two short of majority.

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The reality is this: That which is passed off as ‘centrist consensus-building’ is largely a post poll phenomenon, the product of wheeling-dealing in a smoke-filled backroom.

India has lost enough time in the pursuit of so-called ‘politics of consensus’ which in reality is Governance by the ‘least common populist denominator’. India does not need and definitely cannot afford the stagnation of the politics of ‘centrist consensus-building’. At a time when public trust has been so severely eroded, India needs a polarising debate on radical change.

It is at this crucial juncture that the BJP will be convening its National Executive in Goa. The last time the BJP convened in Goa was in April 2002. Back then, a polarising debate had been thrust on the BJP’s agenda. The BJP was under intense pressure to make a decision on Narendra Modi. Arun Shourie recounts a riveting anecdote from that period when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were on the same plane but barely talking to each other as the silence on the flight carried the burden of the decision to be made. The dramatic events of that National Executive in Goa in April 2002 when Narendra Modi’s offer to step down were rejected due to a groundswell of support, may witness a repeat eleven years on.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Speech in Parliament

The six-nil sweep by the BJP in Gujarat, coupled with the rather embarrassing defeat for the JD(U) in Bihar has set the tone for what is now appearing to be chorus emerging from the State units of the BJP. If the message from Bihar is to not compromise its negotiating position vis-a-vis ‘allies’ at the expense of its own self-interest, the message from Karnataka, Goa and others is to rally around Narendra Modi’s leadership in the campaign to take back the Lok Sabha.
Let me end with a historical observation by Dr BR Ambedkar that maybe pertinent to the rise of Narendra Modi and to its socio-political significance.
Ambedkar writing in an essay in early 1930s observed that the Mauryan period was in his opinion the greatest period in Indian history due to the social upheaval it marked. Chandragupta Maurya guided by Kautilya went on to overthrow a tyrannical Nanda Dynasty. Many centuries later, as another political dynasty is being sought to be overthrown – the modern day Nandas aka. Nehru-Gandhis, it is pertinent to note that it was Chandragupta and not Chanakya who became King, in what was one of the greatest acts of socio-political empowerment in History.

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