India’s most talented politician of our time has pulled off the most famous victory of our time. Only a year ago, Narendra Modi made his move to position himself at the head of the assault on the Congress. He wanted power, but this was towards an aim: to achieve historical greatness.
He had self-belief, immense capacity for work and an ability for organisation. But even he could not have imagined how surprisingly easy and how clearly unambiguous and convincing his win would be. He has shattered the Congress, the arithmetic of caste politics and the geographical restrictions of the BJP. How did he do this?
His strategy was simple and bold: to position the issue as a referendum on his performance and his intentions. This was bold because the easier thing to do would be to bleat about the performance of Manmohan Singh’s government. Modi chose instead to focus on a positive campaign around his delivery in a mid-sized state and the promise that he could make this national. He crafted the message in terms that were simple and easy to understand. Vote for me, he told us, and I will give you governance and growth. Only in passing did he say that these were things that had not been delivered by the UPA. And his claim went further. He said that Delhi had never seen the sort of thing he would bring. It was entirely new and it was already bearing fruit in his state. That the story in Gujarat does not quite match that claim is another thing and today is not for whining about that. It is to appreciate the skill and quality of his politics.
Modi’s campaign was positive in another way. He chose not to touch upon those aspects of Hindutva that he had in previous Gujarat elections. This widened his appeal enormously. His brushing aside of LK Advani and other BJP seniors a year ago happened not because of any wiliness or stratagems. It came because the entire cadre of the BJP and the RSS is behind him. That group Modi had no need to rally.
This gave him the space to focus on the expansion of his constituency through talking about governance and growth. This is what he went after in single-minded fashion. In doing this, he had to work with four teams: the BJP, the large online gang he assembled under volunteers and the entrepreneur Rajesh Jain, the RSS and the private PR organisations that ran Modi’s campaign. He did this with efficiency and with effectiveness. The Modi message of governance and growth was sold. Whether or not he can deliver on these, Modi has made good on one promise: a Congress-mukt Bharat. The party may yet survive but it has been given the thrashing of its life. It is gasping and has no time for assessment. It will be difficult for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, given their meagre numbers, to even effectively lead the opposition in the Lok Sabha.
If Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha form a front, they could easily bid for leader of the opposition, having more seats together than the Congress.
This fragmentation of his opponents will help Modi in getting his agenda cleared, at least in the Lok Sabha.
He is in the ideal, almost perfect situation. He has a majority of his own in the BJP (meaning allies cannot twist his arm as they did Manmohan Singh’s). And he has 50 seats from pre-poll allies in the National Democratic Alliance, so he can afford to alienate those elements in his party that he dislikes or is threatened by.
My view is that he has much freedom with his cabinet as PM, as he did as CM. This brings in a subject that is bitter but must be mentioned. In Gujarat, Modi has been petty with all whom he has disliked or been threatened by. This included his party (whose senior leaders he pushed out), his cabinet (whose ministers had little power), Gujarat’s media (some of which was charged with sedition) and even the RSS (whose senior man was humiliated in a tawdry scandal).
Modi is messianic and genuinely believes he can do transformational things for India. We shall see. But he must know that as prime minister, he will have to do more than replicate what he did in Gujarat. If he wants to be seen as great, he will have to be seen as magnanimous. He will have to be liked by those who distrust him for his record.
To be remembered in history with warmth. That is greatness.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2014.
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