Makeover Modi

Why the CM has moved from Hindutva to the language of development

Gujarat will soon decide whether to extend its decade-long tryst with the BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Most opinion polls predict that Modi will win a third term. But there are larger issues in this election that go beyond Modi's persona and his prospects in Gujarat. At stake is nothing less than the future of the principal opposition party in India, the BJP, which is facing a serious ideological and leadership crisis at the national level. What makes the 2012 Gujarat election critical? What implications will it have for the rest of India?

Over the last three elections ó in 2002, 2007 and 2012 ó Modi has considerably toned down his Hindutva rhetoric and increased his emphasis on the language of economic development. In 2002, he launched his post-Godhra election campaign with the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra (procession for Gujarati pride), in which he invoked Hindu victimhood and raised anti-Muslim slogans.

This communally divisive Hindutva campaign had two, opposite effects. It made Modi a hero in Gujarat and helped the BJP achieve an unprecedented victory in 2002 in the state, with 126 out of 182 seats and 49.85 per cent of the total vote share. But outside Gujarat, it altered Modi's political image, inviting sanctions against his entry to the US, UK and EU. Modi's image crisis outside Gujarat coincided with the decline of Hindutva politics nationally, marked by the unexpected defeat of the BJP-led NDA in the 2004 general elections. Hindutva was no longer in vogue at the national level, unlike in the post-Babri mosque demolition era of the 1990s.

Despite his rhetoric against the UPA, Modi's political makeover from Hindutva to development is a response to the larger story of Indian economic growth. The Gujarat elections in 2007 launched the first Modi makeover campaign to match the changed political agenda in Delhi. Hindutva slogans, which had had a significant impact on Gujarati voters in 2002, were now replaced with slogans about Gujarat's economic growth and global investment in the state. Development became the central theme, and the subtexts of Gujarati pride and Hindutva were pushed into the background. The 2012 Gujarat election is significant because it extends the Modi makeover campaign by combining development with the sadbhavana (amity) mission, which openly courts Muslims. The campaign claims that the BJP government's development programme receives universal support.

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