Although the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's Sadbhavana mission has not generated tectonic shifts in the competitive political landscape of the country we have witnessed dozens of the discrete signals emanating from both within and outside the Indian Right. All of them point towards a tentative willingness towards a tentative candidature of Narendra Modi for Prime Minister in 2014.
Skeptics may rightly point out that 2014 is far away and that any attempt to foretell the events of next two years is likely to be very far off the dot. Two years may be a long time in politics but electoral strategies and political ambitions both have considerable gestation periods and must factor in for the unavoidable surprises one may encounter en route. It may be true that both before and after the Sadbhavana mission no ground breaking announcements or bold statements have been made. But this is not to deny that potential new alliance partners and existing NDA members have each in their own way begun the process of a re-alignment.
Whilst the generally increasing trend of acceptance and positive re-alignment must bring joy to Narendra Modi’s campaign managers one hopes it causes an equal amount of introspection and diligence in political maneuvering.
Contrary to what the self-obsessed news media celebrity culture would have us believe Union Governments in India are formed on the basis of an aggregation of state results. We all know that even in a parliamentary election each state votes and pronounces a verdict on the performance of its Chief Minister and not the Prime Minister (and most certainly not the performance of the Union government.) This is not to say issues of overall national interest are completely ignored. They are perceived and interpreted through the prism of the state politics. To cite an eminently obvious example: in the 13th Lok Sabha NDA had 36 M.Ps elected from Andhra Pradesh (AP) on the treasury benches. 29 of these M.Ps were from the Telungu Desam Party (TDP) elected primarily on the merits of Chandrababu Naidu’s performance as AP Chief Minister (another 7 BJP M.Ps hitchhiking on an alliance with the TDP)
By 2004 Chandrababu Naidu was out of favor in AP and was defeated badly. He managed to win a mere 4 M.Ps. The NDA lost about 25 M.Ps it had from AP not because Vajpayee was a bad PM but because Chandrababu Naidu had been a bad CM!
The manner in which India ‘elects’ its Prime Minister maybe flawed but attempts to defy the nature of the beast and transform it into something similar to a US Presidential campaign backfired rather badly on L.K.Advani. The Gujarat Chief Minister has so far shown prudence in attempting to build a broad coalition across states rather than indulge in a personality oriented campaign. One hope this prudence continues. Political expedience demands that coalition building remain a very important concern and does not lose out to an electorally less relevant individual-centric brand building campaign copied from across the Atlantic.
Yet despite all of Modi’s prudence one cannot help feeling that the coalition is coalescing around the man, affording only a mere casual treatment to his message.
The message is as important as the man. By 2014 it would have been 10 years since the cohesion and clarity of the Vajpayee era gave way into years of confusion and complete abandonment of a Conservative narrative within the national political landscape. The BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate or candidates cannot and must not fight another election without a serious articulation of an alternate agenda.
This articulation is needed not just for the purpose of writing a glossly election manifesto but also to accord the Prime Ministerial candidate a degree of political capital and authority to manage the many constitutnecies within the party. Such an articulation would not only define how a BJP administration will differ from the Left or the INC it will define what the BJP itself will come to represent in the coming decades
The Right presently represents a coming together of constituencies that are each interested in their own agendas be it a Swadeshi economic paradigm, resolving religious disputes, evangelisers of economic freedom and even environmentalists (presently this last constituency is made up of just me!). Each seek to pull the Right towards their own ends. Perhaps it is too much to think all these constituencies can be made to confirm to a rigid set of ideas but an effort to determine the overall direction the caravan would travel would not hurt.