National Interest: The Congress's Modi

They are using him as their mascot because he scares minorities, worries the middle ground.

Nobody doubts that Narendra Modi will be the NDA's candidate for prime minister for 2014. The only question left is the timing of that announcement.

The remaining question, therefore, is: who will be the UPA's, or rather the Congress party's, candidate? It seems extremely unlikely that it will be Rahul Gandhi. Only in the event ó howsoever unlikely ó of the Congress crossing the 200-mark again will Rahul step up and swallow that "poison" called "power". You can speculate on a half dozen other names. But you can be dead sure that no one will be indicated or suggested before the election results.

So what happens if I make a claim that I know who the Congress candidate for 2014 is? And what if I said it is none other than Narendra Modi? Do I need to get my head examined then? I perhaps do, for many reasons, but not this. And here is why.

The BJP has chosen Modi as its candidate because of his widening and deepening personal appeal in its traditional catchment areas, his growth-oriented governance and, even more importantly, his campaigning ability and relative youth by the standards of Indian politics. But in choosing a figure as divisive and polarising as Modi, it has also made him the Congress party's candidate. So just as the BJP (NDA) goes to the polls seeking a vote for Modi, the Congress is going out canvassing for a vote against him. That is why we say that Modi is as much a candidate of the Congress as the BJP: it is just that one is trying to make him win, and the other to make him lose.

This is not unprecedented. In the 1971 national election, following the Congress split of 1969, the Congress (R) went to the polls seeking a fresh mandate for Indira Gandhi on the slogan of "garibi hatao". The mostly united (non-Communist) opposition, or the grand alliance, incapable of projecting a prime ministerial candidate for the obvious reason that it didn't have one, only sought a vote against Indira Gandhi. It walked straight into a strategic minefield. The Congress (R) came up with a simple formulation: woh kehte hain Indira hatao, Indiraji kehti hain garibi hatao. It devastated her mighty challengers and won her her first landslide. Today, the chappal is on the other foot. If the BJP is smart, all it has to do is draw a lesson from the defeat of its parent Jan Sangh, which was part of the grand alliance, and now return with something like, woh kehte hain Modi ko harao, Narendrabhai kehte hain desh ko pragati ki disha mein waapas lao, or something like that. The tables could then be turned.

... contd.

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