Shifting Goalposts

First Chapter (2002 elections)

Modi took over the reins of Gujarat in the aftermath of 2001 earthquake with public confidence in the incumbent BJP government dwindling steadily. His first major political challenge was to restore the confidence of Gujarat electorate in his government, and win the state for his party in upcoming elections. In the backdrop of 2002 riots, critics stated that he will be punished by Gujarat’s electorate. Congress and its allies put in all their energy to defeat him at the polling booths. The intensity of their efforts can be gauged from the fact that 16 Congress chief ministers were campaigning in Gujarat simultaneously for what was only a state election. In spite of this, Modi won Gujarat handsomely. Under his leadership, the BJP won 127 out of 182 assembly seats, more than a two-thirds majority. When the results did not corroborate their established theory on riots and Modi, cynics attributed his victory to the polarized atmosphere in the state.

When they could not defeat him electorally, the goal post shifted to the judiciary. So they told us that even though Modi won the elections, he will be punished by courts. After more than 10 years of the incident, with continuous media scrutiny, active judicial intervention, unprecedented number of convictions, countless investigations by independent state and central agencies, not an iota of evidence has been found. The Supreme Court appointed SIT gave him a thorough clean chit absolving him from all the accusations and mud-slinging. The media and activists acted like judges themselves but the real courts did not oblige.

Second Chapter (2002-07)

After being anointed as the Chief Minister with thumping verdict, Modi focused all his energies on development of Gujarat. Hypocrites were back at work again. They mocked all his visionary initiatives including Jyotigram, Kanya Kelavani, Panchamrut Yojana, Global Investors Summit, etc. In this tenure, Gujarat had already started making a mark for itself as a model state, as an example that other states should emulate. But the ones who had decided to wear biased lenses were not convinced. They kept on applying the label of 2002 again and again in an attempt to dismiss all the good work the state government had done. After 5 years of phenomenal growth, Gujarat went for elections in 2007. People again reposed their faith in Modi giving him almost two-third majority. People of Gujarat slapped all those who had made demonizing Modi as their life’s only mission. Rather than acknowledging the ground reality, this whopping victory was again dismissed as the outcome of one more polarized election due to Sohrabuddin controversy and Sonia Gandhi’s “Maut ka Saudagar” remark. This was the election that was fought purely on development issues and as a referendum on the work done by state government in past 5 years. All the election surveys done 3 months before the election had unanimously concluded that BJP would win a comfortable majority. But still we were told that if Sonia Gandhi would not have made her “Maut ka Saudagar” remark, the outcome would have been different. As if the people are so gullible that they were about to vote for Congress, but because of one statement made in an election rally, all of them overwhelmingly decided to vote for the BJP.

Third Chapter (2007-12)

In this tenure, people started to look up to Modi for a bigger role at a national level. His stellar track record as a Chief Minister was in sharp contrast to the economic disaster under UPA. Major corporate houses and leading businessmen from Ambanis to Tatas publicly started expressing their support for Modi’s larger responsibility at the center. As expected, the detractors dismissed those opinions as a voice of select few elites and not of the masses. But nobody cared to explain why there was no such support for any other Chief Minister, any cabinet minister or even the Prime Minister himself.

By this time, Modi was widely recognized as an able administrator, someone who can get things done. As the central government started getting exposed due to mammoth scams and glaring incompetence, call for a decisive leadership at the centre started growing louder, and Modi naturally came across as someone who would deliver. But the opponents were still not convinced. They started calling all his achievements in Gujarat as nothing but clever PR and marketing. What they do not realize is that promotion and advertising work only to a certain extent. Finally, in any competitive market, a product will survive only if it is better than the others. If Gujarat story was just a hot air balloon without any solid accomplishment, Modi would have been politically finished long time back.

