Modi: An eye on 2014

Narendra Modi will hope to leverage his win in the state to enter the national arena

Written by Leena Misra | Published:October 7, 2012 2:13 am

Last month,Narendra Modi told a crowd in Kutch district during the Swami Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra,“The Centre has betrayed Parliament by deciding on FDI in retail overnight. Ab toh chaney-mamrey Bhuj ka vyapari nahi bechega,koi gora aa kar ke bechega (now the small trader in Bhuj will not sell snacks,but a white man will come to sell it). Industries and businesses will close down. Youths will be unemployed.”

Is this the same FDI-toting Modi who never tires of selling Gujarat to the world? Analysts see his anti-FDI positioning as a clever ploy. They say Modi knows that Gujarat’s strength is its penchant to put business before everything else. So whatever he says about FDI would not worry Gujaratis,but he has to be with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the bigger battle of 2014.

With an eye on the Centre,Modi seems to be fighting the 2014 elections in 2012 itself,for the outcome of this year’s Assembly elections will determine Modi’s prospects in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.

The billion-dollar question for the six-crore Gujaratis today is not who will be the next chief minister but who will be the chief minister if Modi shifts to the Centre after the 2014 elections. Foreign missions have been sending officials to Gujarat trying to gauge who would replace him in the state where they have huge stakes.

Modi has found his power in shapeshifting,so his bid at the Centre is seen as a ploy that quite fits in with his strategy from the beginning.

In 2001,when Modi took over after Keshubhai Patel’s unceremonious ouster,there was a great deal of excitement in the BJP camp,which had steadily been losing the by-elections to the Congress. After two thumping Assembly victories—in 2002,remembered for Modi’s ‘ame paanch,amara pachees (we five,our 25,in reference to the population growth of Muslims)’ remark,and in 2007,for Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ rhetoric—Modi is focusing entirely on development this time. The closest he came to making a communal remark was about the Centre favouring beef exports rather than cotton exports.

As he sat fasting for communal harmony on his last birthday in September under the Sadbhavana Mission at a swanky convention centre,women supporters of the BJP sat outside with fat registers. “Write something wishing for Narendra Modi to become the PM,” they goaded people who milled about the venue to see him.

National leaders of the BJP are not sure how to handle the genie they let out of the bottle in the late 90s. Last month,Modi’s Vivekananda Yatra toured Sanand,the area that falls in Gandhinagar,the Lok Sabha constituency of LK Advani,BJP’s other PM contender. But even there,people were all for Modi as PM.

Modi posed with burqa-clad women on the Sadbhavana stage,yet adamantly refused to apologise for the 2002 riots or anything that he ever said or did. But whatever he did or didn’t do,he seemed to have more appeal than Advani,who had praised Jinnah in Pakistan and described the 2002 riots as a ‘blot’ on the NDA.

Modi knows how to change with the times. For the first time this year,Gujarat saw posters of Modi wishing people who were going for Haj and ‘Eid Mubarak’ banners in Muslim areas with pictures of a beaming Modi.

Having firmly established himself as a Hindutva icon by 2007,he donned the business suit and turned to the boardroom. Corporate leaders who travelled abroad with him in 2003 for the first Vibrant Gujarat networking,and then again in 2011,talk of the significant improvement in his English-speaking skills. From plain kurta-churidars and pathani sandals 10 years ago,his wardrobe now flaunts fashionable scarves,hats,blazers,colourful crisp cotton kurtas,corduroys and sports shoes. A policeman who has been part of Modi’s security cover for most of his events says how even a simple yatra now has corporate trappings. There is bottled water,shamianas,LCD screens,etc.

Modi admits being impressed and affected by social networking sites. He has swamped the web with tweets,posts,blogs and videos and closely follows reactions to them. His publicists and media managers describe how he carefully listens to his speeches before they are aired. “There is nothing that goes public without his scrutiny,” says a media planner. People close to him describe him as “a fierce loner and extremely meticulous”— traits that might help him shift shape so often.

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The 2012 campaign is all about attacking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi ‘for denying Gujarat its due’,and India,‘the comfort and progress’ of Gujarat. The focus is not on just winning Gujarat,but to leverage the Gujarat win to enter the national arena. Any figure less than 2007’s 117 seats would mellow Modi’s pitch for the 2014 battle. BJP insiders say Modi has set a target of winning 151 of 182 seats,to beat former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s record of 149 seats. Modi,who has completed 4,000 days in power,has already broken Solanki’s record as Gujarat’s longest serving CM.

Conviction of Maya Kodnani,a former minister in Modi’s government,for masterminding the Naroda Patia killings and the CBI chargesheet against his closest confidant and former minister Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case may not dent his performance much. Non-appointment of lokayukta and farmer suicides due to drought in Saurashtra might impact Modi’s prospects,but even the Congress,the biggest Opposition,is banking more on the disgruntlement within the BJP and the performance of rebels like Keshubhai.

