It is true Mr Modi is the RSS’ man who came good. His orientation is their orientation.
The Assembly elections in five states — whose results have sent the Opposition reeling — were really about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The issue was whether he can win Uttar Pradesh, after crushing defeats in Delhi and Bihar. Given its heft, UP was the only real prize to be won.
If, under Mr Modi’s leadership, the BJP had scored four on five, but lost UP, the hounds would be out in his own party first. That possibility, by no means remote before the state polls, is now history.
Everyone in the saffron fold, no matter how highly they may think of themselves, will now have no choice but to prostrate before the PM — and this includes the RSS hierarchy as well.
It is true Mr Modi is the RSS’ man who came good. His orientation is their orientation. He will do many things they will approve. But he will also, to make a point, overlook their claims and disregard their wishes.
After the stunning UP result showed who is boss, Mr Modi will have to ensure everyone in the saffron fold understands only too well that they can’t have expectations of him unless he desires them to do so. That is the unwritten law of power. The victory is Mr Modi’s, after all, not the BJP’s.
About Atal Behari Vajpayee it used to be said that his strength in relation to the RSS lay in the fact that he was a RSS veteran of older vintage than even the RSS chief, and hence could afford to show the saffron caboodle down when he needed to. Mr Modi will do this more often perhaps, not out of seniority but because he has earned more power from the voter on a consistent basis than any PM after Indira Gandhi, as India has lurched to the Right.
He doesn’t any more need the RSS, they need him. And before long, he may be the one setting the who’s who in the RSS top brass. Then, RSS will be the BJP by another name, and vice versa.
Top BJP leaders, although all have come through the RSS drill yard, are scared of the RSS and kowtow to it because they badly need its cadres to work for them at election time. Mr Modi has now conquered that fear.
As UP has shown, within the space of less than three years, voters didn’t flock to his side because the RSS cadre went about cooing a mantra in their ears. Voting is not a transcendental exercise in the end. All classes of people, and of all Hindu castes, turned out for this Gujarati whose Lok Sabha constituency lies in UP, because they perceive him as a no-nonsense “tough” leader who will fulfil their hopes.
It is true that Mr Modi’s “Mann Ki Baat” is trite. His speeches on the stump were seldom not a display of communal histrionics. His record of producing “development” for the poor masses of UP or of any state is shabby. Employment has been lost in the country. Prices of kitchen goods haven’t settled down. But people are still ready to love Mr Modi.
Back in the day when the communications and propaganda revolution hadn’t materialised, this might not have been the result. This factor has indeed helped the wily Mr Modi hugely. But why hasn’t it helped any other BJP leader, or any non-BJP leader?
The special attribute of the Prime Minister is that in the demographically young India, he can connect with the young, ill-educated, but aspiration-seeking Indian with surprising ease, blending semi-coarse asides with doses of nativism (not unlike Donald Trump), without pretensions of refined thought or sentiment. He leaves logic to the “secular”, so-called “Harvard-educated” elite whom he scoffs at, and is loved by the crowds for that. He connects with them, they don’t. And he sells them oodles of false consciousness.
Rahul Gandhi, for all his pedigree, tried to mock Mr Modi, make fun of him, and ask daily questions. He had no narrative of his own that he could convey to the people in a language they understand. He chose to bat on Mr Modi’s bouncy track and was frequently hit wicket. The rest of the centrist and Left crowd chose not to bat at all.
The last three years in particular have seen Opposition politics at its most bankrupt. At a time when the star of the Hindu Right was in the ascendant, these self-proclaimed legatees of Marx, Gandhi, Nehru and Lohia had nothing to say for themselves. Their parties existed exclusively as rickety election-fighting forums, not as dynamic platforms of mass politics in a democracy.
The Congress has coarsened its language without mastering that particular craft pioneered by Mr Modi, and studiously not elaborated on the change it wants or ways to bring it about. Small wonder it has done far worse on the political and electoral landscape of late than, say, the Democrats have in the United States. The latter had clear, well-articulated, ideas on the principal issues, and able leaders to put these across. The Congress’ leadership’s style, on the other hand, is to mistake two or three-liners for the full rendering of a narrative. Things have gone very, very wrong and it’s time the Congress Party expected a run on the bank. The “bombing of the headquarters” may be said to be imminent, promoting palace intrigue.
As for the Left, the less said the better. Its leaders have forgotten the art of mass politics and mastered the dubious technique of long-winded statements that say little. Even when the country was hit by demonetisation and the poorest Indians suffered the most as a consequence, the Left was conspicuous by its silence. It also goes missing when communal violence is unleashed. It shows neither diligence nor flair.
Mr Modi has finessed inner-party politics and bested the RSS. He has routed centrist forces and the Left. He should thus have everything going for him. But will he? His economics and his politics have so far revealed nothing that can bring “development” for ordinary Indians. He will probably carry on being all talk and no action. To get out of the jam, he may just about launch the building of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Don’t be surprised. We may all then say “He Ram!”