Put pithily, Modi is akin to a disruptive technology that makes all others irrelevant. For starters, he brings in a model of working that is decidedly decisive. There are no half-measures in his approach. He may be wrong, but confused he is not. In direct contrast to a party that had perfected the art of building consensus — an euphemism for analysis, paralysis and dialysis — Modi is, indeed, refreshingly different.
What else would explain the non-existent contribution of several in-house party committees, groups and think-tanks constituted and dominated by the BJP leadership till date? Unfortunately, within the party, debates became more important than delivery; form mattered over substance. In the process, the disconnect was complete between its core voter base and apex leadership.
There is yet another dimension to the dysfunctional leadership issue of the BJP. Party leaders had developed cosy comfort of being in the Opposition. For party cadres (in direct contrast to its leaders) for its nine years in the Opposition, the BJP has been a spectacular failure. Democracy requires the Opposition to play a constructive role — cooperate with the government when it is right and criticise it when it is wrong. Crucially, whenever it criticises, the Opposition is supposed to spell out alternatives.
Thanks to the tutoring by sections of the media, the BJP lost its zest to oppose. It could have been a classic case of replacing Tweedledum with Tweedledee! To the cadres, the drift was palpable; the confusion in the minds of the leadership, apparent. Given the state of drift within the party, the writing was clear on the wall insofar as it pertained to the outcome of the elections. That explains why the ascendency of Modi was cadre-driven, a bottom-up approach, and not leadership-driven, a top-down approach.
The spectacular catapulting of Modi raises questions and apprehensions too; some justifiably so. Modi’s development model has been a remarkable success. Surely, it is an administrative model that has the backing (possibly cravings) of significant sections of our population. But can this be a pan-Indian model? Obviously, the establishment in Delhi, rooted as it were to a centrist ideology, would not be playing footsie with Modi as was the case in Gujarat. Under such circumstances, can he deliver? What should cause consternation to Modi is the repeated refusal of the elite of Delhi (across party lines) to accept someone from the hinterland. That explains the opposition to Modi from within his party and outside.
Inevitably that takes us to Rahul Gandhi. Sadly, the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru family feels that his studied silence is an answer to all ills plaguing the nation. What has Gandhi got to say about the depreciating rupee or any other challenges facing the economy? What is his opinion on Sri Lankan Tamil issue or relationship with China or the US? To put it mildly, he is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle packaged through a riddle and delivered through silence.
Congressmen secretly welcome the ascendancy of Modi, hoping that his rise will polarise the polity. A diffused agenda with Gandhi at the helm could possibly be a strategic response of the Congress to the clear-cut, no-nonsense approach of Modi. This is the polarisation that Congressmen are secretly hoping for. Such a paradigm would not only benefit Modi but, in the calculus of the Congress, benefit it too. Needless to emphasise, the manner in which Modi would reach out to the minorities, especially Muslims, could well determine the outcome of the elections. Likewise, how Modi is able to revitalise the BJP in UP could decide who will form the next government. That is not all. Increasingly, Modi, too, would come under political scrutiny. For starters, he has to answer all these questions that are posed to Gandhi.
But the billion-dollar question remains: Is Modi a polarising figure? Your guess is as good as mine. But the fact remains that a person who has led his party to three consecutive victories at the hustings may not well be a role model but well could be a unique model. If the experience of the past decade or so in Gujarat is any indication, the fact remains that Modi has played his political cards well.
In parallel, there are speculations within the media about the formation of a third front. It is common knowledge that a Modi-led BJP significantly erodes the voter base of several of these regional parties. But there is something more. The virtual decimation of the Left has spectacularly robbed the third front of its legitimacy, if not its political and ideological core.
That apart, there is a serious issue with the arithmetic. For a viable third front, the BSP must be willing to do business with the SP, DMK with AIDAMK and the Left with Mamata. All these imply that the third front could well be a political non-starter.
Modi’s ascendancy has altered the Indian political landscape. And if history of the past two decades is any indication, the BJP instantly becomes a secular party if and only if it gets more than 180 seats. This time around for its cadre the best bet for the BJP to get that number and beyond is Modi. And should he break the ceiling, regional parties would conjure means to do business with him.