I have been a supporter of Mr. Narendra Modi since before the Parliamentary elections, firmly believing that it is only his decisiveness, bold thinking, probity and long term vision that can drag this country out of the morass of corruption, policy paralysis, senseless populism, stagflation and reverse communalism that it had sunk into over the last ten years. And yet, I welcome the reverses the BJP has suffered in the by-elections yesterday, especially the bloody nose it has received in UP. Let me explain the apparent paradox contained in these two assertions.
When the BJP swept all before it in May 2014 and marginalised all other mainstream political parties it was not because the electorate wanted the minorities( read Muslims) to be taught a lesson. It was because Mr. Modi promised to usher in an era of economic growth based on clear decision making, dismantling of the framework of cronyism and nepotism, revival of the energy of governments, the articulation of a vision for the country that was both specific and nationalistic, and most importantly the promise of social cohesion and amity postulated on even handed policies and the eschewing of any discrimination against or for any community.
In his first 100 days Mr. Modi has made considerable progress in redeeming most of these promises- ambitious targets have been set and are being monitored by the PMO itself, crucial policy decisions are being taken on a daily basis which have brought the economy on a positive growth path again, our foreign policy has been infused with a new and refreshing robustness and virility, no taint of any malfeasance has been detected so far and the bureaucracy has been brought to heel. No mean achievement in a country where the first 100 days of any government usually consist of nothing else but the division of the loaves of office.
But Mr. Modi has faltered in the most crucial of his promises-he has not been an honest broker in promoting harmony between Hindus and Muslims. It is not that he has himself said or done anything which could be considered communal- far from it, for he has repeatedly stated that his credo is " Sabka saath sabka vikas", that Hindus and Muslims must fight the common scourge of poverty and not each other, he has even appealed for a ten year moratorium on communal antipathy. Mr. Modi's own conduct in this aspect has been faultless. But the public perception is that he has let loose his dogs of war and will not call them back to their kennels.
This marauding pack has been allowed a free run in UP for the last two months, and the names of its members sullies the BJP's roster- Swami Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Laxmikant Bajpai, the Deputy Chief Minister of Goa. Their scurrilous and Rabelaisian statements have mortified the soul of every true Indian, regardless of their religion. How could these statements have been made under the watch of the Modi we elected barely months ago?- that Madrasas teach only terrorism to Muslim Youth, that a "love jihad" has been launched to forcibly convert Hindu girls and change the demographics of the country, that 99% of rapes are committed by Muslims, that for every one Hindu girl taken by Muslims "we" shall take hundred, that India is a Hindu rashtra ?
I cannot believe that Mr. Modi had vetted or even permitted these statements-it is just not in his character. But equally, I cannot believe that he was unaware of them or of the grave consequences that they could have on the country's social milieu and on the BJP's poll prospects.
WHY THEN DID HE ALLOW THEM TO CONTINUE FOR TWO MONTHS? WHY DID HE MAINTAIN A SPHINX-LIKE SILENCE AND REFUSE TO CONDEMN THEM? WHY DID HE NOT CALL OFF THE PACK?
Mr. Modi will not talk and tell us why. But I have a theory.
Mr. Modi realises, better than any one else, that he can vindicate himself only by delivering on the ground- an 8% growth rate, ten million new jobs every year, reining in inflation, removing the rot in crucial sectors such as telecom, coal and defence, investing in critical infrastructure such as railways, roads, irrigation, improving human development indicators, projecting a more muscular presence internationally. In order to achieve all this he needs the full support of his party and the RSS which lurks in the shadows of its new government. They both contain powerful elements whose mental acumen cannot see beyond a Hindu rashtra( in its most limited and communal form). But they are both, the conscience keepers as well as the foot soldiers of the BJP. Their sheer numbers and embedment in society at large ensure that Mr. Modi cannot ignore them beyond a point. If not mollified and kept in good humour they can sabotage the policies, legislations and consensus that Mr. Modi desperately needs to translate his vision into reality. They have already displayed their muscle in their initial opposition to the amendment to the Land Acquisition Bill and the move to raise FDI in Insurance-both important for the expected surge in private investments. But surprisingly, in both cases they appear to have backed off!
It is quite possible that Mr. Modi had struck a deal with these elements-he would let them have their way in the UP by-elections provided they called off their opposition to his big-ticket reform measures. In other words, they would have the freedom to play their communal cards in UP and Mr. Modi would be allowed to get on with his work on nation building. A bit of a Faustian contract with the devil? A Machiavellian touch ?
But there's a twist in the tail here! There could be only two outcomes of this unholy( but necessary?) covenant and the canny Mr. Modi, I have a feeling, was aware of both. One, that the BJP's communal card would trounce that of Mulayam Singh and the BJP would hoover up all the seats: in such an event the credit would obviously go to Mr. Modi and Amit Shah, strengthening the former's position to implement his policies.The second possible outcome would be that the Adityanaths and the Sakshi Maharajs would get no traction in UP and would be soundly scuppered by the Samajwadi Party. This is what actually happened and this suits Mr. Modi even better.
The RSS and its cohorts would not like to surrender the first real power they have wielded since Independance( Mr. Vajpayee's government was only a coalition, don't forget) and given a choice between holding on to power and holding on to their Hindutva credo, they would obviously opt for the former. The experiment in UP having failed, the hardliners will now have no option but to back off for now and to let Mr. Modi continue with his work of governance, for they know that a repetition of this by-election's results in Haryana, Maharashtra Jammu and Kashmir and the elections in 2016 would mean the end of the BJP's hopes of a second coming.
Mr. Modi was winning either way!
I visualise an easier time for Mr. Modi now within his party and an extended stay in Gulag for Messers Adityanath, Laxmikant Bajpai, Sakshi Maharaj and other members of his ilk, may their tribe decrease. Expect Mr. Modi to fire up the after- burners and apply himself as silently, but more vigorously, to the redemption of the promises he made to this country, including that of exorcising the specter of communalism He just needs a couple of years to cast this country in his image, to reach an unassailable position where even the RSS would no longer be a threat. Even if the fundamentalists recoup their forces by then it would be too late.
As I said earlier, I support Mr. Modi and am very happy with the results of the by-elections.