Too many journalists have proved guilty of projecting wishful thinking as analysis. Despite widespread media criticism, Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in Gujarat. Many journalists are now trying to explain lamely why they were wrong, and some hope he will be tamed or diminished in his second term.
I see things differently. I see Narendra Modi as a future Prime Minister of India, possibly even the next one. The prospect does not fill me with joy, but analysis is not about joyfulness. Just look around for young politicians who can move the masses, who can be more than regional leaders and make a national impact. I see no new faces, in or outside the BJP, to match Modi.Atal Behari Vajpayee is in poor health, and some believe LK Advani will soon take over from him, maybe in the next general elections in 2004. But Vajpayee might not step down. He might outlive Advani: there is little difference in their ages. Nobody can say who will pass away first.
By contrast, at 52 Narendra Modi is has many decades ahead of him. After his Gujarat victory he is obviously the star vote-getter of the party, leaving far behind older aspirants like Murali Manohar Joshi. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat may have some rival claims, but is an aged gentleman that has been kicked upstairs already. Besides, Shekhawat constantly needed help from others to form coalition governments. By contrast Modi won with a crushing two-thirds majority in Gujarat. You may hate him, but you cannot deny his vote-getting power.
Expect Modi to be a leading campaigner for the BJP in coming elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and expect the BJP to win. Drought and fiscal bankruptcy caused by the Pay Commission award have made Congress governments in these two states very vulnerable anyway. Expect this weakness to be exacerbated by communalism, spearheaded by Modi.
The BJP no longer has to incite communal riots to inflame passions. Jehadi elements are doing it anyway, and handing over public sentiment on a platter to the BJP. Witnesse temple attacks in Jammu and Akshadharm. Expect more such attacks, and not on temples alone. Expect each attack to strengthen the BJP and weaken its rivals.A paradigm shift has taken place in Indian elections. The old aphorism, that all politics is local, now rings hollow.
International Islamic militancy, with or without Pakistani support, has suddenly become a major issue, whether secularists like it or not. Nobody knows who the temple attackers in Gujarat and Jammu were. A half-competent police would have stunned the militants with some device, captured them alive, and used interrogation to unearth the underlying plot. But our incompetent police killed them. The BJP claims they were Pakistani agents, and this is widely believed.
I have no doubt that the temple attacks greatly aided Modi’s victory in Gujarat, just as the Pakistani attack on Kargil ensured Vajpayee’s victory in the general election of 1999. In India, the quality of governance is so indifferent that incumbent governments tend to be voted out. But when a major security threat arises, when the state seems under attack by foreign forces, the incumbent is suddenly in a strong position to rally support provided it sends out an appropriately jingoistic message. The BJP is fully capable of this. The Congress is not. The Marxists are not. And so secular forces are losing out, while communal ones are gaining credibility. International Islamic militancy has taken root in our neighbourhood. The Taliban may have been ousted in Afghanistan, yet the city of Khost is being bombarded by al-Qaeda forces located in the autonomous tribal regions of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
President Musharraf has lined up behind the USA, but Pakistan contains strong pockets of support for jehadi groups. Al-Qaeda is believed to have a major operation going in Karachi. Islamic militants have bombed churches and killed foreign businessmen, diplomats and local politicians. President Musharraf is trying to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares. He seeks to crush al-Qaeda and other extremists who want to assassinate him, yet he wishes to feed the militancy in Kashmir.I do not know who will win the internal struggle in Pakistan. But clearly the struggle will be long and bloody. Which means that we can expect constant new jehadi attacks on Indian temples and state institutions. Every time that happens, Narendra Modi will begin to look a prophet and crusader, and secular forces will find it difficult to gain the initiative. That is why I view him as a future Prime Minister.
Let me not exaggerate. India is a large, complex land with many social and economic problems that have nothing to do with militancy or Pakistan. Many of these other issues will dominate from time to time, which is why I do not expect the BJP to have a monopoly of power at the Centre or the states. Others will win from time to time. But unquestionably the jehadi phenomenon has created a bright future for the BJP, and for Narendra Modi.