Editorial dated december 29, 2007 in the Economic & Political Weekly
Narendra Modi spearheads another triumph in Gujarat for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
For the second consecutive time, Narendra Modi has led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a massive victory in the Gujarat assembly elections, making it the fourth time in a row since 1995 for the party. In every assembly election, the BJP has pitched a campaign theme; while it was the issue of anti-corruption in 1995 and an aggressive pitch for Hindutva in 2002, it was development of a “vibrant Gujarat” in 2007.
The victory in 2007 is different from the earlier assembly triumphs. The strings of BJP leadership in Gujarat had virtually passed on to Narendra Modi, with the gradual sidelining of other senior leaders who have either broken ranks or have remained dissidents. From former ministers (including ex-chief ministers) in the BJP government to other leaders in the Sangh parivar, an array of people who were in the forefront during the communally polarised elections in 2002 were this time ranged against Narendra Modi. Numerous exit polls and media surveys predicted that the outcome would be a close call between the Congress and the BJP. Yet, the prognosticators were proved completely wrong.
This was Narendra Modi’s election and this was his personal triumph, even if many had hoped that the Gujarat electorate would hold him accountable for the crimes of 2002, for which there has neither been atonement nor justice for the victims. The continued dominance of the BJP in 2007 points to the failure of the Congress in effectively countering the seeping in of communal consciousness that has been a fallout of uninterrupted BJP rule in the state. At the same time, the emphasis on “development” in the 2007 elections by the BJP suggested that Narendra Modi wanted to be judged by the voters on his government’s record in issues such as industrialisation, irrigation support, rural electrification, and economic growth. The agenda of “cultural nationalism” and Hindutva, which dominated the 2002 elections, was missing, even as, during the later stages of the election campaign, Narendra Modi started stirring up such issues again.
The Congress had hoped to mobilise support from disenchanted sections among dalits, tribals and particularly the minorities who have continued to live in fear and neglect in the BJP regime. It was expected that the “caste arithmetic” success formula in the 1980s for the Congress, the Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) alliance would be again forged, this time with the help of sections in the Patidar community led by BJP rebels. However, the inability of the Congress to address the ideology of Hindutva head on or to provide alternate solutions to the development paradigm followed by the BJP, as well as the absence of a viable charismatic leadership to take on Narendra Modi has resulted in yet another defeat for that party. Narendra Modi’s image as a chief minister with a direct style of governance, bypassing patronage networks and his being seen as responsible for services such as irrigation facilities, power systems, and investment for industry, was cultivated into a personality based propaganda campaign by the BJP’s. Modi’s tenure has been marked by a penchant for breaking away from party structures and pressure groups in favour of direct hands on management based on personal charisma. This personalised emphasis – which won him widespread popularity within the state – and the BJP’s aggressive “regional identity” message was manifest in the party’s campaign theme, “Jeetega Gujarat” (Gujarat will win).
The BJP has been clever in setting an agenda around communalism and majoritarianism during every assembly poll, while the Congress has always played second fiddle, unsure in its criticism and in its rejection of Hindutva as well as in the formulation of a more inclusive economic policy. The BJP’s victory in Gujarat despite the horrors of the state-led pogrom in 2002 and the continuing denial, subversion of justice and relief to the victims and survivors of the riots does point out to the weaknesses of liberal democratic institutions. It questions the ability of formal democracy to ensure that those who are guilty of violating constitutional duties and norms are held responsible for their actions.
Irrespective of the massive verdict in favour of Narendra Modi in the assembly elections, we must continue to work to ensure justice for the victims of 2002. And if the ideology of hatred that has taken root has to be defeated politically, all efforts must be made to project a viable alternative that wins the support of the Gujarati people. Only this can provide a strong counter to the charisma that Narendra Modi wields in Gujarat.