Through his Vivekananda Yatra,Modi has cleverly turned the focus on UPA-II. “He planned the Swami Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra single-handedly,interspersing it with youth sammelans in towns and cities. All this was based on a research that most of Gujarat’s voters are young,” says a BJP functionary. Which is also why Modi did a Google Hangout anchored by actor Ajay Devgn,to reach out to young people from across the world. Questions were handpicked to piece the Modi development jigsaw together for the national electorate and world viewership. Also,by the time elections were announced,he had added seven new districts and 17 talukas—a powerful electoral move.

The rhetoric of the superlative state too gets shriller. Billboards on the BRTS stretch in Ahmedabad announce not only ‘India’s biggest SME convention on engineering and manufacturing to be held here’ but also ‘World’s longest dance festival begins here’. Gujarat is dressing up for its biggest festival,the Navratri. The only thing missing on the billboards after the model code of conduct was enforced is a photo of Modi,the candidate. But,photo or no photo,every Gujarati knows that Navratri,a festival where young men and women dance the nights away to catchy folk tunes,was branded the world’s longest dance festival by Modi and turned into a carnival.

The results of the next big carnival,the 2012 elections,may be a foregone conclusion,but Modi has his sights set elsewhere — on 2014.

What he said

2002

“Should we run relief camps? Should I start children-producing centres there? We want to achieve progress by pursuing the policy of family planning with determination. But not their kind— Ame paanch,amara pachees” Narendra Modi at his Gaurav Yatra in September 2002

The yatra was launched soon after the post-Godhra riots. The elections were completely polarised in favour of the BJP which returned to power with 127 of 182 seats.

2007

“I am thumping my chest and declaring that Sohrabuddin’s encounter took place on the dharti of Gujarat. If I have done something wrong,hang me. But these people,next they will offer a chadar at Sohrabuddin’s grave”.

Modi in December 2007 after Sonia Gandhi called him ‘Maut ka Saudagar’

Three IPS officers—DG Vanzara,Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh MN (Rajasthan cadre—) were arrested in April 2007 for killing gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a fake encounter in 2005.

2012

“If the Prime Minister is really a clean man,he should announce a special SIT under the Supreme Court to probe his own role in (coal block allocations). Gujarat and Modi are facing many SITs everyday. The PM should dare to face at least one…The Congress cannot fight,so it uses the CBI. I know the Congress and the CBI are going to jointly contest elections this time.”

Modi in Sept 2012,just before the CBI named former Gujarat minister Amit Shah a kingpin in a chargesheet filed against him in the Tulsiram Prajapati encounter case. Modi is campaigning with an eye on 2014

The Congress conundrum

Last in power in the state in 1995,the Congress in Gujarat remains a party in disarray

On a busy traffic junction in Khanpur in old Ahmedabad stands a bundle wrapped in blue. These are bronze statues of former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi,installed in 2004 when the Congress was in power in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The party was never able to unveil this memorial to its leaders,nor was it able to repeat the AMC victory the following year. The statues perhaps best describe the state of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress. The Congress was last in power in Gujarat in 1995,when Chhabildas Mehta was the state’s chief minister.

In 2002,ahead of the December Assembly elections,the party flew in all its chief ministers—Sheila Dikshit,Ashok Gehlot,S M Krishna and Amarinder Singh—to campaign for its state unit,which was stumped by Narendra Modi’s saffron onslaught. It failed miserably. The BJP romped home with 127 of the 182 seats and the Congress got 51.

Just before the 2002 elections,the country’s oldest party merged with Shankersinh Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janata Party as part of its strategy to take on Modi and managed to win 10 of the total 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2004. Of these,four MPs were from the Vaghela group.

Yet,it was no match for the BJP under Modi. In the 2007 assembly elections,although the Congress bettered its score with 59 seats,a leadership crisis remained. Vaghela was unacceptable to most Congressmen as a leader.

But most of its leaders sheepishly admit that Vaghela is the only charismatic face they have. “He comes out like a warrior because of the way he rebelled from the BJP,so people see him as strong,” says a Youth Congress leader. And he is a crowd puller.

So,unity continues to dodge the Congress. The party is also afraid to take the battle to a Rahul vs Modi pitch. “That would completely ruin whatever chances we have in Gujarat,” says a top leader.

Vaghela,who is the Congress’s campaign committee chief,is confident that the party’s 12-point development vision would win over the electorate.

Ask Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia if the party has an answer to Modi and he replies,“people’s issues”. This time,he says,they have successfully fanned out workers to the grassroots. “In past elections,the Congress won only in pockets where it had a wave in its favour. But for the first time,we have reached out right up to the booths,” he says. And he claims they will cover up the low margins in 32 more seats this time than in 2007 and increase their score.

He calls the party’s ‘ghar nu ghar’ scheme,where it promised low-cost housing to the poor,a huge success. The party plans to put on display models of these houses all over the city in a bid to woo the urban poor.

In 2005,the Congress celebrated 75 years of the Dandi March,roping in leaders,right from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi who marched in parts from Ahmedabad to Dandi creating a wave in the party’s favour. But the wave did not sustain till the assembly elections of 2007. Will it return ahead of the December Assembly polls? Unlikely,say political watchers.

“Until the old fogies in the party who have been contesting since 1985 make way for the young,the Congress might not do as well,” says a Congress leader.

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