The decision by Time magazine to put Narendra Modi on its cover has created a storm of sorts in Indian political and media circles. While the Indian knows better, there is obvious concern among those who would like to be on the right side if Modi were to become India’s Prime Minister; as among those who have been taking him on since the Godhra killings sparked off state-wide riots in Gujarat. With so much of India taking it cue from trends in the West, these persons would like to know what special understanding has been obtained by the US that puts Modi on centre-stage. Deserved or not, there is a Muslim veto on Modi’s spreading his wings to other parts of the country. His preeminence in Gujarat is the result of a successful polarisation of voters. This situation cannot be replicated in other parts of India under normal circumstances. In fact, no party is more aware of this than his own, the BJP. It has allies under its NDA umbrella, but even these are chary of being associated in any way with Modi. They are allies not by political conviction, but because their primary opponents are of the ‘secular’ variety.
It is one thing to adopt certain means to acquire power, but quite another, what is done with it. In this, Modi and Mamata Banerjee of Bengal are studies in contrast. He has withstood all the criticism by single-mindedly pursuing a ‘development’ agenda that has made Gujarat the favoured destination of investors from India and abroad. Although this development is alleged not to be ‘inclusive’, the majority of Gujarat’s voters have been, so far, quite happy with it. Mamata has chosen to remain populist, afraid to address the fundamentals of economics.
Modi may, therefore, have the ability to speed up development, but the BJP would have to experience a ‘life-changing’ epiphany to make him the Prime Ministerial candidate. However, as the ‘opportunists in waiting’ suffering from the ongoing panic attack indicate, he could emerge as the answer to the crisis-ridden and ‘inclusive’ coalition politics of the UPA. With every roll-back and humiliation that the incumbent suffers, the people might develop a fancy for a ‘strong man’ at the helm, who brooks no interference in the march towards progress and prosperity.
Considering that the BJP at the Centre is beset with similar difficulties in its bid to find the kind of ‘general’ acceptability that a ‘national’ party is expected to have, the mood may emerge that being a ‘B’ version of the Congress would not serve. It may feel encouraged to reinvent itself, as it very nearly did in Uttarakhand with its last minute reformist blitzkrieg. As a product, Modi is ready; all it requires is for the few senior leaders at the Centre to make up their minds. It would then be for them to climb on or get out of the way.
The UPA likes to project itself as the epitome of ‘inclusive politics’, but the results of its governance are only leading to general economic decline and consequent social tensions. This has meant that, in spite of the best declared intentions, the objectives are not being achieved. How long, then, should the electorate be expected to keep faith, particularly as the UPA has, anyway, continued only because a viable alternative has been lacking? Modi may well emerge as the man to throw down the gauntlet in the next general elections. Enough to give the opportunists sleepless nights as they mull over their options!