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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

‘Secular’ Opposition to Narendra Modi as P M


This is the second and concluding part of the series, ‘Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014’.  

The issue of secularism has been debated ad nauseam. There are those who wear their secularism on their sleeve. Some call themselves ‘secular fundamentalists’. It is the ultimate one can achieve in the ‘discipline of secularism’, a Ph. D. degree granted by the ‘University of Secularism’.

Even so a naïve a politician as Chiranjivi claimed his short-lived Praja Rajyam was a secular party. It is no disrespect to Chiranjivi, the man or the film-actor to say that he was politically naïve. It is because during his stint as head of his short-lived political party he exuded no leadership nor expounded on his socio-economic philosophy, if he had any. He jumped into the political fray because his numerically considerable social formation (for some inexplicable reason the word caste is taboo in the vernacular discourse!) egged on him to do so as it wished to wield power through him. And why not? If the Reddys have wielded power for long and the Kamms did so for a while in Andhra Pradesh, why should the Kapus who form the third largest social formation not do so? Chiranjivi attracted leaders from the left and the right, but the ideologically-fired leaders who flocked to him soon found out that his vaunted idealism was a chimera. They deserted him when they realised that far from any ideology, it was Chiranjivi’s family members who called the shots in the party.

Had he been given a third term, Chandrababu Naidu would have evolved into a charismatic leader. Although oratory was not his forte, he had a vision and was seen as a capable administrator. 

The boss-man of the Telugu Desam party, who loved it when he was referred to as the CEO rather than the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, had a dream. It was, to establish an IIT at Basara, the home of a Saraswathi temple, one of six such temples in the country. There is nothing strange in this. Naidu may not be an overtly demonstrative Hindu but he is not an atheist. Every Hindu child is initiated into education with the invocation to Saraswathi:

Saraswathi Namastubhyam, Varade Kaamaroopini|
Vidyarambham Karishyami, Siddhir Bhavatu Mey Sada||

Even so, his Education Minister, Pratibha Bharathi walked out of a conference of state education ministers protesting against nothing sinister but something as innocuous as singing ‘Saraswathi Vandana’ at the inaugural of the three day conference. She also opposed the introduction of the Vedas and Upanishads in school curricula. (See Protests force HRD minister to withdraw controversial RSS paper on education) Like Naidu, Pratibha Bharathi too is not an atheist nor could she have walked out of the conference without his express instruction, going by the nature of the party’s functioning.

Every Ramadan season, Naidu may be seen hosting an Iftar dinner playing the gracious host, complete with skull cap. Why does a Hindu who has no qualms about going against the grain of his own religion, be so eager to be demonstrative of the practices of another religion? It may be a contradiction in terms but it precisely defines the nature of Indian secularism: the calculus of electoral politics.

Even a term in political wilderness does things to politicians. Two terms is one too many. A prisoner who undergoes a long prison term is not the same person when he comes out. The long stint in prison does something to the psyche. Similarly the psyche of a politician who is in political wilderness for long also undergoes psychological change. The politician is not the same person as before. It is all the more difficult for a politician who had wielded power before. The hunger for power is such that, cherished principles would appear as impediments. After two terms out of power this was what happened to Naidu. 

First, he forgot the raison d’etre of his party. His father-in-law, the late N. T. Rama Rao founded it on the plank of Telugu pride in contradistinction to the Congress which he said had ‘sold the self-respect of the Telugu people in the streets of Delhi’. 

Second, Naidu forgot that in 1999 when he had sought re-election, it was his alliance with the BJP-led NDA that saw him coast to victory. One should remember that at the time Naidu had not yet demonstrated his administrative skills, for he was in power for too short a period. On the other hand, he had to fight the stigma ‘of stabbing his father-in-law in the back’ for usurping power. He now attributes his loss in 2004 to his alliance with the NDA. He lost in 2009 too although he did not have an explicit alliance with the NDA. If he refuses to align with it in 2014 as he steadfastly refuses to do - as of now – he would be willy-nilly handing victory to the Congress.

In 2004, the NDA lost due to a number of factors, one of which could be the communal stigma attached to it after Gujarat 2002. Or it could be because of the perceived insensitivity of the ‘India shining’ campaign. In either case the margin of difference between the Congress and the BJP, leaders of the two formations was just 7 seats. It is true the Congress improved its tally to cross the 200 mark in 2009. Congress’ stunning performance could be at least in part due to Naidu’s inability to regain lost ground. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy repeated his 2004 performance of sending 33 MPs to the Lok Sbaha.

It was not the perceived communalism of the NDA that was Naidu’s undoing in 2004 but another kind of leadership offered by his bete noir YSR. YSR offered a sop for every numerically strong group of supporters in the state. His profligacy depleted the state’s coffers but it was his hapless successors that were left holding the baby. Another factor that some analysts believe has gone against Chandrababu Naidu was his attempt to discipline the state’s 9,46,000 government employees (see AP Factfile - Employee Census), who with their families formed a formidable block that voted against his party.

