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  • The ‘Modification’ of Politics

    Posted On December 30, 2007

    By Karan Thapar

    Narendra Modi’s stunning victory will change Indian politics decisively, perhaps dramatically, possibly desperately. I have no doubt it’s a turning point. Actually, it will amount to several turning points. For Congress and for the Left, just as much as for the BJP and the NDA.

    First the BJP. Nothing has galvanised the party so comprehensively since Advani’s rathyatra of 1989, imbuing it with a sense of hope, even a sense of purpose. In Modi the BJP has discovered three elements it was anxiously searching for – leadership, issues to stand for and the first hope that it can win a majority on its own.

    Of course Advani will continue as its prime ministerial candidate but Modi is the future. The succession is settled. No other second generation leader can match him. And as for the argument that Modi cannot take centrestage in Delhi because the NDA allies won’t accept him, the counter is that with Modi at the helm the BJP could attempt to win on its own. The NDA may no longer be critical.

    The key question is can Moditva work outside Gujarat? It depends on how you define it. If you believe it combines strong personal leadership and integrity, with an appeal to regional pride or robust nationalism – admittedly with strong communal undertones – and a stress on development, I see no reason why it can’t translate throughout the country. Even the fact it alienates minorities is counterbalanced by the promise of uniting hindus as never before. And if in Gujarat it could cut across divisions of caste, wealth and location then it can hope to do so elsewhere as well.

    Modi and Moditva is, therefore, the challenge facing Congress, the UPA and the Left. I don’t deny it has to be fought ideologically but that also calls for the projection of a single personality who, in herself, embodies the fight. She has to rival Modi’s appeal – both his magnetism and his myth – and symbolise the alternate vision.

    Perhaps there is only one person who can do that. The pronoun ‘she’ was used deliberately. It’s Sonia Gandhi. It may be an irony that an Italian-born woman, a widow who till 1998 detested politics, should transform into one of the twin poles of Indian politics, but it could also be inescapable fact. No other person from the anti-BJP parties has the appeal or the nation-wide image to rival Modi.

    Of course Sonia has alot to learn. Amongst the most important is the capacity to articulate ideas that catch like fire and the ability to sell herself to the India beyond the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. At the moment she provokes curiosity or, perhaps, awe. Now she needs to create a following.

    For the rest of us, voters rather than politicians, commentators but not participants, we also have to make a critical choice. We can either accept the idea of Modi and Moditva and adapt and adjust to it or overcome our concerns with the Gandhi dynasty and Sonia in particular and join the fight she must lead.

    If I’m right, the middle ground is shrinking, even disappearing. The emergence of a dominant idea on the saffron front and, in response, the creation of an equal but counterveiling force on the other will squeeze out everything else. The more Moditva grows the more its opposite has to be strengthened. Increasingly the choice will be one or the other. We will have to take sides.

    Where does this leave the regional parties and the Left? They may retain their identity, even their present base, but they will have to line-up behind Modi or Sonia, in the saffron camp or the liberal/secular one. They may even have to submerge themselves within the broad appeal of the camp they belong to.

    Only the sudden removal of Narendra Modi can stop this. For he is the agent forcing this change. And whilst he’s with us he will do just that. I have no doubt Indian politics after sunday the 23rd is another country. We have to live with new challenges. Some of us have to accept new leaders.

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