I was invited to a book launch function recently. After the book was formally released and the speeches were over, a woman who appeared to be well-educated asked me a pointed question. In my speech earlier, I had been critical of the government on various issues. The woman said she agreed with me but was troubled by the fact that opposition parties did not have a face against Modi. This question is not troubling her alone; it is a serious question being asked by many across the country. What really is the answer to this question?
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had strategically, deliberately and consciously decided to make the elections a presidential-style contest. It suited the BJP eminently to do so. Modi had already projected himself as the face of the BJP through clever maneuvering. I have no doubt that given the unpopularity and odor the UPA had acquired, the BJP/NDA would have come to power even if it had been led by Advani or Sushma Swaraj or Rajnath Singh or anybody else. Modi used the vast resources available to him as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, however, to beat all competition within the party and project himself as 'the knight in shining armor' to take on the already decrepit UPA. Manmohan Singh had already done 10 years as Prime Minister and it was well-known that he would not be the candidate for prime ministers in 2014. Rahul Gandhi had missed a golden opportunity to become a minister in the second Manmohan Singh government and demonstrate his administrative abilities. If he had done so, the BJP could not have been projected him as the hapless 'Bechara' to the extent it did. Sonia Gandhi, having refused prime ministership in 2004, was in no position to revive the claim in 2014. There was no other person or party which could lay claim to the Prime Minister's post. The field was thus clear for Modi and he exploited the opportunity to the hilt. His victory was a foregone conclusion.
The BJP is repeating the same strategy now. Modi is already the Prime Minister of India; his buddy Amit Shah is BJP President. Between them, they control the entire machinery of the government and the party. Is it surprising, therefore, that on the day the BJP withdrew support from the Mehbooba government in Jammu and Kashmir, the NSA Ajit Doval went to see Amit Shah in the morning. His meeting with the party president was not objected to by anyone. Ajit Doval is a functionary of the government; he is not a member of the BJP. It was highly improper on the part of the NSA, therefore, to meet the party president of the BJP, but these things have ceased to matter anymore. Conventions of the constitution established over the years are being violated with impunity. Be that as it may, the point I am making is that with everything under the control of this duo, strenuous efforts are being made to make the next Lok Sabha elections presidential in nature again.
The people of India revel in asking who next. Like "After Nehru, who?", "After Indira, who?", "After Rajiv, who?", and today, "After Modi, who?" Every time they themselves provide the answer to this question.
Opposition parties must not fall into this carefully-laid trap of the BJP. After all, who was Modi before the 2014 elections? He was just a Chief Minister of one of the 29 states of India. We have today in the opposition ranks at least six serving Chief Ministers. There are many more who have been Chief Ministers earlier. Others have been important ministers in the government of India. If Modi could fill the bill in 2014, any of these leaders could fill the bill after the next election.
We should not also forget that India is a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential one. In our system, it is the duty and responsibility of elected members of parliament or the state assembly to elect their leader. So, even if a leader who is projected Chief Minister or Prime Minister wins the election, he or she has to be formally elected by the legislative party before filing their claim with the President or Governor. Projecting a presumptive Chief Minister or Prime Minister is more the exception than the rule. Who was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate before the 1996 Lok Sabha elections? Who was the BJP's chief ministerial candidate in the UP, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections which have been held after the Lok Sabha elections of 2014?
The message is loud and clear. A political party weighs its options before every election and ascertains whether projecting a candidate will be in its interest or not. If it feels that it will be to its advantage to project a candidate, then it will do so, otherwise it will keep quiet on this issue. The BJP is no exception to this rule.
The opposition parties should not, therefore, make the mistake of attacking Modi personally. It will suit him eminently if they do so and he will use all the tactics available to him to compel them to do so.
I have repeatedly said that Modi is not the 'mudda' (issue) in the next election; 'muddas' are the 'mudda'. Agrarian distress, unemployment, the violence against Dalits, minorities and women, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the violence unleashed by Left Wing Extremism, the collapse of our foreign policy, the constant lies being dished out by the government on all issues, and finally the denigration of the institutions of democracy and of democracy itself are issues on which the government could be put on the mat and which will carry conviction with the people. So let the 'muddas' prevail, not Modi.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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