It seems almost all the experienced and wise analysts are in a hurry to conclude that Narendra Modi already has a lock on the 2024 Lok Sabha prize just because the Gujarat 2022 battle has been choreographed to a perfectly satisfying end. Everyone is entitled to one’s own gullibility but it is imperative to slow down and reflect on how one victory out of three contests cannot – and does not – make Modi the runaway winner of the 2024 race.
First of all, it would be useful to remember what was at stake for the ruling clique and why it simply could not allow Gujarat to get into the hands of political rivals. Gujarat is not Rajasthan, Gujarat is not Madhya Pradesh. Gujarat is where all the bodies are buried, so to say.
Gujarat is the very battleground of the 2002 violence – and its memories, its records, evidence and witnesses. All the winners and losers are still around.
Gujarat is the breeding ground for the meteoric and magical rise of Gautam Adani, as also the base camp of the jugalbandi between the Hindutva crowd and the Adani Empire.
Gujarat is where the dark art of power accumulation was perfected. It was here that the cooperative banks were alleged to have been used to convert astronomical sums of black into white money at the time of demonetisation. Or, it was here that inside knowledge of potential mega projects is extensively used to corner and make lucrative land deals.
Gujarat is too close to the bone. Admitted, the BJP did put to work all the familiar tropes and tricks to outwit its rivals. The silent unease of the Hindu-Muslim equation was most subtly kneaded into the electoral discourse. The majority community is never allowed to regret or forget its silent acquiescence in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. And the faithful are equally subtly reminded of how scores were settled and under whose watch.
Granted that the BJP is very good at constantly working and rejigging the caste, sub-caste and sub-sub-caste equations.
And then, Modi took his “Gujarati” hat out of the closet and brilliantly donned it to play the defender of Gujarat’s pride and asmita against an array of nameless conspirators. He was untiring and refused to feel discouraged even when he faced half-empty election rally grounds.
Nonetheless, it is not easy to overlook the fact that the 2022 Gujarat battle was fought on the most unlevelled playing field. The ruling party extracted every small and big advantage out of a captive civil and police bureaucracy; it reached down in its deep pockets to procure the spurious endorsement of a greedy media. The Election Commission no longer inspires confidence in its institutional neutrality or even-handedness.
In a way, it was not a contest between the BJP and its putative rivals; it was a fight between the people and a thoroughly insensitive and acquisitive political class that got recently strengthened by the entry of a new entity called the Aam Aadmi Party. It was a battle that the people could not win.
There is something less than kosher about the “record” win the BJP has notched up in Gujarat. The very nature of that “victory” is totally devoid of that quality of moral virtuousness.
Therefore all this talk of “2024” under lock and key is not only inherently antidemocratic but also dangerous. It will also end up emboldening the new rulers of ‘Naya Bharat’ to believe that they have the people’s mandate to push the boundaries. All constitutional institutions which have a responsibility to ensure a kind of fair equilibrium in the polity would be expected to adjust themselves to the ruling clique’s preferences and prejudices.
In particular, the higher judiciary will be subjected to new pressures. Not so pleasant hints have been dropped to the D.Y. Chandrachud court to return to the pusillanimous practices and protocols honed during the Ranjan Gogoi and S.A. Bobde days. The higher judiciary, simply put, must cease and desist from seeking any kind of accountability from a regime that has “2024” under its belt.
Since the 2022 Gujarat victory has been declared as an unenviable example of Modi magic, any exaggerated talk about the inevitability a third term carries with it the risk of simply pushing him over the edge of megalomania. As it is, taxpayers’ money is being extensively used to celebrate his ideological nostrums, serenade his personal quirks and reinforce his monumental ego, dangerously deepening a sense of authoritarian entitlement. No king or emperor, however powerful or popular, should be allowed to develop a sense of invincibility about him. It is good neither for the raja nor the praja.
Above all, this presumption of a favourable outcome in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls ends up manufacturing a political license for a monolithically Hindutva agenda, demanding and compelling compliance and tolerating no other point of view. It is one thing for the Modi bhakts to get emboldened in their dogmatic righteousness, and another to encourage the ruling establishment to think that democratic voices and political rivals should simply shut up. The prime minister is already talking down to the opposition for engaging in “short-term” politics.
The arithmetic of the 2022 Gujarat victory cannot be underestimated but its chemistry can be overstated. The other day the prime minister revealed the extent to which the cultural elites and religious orthodoxies of Gujarat have got embedded in Project Modi.
Kicking off the centenary celebrations of Swaminarayan sect leader Pramukh Swami Maharaj in Gandhinagar on Wednesday, the prime minister said the revered saint had sent the pen with which he filled his first nomination form for his first assembly election from the Rajkot constituency. According to a report in Ahmedabad Mirror, the prime minister told the massive gathering of sect followers: “After that he used to send pens to me every time to sign nomination papers and he even sent pens with BJP colours when I fought the Lok Sabha election from Varanasi.”
And then, the prime minister added: “He taught me that the greatest goal in life is to serve others, and he inspired me to serve till my last breath.” A spiritual license, indeed, for his certitudes and sermonettes. Om shanti, shanti.
Harish Khare is former editor of The Tribune.