BJP’s Game-plan & Modi’s “Elevation”

What can be said about the intra-party disturbances within BJP regarding differences over elevation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi? Certainly, if the entire party entertained the same approach regarding Modi’s elevation, there would not have prevailed differences within BJP on this issue. Nor would several prominent BJP leaders have mentioned a few more names, together with that of Modi, particularly that of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in addition to Advani, the perennial prime ministerial candidate.

The party appears divided on whether putting forward Modi’s name as BJP’s prime ministerial nominee would help it in the coming parliamentary polls or not. Interestingly, despite there being no certainty over whether BJP would win the coming national elections or not, party members have begun deliberating extensively and intensively on who should be their key campaigner, in other words, their prime ministerial nominee?

BJP is apparently not giving much importance to the hard fact that the Indian political scenario is not a two-party affair. In fact, this country has hardly ever witnessed a political battle at the national level only between two main parties. Undeniably, there was a phase when the country’s politics was dominated by only one party, that is the Congress. But that is history now. The dominance of the Congress at central and state levels declined as numerous regional and ethnic parties emerged. In the present phase, no party, whether the Congress, BJP or any other has the strength to form the central government on the basis of its own strength in Parliament. The era of coalition governments is not likely to end soon.

Against this backdrop, what can be said about some dubious opinion polls and surveys predicting a victory for BJP with Modi in the lead? It may be noted, keeping Modi’s name in the lead is also equivalent to reminding the entire nation of the dark phase in India’s secularism, that is the Gujarat carnage o 2002. Besides, to what extent Indian opinion polls can really be believed? Within less than a year, there is no knowing as to the number of political twists and turns various political leaders, parties and above all the voters may take. The Indian voter may be expected to change his/her decision just before casting his/her vote. In addition, most opinion polls do not represent even a fraction of the country’s electorate.

Equally significant is the fact that Indian politics is not based exclusively on religious differences prevalent within the country. Rather, despite there being several parties giving importance to their respective religious identities, statistically and politically, their significance is limited. In fact, politicking based on caste and regional differences carries greater political significance than religious. In this context, it may be recalled that the BJP had to put its Hindutva-agenda on the backburner to be able to head the coalition government (BJP-led National Democratic Alliance).

By making noise about giving political lead to Modi, should it be assumed that certain BJP members are over-optimistic about the impact that this can have? They are apparently banking on the communal polarisation  that this may lead to and help them gain votes of the Hindu majority community. They have apparently ignored a major feature of Indian politics. No party, particularly at the national level, can claim to have the support of only a particular religious community. It would be more appropriate to accept that caste differences, particularly those prevailing within the Hindu community, are given greater importance in Indian politics than religious differences. There is a possibility that Modi’s own low caste background may be responsible for differences within BJP over his being in the lead. He belongs to Other Backward Classes (OBC). Ironically, the name put forward by LK Advani, that of Chauhan is also listed in the OBC category. Perhaps, BJP is trying its hand at a caste-based political game.

BJP may be hoping that by putting names of leaders like Modi and Chauhan, it can gain caste-based votes in the cow belt. This also implies that BJP is banking on cutting votes of other caste-based leaders from these states.

The manner in which Modi has visited UP in recent past suggests making him a familiar face for voters there, including the OBC-vote bank. By presenting Modi as a prime ministerial nominee, BJP may be hopeful of winning over this vote-bank.  But, how can it be ignored that Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) head Mayawati have strong political bases here and they also entertain visions of heading the central government as leaders of a third front. Besides, this is an extremely complicated political strategy bearing no guarantee of any success for BJP. Even backward and scheduled castes have numerous social as well as regional divisions.

Equally significant is the political reality that in Gujarat, Modi and his party have faced rivalry primarily from Congress. This is not true of UP and rest of India. Even if BJP tries banking on the communal strategy and/or caste politics, by putting forward Modi’s name, the party will have to face different regional and ethnic leaders in practically every state. This is Indian politics, not confined to Gujarati limits! 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2013 on page no. 11

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