What do the Gujarat results mean for Modi?
Image: Amit Dave / Reuters
xplaining Modi’s win today is simple: This is a government that has been judged by its performance.
All the pre-election rhetoric on either side matters little. What the electorate votes for is the quality of his governance. Modi’s critics were unable to come up with a credible answer on how they would be better. The Congress also made a tactical error in the belief that they could override a regional sentiment by positing a caste sentiment over it. That clearly did not work and Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat People’s Party ended up hurting the Congress more than it hurt the BJP.
So what do these results mean for Modi and for the BJP?
Let’s take the BJP first. At this point I see two interconnected things. First, and this is the most obvious one, is the question of leadership that can replace the Vajpayee-Advani team which ruled the roost for 20-25 years. Second, what is the larger political positioning you got to take in order to emerge as a possible alternative at the centre?
I think both questions are related and at times a little distinct.
The important thing about a political leader is that he must enjoy a support which is far beyond that of the faithful. His or her ability to draw an incremental vote must be discernible, which is what made Advani and Vajpayee different from each other.
While Advani enjoyed the fierce loyalty of those committed to the BJP, Vajpayee’s additional strength lay in his significant appeal amongst those who were not automatic BJP voters but were inclined to give the party a chance based on the leader.
In the aftermath of the defeat in 2004, I think this debate will continue indefinitely. To my mind, one of the most mistaken conclusions drawn from this defeat was, BJP was insufficiently attractive to its core voter. That may have been a legitimate conclusion in 1984 but it was certainly not the cause of the electoral defeat in 2004.
In 2004, the focus was on how to endear the party to the faithful. It got further complicated with Advani’s Pakistan journey. His comments about Jinnah were seen as heretical.
Out came two strands of opinion:
On one hand there was a section that was trying to reinvent the BJP and on the other, some were trying to get back to basics. Between these two ends, the results were inconclusive and a sort of a stalemate emerged because keeping the NDA constituents happy was also very important. What emerged within the BJP was a trend of trying to develop a full-fledged corporate identity rather than make the party co-terminus with the leader. Unfortunately for them, that didn’t yield spectacularly good results because wherever the BJP has succeeded, it has done so on the back of a charismatic personality; this is true of the states where the BJP has registered its highest successes.
Where it has failed, as it did in 2009, was because the projected face didn’t appeal.
There’s a thought flow within the RSS that it is the institution that matters and not the individual. These are all very lofty principles but in political terms, while our elections are parliamentary they are also presidential at the same time.
From within the BJP, there’s been a demand for some time from the bottom rank and file that we need a face that can galvanise both the faithful and recover the old middle class constituency. (The Congress cannot ever hope to do well if it does not have the support of those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. Similarly, the BJP cannot do well if it does not have the support of those at the middle, which enables them to permeate downwards.)