Could Modi be grounded before take off?
By Saeed Naqvi
Recently, the "Indian Express" published two news items on the same page.
On the top, across five columns, was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s appeal: “All Secular Forces Must Unite Against Modi”, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Bottom of the same page had a two-column headline in which BJP's Arun Jaitley is urging the prime minister to “probe motivated investigation” against Narendra Modi and his political soulmate, Amit Shah. The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha has accused the Congress of misusing agencies like the CBI and NIA against BJP leaders “including its prime ministerial candidate”.
So, it seems the probes on Modi are closing in.
Juxtapose the two news items, one against the other, and a kind of pattern emerges of Modi’s menacing, vertical rise and the UPA’s horizontal mopping up operations of the scared “secular” formations. Without one, the other has no game to play.
In a column written in mid July, I had explained my understanding of the game. What was the hurry in projecting Modi as the BJP’s Hindu mascot for the political season up to the 2014 parliament election? At least those eager to promote him could have waited for the assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, in at least three of which the BJP has major stakes.
Would it not be the Hindutva’s vote of no confidence in the BJP chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, when they are preparing for the November assembly elections, to have the chief minister of Gujarat sail above their heads?
Agreed, Shivraj Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje Scindia do not owe their lives to the RSS as Modi does, but even so what would have been lost if the RSS-BJP had waited until the November elections? What was the urgency? Were the cases closing in on Modi and the Gujarat model? That being the case Modi had to be boosted sky high, like a rocket, so that he can be cast as a martyr just in case the investigating agencies ground him.
The very first sentence of Jaitley’s letter to the PM is: “The Congress cannot fight Narendra Modi politically. Defeat stares them in the face." Hence, the “misuse of intelligence agencies” to ground Modi. Was this the mantra whispered in the ears of the BJP stalwarts who had thrown a fit at his elevation?
It was quite startling how the senior leaders, in a state of collective convulsion at Modi’s elevation in Goa in June, had very rapidly composed themselves and begun to see light over the horizon. Modi was anointed the PM candidate in September and they tamely watched. Suddenly they had changed. Why?
Brecht’s spoof on Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, does come to mind but the Indian media have decided that Modi is not resistible. There he floats above the firmament, irresistible in his designer kurtas, beard in perfect trim, once or twice I could have sworn he wore lipstick, positioning himself before a lotus here, a parapet there in admirable imitation of Sohrab Modi of the Parsee theatre fame.
During practice sessions boxers do not really hit hard. They spar, jab gently, float around for footwork but never land a punch on the chin. This is what is going on between the vertical Modi and the horizontal UPA.
In July I had written: “Since 2007, just before the assembly elections, Modi’s public relations has been globally managed by APCO Worldwide which boasts of the former US ambassador to New Delhi, Timothy Roemer, as a hands on manager with offices in Mumbai and New Delhi. APCO has an impressive record of servicing dictators like Sani Abacha of Nigeria.”
If the UPA were in serious combat with Modi, there would have been at least a whisper about APCO among the UPA publicists. But there has been nothing of the sort. The sides are not fighting; they are jousting. The real knockout punch was administered by Rahul Gandhi not on the opponents but on his own party when he rubbished the ordinance on convicted law makers.
Chastise me for my perverse thought, but the real effect of Modi as a Hindu mascot, coming with things like Muzaffarnagar in his train, is two fold: it enables the BJP-RSS to measure its appeal nationwide for some future round. This aggressive Hindutva is designed to drive anything which is not hardcore Hindutva towards the creation of a possible UPA III because Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are still trusted by India Inc in Mumbai and their multinational links who have identified India as a trillion dollar market and essential for global recovery.
“Another reason why Modi’s support team have been able to impose a fait accompli on the BJP,” I wrote, “is because of an acute fear that Modi and his Sancho Panza will, sooner or later, trip up in the course of investigations under way in Gujarat. Modi’s fall will then be the BJP’s fall too; it will be the fatal collapse of the Gujarat model."
"But if Modi is allowed to fly high on a platform of Hindu nationalism, his being grounded will be blamed on intrigue by the forces of 'pseudo secularism'. This pits Modi as an embodiment of an idea shaded in dark saffron, projected in presidential style, against the secular formations, pale and wan, poised precariously on a rickety parliamentary platform.”
The real battle, then, is not being envisaged for 2014 but more like 2016 - mid term.
Jaitley’s 15-page letter, giving details of all the cases that are zeroing in on Modi and Shah, is the beginning of an almighty cat and mouse between the BJP and the UPA. Is there a real fear that Modi will be grounded before take off?
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs)