The Namonation of a PM

Now that Narendra Modi has been nominated as the BJP’s PM candidate, and of what will eventually be the NDA, there still remains the luxurious and infinitely pleasurable pursuit of trying to pick a bone with it. 

I recount a TV anchor on a show, sometime back,  wagging his finger vigorously in my face asking me why the BJP was shying from nominating the PM candidate. When I countered why he was not equally exercised by the precise absence of just such a feature as regards the Congress, he gave away his perplexity with some apologetic noises about inferred choices at that end. It was mirthful to say the least when I saw him recently, after Modi’s anointment, trying to grill one of the BJP’s spokespersons about the dangers of having done, so with equal and opposite pyrotechnics.

But if you step back and see this entire process over real time lapse, you will see how organic Modi’s ascension has been; to the point it seems seamless. It might have looked staccato to those who have been too close to the action, pyrrhic even, to those who follow the story minute by minute for they would have recorded faithfully every obstruction along the way and come to the conclusion that this was a phlegmatic decision at best, but distance is to perspective what a goblet is to wine – it shapes it. And so, if were to travel all the way back to the first murmurs of Narendra Modi’s initial successes, you will see that in spite of the stuff the UPA tried to throw his way, or the obstructions that came his way he side stepped, overstepped or deviated only to continue his arduous climb, step by step or circumstances permitting, at an even trot to get here, and so far.

Modi has thus come to represent all we aspire to be: as people, as citizens and as Indians. He is what people now depend on to redefine the idea of India. Psuedo-secularists may cry themselves a river, but the people of India are not looking for lily livered leaders who sit and kneel at their master’s call. They have had enough and they want to march on to reclaim their destiny.

That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Typically then, the response of the Congress has been the most intriguing. It was expected that the party would go hammer and tongs at Modi if he were indeed appointed PM nominee but so far the response has been uncharacteristically muted. Put that down to two factors – first a miscalculation that internal party dynamics of the BJP would make it impossible for Modi to get the coveted post, and second, a cardinal mistake in that they had already emptied their muskets on the man over the last ten years – there is just not much tinder left. However, it would be naive to imagine that they would rest at that. New strategies will emerge, after they do too, from their shell shocked state, but unfortunately for them until then, much of the landscape would have changed.

The single most critical error the Congress has made is to vent against Modi even before he became the mascot for the BJP. It would be difficult for them to bear the tragic denouement of their plot. That tirade has energized a new constituency that now makes up two thirds of Modi’s army. The venal campaign to discredit him has failed and persecuted and crucified repeatedly, he has risen again and again to face his detractors. In a karmic reversal of fortune, it is he who has emerged with a halo, while the dirge sounds for them.

The next strategic blunder they made was to misread, and underestimate the symbiotic relationship between the Sangh and the party, for whatsoever may be said, they should have understood that the Sangh observes a discipline that is difficult for single parent parties to understand. It acts as a conscience keeper and ensured that the BJP responded to its constituents. In that, the BJP established perhaps the finest primaries-style nomination that could be achieved in the Indian electoral culture – a truly democratic demonstration of free choice and majority view holding sway.

Index of international confidence.

The externalities of this development are more interesting to recount. For one, there is a sharpening of interest among foreign policy wonks at what view he will bring to the table. Will it be muscular nationalism or nuanced realpolitik that will dictate his choices and his moves? The US and the west have particular interest in him, since his reputation precedes him, and they will be the first ones to come to breakfast with him when it all comes together. Similarly intrigued are our regional and sub-regional neighbours who don’t quite know how he will sound from the ramparts of the Red Fort when he does. Sub-continental countries are looking expectantly at India reclaiming some semblance of regional leadership under Modi.

If business and industry across the world today looks at Modi with stars in their eyes, it is not without reason. The remarkable ineptness exhibited by the current Prime Minister and his colleagues in the cabinet are anybody’s nightmare come true and you can hardly hold it against India’s captains of business and industry that they see in him an avatar come to rescue them.

People accept that there is no attribute on which Modi does not come through as consistent with his intent. The criticism of his cold maneuvers  only embody how a man has to push through with his ideas unless he wants to see them tattered before his eyes by naysayers or doubting Thomas’. Those who call his style autocratic will be hard pressed to explain why, when he could be feted for drawing out of the same staid bureaucracy the dynamism that most other political leaders constantly lament it does not possess or exhibit!

