There was a time when a state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh was seen as a microcosm of a national election. Whoever wins Uttar Pradesh takes the country was received wisdom then. But the so-called cockpit of Indian politics ceased to be one when Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party managed to divide the poll spoils in the state so well, leaving crumbs for the two national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Uttar Pradesh has been rightly reduced to its proper status — the most populous, but not the most important state in Indian politics.
It looks like it is now the turn of Gujarat to become the focal point of national elections — or what passes for national in the rootless cosmopolitans, liberals and right-wingers in the English language print and electronic media.
A middle-level Congress minister in the Manmohan Singh government summarised it in French intellectual terms, unintentionally of course, while describing the hyped importance of Gujarat assembly election in 2012: “After 2002, the liberals have tried to remove the tyrant (Narendra Modi) from the pedestal of power. They did not succeed. So, the liberals have turned agnostic. And it is they (the liberals) who project the Gujarat election as being supremely important.”
Most of the liberals, that is self-confessed Indian liberals who have no clue about liberalism per se, have returned from their Gujarat trips, and are saying that though the poor are languishing and the Muslims are still cowering in fear, Modi is set to win the election, hopefully with a reduced majority. There is also the unstated unconscious fear that a landslide victory for Modi next would mean that he would move to the national stage and pose a danger to secular values across the country.
The underlying thesis of the fear of Modi’s possible poll success is this: that Mr Hyde who turned Gujarat into a shining laboratory of Hindutva would want to take the experiment forward in the rest of the country. Interestingly, chief minister Narendra Modi seems to share the same prognosis of his army of liberal detractors.
He and his coterie of admirers believe that a hat-trick of success in Gujarat will catapult him on to the national stage, and that he will take a shot at being prime minister in 2014. Ambition is no bad thing, and Modi can dream about better things for himself and his party. Modi has shown himself be quite shallow, and at times even callow, when he chose to speak on national issues or about the UPA2’s scams and its miserable performance on the economic front.
He was out of his depth on these matters, because he was using the rhetoric which works at the chief minister’s level to address issues at the prime ministerial level. He has grown up to be a chief minister in the distorted Gujarat political situation, but he has a long way to travel to make sense of national issues. The learning curve has not even begun.
The mistake that Modi and his liberal frenemies make is is to think that Gujarat is the stepping stone for success, as Uttar Pradesh was once the gateway to power in Delhi. It is not. Modi and the BJP won the election in Gujarat in 2002 and 2007, and the Congress-led UPA won the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2009. A victory in state elections does not mean much in the parliamentary election.
The BJP won the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2003 and in 2008, and their leaders and their media sympathisers thought that it was a sign of future victory. But the BJP-led NDA lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009.
People are making a different choice even at a time when they are voting for state assembly and Lok Sabha at the same time as in Andhra Pradesh. Congress scored overwhelmingly in the Lok Sabha poll in 2009, but its tally in the assembly was reduced drastically. Even in Gujarat, Congress and the BJP have been fighting a battle of equals in the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP might retain for many years and take pride in the fact that Gujarat is the bastion of right-wing communal politics masquerading as an economic success. For three decades, West Bengal had turned into an impregnable Red bastion before it turned into a Bastille in 2011. The Left Front did not move an inch beyond the state. What West Bengal was to the CPI-M led Left Front, Gujarat will be to the BJP — a local success story which will not influence or mould national politics in any significant way. The nightmare of liberals and the dream of Modi will remain confined to Gujarat.
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is editorial consultant with DNA.