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A SUITABLE PRIME MINISTER

- How India Inc will choose its champion

For a monarchical party like the Indian National Congress, picking a prospective prime minister for the country is child’s play; the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the grandson of Indira Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi has to be the automatic choice. For the other major national political entity, the Bharatiya Janata Party, it has been proving to be a much harder exercise, causing spread of some bad blood among its top leadership. India Incorporated has now stepped in and decided it for the BJP. They have decided to place Narendra Modi on the same pedestal as Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel; Gujarat’s three stalwarts have been bracketed together. Gandhiji, father of the nation, mobilized the people in the fight for freedom. Vallabhbhai Patel, the man of iron, integrated the nation with a ruthless hand, thereby presenting the capitalists what they always dream of — a vast, uninterrupted market for profit-making. Finally, the most eminent third son of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, in the view of India Incorporated, is likely to provide the country the crucial political leadership necessary to ensure its emergence as at least the world’s second most industrialized nation.

Modi’s Gujarat model has evidently been the clincher for the wily set who constitute India Incorporated. Forget 2002, which was an unfortunate aberration, this man, they have reached the conclusion, has it in him the grit to battle against the direst adversities. He has courage, vision and the rare genius to avail himself of whatever opportunities that come his way to energize those around him to purposive action. Some rabid so-called human rights groups and Left ideologues might still continue to rant against him; it would be best to brush them aside. Despite the blot of 2002, Modi has got the overwhelming endorsement of the people of Gujarat in two successive assembly elections.

What is of greater significance, he has performed in the December 2012 state poll about as well as the Congress in constituencies where the minority community predominates. Does this not suggest that, as far as Modi is concerned, Muslims themselves have made up their mind to forgive and forget; why should others therefore nurse any contrary feeling? Let us together strive to enthrone this visionary from Gujarat as the nation’s prime minister; there is not another around with even half the all-round qualities Modi has demonstrated.

Such must have been the kind of inner churning that took place within the ranks of India Incorporated, and they have considered it wise to share their thoughts and the conclusion they reached with the mass media. It does not necessarily follow that they have given up for good the patronage of the Indian National Congress or their reverence for the Nehru-Gandhi royal household. As shrewd business people and veteran players in the bourses, the India Incorporated crowd are wont to spread their investments wide. They are bound to be as generous in funding the Congress in the coming Lok Sabha elections as they have been on past occasions. The only difference that can be expected this time is that they would be a shade more expansive towards the Narendra-Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party.

Whatever else it may mean, the India Incorporated testimonial makes the media’s task relatively easy in the preliminary rounds; it would be quite a decisive factor in swinging the BJP’s choice for the prime ministerial slot in his favour. The party’s problem was to choose a candidate likely to have the widest measure of support from different interest groups within the party and who, at the same time, have general acceptability across the nation. The grisly 2002 incidents in Gujarat and their aftermath must have been tormenting many in the party as well. With the India Incorporated verdict in, the BJP bosses would feel assured that Modi would be a safe enough bet.

Narendra Modi, no question, will be a combative and aggressive candidate, and, at this stage, promises to last the stretch of the campaigning months as effectively as Indira Gandhi’s grandson. Notwithstanding how the votes got cast in Gujarat, it will be tough going for him though in large parts of the country, particularly in the east and the south, where members of the main minority community constitute a sizeable part of the electorate. A great deal will depend on the coat of modernity he is able to apply to his candidature without damaging too much his credentials with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

But, no point beating about the bush. The candidate the BJP picks must be someone the administration of the United States of America feels reasonably comfortable with. Barring minor reservations, the BJP is as much supportive of economic liberalization as the Congress. Whichever party is in charge in New Delhi, it will, once it has opted for neo-liberal economic policies, have to lean on solid American support to tackle the turbulence in the Indian economy that is inevitable in case the deep recession currently on persists in the West. True, in the wake of the 2002 happenings, Modi was denied a visa to the US. The Americans have, however, learned more about the man in the course of the past decade.

The India Incorporated testimonial will also come in for consideration. In any event, foreign policy strategists in the US have experienced no particular difficulty in coming to an understanding with religious zealots: they have learnt to coexist with the Muslim Brotherhood in North Africa and West Asia, they are at the moment encouraging the man they picked for Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to enter a deal with the Taliban. The more important issue from the American point of view is whether the person heading a BJP-led administration in India is capable of appreciating the compulsions of US foreign policy vis-ŕ-vis countries with a large Muslim presence. Narendra Modi has to satisfy them on that account.

Modi has nonetheless one achievement which should persuade the Americans to treat him with a measure of trust and respect. He is the only chief minister in the country who has not allowed the mischief-making Maoists to create a niche for themselves within his state, and this despite Gujarat having a substantially large tribal population. When the chips are down and the US badly needs a solid phalanx of Asian countries to back up its several initiatives to contain China, a person like Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister could be a most reliable fellow-traveller.

But, then, we come to the ugly side of the story. Taking everything together, the BJP top brass are perhaps in a somewhat cocky mood. Reasonably confident that their likeliest prime ministerial choice will not be much of an anathema to the major minority community, they have now turned their attention to the task of retaining and, if possible, expanding their support among the sectarian elements. There is hardly any other explanation for the fever-pitch protests they have drummed up following the killing of two Indian jawans by Pakistani army personnel at a spot in the border along the Line of Control. Incidents of a similar nature take place at the India-Bangladesh border at fairly regular intervals with a member or two of India’s Border Security Force, gunned down by personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles or vice versa. Officers representing the two sides immediately meet and decide to draw the curtain over the regrettable episode after agreeing on measures to guard against the recurrence of similar incidents in future.

This kind of attitude, with a stress on mutual understanding, could have been the denouement of the LoC incident involving the death of two Indian soldiers. Instead, it has grown, principally on Indian initiative, into a major event, the BJP has been foaming in the mouth and demanding a halt to the peace initiative between the two countries. With the prospect of a long year of tough campaigning lying ahead, the Congress and the prime minister have panicked and decided to be equally bullish and keep on hold the agreement on relaxation of visas rules between the two countries, reached recently after protracted negotiations and years of arduous waiting on the part of thousands of people on either side of the border keen to visit relatives and friends in the neighbouring country. A prime minister who can ride such situations with aplomb — keeping to the fore, at least once in a while — the interests of ordinary men and women will suit India very well.