February 22, 2020
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The Punters In Orange City

The RSS knows well that Modi can bring in only a limited number of seats. But by projecting him it’s making a calculated gamble.

The Punters In Orange City
Narendra Bisht
The Punters In Orange City

Modi Impact?

  • 187*
    Aggregate NDA tally for 2014 elections, based on on-ground predictions by experts sought out by Outlook in all 29 states

* BJP + Shiv Sena + SAD + INLD


The Biblical God created Man in his own image. Likewise, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would like to fashion Indian democracy in its own image. But the script, though it parallels the Christian mythology of creation, slightly deviates from that: the Sangh parivar’s political engineers want to remould our multi-party democracy in the image of the American presidential contest. Con­sider the terminology used. Jus­tifying the RSS’s hurried foisting of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the party’s senior leader Arun Jaitley described the choice as the result of a “primary”. The campaign, too, is being projected as a bin­ary: on one day, news channels juxtapose Modi’s speech against Rahul Gandhi’s; on another, a Modi speech from Gujarat is pitched to taunt Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ceremonial Independence Day speech from the Red Fort. Indian reality does, however, force its confusions on such a projection, with, say, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar putting his hat in the ring and upsetting the binary. What’s more, however strong the wishes of the BJP and Modi, they aren’t hurriedly turning into the horses that will carry them unhindered to victory.

Our feedback from India’s 29 states and opinion polls conducted by media groups and polling agencies don’t promise the BJP and the NDA any substantial increase in parliamentary seats outside northern and western India. In these regions, the BJP already has an optimum share of seats in its core strongholds like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Goa. So, even if there’s a huge jump in the BJP’s percentage voteshare in these states, the increase in its seats, if any, cannot go skyrocketing. In Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi and Maharash­tra, the BJP—or its allies—might turn tables on the UPA. But the gains here will be limited by the number of MPs these states send to the Lok Sabha. The gains the NDA may have in the north and west will be undermined by losses in Karn­ataka, till recently its only southern bastion. And with his departure from the coalition, Nitish seems to have ensured that even if the BJP gains a few seats in Bihar, the NDA would be down in that state: it had won 32 seats last time; this time it could be half or a third of that number.

So the only big catchment left is UP, for, south of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and east of Bihar and Jha­rkhand, the BJP has a negligible presence. But even in UP, the BJP can’t hope for more than 30 of the 80 seats: the electorate is fractured and the Muzaffarnagar and Ayo­­dhya gambles of the BJP and SP may have caused a polarisation detrimental to both. If the BJP’s tally touches 30, that will be thrice the present number—it’s difficult to see any more accruals. Overall, in effect, the BJP won’t be able to corner more than half of the Congress’s anti-incumbency losses. The rest will go to regional parties or the Left.

Therefore, Modi’s tally does not look better that that of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998: 183 seats. It leaves him 90-100 seats short for government formation. And for Modi, a polarising figure, the prospect of attracting allies is far bleaker than it was for Vajpayee in 1998. So, for all the hype pumped up by the media, his publicity machinery and corporate backers, Modi’s prime ministerial climb remains a steep gradient. Remember Vajpayee in 1996? Despite a sizeable saffron surge, he was unable to form a government.

So why this hype that Modi will bring the BJP 200-225 seats, leaving regional parties no choice but to join in? Did the RSS not do a realistic reckoning? Ground- or middle-level RSS-BJP workers may get carried away, but hard-headed pracharaks recognise the difficulties. It’s a carefully played gamble: sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat chose to micromanage the BJP as never before to ensure Modi’s elevation. The hype, of course, is to maximise returns through sheer propaganda.

As with their ideological goals, the parivar’s Modi gamble is also backed by long-term calculation. Their purpose in diluting the Hindutva agenda in the 1996-2004 period, by postponing Ayo­dhya, Article 370 and the uniform civil code, was to fashion the BJP as a party of governance, making it the default option in terms of governance. Now it’s time to superpose  Hindu nationalism or the RSS’s majoritarian worldview firmly and indelibly on the BJP’s governance and development agenda. If, to achieve this, the RSS has to live with a 1996 type of interregnum, albeit with an unapologetic Hindutva worldview driving the nat­ional discourse this time, before a completely Hindutva dominated NDA-II is able to govern India, so be it.

A few days back, some senior RSS pracharaks heading a front organisation of the parivar gleefully told this correspondent how the default urban Hindu youth of today— tech-savvy, educated, and with global aspirations—though he may not belong to any saffron organisation, is likely to be temple-going, Pakistan-loathing and wary of Muslims, more so than the previous urban generations. This, they said, was owing to the mahaul (ambience) of debate they have created. Narendrabhai, they claimed, excites the imagination and aspirations of this generation; cultivating them and consolidating their goodwill would mean building a long-term asset. I still have my reservations about this characterisation being universally true for the new urban middle-class generation. I doubt if the modern educated Dalit Hindu in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, would share this trait.

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