A free ride can cost a lot.

On his part, Modi will have to transform his style of functioning from one of total control to a managed hierarchy of delegation. Roles of a CM and a PM have definite similarities, but size and complexity is not one of them and this requires a bandwidth adjustment and a concurrent revamp of priorities. The ensuing elections will be a great place to start his exercises in loosening his grip and managing the big picture. He has started off sensibly, creating committees and involving almost the entire executive in functions. Astute as he is, he must also now establish benchmarks for performance, professionalism and delivery. The risks are obvious. Too much sailing on the winds of hope can dash them quickly too. Hope travels best on wheels, where it can feel the ground or on foot where it can be counted in steps.

It is crucial, therefore, that Modi does not buy into the myth that will be, or already is, being created around him. We need the momentum, we need the energy but we need the eyes wide open the most. Workers high on an inevitable win; candidates hoping for a free ride on Modi’s coat tails; party machinery partying out late into the night in expectation of an easy day of work ahead can all cost the BJP dear. Some of the biggest mistakes are made nearest to the hour of victory. Modi must ensure that he does not become a substitute for hard work on the ground. Elections are won or lost in ballot boxes and ballot boxes are made of steel and not sentiments. Last mile connections were never so important. Modi has to be everywhere and since he can’t, he must have an army of ambassadors that represent the truth of his message. It is thus that his campaign has to be masterly, his use of resources strategic, his tactics, pointed and his comrades, in his image as much as possible.

What is clear is that the electorate has invested in Modi to lead them out of chaos and depression that the Congress led UPA has brought upon us. Modi has to be messiah and charioteer all at once. He has the advantage of momentum but he must have hindsight and foresight as his twin horses and he must keep them well reined in.

Welcome to the party.

Modi’s appointment as PM in waiting has altered the electoral landscape in that the Congress is exposed, front and flank, as unable to filed a Marshall. In a strange twist of fate, it is the party with undisputed leadership status that will go into elections without a mascot. Suddenly, the Congress is looking like an entourage of quislings squabbling with each other for primacy in the royal hierarchy.

Parties in opposition to the UPA and specifically to the Congress will also face a conundrum sooner or later and it is clear that they are merely biding their time. Nitish Kumar’s gambit in Bihar is quickly showing up a blunder and a bit too late for any tangible political benefit, save a few thousand crores in grants to come his way. Andhra Pradesh is now a page turner and everyone agrees that the Congress has shot itself in the foot – both feet actually, going by the rash of revolts it faces in both halves it created and the DMK is at best an umbilical discord. Leave out the NCP, which is a tough customer any way and now SP where a renewed battle for the Muslim votes is on the cards in UP, the Congress led UPA is in shambles.

Consider it possible that as we move closer to elections and the full impact of Modi’s elevation starts to make impression, much of the feigned resistance of smaller, regional groups will melt and make way for a more elaborate set of diners at the NDA table. Consider it not unlikely too, that seeing the mood of the people and getting a sense of things to come, that Narendra Modi becomes the most acceptable face for PM among all parties in opposition. Who knows, by then, even Congress might plump for him!

Number plumbers go down the drain.

Electoral punditry is almost always based on historical data and past experience and it is often most unpredictable when the tectonic plates of ubiquity just do not mesh. That is the case here today. Modi’s effect and impact is outside of any psephologist’s barometer simply because their instruments are unworthy of calculating the kinetic possibilities of this momentum. It is thus that you will hear debate upon discussion on whether 200 seats will be crossed or not; whether 230 is a target or wishful thinking or whether indeed the NDA will envelope more parties or not but there exists no template to correspond to any argument simply because this situation has never existed before. Anti-incumbency has been the leitmotif of electoral politics for long but we have seen repeat electoral victories like never before. People vote out governments when they are angry, but there was never a hero in counter point like this ever before.

In matters such as these, the old haiku-esque proverb is apt: When you reach the last page, close the book. There is nothing that anyone has known about this election that permits them to speculate about its outcomes. Suffice to say, this is a maelstrom and who knows where the tent might finally pitch.

We are in the midst of Hurricane Modi, and the only advice one can possibly have for anyone at this point of time is: hold on to your dhotis.


Picture credit:
This post has appeared as an op-ed piece in The Pioneer of Saturday 21st, 2013 under a different headline.

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