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The Gujarat elections have put one question beyond debate. Narendra Modi is a person who can win elections even when the entire liberal 'secular' media and NGOs are against him. His record is examined with a forensic attention which no other chief minister is subjected to. This time even the Hindu fundamentalists were against him. The VHP, combined with Keshubhai and the RSS, was believed to be disenchanted.
From now till May 2014, there will only be one topic of political conversation—Narendra Modi as a likely PM. The BJP has a hot potato on its hands. The primary in the party is over much too soon. Narendra Modi is the winner. It is the losers who have to adjust their positions. They have to fall in line and find modes of co-operation. Modi was emollient in his victory speech and paid tributes to the party and the RSS and even apologised. The RSS will have to recant its opposition to him and fall into line. The slightly less than two-thirds score may have made Modi more accommodating than we expected.
Congress has the tougher job. It has been in denial for three elections now that Modi could win. The enormity of the 2002 riots led many people into branding Modi the worst chief minister under whose charge a horrid event happened. Never before has a communal riot been personally blamed on one person. It may yet be that someone somewhere will find evidence to convict Narendra Modi of an offence which will invite punishment. It would be a unique event for the Indian justice system. The Executive in India escapes punishment regardless of the political party in power.
But even more important than that question is whether Modi's triple victory represents a watershed for the Nehruvian idea of India. For the first forty years after Independence, the hegemony of the Nehruvian vision was unquestioned. The Emergency did imply that there are challenges the Nehruvian consensus could not face. The Janata episode threatened to dismount it but failed. Ten more years and in 1989, the Congress hegemony ended but the ideological domination of Nehruvian ideas remained. BJP had gained respectability from having fought the Emergency and it consolidated its position by grassroots work against the dominant ideology. They began to criticise secularism as a minoritarian project. They entered schools in Gujarat where they began to tell children about the Ram Mandir. The BJP domination of the last five Gujarat elections has not been an accident.