Come 2012. After 5 years of accusations, again it was the time for the ultimate judges – the people of Gujarat, to give their verdict. Unlike 2002 or 2007, there was no emotional or polarizing issue this time. Perennial detractors were back in action. They said Modi was facing a strong anti-incumbency after 10 years in power and there was significant division in BJP’s rank and file. On the elections day, Gujarat witnessed a record breaking 70% turnout. Historically it has been observed that such a strong voter turnout indicates dissatisfaction with the incumbent government and would be taken as good news for the opposition. But this time, the people of Gujarat voted in huge numbers to again give a strong mandate with two-third seats to BJP, underlining rock solid faith in his Modi’s leadership.

Fourth Chapter (2012-14)

After 2012, it became quite apparent that the arc of Indian politics was bending, and it would invariably propel Modi towards Delhi. Those who had dismissed Modi’s achievements in Gujarat had to modify their theme to suit the emerging situation. So they started propagating that Modi was at best a regional leader with very limited national appeal, and that Gujarat was different from India so what Modi did in Gujarat would be difficult to replicate all over the country. In a federal structure like India, ideal democracy would be a bottom-up system where anybody can start growing from grassroots, then work at district-city-state level, and later assume national responsibilities based on his hard work and performance. But we are so used to princes and leaders being parachuted from the top that Modi’s exemplary track record in Gujarat was criticized for having delivered ‘ONLY’ at a state level.

Series of events finally culminating with Modi being declared as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate have no parallels in India’s political history. If a political party is more than a crowd around a single family, there is bound to be disagreement and debate over who its leader should be. BJP was no exception. But finally, it was a near unanimous voice of its cadres that prevailed. Political pundits were busy speculating on who should lead the BJP in 2014, but its workers had no such dilemma. They had already found the man who connected with them, spoke their language, fired up the organization, and was capable enough to take on the powerful Congress. It was this groundswell of cadre support and thrust of public opinion that finally prevailed. No doubt there were some differences in opinion, but an overall consensus seems to have emerged. Far from a split which some doomsayers were predicting, the BJP under Modi looks more united with a clear mission for 2014.

In a last ditch attempt, permanent detractors came up with coalition compulsions. They claimed it would be difficult for Modi to bring allies under the NDA fold, and cited the JDU example. But the last wall seems to be breaking as well. First of all, the existing allies ShivSena and Akali Dal publicly expressed full support in working with the BJP under Modi. Many more regional players are slowly warming up. Biggest gains have been in South India which is considered to be the BJP’s Achilles heel. In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha have made her support for Modi quite apparent. Yedyurappa’s KJP in Karnataka, which had cost the BJP dearly in last state elections, has declared to contest the next elections under NDA banner. In Andhra Pradesh, alliance with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP almost seems to have been sealed with only a formal declaration pending. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the president of YSR Congress which has a very strong influence in coastal Andhra region, recently praised Modi as an able administrator signaling his willingness for a possible alliance. There were some rumours about former ally BJD of Orissa planning  its return to the NDA fold. In Maharashtra, Modi has a very good personal equation with Raj Thackeray, and it would not be difficult to bring him under the NDA umbrella along with RPI, which has a strong influence in Maharashtra’s hinterland.  We are still 9 months away from the election, and if BJP is successful in increasing its vote share in crucial states, attracting more allies would not be difficult. The coalition argument against Modi will also go for a toss.

Modi has so far emerged victorious in all the challenges his critics have thrown at him. Every time, they get humiliated they shift a goalpost and predict how the next situation would be Modi’s nemesis. With their ammunition getting quickly depleted, the arguments they seem to be posing are not just bizarre but ridiculously stupid. For example, Malini Chatterjee epitomized this narrative in arguing how can Modi govern a multi lingual India if he can speak only Hindi. Sujata Anandan, a prominent editor with Hindustan Times had a problem with muslims attending Modi’s political rallies. She went to the extent of suggesting that the way Nazis ordered dress code for Jews, muslims attending Modi’s mega rallies were asked to wear burqas/skull caps so that they could be easily identified for future executions!! Such outlandish comments don’t even merit a response. They reflect nothing more than frustration over an impending defeat. These muckrakers and slanderers have been proved wrong before, and the future will be no different.

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