Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the machinations for settling the potentially disruptive issue of NDA’s prime ministerial candidate have not begun a day too soon. Even if the next parliamentary poll is held on schedule in 2014, the sooner the major anti-Congress grouping gets this contentious leadership question out of the way, the better it will be. After all, you cannot open this can of worms on the eve of the poll and then risk a messy and divided campaign. The pitfalls of naming a captain on the eve of a crucial match are not unknown to anyone, least of all to those now sharpening knives in the NDA in the quest for that elusive leadership trophy.
So one finds no merit in the criticism that at a time when the NDA seemed to have dug itself into a hole over the presidential poll, it ought to have avoided public recriminations over the leadership issue. The shadow-boxing between Narendra Modi, most likely to be anointed leader of the BJP after he wins Gujarat for the third time in a row later this year, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, that one witnessed this past week, therefore, were most welcome. Though a mere trailer, it is hoped that the ostriches in the NDA would no longer be allowed to put this question on the back burner.
For, once you concede that there is a leadership vacuum in the BJP after the inevitable eclipse of the Vajpayee-Advani duo, you in fact underline the need for filling that vacuum. The BJP leadership has left that question unsettled thus far because a) Advani has mulishly refused to call it a day; and b) there is a vain hope in some sections that the routine, everyday political process by itself will throw up a leader. Unfortunately, that is not how leaders are made.
A sure-fire formula to make leaders has not been patented as yet anywhere in the world. Certain intangibles, certain invisibles invariably play a huge role. In fact, no longer can one say that leaders are born. If so, one Rahul Gandhi would be sitting in the chair currently seconded to Manmohan Singh in the hope that the Congress’ Chosen One would one day soon grow into a leader.
Why, the BJP has had three presidents in recent years, namely, Venkiah Naidu, Rajanth Singh and, the incumbent, Nitin Gadkari. None of them bids fair to emerge as a leader in his own right. Or, for that matter, take BJP chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They are equally popular in their States, having won the polls for the second time on the trot, and, by all accounts, they are providing purposeful governance.
Yet no one has suggested even in passing, within the BJP or outside, that Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Raman Singh ought to lead the national campaign in the next parliamentary poll. It is Modi, and Modi alone, for the hardcore RSS-BJP workers. Why? Because he was the chief minister when the Godhara riots occurred? Or in spite of them? Is there something in Modi’s persona, the way he talks, the way he walks, his over-the-top marketing of the so-called Gujarati pride that has pitch-forked him as the only one competent to lead the BJP, and therefore, the NDA in the next parliamentary poll?
Now, before the recent Mumbai conclave of the party these were mere questions. But after Mumbai, we have had the answers. It is Modi alone who seems to fill the bill for leading the saffron party. Enough has been written about the way the Gujarat strongman arm-twisted the party to have his way over Sanjay Joshi. Those who saw the television footage of the proceedings could not have missed how the party president Gadkari, who in the fitness of things ought to have been the master of ceremonies, played second fiddle to Modi.
In other words, Nitish Kumar was not wrong in concluding that the largest constituent in the NDA had already zeroed in on Modi to lead the campaign as and when the next Lok Sabha poll is held. Since he reckons himself to be in a with a chance, he framed the minimum qualifications for the future NDA leader in such a manner which in his view automatically barred Modi. When asked by a friendly scribe as to who should lead the NDA, the Bihar CM said he should be ‘clean and secular.’
What he left unsaid was also obvious. It was his case that whereas he was both ‘clean and secular’, his Gujarat counterpart fell woefully short on the second criterion, and, therefore, was unfit to lead the NDA. From here on the usual suspects in the rival camps took over, much to the glee of the television anchors who seized on the Modi vs.Kumar slugfest to fill their evening slots.
