Narendra Modi, by default

The results of the recent state election in Gujarat show an erosion of the BJP's domination. If the party loses only two seats (115 against 117) compared to 2007, this is largely due to the arrival of a third player, the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). Had not this new actor been in the fray, the BJP would have probably lost 14 more seats to the Congress. In particular, the GPP has made a dent in one of the Congress's caste "vote banks", that of the Leuva Patels.

Still, Narendra Modi's hat-trick is remarkable. But what are the real factors of his success? He claims that his popularity results from his economic achievements. But Gujarat is far from the top 10 of the Indian states, in terms of literacy and malnutrition or according to the Human Development Index.

So why do people vote for Modi? The short answer could be: by default. The Congress has been facing a leadership crisis for years. It has never been able to project a strong contender for the post of chief minister — lest this would unleash faction fights. Besides, the party has an ideology problem: it has always promoted a conservative brand of Hinduism in the state and cannot easily invent an alternative to Hindu nationalism. Its only leader who has been re-elected this time, Shankarsinh Vaghela, is a former RSS cadre.

But in other states — like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — the decline of the Congress has not resulted in the rise to power of the BJP. In contrast to these states, OBC and Dalit politics are conspicuous by their absence in Gujarat and cannot operate as counter-forces to Hindu nationalism.

In fact, Gujarat calls to mind pre-Mandal, clientelism-based politics — with the BJP in the role of the Congress. Modi, indeed, benefits from the support of the savarnas, including the Patels, the dominant caste of Gujarat which left the Congress when it embarked on positive discrimination schemes in favour of the lower castes in the 1980s. They rallied around the BJP even more decisively when it articulated an aggressively Hindu nationalist agenda that provided them — like the Swaminarayans and other similar movements in Gujarat — with a more secure identity at a time when this erstwhile rural group was experiencing a rapid process of modernisation (and urbanisation).

Hindutva is of course the other reason why Gujaratis (at least the savarnas) support Modi — hence the notion of "Moditva". They first did it in the 2002 elections because of the polarising effect of the anti-Muslim killings — which resulted in the Hindu majority rallying behind him. Certainly, Gujarat has not experienced any major riot since then, but the communal divide remains, as evident from the ghettoisation that Muslims of Ahmedabad and other cities experience today. Mixed neighbourhoods are not the order of the day any more since Muslims are not welcome in their own cities but pushed to peripheral townships like Juhapura, near Ahmedabad.

In addition, the recent election campaign has shown that Modi was a very effective populist. Never before — except Indira Gandhi in the 1970s — had an Indian politician saturated the political space the way he did. A symbol of this ubiquitous presence was the appearance of his image in 3D simultaneously on huge screens in dozens of cities. He then presented himself as an "avatar" of "Hanuman" — and called Ahmed Patel "Ahmed mian". For years, this marketing genius has been advised by the American company APCO Worldwide which has already worked for the Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha and the life-president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Each of his performances in 3D cost Rs 5 crore according to other BJP leaders disturbed by such extravaganza. Modi can afford such expenditures — and many others! — because of the support he gets from the corporate sector. All the CEOs of the large companies of India — some of them with Gujarati roots — are all praise for the state government, which has offered them land at a throwaway price for their plants, tax concessions, zero interest loans. On the top of it, they can have direct access to this "one window man" and save the bureaucratic detours and red-tape of other states.

The re-election of Modi may propel him to the national stage since he is very popular among the Indian middle class throughout the country. More importantly, even if the BJP and its mother organisation, the RSS, do not appreciate the personality cult ΰ la Modi that unfolds itself at the expense of the traditional collegiality of these organisations, they may well rally around him by default. L.K. Advani is too old and the party president, Nitin Gadkari, is facing allegations of corruption. Senior BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have already supported him in the perspective of the 2014 general elections.

Modi will benefit from his clean image and the general assumption that Gujarat is a model of development, at a time when corruption and the economic slowdown have become key issues — especially for the middle class. But the rise of Modi may be resented by coalition partners of the BJP, including the

JD(U) which may hesitate to alienate its Muslim voters.

Another restraining factor may come from the judicial side. Modi may not be directly affected in spite of the credible allegations of a senior policeman, Sanjeev Bhatt, that he was responsible for the 2002 killings. But his right-hand man, Amit Shah, has been recently chargesheeted — like half-a-dozen other senior policemen — for a series of fake encounters.

Last but not least, external pressures may play a role. After the 2002 riots, the US decided to not issue Modi a visa and the EU decided to boycott him. The Gujarati diaspora, a major force to reckon with, will now lobby the Obama administration and European governments. David Cameron has been the first to send his high commissioner to meet Modi just before the elections. Other leaders willing to develop business relations with Gujarat may follow suit.

The resistible rise of Modi (to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht) is revealing of the banalisation of Hindu nationalism — and the correlative marginalisation of Muslims; of the growing importance of mass communication and money in Indian politics — and more particularly of the nexus between politicians and the corporate sector; and of the declining impact of the judiciary on political personnel — the fact that Amit Shah has been chargesheeted and the condemnation to a

34-year jail sentence of a former member of Modi's government, Maya Kodnani, because of her role in the 2002 killings have made no difference. The former has been re-elected, of course. Certainly, the popularity of Modi reflects the valorisation of development issues, but this priority is interpreted in a very specific manner by the middle class which is more interested in consuming more than in fighting inequalities.

The writer is a senior research fellow at CERI, Sciences Po, Paris and professor of Indian politics and society at the King's India Institute, London

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