Gujarat after Modi

Published: May 11, 2014
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The writer is a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar. His book Translating Saadat Hasan Manto’s non-fiction work will be published this year 
aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar. His book Translating Saadat Hasan Manto’s non-fiction work will be published this year aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

What will Narendra Modi’s move to Delhi mean for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat?

He has utterly dominated the party for the last 13 years, after he became chief minister in 2001. The background to his takeover was that there had been a struggle inside the party for supremacy. The BJP was full of factions and a long and open battle between Chief Ministers Keshubhai Patel and Shankarsinh Vaghela was particularly exhausting.

At one point the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stepped in and decided to take control. Keshubhai was put to pasture and Modi (who had been exiled for his participation in the factionalism) was parachuted into the job of chief minister. The RSS Sarsanghachalak of the time, KS Sudarshan, also raised the profile of another Pracharak, Sanjay Joshi, to manage party affairs while Modi handled government.

What happened was that over time, Modi took charge of both the party and the government. Joshi was enmeshed in a sex scandal that brought such shame that he went into the shadows after that.

And Modi began to push out the old BJP leaders as he consolidated his power. And so people like Kashiram Rana, the undefeated six-term member of parliament from Surat, was denied a ticket without being given a reason. In Rana’s place, and in the place of other pushed-out leaders, Modi began promoting a younger group that was loyal directly to him.

After the seniors were pushed out of power and influence, Modi began going after their supporters. At this point it became unbearable for people like Keshubhai Patel to stay in the party and he revolted. This failed, and in the last election, he made no dent in the popularity of Modi or the BJP.

Today, it is indisputable that Modi controls the BJP in Gujarat and the entire leadership from mid-level upwards owes its rise directly to him. The central BJP could no longer control the party through balancing one leader with another.

Modi ended factionalism as he had been mandated to, but he did so in a way that the RSS did not anticipate. Within the RSS, Modi was backed by Sudarshan’s deputy, Mohan Bhagwat, with whom Modi’s ties go back to the early 1970s. It would not be incorrect to say that Bhagwat is Modi’s junior because Modi had been trained by Bhagwat’s father. After Sudarshan was retired and Bhagwat took over, Modi’s ascent to Delhi was destined. The RSS stood behind him, cadre and leadership, as it had behind no other political leader. With Modi’s likely ascension, what happens to Gujarat?

The first thing that will happen is that the hard Hindutva edge that Modi brought for so many years will dull slightly. This will bring relief to a state that is very divided at the neighbourhood level. The recent reports of the doings of Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadia showed that. No matter who succeeds Modi, he or she is unlikely to be as divisive as he was, and that will be a good thing.

The other aspect is what the change will mean for the party.

Modi is, of course, going to continue to dominate the state through whoever he nominates as chief minister. But there will be a struggle for power inside, as his focus turns to bigger things. Having been loyal to an individual for so long, and having had very little independence, the party has not been nurtured properly in Gujarat.

The hierarchies are based on loyalty to Modi rather than merit or, as is normally the case, seniority.

The division of spoils will be lopsided in favour of the new chief minister’s group. However, this person will not be really powerful, with Modi lurking in the back. Factions will quickly develop against the new chief minister, probably bringing the party back to the bad old days of the late 1990s.

I think Modi’s move will be good for Gujaratis in general and the damage he has done to his party will show almost immediately.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Kafir
    May 11, 2014 - 1:27AM

    On one hand you are saying that he has been decisive and if he leaves, the party will be in bad shape…
    On the other hand, you are saying he has been bad for Gujrat.Recommend

  • Teesri Quwwat
    May 11, 2014 - 11:13AM

    Isn’t this the pattern behind the rise of every politician? Then why project the Modi as evil incarnate? This is what Indira did. This is what YS Rajasekhara Reddy did to Congress in Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu to NT Rama Rao and this is what Stalin will do to DMK in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Aakar Patel, get a break from Modi-Phobia.

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  • Strategic Asset
    May 11, 2014 - 1:50PM

    @ET, what is objectionable below?

    Wonder whether I will ever read an article from Aakar Patel with some words changed as below.

    Modi (Sonia) is, of course, going to continue to dominate the state (state and country) through whoever he (she) nominates as chief minister (CM & PM). But there will be a struggle for power inside, as his (her) focus turns to bigger things. Having been loyal to an individual for so long, and having had very little independence, the party has not been nurtured properly in Gujarat (India).

    The hierarchies are based on loyalty to Modi (Sonia/Rahul) rather than merit or, as is normally the case, seniority.

    The division of spoils will be lopsided in favour of the new chief minister’s group. However, this person will not be really powerful, with Modi (Sonia) lurking in the back. Factions will quickly develop against the new chief minister, probably bringing the party back to the bad old days of the late 1990s (last 65 years). (Note: This is corroborated by my current experiences in Karnataka).

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  • BlackJack
    May 11, 2014 - 2:23PM

    I do agree that the vacuum in the wake of a strong leader is always difficult to fill. However, in this case, we are not dealing with a dynasty or death of a leader, and so it is not a question of aprés mo(d)i, le déluge; Modi will have a role in anointing his successor – so I would be surprised if this transition becomes as messy as Mr. Patel hopes it to be.

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  • BlackJack
    May 11, 2014 - 2:26PM

    We plumb new depths.
    Question 1: Is Modi good for Gujarat, which is why people voted his government to a decisive majority each time? Apparently not, voters are fools and Modi is Big Brother, telling them what to think (although when he is in Delhi, for some peculiar reason, he will be unable to do so).
    Question 2: Is Modi good for the party, given that he ended factionalism, introduced a performance-oriented culture and has run a transparent and well-organized government that has won 285 awards from the Centre (and some internationally) and maintained law and order in the state over the last 10 years? Apparently not, winning elections and staying united is bad for any party, and the BJP will pay the price in the next election.

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  • Roy
    May 12, 2014 - 7:35PM

    The writer forgets one important point. Mr Modi is a elected chief minister, he has fought elections has proved his majority, he isn’t someone who was parachuted once and for all. Firstly Removing factionalism is a good thing and when the guy who did that, moves out, then it is not a happy news. Secondly dominating the state politics, that has given good outcomes and good growth like Chattisgarh, Bihar, MP and gujrat. All these state had a dominitive central figure who ruled virtually everything and efficiently. If they fail, there are election at various levels for people to throw the non performer out. Thats the advantage of a democracy.

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