Modi’s Stake in Lok Sabha 2014 Elections – Part I

No one believed when a Modi aide said in an informal meeting three months ago that “BJP with Narendra Modi as the head of Campaign Committee would pitch for Uniform Civil code, Abrogation of Article 370 and Ram Mandir as its main agenda for 2014 Lok Sabha polls and would adopt immensely offensive approach to the claimed governance of the UPA II government at every platform and at every given opportunity.”

A lot of water has passed through Yamuna since then and a barrage of allegations and counter allegations have been flying all over. Modi has made it a point to hit the UPA government where it hurts the most.

He has taken over himself the role of Archer by targeting only two persons- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress VP Rahul Gandhi with superlative epithets and idioms and in the process, engaged the whole Congress party machinery. This has helped him deflect the attention on his trusted aide Amit Shah and a few others to play their cards in Uttar Pradesh and other areas without any snare or snarl either from the Congress or Samajwadi Party.

The inference is loud and clear. Modi wants to make this as the Mother of all battles.  During the last two months, the Narendra Modi campaign theme appears to have shifted to a high-risk, all-or-nothing approach, where Hindutva is a key part of the message.

1)  Many congress leaders started laughing and joking when Modi named his trusted aide Amit Shah in charge of Uttar Pradesh where Modi bete noire, Sanjay Joshi had been  ploughing lonely furrow since last year.

2) When Amit Shah went to Ayodhya and talked about wanting to build a Ram Mandir, many political pundits dismissed it as an aberration, someone talking out of turn.

3) When Modi used the “Burqa of secularism” epithet, the entire Congress clan hit back in the best way they could have done. Imagine a battery of Two AICC general Seceretaries, 5 Union Ministers and 10 Congress MPs going after Modi.

4) When the “puppy” remark surfaced, one could discount it as a deliberate attempt to create controversies over a statement that could have been interpreted in multiple ways.  Indeed, they were interpreted in myriad ways depending upon the understanding and inclination of those leaders. The majority of Modi’s critics saw this remark as the manifestation of a rabid Hindu Nationalist who was trying to drive a wedge at a wrong time.

Did they get it all wrong? Did they fail to actually read the actual Modi agenda behind the vineer of these pin-pricks? On the hindsight, it appears so. That is crystally clear by the appearance of many posters in Mumbai hailing him as “Hindu Hriday Samrat and a Hindu Nationalist”. Obviously, these could not have come up without Modi’s campaign managers knowing nothing about it.

As a noted columnist said “More recently, we have heard less about the governance theme or the economy, and more about Modi’s non-secular persona – no doubt through media and Congress orchestration, but we have not seen a spirited attempt to shift the focus back to the economy and governance, either. Why is the BJP not putting the Congress on the back foot here?”

It is interesting to note that people like Yashwant Singh, Yashwant Sinha( who have remained Union Finance Ministers in the past) and even Arun Jaitley are not talking about the falling Rupee convertibility vis a vis Dollar or the rapidly  increasing price of petrol or diesel. There also, it is Modi who has been taking pot-shots at the PM as’ Anarth Shatri’ and so on. To the chagrin of the Congress party, his words have been too catchy to flood social media sites for days together.

The latest round of  Modi talks with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur  and  instructions from the RSS Headquaretrs has made it crystally clear  that  one of the items on the agenda was how to mix “unapologetic” Hindutva with good governance and development.

On the other hand, the Congress party appears to be too happy with Modi’s antics and anecdotes and it has been   using all its energy to keep chastising and castigating him in a concerted way because its idea and intention is to deflect any debate away from its own non-performance, plethora of scams and its new schemes including Food Security Bill which is flawed and fractured at many places.

The biggest question doing rounds in the political corridors of Delhi is why Modi is still persisting with the Hindutwa agenda despite a clear warning from Yashwant Sinha through his article in The Economic Times a few days ago that the BJP will lose control of the poll agenda this way. What has changed during last two months?

Apparently two things have changed after Modi took over as the party’s mascot.1)the Ishrat Jahan case appears to be snowballing into a situation where, at some point, Modi himself could be named somewhere in the charge-sheet. The fact that the Congress party is willing to pit the CBI against its own intelligence agency – the primary internal security outfit – must have convinced Modi what is really afoot.2) Since the Congress strategy of linking Modi to Hindutva and 2002 is now more than apparent, and all its allies are talking the same language, the ability of Modi alone to steer the debate towards the Congress’ non-performance may be in question.

Can the BJP on its own decide the agenda in the face of a near universal ganging-up against Modi?  Or, have they come to the conclusion that without the flavour of Hindutva, the BJP cannot hope to make a decisive dent in its vote share in 2014?

The way the Modi strategy is unfolding, it appears that his campaign managers have decided to spice the governance issue with a strong dose of Hindutva generics.Modi’s strategists give some indications of this.
1)If polarisation is unavoidable, with the non-BJP parties driving the agenda, Modi needs a counter -polarisation strategy of his own.
2) Modi’s core team would have also calculated that it may not be worth winning, say, 150-160 seats to merely emerge as the single largest party. In this event, it will not be Modi, but some other BJP consensus candidate who will be the potential consensus PM candidate. The Modi partisans would like nothing less than 180-200 seats so that their man gets the top job.
3) Modi’s team would have also taken into account the growing internal fissures and subtle fuse. It is quite clear that Modi has many detractors within the BJP. The only way to neutralise this is to get the RSS on your side.
4) Yet another calculation could be that the real target is not 2014, but two years later. If a Third Front is inevitable due to regional polarisation, one is likely to get a messy coalition in 2014 which would be more like the repeat of 1996-98 syndrome and may not last more than two years.

If the idea is to project a powerful man and his party in 2016 or 2017, it makes sense to focus on pushing up the BJP’s vote share significantly this time so that two or three years later it can make a stronger pitch for power on its own terms.

This is not different from the Congress party’s strategy over UPA-1 and UPA-2, where the party put up weak leaders to run the government when its seat count was not adequate to give the heir-apparent power.
Modi’s methods and targets would be crystally clear in the comings days.. People will come to know the real Modi only after the next few Modi speeches, especially the one scheduled in Hyderabad next month – where the BJP will be making a pitch for Telengana. As a communally polarized city, Modi’s Hyderabad speech would be keenly watched by his friends and foes alike.

But one this has already become clear and that is 2014 Lok Sabha polls campaign   would be no-holds-barred and tough campaign for BJP because it would be the biggest test for Modi either way. History would record whether 2014 Lok Sabha polls would prove to be Trafalgar or Waterloo for Modi.

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