By Amulya Ganguli
Only the naïve will believe that Narendra Modi has scored a famous victory by pushing his bugbear, Sanjay Joshi, into political wilderness. Instead, by his uninhibited display of a vengeful spirit, he may have queered the pitch for himself for, as Sushil Modi, Bihar’s deputy chief minister, has pointed out, no one has the right to “hijack” the party.
If the 2002 riots demonstrated the Gujarat strong man’s ruthless pursuit of a political agenda even at the risk of attracting the Supreme Court’s acidic comment of being a “modern-day Nero”, his unrelenting offensive against a former fellow pracharak underlined his malice. Neither quality enhances his prestige or shows him to be prime ministerial material, if that is Modi’s ultimate objective.
Instead, they mark him out as someone who has risen above his normal station in life and, having done so by a quirk of circumstance, is lashing out at whoever he sees as an obstacle. The same aggression was evident in the aftermath of the riots when he characterized any attack on himself as a slur on Gujarat’s asmita or pride and took care to spell out the then chief election commissioner’s name, James Michael Lyngdoh, in full to emphasize his “alien” status.
Modi has calmed down of late after having succeeded, at least partially, in deflecting attention from the riots – which he had casually dismissed as “stray incidents” although 1,200 people had died – to his developmental efforts. But, just when he must have presumed that the time had come for him to climb up to the next step of the ladder, Nitin Gadkari’s courting of Joshi had warned him of the thorns still remaining in his path.
It is anybody’s guess why the BJP president had overlooked the 2005 episode of the sleazy CD involving Joshi, which had led to his ouster. Perhaps the RSS told Gadkari, its mole in the BJP, to be indulgent towards the pracharak, especially because the authenticity of the CD was in doubt and also because it was suspected to be the handiwork of Joshi’s opponents in the saffron parivar.
But, it was evidently too much for Modi to accept not only the prodigal son’s return to the family, but even his elevation to be a member of the national executive. Therefore, he spent the next few months – seven to be exact – plotting against Joshi. His tactics included boycotting the national executive meeting in Delhi and also the BJP’s election campaigns in U.P., Punjab and elsewhere. And, when these coercive ploys led nowhere, he threatened to stay away from yet another national executive meeting.
However, even these shows of grumpiness might not have helped if Gadkari, in the meantime, hadn’t committed a series of blunders such as choosing an unknown NRI for the Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand (the deal finally fell through) and the tainted B.S. Kushwaha as a party member on the eve of the U.P. elections. Since these missteps weakened his position – he had never been accepted any way as a major figure by L.K. Advani and other big guns in Delhi – Gadkari finally let Modi “hijack” the party by accepting Joshi’s resignation from the national executive and then from the party itself.
But, the end run may not be as smooth as Modi presumes. First, if his latest “success” encourages him to pursue his prime ministerial ambitions seriously, it may lead to the NDA’s disintegration because there is no way that Nitish Kumar will endorse his candidature. The NDA lost the Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal as its members before the 2009 election. It may lose the Janata Dal (United) before 2014. In that event, the chances of it piping the Congress at the post are minimal.
Secondly, even within the saffron camp, it isn’t only Joshi who will try to hobble Modi, the others who have also been eying the top slot are likely to use Joshi, Keshubhai Patel and others to put up roadblocks. Since Advani and Sushma Swaraj may be among them, the battle will be quite fierce. Considering the protracted fight that Modi had to put up to sideline Joshi, who is a relatively minor figure, the chief minister cannot be sure of success in his confrontation with those much higher up in the party hierarchy, not least because the RSS is wary about his bullying ways.
Until now, the modern-day Nero, who has also been called the textbook case of a fascist by social commentator Ashis Nandy, has had a series of lucky breaks. The riots enabled the Sangh parivar to consolidate the Hindi voters so effectively that the BJP has had little difficulty in winning two elections in a row, for which Modi has been taken the credit.
Then, his developmental efforts persuaded the Time magazine to sing his praise and a special investigation into a case of massacre during the riots gave him a clean chit apparently because the leader of the team was “compromised”, as a Muslim participant said in a TV show. Now, Modi has to cross the latest hurdle set up by a saffron apparatchik. (IPA Service)