Now, Kumar may have rescued Bihar from further depredations of the Lalu-Rabri Yadav family rule. But that alone cannot be a passport to 7 Race Course Road. Being clean and secular does not necessarily mean that one is competent for the top job in the country. ( To find out how competent, look no further than Manmohan Singh who has made a complete hash of things as prime minister.) Besides, Kumar’s casteist politics does not certainly become someone who harbors national ambitions.
Leave that aside, it is the secularism test we find most objectionable. It is a hangover from the days of the Partition; its context and circumstances firmly rooted in that bloody chapter in the history of the sub-continent. It was devised in the first place to woo the minority voters who had stayed behind for whatever reasons after the creation of two separate States on the basis of transfer of population.
In a country where the majority community numbers above eighty per cent, how anyone solicitous of its welfare can be communal and those obsessed with pandering to the 15-odd per cent secular is beyond one’s comprehension. Indeed, it is this verbal pandering which has harmed the cause of greater national unity by constantly reminding the minorities that they are special, they are privileged as against that expendable mass of people grouped together
under the electorally insignificant rubric
Frankly, secularism, at least for politicians, is not a tenet of faith; it is a slogan. With an eye on the minority vote, secularism is revived at election time. And buried millions of fathoms deep soon after. The socio-economic status of the minorities would not be as appalling as it is if the secularists had practiced what they preached. The Congress has ruled the country for over four decades. The woeful state of the minorities is ample proof of its sham secularism. To be fair to the so-called communalists, they do not seek to hoodwink the minorities. Indeed, creating special categories of secular and communal politicians is a mug’s game. As an artifice secularism serves no purpose, but nonetheless reveals the mindset of its users.
However, if Kumar is calling Modi names to endear himself to the minorities, or for severing ties with the BJP, he ought to be most welcome. The problem with the BJP is that in the face of persistent abuse that it is communal, it has developed an inferiority complex, forcing it to be on the defensive. Sarva dharma sambhava is a superior tenet rooted in the Indian soil; secularism is a western concept misinterpreted by a whole generation of opportunistic politicians for electoral reasons. Meanwhile, if Kumar wants to opt out of NDA, he should be helped along. Maybe, the UPA can adopt him as its prime ministerial candidate, now that the heir apparent has proved to be a non-starter.
War of statistics
Now that the elections to the Gujarat Assembly are drawing near, expect a war of statistics between the BJP and the Congress, with each side maintaining that ‘my statistics are better than yours..’ The hostilities in this regard were launched recently with an article written by a former Planning Commission member who is now a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. By selectively using the growth and socio-economic parameters, by arbitrarily choosing the cut-off years for weighing such indices, he set out to show that Narendra Modi’s claim that Gujarat had made huge strides under him was a carefully crafted myth, unsupported by the actual performance on the ground.
However, if you read the counter issued by ‘Friends of Modi’, it reminds one about that adage about statistics, lies and damned lies. We think the truth lies somewhere between these two extreme positions, though one cannot fault the writer of the newspaper article. After all, he had to show gratitude to those who provided him the six-year sinecure as a Rajya Sabha member.
Meanwhile, the war of rival statistics is meant not for the Gujarati voters who in anyway know what the truth is. It is for the voters outside, with the Congress megaphones keen to prove that Modi’s claim about superior growth are all bogus.
Like instant coffee, pundits on the nightly television shows spew pearls of wisdom on all and sundry subjects. The other day, when an anchor speculated that Mulayam Singh Yadav, now that he had done a deal with the Congress on the presidential poll, might join the Government as defence minister, instantaneously a senior journalist-expert endorsed the move. ‘He was not a bad defence minister… he deserves that job,’ said our television pundit. However, a moment’s reflection would have stopped our pundit in his tracks.
Had he recalled the Sukhoi deal, the injection of caste in senior promotions in the army and, the misuse of the military police for guarding the venue where the Amitabh Bachchan-organised Miss World beauty contest was held in Bangalore, he would not have been so glib about Yadav’s competence to head the Defence Ministry. But, then, instant punditry on nightly television is meant as much for entertainment as for misguiding the viewers, isn’t it?