Narendra Modi was the popular choice as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate. But if he doesn’t win enough seats for the NDA, L. K Advani may still have the last laugh.

It is not easy for a cadre-based organisation to turn an individual into an issue and fiercely fight for his endorsement by peers and elders. That is exactly what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership has successfully done for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s anointment as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for next year’s Parliamentary polls.

There was no doubt about the disciplined charioteer, L. K. Advani, coming around to accept the choice of Modi, despite issuing a letter of disappointment to party president Rajnath Singh.

Though he remains the tallest leader in the party, in the absence of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee due to ill health, Advani’s personal ambitions and arguments against Modi find no resonance within the Sangh Parivar.

True, Modi is divisive, capable of polarising the polity, pushing the Muslim voters to the waiting laps of the Congress; he has used and forgotten the Parivar cadre in Gujarat, even disowning Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders who made him the “Hindu hridaya samrat”; from BJP leader Sanjay Joshi to former minister Maya Kodnani to former DIG D.G. Vanzara, there are many old friends who have turned foes; he may even push potential allies into forming a khichdi non-Congress-non BJP third front government rather than letting him be Prime Minister.

The Parivar too has analysed all these negative consequences of building up the Modi persona and concluded that one compelling reason is good enough to create, sustain and bank on brand Modi: the RSS cadre and their supporters.

Be it the English speaking NRIs fighting the Sangh battle on social media platforms, the middle class shakha-goer of small towns or the unlettered saffron voter of the Hindi hinterland or the honchos of the corporate world, the Indian Right wants Modi --- and it wants him now.

THE NEW MASCOT

“A curious case of the cadre dictating terms to the leadership,” is how a veteran RSS leader explained the Sangh Parivar’s decision. For some of the RSS workers from Uttar Pradesh who had converged in Delhi for a farmers’ meeting at Ramlila Maidan on Friday, this was an inevitability, which even Advani could have avoided only at the risk of inviting the wrath of the supporters. “The cadre would have laid siege on the BJP HQ had this not happened,” says Virender Singh, former BJP Member of Parliament from Mirzapur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Now with Modi leading Team BJP, Singh and many others hope the BJP would win 50 out of 80 seats in UP.

This is not the first time the Parivar has been dwarfed by the stature of its own creation. Vajpayee was as much an RSS pracharak as Modi. Though many in the Sangh did not approve of Vajpayee’s carefully crafted image of a moderate leader, no one could ignite the aspirations of the RSS’ core constituency of Brahmin-Bania-Thakur (BBT) votes better than Vajpayee, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

Caste arithmetic

If Vajpayee was the electoral mascot for the BJP in 1996, 1998 and 1999, there ought to be yet another leader who can connect with the cadre, force them out of the homes to work for the party to make a difference at the polling booth. Modi becomes crucial for Sangh’s designs as the party looks at signs of revival in Uttar Pradesh, where the BBT vote bank appears restive seeking to return to the BJP fold.

It is indeed strange that it was always a non-Brahmin who created the wave that swept the upper caste votes in the Hindi heartland. Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, two leaders from the other backward community (OBC) of Lodh Rajputs, shaped the destiny of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and articulated the aspirations of the BBT voters elsewhere.

Probably, the BBT voters feel most reassured when an OBC leadership emerges to safeguard and protect the Hindutva model that includes the pyramidical caste hierarchy. All calculations of BJP achieving the best possible results in the cow belt now are again based on a surge in non-Yadav OBC votes.

Crystallising effect?

Modi, also from a backward community, has clearly inherited the polarising effect of Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, without really sweating it out arousing the masses over decades. And his opponents within the Parivar and the National Democratic Front have termed Modi a liability for his ability to polarise voters along communal lines.

Well, for BBT voters and Sangh supporters, this is not a polarising effect but a “crystallising” effect --- and this cannot be achieved by any other leader talking about secular issues like food, homes, jobs, economic growth or education.

Caste and communal pride refurbish the saffron party’s unique selling proposition. Advani’s Rath Yatra did exactly that, but he was soon done in by the hawala probe, which catapulted Vajpayee to the top.

Advani’s later attempt at moderation in 2005 terming Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah “secular” was a disastrous public relations exercise for the Sangh cadre. The mantle of the Hindutva leadership, which Advani had carefully nurtured from the days of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, now has fallen on Modi’s shoulders.

After all, it was Advani who was responsible for retaining Modi as chief minister after the Gujarat riots. At the Goa national executive meeting soon after the Gujarat riots in 2002, Vajpayee had to recant his rajdharma lessons and agree to continue with Modi in Gandhinagar. There began the creation of the myth of Modi and the birth of a new Hindutva icon.

Game not over

But like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, Modi too is dispensable for the Sangh leadership once the polls are over. The internal wrangling till the very last moment of Modi’s anointment only proves that Advani’s stature is not diminished within the BJP leadership.

In fact, he created much of the party’s present leadership. Leaders of Opposition in both the houses of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, were handpicked by Advani, and he is not a pushover yet.

Though RSS is the engine that drives the Parivar and it has decided to put its might behind Modi, every political party has its internal structures and dynamics. All levers of power matter, particularly in an internal competition for the top post. Advani, the man who created the party from scratch, charting the career graphs of most BJP leaders, still makes Modi sweat to reach the top.

The situation can actually turn in Advani’s favour if Modi “crystallises” or consolidates only the Hindutva votes and reinforces the fault lines, but fails to fetch the numbers that the NDA would need to gain power.

The 86-year-old veteran can then don the mukhota or the mask of moderation to suit Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and other new allies who may help him to become Prime Minister. But if the Parivar has its way, Advani could well become the archetypal bridesmaid of Indian politics.

(This article was published on September 13, 2013)
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