There is a terrible fear of Narendra Modi among opposition politicians and the guardians of Indian secularism. The fear of the liberals and secularists hardly needs an explanation – one merely needs to watch the nightly news to see the palpable terror. The explanation proferred by our liberal media is that he is a terrible threat to the secular character of the country. Under him, minority rights will be trampled, aver the ayotallahs of secularism. After all, is not Modi the diabolically clever RSS frontman who has butchered Muslim babies, bathed in their blood, and managed to escape unscathed, in despite of the best efforts of the finest secular legal luminaries? For ten years, our secular intelligentsia has hounded Modi, but to no avail. He has emerged, stronger and more powerful than ever, from each ordeal. Courts have found no evidence against him, and he has been acquitted by the supreme court of the country. The best weapons of his enemies have proved useless against him. And now the man whom they held in contempt, loathed, smeared, vilified and hounded is the Prime Minister. Consequently, the secular intelligentsia fear their actions being held against them, coming back to haunt them. Most of the journalists, telejournalists, and liberals of the page three variety are pathologically conjoined with the Cong-Communist combine. If the government under Modi were to turn hostile against them, their careers could be in jeopardy. And their financial masters won’t hesitate a second before sacrificing them to make their peace with the Modi government. So, their fear is understandable. But why do the opposition politicians fear him? After all, it is fairly commonplace for political opponents to attack each other’s policies, conduct, even character, and so forth. Also, Modi, in his latest election campaign, had shelved all contentious issues. There was no talk of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, no talk of a uniform civil code, or repealing Article 370 of the constitution. Why, then, is it that all opposition leaders fear him?
Before we answer the question of the fear of the opposition about Narendra Modi, it is perhaps imperative to examine the nature of the Indian political system.
Nature of the Political System in India
The political system in India, in most places and for most parties, is dependent on caste/community appeasement, and patronage of one, or more sections of the society. The patronage networks range from the top to the bottom. There are a lot of stakeholders in the patronage networks, and all of them have have something to gain by their political parties coming to power, and something to lose by others coming to power. Nevertheless, while the total number of people who are involved in these patronage networks is large, it is a tiny fraction of the total population. The vote appeal of most parties is based on a crass appeal to one segment of the population. A winning combination of castes and communities underpins the electoral success of the existing political parties. If the political parties win, the castes/communities can expect to profit. This is a cold blooded division of the society into for and against camps. Developmental politics is given lip service, but the accent is on offering freebies and niceties to the targeted section/s of the society. High quality basic services are given the go by, simply because it is impossible to offer basic services like water, roads, electricity, etc, efficiently, and effectively, in this system. The tax payer pays for the patronage doled out by the political parties to their favoured constituents. This is what a colleague of mine calls the C-System.
Before we go further in analysing the differing politics of Narendra Modi, let us take a quick look at the various big parties and their electoral appeal.
Congress – A combination of left liberal elite and privileged, minorities, underprivileged and poor. The vote of the latter, where it does not favour the Congress, is bought with money.
BSP – Dalit core, with some others (Brahmins, Muslims, etc), depending on the location and time.
SP, RJD – Yadavs and Muslims
INLD, RLD – Jats + rural poor.
The factor is repeated, with appropriate regional variations, for AGP, BJD, DMK, AIADMK, TDP, TRS and nearly every political party in existence in India today. This is not to say that other parties have not contributed to the development of the states and the country. They have. Developmental politics is just not the focus of their appeal.
In short, every party depends on a specific social combination for victory. In fact, even the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani had a very specific social combination to ensure BJP victory across the states. BJP of the 90s and 00s depended on Hindu middle classes in urban areas, and usually a combination of upper castes and OBCs in the rural regions. This underpinned the BJP caste combination, ensuring victory. In other words, Vajpayee BJP was playing by the same rules as the other parties.
However, the advent of Narendra Modi changes the entire frame of reference. His true claim to fame is not the caste, creed, community appeal of the others. His true USP is that of a no-nonsense man, who can ensure development without reference to the origin. He himself stands as a testimony to the ability of a simple tea vendor, a commoner to rise above all obstacles to become the true leader of India. He has an excellent track record of ensuring development in his state. In other words, from the networks of patronage, he changes the basis of Indian polity to development for all. This is the true reason why Narendra Modi is more popular than Mayawati among Dalits, more popular among Yadavs than Mulayam and Laloo, more popular among Jats than Hooda and Ajit Singh, more popular among Brahmins than Sushma Swaraj and C P Joshi. In one stroke, Narendra Modi threatens to make all other parties redundant or undercut their appeal massively, if he succeeds, even to an extent, in ushering in true development. Other BJP chief ministers like Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Manohar Parrikar, have begun to mimic him, and are becoming popular in their states. They are blowing away the opposition and the Congress (and its clones) have no answer to this change of politics. Also, there is a massive number of people whose patronage is threatened by the rise of Modi style developmental politics. Consequently, he is the Yamadoot for the C-System, which cannot handle him. He has to be stopped, and cannot be allowed to succeed. If he succeeds, he will have inevitably changed the voting patterns across the country, sending most parties to the dustbin of history.
Modi’s politics, consequently, are far more threatening than the Hindutva politics of the BJP. Hindutva was the preoccupation of the middle classes, and the richer rural folk, which had a more or less secure livelihood. Hindutva politics never inspired, except on a transitory basis, the rural poor, who had more immediate worries than whether a temple was built in Ayodhya or Muslim personal law was changed. The only worry for the other parties about the BJP was Ram wave type massive mood shifts, with mass voting for BJP, due to emotive issues. But emotive issues hit a point of diminishing returns, and this is precisely what happened to the BJP. Thus, other parties could heave a sigh of relief that the Hindutva based voting had run its course. It never threatened on a long term, their mass appeal.
Consequently, the BJP can expect all other parties to gang up on it in the coming polls. By hook or crook, the Modi brand of developmental politics has to be stopped. This is the last ditch struggle of the C-System against the meritocratic system that Modi is championing. In coming days, we are going to see former secular foes forging alliances. In fact, even some of the BJP’s own current allies have fears about him making them redundant. They may jump ship, if they sense that the secular alliance will come to power. They are far more comfortable with the caste, creed, community mobilisation politics than the developmental politics. They are sticking with Modi because they have nowhere else to go now. But for the 2019 polls, it is going to be BJP (plus whatever allies remain faithful to it) versus everyone else.