What Modi's appointment means for Maharashtra politics

Sep 17, 2013, 07:57 IST | Ravikiran Deshmukh

BJP's appointment of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as its prime-ministerial candidate will have far-reaching repercussions, and many of the tremors are already being felt in our state

BJP’s appointment of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as its prime-ministerial candidate will have far-reaching repercussions, and many of the tremors are already being felt in our state.

First, let’s consider what the appointment means at a national level. To begin with, the BJP can now successfully sweep under the carpet, the issue of its lacklustre performance as the principal Opposition in Parliament. Instead of appraising the BJP’s performance, the nation will now be busy debating over Modi’s image. Is he a fit candidate for PM? Is he secular enough as a national leader? Such questions will take centre stage. The truth is that the BJP should be answering a different set of questions entirely -- all related to his own performance.

Let’s begin with the party’s approach towards the different scams that recently rocked the nation. Far from locking horns with the UPA II government, BJP took pride in stalling proceedings at the houses, which are institutions meant purely for the purpose of debate and discussion on matters of importance concerning the nation.

The BJP has also failed to give rise to a single leader with pan-Indian appeal, who can command the respect of citizens across linguistic, religious and caste boundaries. The party also owes the nation answers as to why no leader from the central unit could fit into the shoes of L K Advani and the other senior rank leaders from the past generations. No leader was groomed as the party’s prospective candidate for the top job.

The Advani angle has also been poorly handled. The veteran’s demand -- to be allowed to occupy the prime ministerial post at least for a year -- was not accepted. He is believed to have cried himself hoarse over his contribution to the party, but in vain.

Back home in Maharashtra, a similar situation prevails. The state unit of the BJP has performed poorly as the Opposition, being as it is in a state of complete disarray following differences between camp Gadkari and camp Munde. It is so weak from within that it hasn’t even been able to take advantage of the warring coalition partners in the state government -- Congress and NCP -- to consolidate its base for the approaching Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.

The state unit of the BJP can also hide behind Modi now, using him as their poster boy and masking their own inefficiency. The Modi factor has also opened up the possibility of a political alliance with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the same party that had dealt it a heavy blow in the last election. MNS chief Raj Thackeray is an ardent admirer of Modi, and even paid a visit to Gujarat to take notes on the development made there.

Modi’s rise, however, puts Shiv Sena in quite a pickle, as the party has always had reservations about him. In the past, Shiv Sena has leapt at every opportunity to take potshots at Modi in its mouthpiece Saamana. The party was critical over the way in which Raj heaped praise on Modi for the development made in Gujarat under his leadership -- the argument was that the MNS leader was belittling his own state Maharashtra by doing so. Soon after the announcement, however, the party did a complete volte-face, with the Shiv Sena party chief expressing profuse joy over the BJP’s choice for its prime ministerial candidate.

A possible reason for Shiv Sena’s earlier distaste for Modi be that he has been referred to as Hinduhridaysamrat (emperor of Hindu hearts) -- a title that, according to Sena, was applicable only to its late chief Bal Thackeray. Sena was averse to the idea of another man staking claim to that mantle, as it has consolidated itself on the basis of its Hindutva agenda.

It will be interesting to watch how Shiv Sena now responds to the possibility of MNS joining the saffron alliance. There is a strong chance of MNS joining hands with BJP and Shiv Sena for the Lok Sabha polls. MNS is said to be keen to contest Mumbai Northeast and Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituencies, leaving the remaining four to BJP and Shiv Sena.

So at the end of the day, new alliances and consequently new vote banks are in the process of being formed, all thanks to Modi’s appointment -- none of these developments have anything to do with the performance of the Opposition parties in Maharashtra. The state Congress unit, which considered itself ‘safe,’ even after a spate of corruption allegations, is now breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of Raj Thackeray joining forces with the state BJP. The meeting between Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Raj Thackeray on Friday led to speculations of the Congress making desperate efforts to dissuade MNS from riding the Modi wave.

The Thackeray family has always been known for its unpredictable decisions in politics, and secret love for the Congress, since the days of the Emergency. Let’s see what new surprises they throw up this time.

-- The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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