The elusive third front is of course every non-Congress, non-BJP politician’s dream. Who knows ‘he / she’ might be the ‘chosen monkey that arbiters between the two cats’? In the absence of such a possibility, Naidu cannot but support BJP for no other reason than his political survival. He simply cannot allow a Congress government to come back to power. The shrewd Naidu is not unaware of these facts in spite of his ‘secular’ posturing for public consumption. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, both the DMK and the AIADMK have done business with the BJP-led NDA in the past. For them their state’s interest comes first; ‘secularism’ is a slogan.

As in Andhra Pradesh (whether it goes to the hustings as one state or two is anybody’s guess), in Maharashtra too a change of guard could be expected after two successive terms of the Congress­-led coalition and all the scams and sandals that riddled it. That brings us to the three large states (those excepting the BJP-ruled states like Chattishgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh), with large Muslim populations. They are Bengal (why do we persist with ‘West’ when there is only one Bengal in India?), Bihar and UP. BJP does not have a presence in Bengal nor does it expect to significantly improve it in the immediate future. In UP, the BJP may not have done well in the recent assembly polls but is likely to make significant gains in the national election. For one thing, electorates are generally able to discern between state and national elections. Second, with both the SP and the BSP having pandered to ‘minority vote-banks’ (for far too long), it may not be unreasonable to expect a Hindu backlash.

The same dynamics that apply to Chandrababu Naidu apply to Nitish Kumar too. He might do all the huffing and hawing but in the end, will not be able to do business with the Congress for fear of erosion of his vote bank; the target vote-bank being the same for both the parties. In the case of Mamata Banerjee, she has to contend with two enemies at the state level: the Communists and the Congress. If she leaves her flank unguarded, either of them might usurp her electoral space.

That brings us to the question as to who would lead the NDA. It would be naive to expect the dominant party in a coalition would allow a smaller partner to head the government, irrespective of whether or not Nitish Kumar harbours any such ambitions. If the BJP will be able to retain its current tally and make incremental gains in states like Maharashtra and UP as it most likely will, and acquire a critical mass of about 200 seats then the allies may not be in a position to dictate who its leader should be. 

2 comments:

  1. An excellent analysis Sir. Basically, the word Secularism brings nausea. The original word meaning, coined in 1851 by a George Jacob Holyoake who intended promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief, has been presently laundered by various political parties predominantly the Congress Party, to cater to mere Minority Appeasement with the spiteful aim of Vote Bank Politics. I prefer to leave it in its nauseating state.

    Chiranjeevi's entry into politics was more of a filmy delirium than reality. Once reality slapped him hard, he retreated into feckless existence. Chandrababu Naidu was a case otherwise. A brilliant administrator, a visionary, a technocrat and a man of the future, he was the man for Andhra Pradesh. And during his stint as CM, progress was visibly seen all around - except rural areas, a mistake his political guardian, the BJP too committed and ultimately suffered. TDP's yet another political defeat was their delineation from NDA. I personally think had they continued their loyalty with NDA, their existence would not have been as frivolous as it is now. Chandrababu Naidu got smitten with *secular* pretensions of the Congress type which is nothing short of communalism and in return, the slap that the Hindu Community gifted him has hurled him so far away from any significant political worth. His remaining aspiration to regroup a third front formidable enough to confront either the Congress or the BJP is far fetched, ambitious and chimerical. Even if he wants to, he may find short of partners in his efforts to compile a conglomerate bold enough to reside at the Center. Such a move could also probably hurl him into political oblivion permanently, example:- Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan.

    A change of guard is in the offing in Maharashtra for sure particularly with the spate of scams rocking the Congress-NCP Ministry. The current NCP standoff with the CON will also help the BJP-SS-MNS combine, i.e.if they combine, to a formidable majority and inevitable win there. If we are to believe recent developments, a SS-MNS truce is in gambit certainly favoring BJP ultimately.

    Karnataka is the only State where I am skeptical of a BJP return. They have committed hara-kiri utilizing caste based politics and it has inflicted upon the countenance of BJP a deep scar that the Congress would invariably highlight as being "caste based". The only corner of comfort Karnataka politics grants is that there are no other Political parties any better than the current BJP conspectus.

    Narendra Modi is the *only* trump card BJP has in its sleeve right now that would spiral the party to close to 200 seats in the next parliament election. With Narendra Modi projected, drastic swings in Hindu votes could be envisaged in UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra Orrisa, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Gujarat, Karnataka, MP, Goa & Chattisgarh, by virtue of being BJP ruled states, should provide comfortable leads to Narendra Modi. Only if BJP garners a kitty of 200+ seats can it dictate terms with its allies, particularly the JDU, considering their recent intentional nasty spats. But since BJP is a potential force in Bihar, JDU will be careful to cross the bridge.

    Well, let us hope that our critical examination and determination is also the pulse of the people of India who are wary, distraught and helplessly disgusted with the governance of a lackluster, insipid and tame Congress led pack of communal looters!

    Excellent as always, Sir.

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  2. Thank you Prasantji. A friend in Bengaluru foresees BJP is not likely to return to power in 2013. He says while the BJP netas have been fighting among themselves, H. D. Kumaraswamy of the J.D. (S) has been quietly touring the state and building his party at the grass-root level. We can only wait and see as to what extent this assessment turns out to be valid.

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