This week’s court conviction of 31 people for crimes including murder during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat makes it clear that state Chief Minister Narendra Modi will never be prime minister of India. It would be foolish to try and channel even an iota of the prevailing anti-Congress sentiment around the country that shows no sign of abating in the foreseeable future towards this egotistical man. Each act by Modi demonstrates that he has no misgivings about the death of a thousand Indians during those riots; indeed he is contemptuous about making shows of generosity towards Muslims, as evidenced during his fast (an attempt to appropriate Anna Hazare’s effective anti-Congress tool) when he refused to wear a cap offered by a Muslim. Actually, what could be greater evidence than the fact that he hasn’t made the simple, no-cost political move of apologising for the post-Godhra riots? If Modi thinks that the lack of proof of a chain of culpability on technical grounds is going to be enough, he has another think coming. And no matter how compromised the credibility of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt may be, Modi’s government’s attempts to discredit him mirror the clumsy attempts by the Congress party to discredit Anna Hazare’s team.
As much as Modi’s aggression and ruthlessness may appeal to that section of the Indian middle class which thinks it is high time India kicked into a higher gear, it does not appeal to most other Indians; and no one can become prime minister unless they appeal to a majority of Indians (we don’t have direct elections to the post, but even in pre- or post-poll tie-ups, regional leaders are going to think twice about hitching their fortunes to this man). India Inc can’t stop gushing about how Modi is the man of the future, and how he will be the one to take India to the next stage of rapid economic growth, but these are contestable claims. I wonder whether or not Gujarat, which has traditionally seen high economic activity in India, would have grown without Modi at the helm. I also wonder how many Gujarati industrialists are willing to concede that their rise and success is due to Modi. In any case, the crony capitalism and the corporate complicity in big-ticket corruption during past few years are evidence of how little India Inc really cares for India.
Anybody who thinks that Modi is the man to rescue the nation from the Congress should also look at the parallels thrown up by the coming US presidential elections. President Barack Obama has unfortunately had to hold office during a time when the global economy has spluttered and faces further “lost years”. His leadership has been found wanting by his voters and all precedent points to his being a single-term president — if he faces a strong opponent. Trouble is, Republicans don’t seem able to find a strong candidate to take on Obama. In the run-up to their primary process, each Republican candidate looks more ridiculous and unelectable than the next. An apt analogy might be that Narendra Modi is the Rick Perry of Indian politics. Except that Rick Perry did not preside over the murder of nearly a thousand Texans.
The Congress party is vulnerable because of its own misdeeds, starting from the nuclear deal that was pushed through Parliament with purchased votes, to the blind eye turned to the loot of the country in the 2G scam. Anna Hazare has demonstrated the widespread public revulsion that exists for the UPA government; character assassination of Team Anna members may remove the personnel, but not the public revulsion. Such is the state of public nausea that voters are willing to tolerate a timid and unimaginative chief minister like Maharashtra’s Prithviraj Chavan so long as he’s clean, as a DNA survey showed this week. The opposition parties must think of maximising the opportunity on the horizon; however, on current evidence it looks a tall order. The BJP has over-estimated its own strength and its ability to deliver an alternative. The fact that some of its worthies still think that the 84-year-old rath yatri LK Advani is a PM candidate, despite the fact that he led a losing campaign in 2009, demonstrates the bankruptcy of their political strategy.
India has had several experiments with non-Congress, non-BJP governments, but they have not lasted the full course. This does not mean a future experiment will also come up short. But the regional parties have to get their act together for 2012’s two milestones: the UP elections and India’s Presidential election. Mayawati looks on course to decide the first; perhaps she should take the lead in strategising an alternative for the next Parliamentary election. (I don’t give importance to the anti-Mayawati reports in our casteist media, and I don’t think the voters will either.) And the others, be it Mamata, Jayalalithaa, Nitish, etc, should follow her lead. Doing so would be far better than to delude oneself into following Modi’s lead, because his is a road that will lead nowhere in a hurry.