Gujarat chief minister and prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi will choose his words carefully when he reaches the Mahakumbh in Allahabad for his holy dip next Tuesday. He is going to do a tightrope walk, refusing to make any statement which will bring back the focus on Hindutva ahead of his favourite development mantra.
He will, obviously, have to make the right noises so that the sants and sadhus who have come out so spontaneously in his favour are not disappointed. But Modi will, henceforth, project the image of a man who means growth and prosperity for all, a man dedicated to P-2, G-2 (pro-people, good governance) as he emphasised recently while delivering the much-applauded Shri Ram Memorial oration in Delhi.
Insiders close to Modi reveal he is looking for widespread acceptability as he pursues his ambition of winning over the millions across the country. During the recent campaign, he hardly touched upon the issue of Hindutva, except for the few occasions when he derided the Congress’ “vote bank” (read minority appeasement) politics. Except for those brief departures, he concentrated mostly on “vikas” and his “affection for six crore Gujaratis”.
And in the near future, he will do everything so as not to remind potential allies and large swathes of the electorate of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. He is extremely sensitive about it and revealed as much during a lunch-meeting with European Union ambassadors at German envoy Michael Steiner’s Chanakyapuri residence a month ago. Apparently, Modi answered every difficult question with care, showing that he is no longer opaque to criticism.
It is now clear that most Western democracies have given up their distrust of Modi and have established contact with him because Modi has opened up Gujarat for trade and investment like never before. Earlier, Danish and British ambassadors had broken ranks with the European fraternity and visited Ahmedabad for rapprochement with the chief minister. Now, after yet another successful Vibrant Gujarat summit, the stigma of 2002 is all but dead.
The VHP’s Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore have vocally demanded Modi’s ascension. So have a chorus of saints in Prayag. Even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has acknowledged Modi’s increasing popularity and how he has emerged the first among equals. In recent communications between the RSS think tank and newly-chosen BJP president Rajnath Singh, temple construction and related Hindutva issues have come to the fore. Singh has shown the tendency to follow the path set by the RSS and may bring back Hindutva to the top of the agenda.
But Modi, according to those in the party who closely follow the dynamic CM’s brand of politics, will politely impose his own line of thinking as the campaign season draws near. And that will be more about the political line he had articulated in his Sri Ram College of Commerce lecture; a direct optimistic appeal to India’s Youngistan. Modi is brimming with ideas.
He knows even if he loves charting out a lonely path, he still needs allies in Delhi, he needs to establish a working relationship with his senior compatriots, he needs a decent working with the party president and then even if parties like JD(U) leave the coalition, he needs to extend a friendly hand to possible allies. Hindutva is far from his priority at the moment. Modi is too aware that Gujarat is not India. He will not, according to sources, superimpose his Gujarat success story on Delhi. He will tweak his “good governance” blueprint and make numerous compromises once it is transparent that he is going to lead the campaign.