| Narendra Modi
Ahmedabad, Sept. 13: Even two days ago, no one doubted that Narendra Modi was here to stay. It took just 12 words to rip that veneer of placid assurance.
The Supreme Court’s scathing observation on the Gujarat government yesterday — asking the chief minister to quit if he cannot prosecute the guilty and protect the weak — has put a question mark on his political longevity.
Analysts say the short, stern warning could lead to a three-fold crisis for the chief minister. With the judges summoning the chief secretary of the riot-scarred state and the director-general of police on September 19, the bureaucracy is unlikely to toe the Modi line blindly, as they now have to answer to the Supreme Court. According to the analysts, they can no longer be “his master’s voice”.
The rap on the government’s knuckles also means that the lower judiciary is bound to be under tremendous pressure to act. In the process, many of those affiliated to the Sangh parivar who have been involved in last year’s riots may face stern action. This could eventually make Modi unpopular among this section of the people who are the backbone of the Hindutva movement in Gujarat.
The third fallout of Chief Justice V.. Khare’s rebuke to the state’s counsel, Mukul Rohtagi, is that it has sent out a clear message to the BJP leadership: that it is dangerous to continue with the political line the chief minister is following. The censure rasped out when Rohtagi repeated Modi’s argument in a letter the chief minister had written to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in which he asked why Gujarat was being singled out when no one had been punished for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Modi’s party colleagues admit the damaging impact of the court’s words but refuse to believe that the chief minister is in danger of being replaced. BJP state unit chief Rajendrasinh Rana said the observation of the judges has made an impression on the minds of people who might be anticipating a change. “But any change at this juncture is out of question,” he asserted, pointing out that Modi, after all, was elected by the people and enjoys mass support.
A BJP insider said after the apex court’s remarks, a number of people had called up Modi to boost his morale and advised him not to panic or take any hasty decision.
Modi, known for keeping his cards close to his chest, has not indicated to state party leaders what he intends to do. However, one close aide said the chief minister would never lock horns with the judiciary but certainly target human rights bodies which he blames for giving Gujarat a bad name.
Sources said he would try to wriggle out of the situation and take political advantage of the Supreme Court’s words. Will he succeed' “No,” said political analyst Achut Yagnik, who feels Modi has been cornered. Although deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, BJP national chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley continue to back him, Modi, Yagnik believes, has come under pressure from many central leaders who do not support him.
Moreover, with five states going to polls in November, political expediency demands that no more controversies are generated that might adversely affect public opinion in the election-bound states. However, Modi’s strength, despite his “monster image” outside Gujarat, is that he is considered a clean, non-corrupt person.
The question many are asking now is can the BJP afford to sacrifice the Hindu hriday samrat. And if the party decides to replace him, who will be its nominee' Several names are doing the rounds, including that of a central minister, a favourite of the Prime Minister, and a Modi protégé.