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Fringe troops march to the frontline

New Delhi, Dec. 15: In Gujarat, the “fringe” has become the mainstream and the mainstream relegated to the periphery.

The victory of Narendra Modi was as much a mandate for his aggressive persona and his high-pitched rhetoric on Pakistan, Sonia Gandhi and terrorism as the backup from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

No wonder, an elated Acharya Giriraj Kishore of the VHP advised the “so-called secularists” to “realise the strength of Hindus and rectify their political line”.

On the other hand, a “moderate” like former chief minister Suresh Mehta was forced to bite the dust in Mandvi.

He could have been a victim of the anti-incumbency mood in quake-ravaged Kutch, but party sources here caustically remarked that “wishy-washy liberalism” of the kind Mehta represented had no use in Gujarat after Godhra.

The immediate ramification of the triumph of the Modi-VHP brand of political Hindutva will be an end to the “hardline-softline” polemics within the BJP, said the sources.

Responses to the mandate came in bits and pieces today and a clear line was expected to be firmed up at the national executive, which will take place in Delhi on December 22 and 23.

But the thread running through the statements, starting from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s, was that Godhra impacted the outcome — for no fault of the BJP, but because of the media and the Congress’ calumny.

A warning from RSS joint spokesman Ram Madhav that the BJP should be mindful of the “upsurge of nationalist feelings” while charting out its future course of action was an indication of the possibility that the Sangh will close in more on the party.

Even the BJP admitted that but for the footsoldiers of the RSS and the VHP, Hindus would not have turned up in numbers comparable to Muslims in the riot-hit areas, a fact that paved the way for its victory.

While there was a feeling that the VHP’s campaign against Vajpayee could get shriller in the days to come, it was unlikely to impact his position.

The Prime Minister’s political instincts prompted him to offer the olive branch, as it were, to the hardliners when he showered fulsome praise on the Gujarat electorate for delivering a mandate that could “change the map of the state”.

Although it is too early to say whether the BJP would recycle the “communal card” in the next round of Assembly elections in 2003, an indication that it would be tempted to do so was seen in sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti’s warning to the Congress that it would be ousted from Madhya Pradesh if it continues to play “minority politics”.

The BJP’s assessment — shared before the results were out — was that communal polarisation effected through a riot worked best when there was a straight fight, as in Gujarat.

Barring 1991, when the party benefited from the spate of riots following the first attack on the Babri Masjid, it has never been able to encash the communal card again in Uttar Pradesh.

The emergence of strong caste-based parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, BJP analysts said, thwarted the regrouping of Hindus as a political force against Muslims.

To the BJP’s advantage, most of the poll-bound states — Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi — are likely to witness straight two-party contests.

But the sources admitted that this condition alone might not guarantee the success of the Hindu card. Other factors like a strong leader (as Modi) and the right caste equation had to be taken into account. The national executive is expected to deliberate on the electoral strategies.

The Gujarat mandate is also likely to strengthen the new cabal of second-rank leaders within the organisation who batted for Modi consistently and against all odds.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, general secretaries Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh, and Modi himself form this group.

The battle for Gandhinagar was left to the Modi-Jaitley duo and their spectacular success signalled the end of the old line-up of RSS pracharaks like Kushabhau Thakre, Pyarelal Khandelwal and Kailashpati Mishra, who relied on “grassroots diligence” to deliver the votes.

“Jaitley and Modi, in contrast, had a corporate-style approach replete with the use of high technology, databases, statistics and scientific inputs to formulate their strategies,” said sources.

However, whether the “managerial-style” approach would work in states less tech-savvy than Gujarat remained to be seen, they added.

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