Monday, January 19, 2009

The Mask of Saffron Death

As Gaza burns(again) and a bout of Obamania breaks out(again), an interesting drama has been playing itself out in the corridors of India's own "party with a difference". While the origins of the conflict can be traced to the Gujarat elections or even to some grave comments made many years ago, the past couple of days have added some spice to the protracted trench warfare between the honchos of the BJP.

To summarize, ex-Vice -President Bhairon Singh Shekawat(probably inspired by Al Gore) publicly speculated on the possibility of his contesting the Lok Sabha elections. Now this would be bad enough were it not for the fact that the Hon.exvp made things worse by not very unsubtly pointing out his geriatric credentials and by snubbing the party president. Of course the party, quick to the defense of its crown prince and heir apparent(that's L.K Advani btw), shot Shekawat down only to land right into the midst of another controversy as prominent Indian industrialists(in a sign of times to come) recommended Narendra Modi for the post of the PM. The CEO of Gujarat broke his silence and finally endorsed Advani for the PM in characteristic style(he called it a conspiracy) and the dust has settled, or so it would seem.

The BJP has always claimed to be a "Party with a difference", a very dubious claim since it has its own version of the "foreign hand" that "guides" it. This control however has neither been complete nor harmonious and so the BJP has had to spend considerable time in confronting the issue of factionalism. It has been specifically difficult as the BJP has never really learned the two prominent ways whereby parties encounter factionalism.

1Neuter all middle level associates and concentrate power in "The Hand".(See Gandhi Indira)
2) Expel your opponents/Leave the party/Rejoin(See "The 101 Janata Dals").

The reason neither of these approaches ever worked for the BJP is that they contradicted with the party's image of being this sleek monolith. Of course it was never so and once the party tasted power(and infinite possibilities of patronage), the seams began unraveling at the speed with which one said Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. So in the best traditions of the second option mentioned
above, the BJP had its Uma Bharati,Madan Lal Khurana and most recently Kalyan Singhs. The first option never really took off as no single leader(including A.B Vajpeyee) was ever allowed to reach a position where he or she could effect a culture of complete cronyism. The question is: will things remain the same?

The BJP seems better placed than the Congress from the perspective of the next elections. But it is an indisputable fact that it's leadership is far from inspirational. Atal Behari Vajrayee is almost catatonic. Advani has become the national bore and very few among the younger generation of leaders has a significant base. It is at such a moment, when senior swayamsevaks go about proclaiming their seniority, that the allure of Modi seduces. He has been an "effective" administrator in every sense of the term making special efforts to reach out to the corporate world. It is possible that he senses such efforts are his best way to gain a degree of acceptability in the country.

Now there are a lot of issues at stake here,the two bad words of corporate responsibility among others. The most important one is of course the rise and rise of the Butcher of Baroda. There are been many who argue that Modi should be given another chance and cite his impressive record as a "development politician" over the past couple of years. Such arguments only remind me of an earlier set of arguments flung about in the mid-90's in the midst of Congress fatigue and Deve Gowda about how the BJP should be given a chance at power since it would at least be an improvement over the reigning horse merchants. The utter lameness of those arguments was proved time and again over the following years. It's an instance which must not be forgotten

The rise of Modi and a BJP which over the next couple of years might turn to him as their next saviour is a very chilling possibility. There have been innumerable reports of Modi's intolerance of dissent. One can visualise a BJP 2.0 somewhere in 2020, a triumphant Modi in charge enacting the option 1 to eliminate factionalism in the organization. It will be an endless march of Modi-masks who shall aspire for ghettoized development. A most disturbing thought.

Talk about the Mask of Saffron Death!

Ps.This article by Swapan Dasgupta in The Pioneer is splendid evidence in support of the above argument especially since he mocks arguments of this sort.


Anonymous said...

The Swapan Dasgupta piece is interesting, not least because I'm perplexed too by the differing perceptions of Modi: fascist, nationalist, modernist, inspirational leader...

I'm not too sure about your statement that the BJP has a better chance at the hustings. If the results in the recent Assembly elections are any indication, it appears that voters are plumping for those who are perceived to have delivered, rather than specific party idology.

BTW, with Singh taking ill, suddenly it's raining Prime Ministerial candidates, no? Despite Manish Te(i?)wari's tight-lipped claim that there is "no vacancy"!!

Prasanth said...

Yep which is why the irony of the Modi masks seems all the more pungent! The alarming possibility is that over the years, Narendra Modi might get a second chance(like the leaders who engineered the anti-Sikh riots albeit on a larger scale) as the eventfulness of Indian politics sends memories to the great recycle bin.

The coming election, it's a touch and go thing actually. While the Congress seems on a better sitting in terms of alliances, the BJP has a chance of bettering its individual performance. So a lot depends on the 3rd front. Incidentally,another term for the UPA might strengthen the crowd that will call for the elevation of figures like Modi.

As for Singhh is Sick, it seems time for All Hail the Crown Prince!