Firestarter

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Photo: India Today Archive

LAST WEEK, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was hit by a curious contradiction. He notched a milestone victory for himself yet shot himself in the foot at the same time. For a man who has striven hard for a solo spot in the sun, Modi must be kicking himself for hyphenating his name with his bête noire Sanjay Joshi at the precise moment of his own clear rise within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But in a pattern that seems to repeat itself in his life, the path he chose to success may end up being his worst impediment.

For several years, the BJP has been having a bitter internal tussle for power along several arterial lines. There’s been a vertical fight for control between the party and its ideological mentor, the RSS. There’s been a horizontal fight for leadership between the older party guard, especially LK Advani, and the younger leaders. And there’s been heavy politicking within the party for the top spot — the prime ministerial candidacy — that’s not been filled since Atal Bihari Vajpayee vacated it. (As a journalist joked on television, the party has been fighting for the byline even before it has written the story. To which a BJP wit replied, “That’s because the authors lie outside the party.”)

Last fortnight, at the high-voltage BJP national executive meet in Mumbai, on the face of it, Modi, 61, forced answers onto many of these questions. Despite his many faux pas, the RSS wanted their man Nitin Gadkari to have an unprecedented second term as party president. To accommodate this, the BJP had to amend its constitution. As a powerful member of the executive, Modi’s consent was needed. Modi, however, had been on a prolonged and very public sulk ever since Gadkari had rehabilitated Joshi into the party fold and placed him in charge of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. By insisting now that Joshi — a strong RSS man — first be sacked from the executive before he would deign to attend the meeting, Modi seemed to have shown the RSS its place and sloughed off its control. He also stopped Joshi from taking a train ride through Gujarat and forced him to fly back to Delhi, to pre-empt his showcasing his angry supporters from station-stop to stationstop. For many party well-wishers — hungry for the BJP to reinvent itself as a right-ofcentre party not latched to a regressive communal agenda — these assertions would have seemed a significant emancipation.

Certainly when Modi walked into the hall in Mumbai, it seemed all the leadership questions — horizontal and vertical — had been sorted out. The crowds roared for their “Gujarat ka sher” and the entire leadership came down from the dais to escort him on stage. Like the others, Gadkari walked a step behind. (There is a theory that RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat had allowed Modi to stage this victory so that the Gadkari-Modi partnership would become the new power centre, forge a new sense of unity and cement both Parivar and party.)

However, barely a few hours later, all of this started to implode. A clearly upset Advani and Sushma Swaraj left the meet early and went back to Delhi. The next day, Advani wrote his famous blog criticising Gadkari and asking the party to introspect. Before the sizzle of this could die down, in a barely veiled attack on Modi, the BJP mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh and RSS journal Panchajanya wrote scathing editorials about leaders who were in too much of a hurry, who thought they were above the sanctity of the organisation, who felt “only their will should be honoured and no one should command but me”; who forget that “as they go up the ladder, their thoughts must elevate too”; and who have a false sense of invincibility. Quick on the heels of this, another Sangh Parivar mouthpiece, the Organiser, wrote yet another editorial, praising Modi as “by far the most popular leader in the country” and as the only BJP leader who could catapult the party to power as Vajpayee had done in the 1990s.

Modi’s rise has not only set fire to the BJP, it has even put a cleaver through the highly closed and ideologically tightknit ranks of the Parivar

Then on 5 June, a few billboards came up anonymously at strategic locations in Delhi and Gujarat, plastered with photographs of Joshi and the slogan — Dil se bolo, Sanjay Joshi phir se — couplets from Vajpayee’s poems, questions about the BJP’s sense of justice, which promotes one leader by asking for the resignation of others, and scorn about such “dadagiri”. A coup had been effected. The Modi-Joshi rivalry became the top news story, eclipsing the rise of Modi. Joshi was suddenly almost as well-known a name as Modi in many parts of the country.

All of this brings an astonishing set of firsts. Modi’s rise — and the manner in which he engineered it — has not only set fire to the BJP, parting it through the middle and making the battlelines clear; it has even put a cleaver through the highly closed and ideologically tight-knit ranks of the Sangh Parivar, outing its differences like never before.

RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav laughs heartily when asked for an assessment of the situation, or even his opinion on what makes Modi both so coveted and polarising a leader within the party. “I have nothing to say on him,” he says. “It’s all out there to see. The media can say what they want, but ultimately it’s the voters who will decide.”

Other BJP leaders are more unequivocal. One senior partyman says, “It’s a very turbulent time for the BJP. I don’t blame Nitin Gadkari for the mess. He’s just trying to keep everyone happy. Personally, he has nothing against Joshi but if he had not requested him to leave, he’d have been held responsible for an even bigger dissidence within the party. Narendrabhai is a very able administrator but he has to understand there have been as able chief ministers as him within the BJP.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. I am glad that Tehelka finds Modi to be intelligent.

    That is something the apple of their eye Rahul Gandhi needs to desperately search for. Tehelka is a classic example of hopelessly biased journalism. Look at the vacuous praises heaped on Rahul Gandhi who has done *nothing*. Then contrast that with the biased propaganda against Modi who has done so much for Gujarat and the Gujarati people.

    By writing articles like these, Tehelka shows us again and again what journalism must *not* be. That in itself is no ordinary achievement.

  2. After reading the articles it seems the authors of have picked up Urban Legends and rumors around Gujarat and presented it as news report.

    Many of the things mentioned in artcile are laughable.

  3. In the entire article there are numerous ‘anonymously told’ or corporate lobyyists or sources closed to xyz etc are mentioned….I feel like reading filmy gossip magazine rather serious journalist report.

  4. Ajit has got it right about Tehelka’s bias. Unfortunately publications on the extreme-left produce good content which forces people to visit it from time to time. Hope centre-right publications like NitiCentral can come up with better content in the future

  5. At the onset, I admit that I appreciate the depth of your research.

    If I correctly summarize your thesis:
    1. Modi is possibly responsible, and should be held accountable for the riots.
    2. He has managed to reduce the influence of RSS in the functioning of BJP.
    3. He gets things done by cutting through the red-tape bureaucracy that we more-often-than-not complain about.
    4. He’s brought a lot of business into the country (Ok, it is Gujarat, but GJ is a major contributor to the country)
    5. He has instilled a sense of pride in the Gujarati people, who were otherwise simply mocked for being GUJJUS.
    6. On the face of it, he has not given undue favours to his family members, despite his “powers”.
    7. He used every opportunity he had to crush his rivals.

    Trying to be completely objective, I state my understanding on each of the above points (and I could be wrong):
    1. This undisclosed source off-the-record said that Modi did not “possibly” orchestrate the attacks. I am inclined to not believe it. I will go with the more plausible version, that “Pehli baar kisne inko sabak sikhaya”.
    2. Definitely a good thing
    3. Isn’t this something that all of us desire? The rest of the nation recognizes this as a major hurdle in the country’s progress, yet has no intent to act and improve it.
    4. Maybe not as much as was claimed through the announcements, but still a lot more than many other states even dare to dream of in their sleep.
    5. That, I would say is sheer genius. We are a hypocritical bunch of unpatriotic people. The only time we are patriotic is when we are watching a cricket match against Pakistan, or if someone from a different country is throwing a stone right in our face. Else, we take the most callous attitude and simply ignore what our responsibilities towards the nation are. So, for him to have been able to instil a feeling of regional-patriotism (so to speak) in an otherwise indifferent load people, is simply a huge achievement.
    6. That’s a good thing. As an instance, think about what the A Raja-Kanimozhi duo, under the chhatra-chhaya of Karunanidhi, has done to the nation’s coffers during their infamous scams. And that’s just one instance. These instances would make you a lot more mad than a man who pays a premium tailor for stitching 350 Kurtas.
    7. Please tell me, which politician doesn’t!! That’s exactly what politics anywhere is all about. Maybe not in the literal sense, but definitely in the way that it is understood.

    As an afterthought, I would add one last thing. If one possibly researched any other politician in the same depth, you might find the same level, if not more, of dirt. To single out Modi coz he’s possibly responsible for the riots, while not wrong, is definitely hypocritical. The proportion of criminals in various capacities, rapists and murderers sitting at the Centre (irrespective of Congress or BJP) is not something one should turn a blind eye to.

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