Who’s afraid of Narendra Modi? -- By Sagarika Ghose Back   Home  
The visa-less Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is once again the angry man of Indian politics, this time up against a US-led world order. As debate rages on the US visa denial, Modi has returned to centre-stage. His recent statements on the Pakistani team’s decision not to play a test match in Ahmedabad show that his rhetoric remains abusive. His actions are indefensible. He has uttered not a single word of remorse, not a word of sadness or regret, shed not a single tear over the bloodthirsty events of 2002. Yet Modi continues as CM, he’s the ideological beacon of the sangh parivar, and recently was even a guest at a genteel debate in Kolkata where he won applause as an anti-politically correct Hindu hriday samrat.

His detractors within the BJP dislike him intensely and want him removed. The Congress says it loathes him. Civil society groups and the media have consistently pointed to his nasty ways. Yet Modi is a political star. Why? Simply because no politician today has the guts or the gumption to take him on. When politics is limp and lacks vigour, Narendra Modi can take the spotlight as lead actor.

Why are other politicians so weak that they cannot collectively consign Modi to the lunatic fringe where he belongs? Why is there simply no strong political opposition to Modi? Let’s first look at the BJP. Still shadow boxing with itself, unsure of its new direction. Should it become an accommodative and plural force revolving around the NDA or retain its ideological distinctiveness? LK Advani is in a dilemma. He’s keen to emerge as the statesman-like leader of the Opposition, yet his impulses remain imprisoned in Hindutva. Which is why he attends a swabhimaan rally in defence of Narendra Modi and even says that Modi’s act of ‘defiance’ could spark off another Dandi March. For Advani, Modi’s machismo is a balm, a comfort in his own present political weakness. The ‘Lauh Purush’ is still dependent on being elected from Gandhinagar in Gujarat and vacillated about attending the unveiling of a statue of murdered politician Haren Pandya for fear his presence would antagonise Modi.

There is Bheesma Pita Maha, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Ever since the Gujarat riots of 2002, Vajpayee has periodically suggested that Gujarat was a national shame, reminded Modi of his ‘Rajdharma’, but then retreated pathetically into a shell. If the power of even the prime minister’s office is unable to tame Modi, then of what moral use is Vajpayee’s poetry? Such poetry is effete, simply a mask for isolation. Isolation that does not allow even a premier to stand tall and roar out marching orders to a rogue chief minister.

As for members in the Gujarat BJP who are opposing Modi, men and women valorised within the media, lets face it, their opposition is hardly based on any secular-communal divide, but simply because they want a share of the spoils of power. For the septuagenarian Keshubhai Patel, a lifelong RSS member, to be cast as the alternative to Modi only reveals the pitiable lack of political options available in Gujarat. And let’s not forget the photogenic Arun Jaitley, perhaps the most squeaky clean face of the BJP in national politics today, is dependent on Gujarat for his Rajya Sabha membership, one reason why he didn’t think twice about sharing a platform with the Gujarat chief minister at the Calcutta Club.

Yet for a section of the BJP, still umbilically tied to its Hindutva roots, the dependence on Modi is still understandable. But what of the Congress? So frail when it comes to Modi, so fearful, so uncertain. It has taken three years since the Gujarat riots for the Congress to attempt a challenge to Modi. And what device has it come up with? A Dandi March to commemorate the Mahatma’s memory. A symbolic show, a political pantomime, unlikely to churn the political waters of the Sabarmati in any meaningful way. And how can the Congress in Gujarat not be weak? After all its leader for the last three years has been Shankarsinh Vaghela, who cut his political teeth in the RSS.

Even Big Mama of 10 Janpath has failed to forge a strategy for Gujarat. During the 2002 elections, she was ill-advised to opt for a soft hindutva campaign. Now, three years later, notwithstanding the strength of her personal convictions, she has failed to galvanise the Gujarat Congress. This is because if in north India caste has made the Congress a marginal force, in Gujarat communal polarisation threatens to do the same.

In fact, being in power at the Centre has only exposed the weaknesses among the Congress decision makers. None of the Big Five Congress representatives in the Union cabinet can by any stretch of imagination be described as mass leaders. At least three — Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh and Shivraj Patil — are in Parliament through the Rajya Sabha. When the prime minister, foreign minister and home minister are not popularly elected leaders, their undoubtedly well-meaning postures look feeble when contrasted with demagogues like Modi. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has won a Lok Sabha seat for the first time and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is dependent on the Dravida parties for political survival in Tamil Nadu. Just the kind of political leadership that breeds wimpishness, a timid lack of resolve, a limp-wristedness when it comes to dealing with the king of a mob. They all seem so overawed by Modi’s insane aggression and his attempts to forge an organic bond with his constituency. And with what face can a political party, which still prevaricates over going public with the contents of the Nanavati report on the 1984 riots, even though the prime minister himself is Sikh, summon up the moral and political courage to take on Modi?

At the moment it seems as if it is only the media and NGOs that are actively trying to rein in Modi. The Supreme Court has succeeded to a limited extent in posing an institutional challenge, moving time and again to force the Gujarat government to reopen riot cases. But no politician has been able to emerge as a powerful voice against Narendra Modi, except perhaps the mad Laloo, whose nautankis are simply not credible. Modi’s strength is the direct result of the fatal weakness of every other politician today.
Published in April 04, 2005 edition of Indian Express. I dislike Narendra Modi to the core. He is not fit to rule. Even if the whole world shuns him, some BJP and other party idiots will support him! How sad!