One Man Army

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in the western Indian state of Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS)

When Union minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh says that the 2014 General Elections is a fight between the Congress and the RSS, he is not too far off the mark.

Very craftily, the Sangh has selected Narendra Modi as the BJP’s principal campaigner, giving him a free hand in not just the campaign leading up to the 2014 elections but also to pick and choose a NDA government the way he wants to. In order to smoothen the rough edges – of which there are many – a team of RSS workers well honed in the art of Chinese whispers will be duly attached to the Modi paraphernalia.

A high-level meeting under the leadership of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat seems to have arrived at these conclusions and the results are evident. Modi is campaigning alone. He has not placed much faith in the BJP’s New Delhi-based war room. The only thing he has taken from them is the caste-based arithmetic of various Lok Sabha constituencies.

For purposes of fighting the polls on his terms, Modi has a select bunch of aides who know exactly what the boss wants. A small bit of his campaign is handled by advertising agency Crayon but the bulk of the Gujarat strongman’s moves are centred in capital Ahmedabad.

Aware that the road to his success lies through Lucknow, Modi has ensured through the appointment of Amit Shah that his eyes and ears in a state which sends 80 Lok Sabha winners, is in place. So far, the other satraps of the BJP in UP have maintained a low profile, not coming in the way of Shah organizing rallies in the state.

Not everyone in the BJP is amused. Party leaders are aware that the results of the four assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan and Delhi are kind of a semi-final before the big one in 2014. Which is why after three rallies in UP, Modi is concentrating hard on the assemblies. According to insiders, Modi’s own assessment is that the party is on a relatively weak wicket in Delhi and Chhattisgarh and should the Hindi-belt results end up a 2-2 draw, Modi’s image would take a knocking and wolves both inside and outside the party are likely to close in.

Which is why the Delhi BJP leadership was changed at the last minute. Under the tutelage of former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Vijay Goel was replaced by a much more sedate Harshvardhan and a slew of rosy promises made to the electorate. According to leaders, RSS workers from outside Delhi have been roped in for the capital campaign with one specific aim: their job is to indulge in a concerted whisper campaign and spread the good word around about rampaging inflation and the breaking news that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is actually a proxy of the Congress!

While it is difficult to predict just how fruitful the Sangh campaign will be, the reported ‘shortage’ of salt is being attributed to the hyperactive Sangh cadres. Modi’s own team and advertising agency Crayon have told him that there is an overwhelming 43 percent voters between the ages of 18 to 40 which is willing to rise above parochial and caste considerations. Interestingly of this 43 percent, there are a whopping 18 percent first time voters, the majority of whom are in UP. Hence Modi has insisted on appointing his own man in the state – on his own terms.

Keeping these numbers in view, Modi held a successful rally at Delhi University’s SRCC and plans to do the same in colleges and universities in UP. When he gets there, it is not going to be merely speeches but interactive sessions with students, who Modi believes is his principle constituency. To be sure, Modi’s one rally in Delhi and three in UP have been successes and the party is upbeat. According to an internal assessment by the BJP, ‘‘the RSS and party cadres have been responsible for getting in crowds and making Modi’s rallies a success. His attacks on Congress’s corruption and dynastic politics have gone down well with the crowds. If the cadres succeed in using this changed sentiment and manage to take the voters down to the polling booths, no one in the world can stop the BJP from coming to power next year.’’

According to party leaders, Modi is going all out to woo the youth, realizing that they are angry and in an anti-Congress mood: hence the frequent references to ‘Shahzada’ Rahul Gandhi. As far as the minority votes are concerned, the RSS has warned BJP leaders to stay clear of making any controversial remarks. BJP leaders like Shahnawaz Hussain and Najma Heptullah are leading the BJP’s minority wing to influence Muslim voters the best they can. Says Hussain: ‘‘It is our job to blunt the Congress campaign to label Modi as communal. We will tell the people that our priority is welfare for all.’’

With the RSS thrust on fighting elections the Modi way, senior leaders like LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj too have come to heel. Other opposition within the BJP too has died down.

According to insiders, Modi only trusts Arun Jaitley within the higher echelons of the BJP but when it comes to dealing with constituents of the NDA, he is not willing to trust anyone except himself. Insiders say Modi is in direct touch with AIADMK’s Jayalalitha and BJD’s Navin Patnaik for a post-election tie up. Says BJP’s Prakash Javadekar: ‘‘We will form the next government at the centre.’’ Modi’s confidence seems to be rubbing off on some of his comrades.