Elections 2014: The worst case scenario


Narendra Modi’s campaign for prime-ministership has had an inauspicious start. But his mentor’s walkout in huff, early desertion by a key ally and the public relations disaster amidst a natural disaster will not faze him. His stewardship of the BJP’s campaign ahead can be expected to be energetic, innovative and less than mindful of norms, ethics and the law. As legal pincers close in on him in the Ishrat Jahan and the Gulberg Society cases, he will likely pull out the stops. Abandoning restraint, his campaign will get into stride with its cunning and subterfuge abandoned in favour of barefaced communalism.
Electoral arithmetic, however, is built by the common voter who has repeatedly proven wiser than politicians believe him to be.

Modi’s campaign will, therefore, not have enough propulsion to get him to 7 Race Course Road. But then, NaMo is not in the race for being a leader of the opposition and waiting a term for the rulers to discredit themselves. This is his moment. His manner of seizing of it could frame the ‘worst case scenario’.

Par for the course will be the usual means that gladden a Hindutvavadi’s heart. Among these will figure a replay of the Sohrabuddin episode in which jihadis will be projected as gunning for his life. A few ‘encounters’ will embellish his case that his opposition is in league with minority extremists to finish off his challenge. These will be depicted as a fifth column, linking them with the proverbial ‘external hand’, set to come to fore with the coincident departure of the US from AfPak. A convenient rise in unexplained bomb blasts across the country will help push the minority onto the ropes. Strategic commentary, forever in search of a ‘strong man’ to expel the ‘soft state’ image of India, will latch on to this ‘externally abetted internal enemy’, to use a Chanakyan phrase. Security in peril, India will be asked to vote for the one answer: NaMo.

The “foreignness” of the young princeling, the ruling party’s contender, will be underlined to suggest subversion of the rise of an authentic India. The closing in of the law on Mr. Modi will be depicted as misuse of the judiciary by the ruling Congress to keep him from power and an instance of minority appeasement. While dirty tricks will harden Modi’s power base among traditionally right wing voters, these may deepen scepticism among others. Yet, in the event, the election may prove a close call. It is here that the ‘worst case’ scenario kicks in.

This could be a ‘soft coup’ in the tradition of George Bush’s pipping of Al Gore at the post in Florida. Or it could be more blatant. Extremist political formations could take over the streets; while Modi acolytes, including one on bail for triple murder and restrained from entering Gujarat, energise a putsch. The narrative will be that the rightful winner is being deprived by a conspiracy of anti-Hindu and by extension anti-India forces; forcing them to act to save democracy and India.
The penetration of rightist ideology in security forces is well known. The Gujarat police’s showing in the 2002 carnage is an example of levels of subversion of constitutional and professional norms. This was in the early days of Mr. Modi at the helm. By 2004 the Gujarat police was masterminding ‘encounters’ designed to build Modi’s image as Lauh Purush II with which he could eventually make his bid for Delhi. Its link to the questionable spate of blasts in metropolitan cities in the run up to last elections is evident from the supposedly fortuitous manner of recovery of bombs in Surat. The record of Maharashtra’s ATS and Delhi’s Special Cell suggests the Gujarat police not an exception. Karnataka, AP and Rajasthan police have not acquitted themselves with any credit in investigating “terror” cases. Exceptions in khaki are instead the likes of late Hemant Karkare.

Black propaganda, that such blasts are instances of, has an intelligence imprint. This is only now coming out into the open with the CBI dragnet closing in on the IB head in Gujarat. It is inconceivable that the then IB chief in Delhi, now ensconced in a right-wing think tank in the national capital, did not know of the game-plan in Gujarat. It is clear that the objective was to implicate the minority with terror seemingly originating in Pakistan. The narrative was that terror was no longer confined to J&K but had spread its tentacles to the heartland. This helped with India attempting to corner Pakistan diplomatically, since post 9/11 Pakistan was supping with the US. The internal political dividend was intended to see continuation of NDA to power in 2004 and a return in 2008, which in the event were belied.

The paramilitary, exposed to operations against Kashmiri militants and to Maoists, are primed for lending muscle. Bureaucrats, privileging self-preservation, can be expected to go into a ‘wait and watch’ mode. Strategic commentators, largely of conservative-realist persuasion, will allow themselves to be manipulated into providing the narrative cover that ends justify the means. Hindutva champions and closet communalists embedded in the media will pitch in to help India recover from the shock.

That a scenario of a right-wing take over is not far-fetched is evident from the inevitable contention between the ruling party and opposition over the nominations list to head India’s security forces and intelligence services. The very fact that the professionalism or competence of the candidates is not enough suggests that their political inclinations matter. The ruling party pitches for agency heads that can contain the ideological penetration of the opposition in their forces. The opposition would favour those who are willing to compromise on the apolitical feature of their force. That security forces universally are conservative in orientation makes the Congress more alert to dangers and ready to act to prevent them through the selection process. The recent bust ups over the Army, IB and CBI chiefs, all of whom would be having tenures that will see them through the elections, indicates a wariness making for plausibility of the worst case.  

From the controversy last year over the succession chain of the army it is clear that the key player in the scenario playing out or otherwise could well be the army chief. When the government ruled against giving the former chief an extension till his claimed age of retirement, it was partially with an eye that the current chief would likely thwart any political misadventure. The question is: Will the Indian Army, known for keeping clear of politics, step up? Such intrusion into politics is hardly useful over the long term, even if it is necessary to pre-empt a worse possibility. Given this, prevention is better than cure.

The cure would be in the government revealing the extent of right wing conspiracy over the past decade to malign the minority: a function of the success of the project of bombings and staged ‘encounters’. The current case in point, Ishrat Jahan’s, is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is also being progressed by the CBI with an eye on keeping Mr. Modi off balance. However, be that as it may, while further revelations may embarrass India, it would work right wing contamination out of the system once and for all and ensure that the conservative nationalists play by the rules in future: the first step being in dumping their current vanguard.  

The author blogs at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2013 on page no. 1

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