Modi’s Fast, A Political Show!

Should it be seriously assumed that the three-day fast undertaken by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is a part of his strategy to enhance his “credentials” as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha elections? Considering that political importance of Modi is primarily limited to his party, the saffron brigade and Gujarat, prospects of his becoming the country’s prime minister any time in future may be dismissed as bleak. Besides, with 2002 Gujarat-carnage viewed as a black chapter in India’s history and Modi’s political image, if BJP decides to contest 2014 polls by projecting him as their prime ministerial candidate, it would be only preparing ground for losses on several fronts.

 With justice still being awaited for by most Muslims targeted in 2002, it will take at least two more generations, before Muslims across the country consider any BJP-candidate from Gujarat as a possible prime minister. The labour put in by BJP leaders in the recent past to project a “secular” (even though superficial) image of themselves to attract Muslim votes to their side would be lost if Modi is selected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Secondly, the political ground gained by strong allies of BJP, particularly Janata Dal (U) in Bihar, would also crumble the day they decide to support Modi as the prime minister. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s success in Bihar also rests on the support he has of the state’s Muslim voters. To secure the same, it may be recalled, while campaigning for Bihar assembly polls (2010), Kumar ensured that Modi was kept out of the state campaign. Can Kumar and his party (JD-U) afford to lose the political base they have gained in Bihar by simply saying yes to Modi as the next prime minister? Certainly not. This also suggests that if BJP does seriously consider Modi as prime ministerial candidate, it would also be facing the risk of losing some of its remaining allies. In other words, it would not be a surprise if National Democratic Alliance (NDA) faces internal crisis and falls apart if BJP insists on Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. Can BJP afford this political crisis? No.

 It may be recalled that in the late nineties, with Atal Behari Vajpayee as the prime minister, BJP-led NDA succeeded in forming the government only after yielding to demands of secular allies. The secular allies pressurized BJP to put its Hindutva agenda on the backburner. Since then, to ensure support of its allies and attract Muslim votes, the BJP has kept Hindutva on the backburner. There is no denying that Gujarat carnage cannot be dismissed as a mere political stunt just as demolition of Babari Masjid and the accompanying communal riots cannot be. The BJP and its leaders are not oblivious of this hard reality. Thus projection of Modi as prime ministerial candidate also amounts to giving rival parties ample political ammunition, linked with Gujarat carnage, to target the BJP. Can the BJP afford this political risk?  

Nevertheless, Modi’s fast cannot be dismissed as only a show for the sake of gaining some political importance and media coverage. Irrespective of Modi’s claim about his fast being reflection of his commitment towards “development of all, with cooperation of all” (sabka saath, sabka vikas), his political message cannot be missed. Modi is now keen to be considered as one who is concerned for “communal harmony.” This is marked by his expressing the degree to which he “suffered” for 2002 riot victims and that now Gujarat is not home to any communal disharmony. In his words: “There is no sign of disharmony. Gujarat has realized the strength of brotherhood. And this learning has not come through any preaching or advice, but through the fruits of development. Our growth has assured us that unity is our strength.”
 Howsoever loudly and frequently may Modi and his political colleagues make such claims they are least likely to convince the 2002 carnage victims and their supporters about Modi’s “secular” credentials. Modi erred in declining to take a skull cap offered to him by a Muslim cleric during his three-day fast show. It may be recalled, while in power, during nineties, Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani willingly donned similar caps while attending Iftar parties. Modi still has a long way to go before he learns the ABC of displaying a convincingly secular image, however farcical it may actually be.

Before 2014 parliamentary polls, Modi has to prove his political mettle in next year’s Gujarat assembly polls. Even if he returns to power as Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi’s projection as the next prime minister cannot spell similar gains for BJP at the national level. It is as yet too early to be forgotten that had Gujarat carnage not taken place, the Congress may not have returned to power in 2004 elections to head United Progressive Alliance (UPA). BJP may have forgotten that it was voted out of power because the voters did not want Gujarat carnage to be repeated elsewhere, the Indians have not!