Those waiting for Narendra Modi to show his true khaki/saffron colours must be hugely disappointed. Instead of articulating muscular Hindutva, he sounds like a Congressman making noises about ‘inclusive’ vikas, democracy, pluralism, non-violence and Swaccha Bharat. He showers praise on Indian Muslims for their commitment to the idea of India.
The Sangh Parivar icons — Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar — are replaced by Gandhi, Patel and Nehru. He junks his oldest partner in Project Hindutva, the Shiv Sena and allows Sharad Pawar to cosy up to him! So, what the hell is going on?
It is generally believed that anyone who has ever been through the ideological mills of the Sangh Parivar is committed to the Hindu Rashtra agenda unflinchingly and that once the initial liberal antics are over, the remote control from Nagpur will ensure that the ‘real’ agenda comes back into focus.
Modi critics currently offer two explanations for the apparent paradox that he is turning out to be. One is that playing the good cop/bad cop routine has always been a part of the RSS/BJP repertoire and with Modi playing the development and good governance part and Amit Shah et al keeping the communal pot boiling, the resultant confusion is intended to clear the way for the insidious advance of Hindutva.
The other, a variation, credits Modi with Machiavellian duplicity and cunning by which he has successfully fooled aspirational middle India into accepting his ‘spin’ and his demonic self is bound to emerge sooner than we can imagine. The holocaust, according to these doomsayers, is not far behind.Wrong assumptions
One of the cardinal mistakes of the left-leaning liberal intelligentsia is to invest the RSS with superhuman indoctrination capabilities — by virtue of which its members and sympathisers get fired by hyper-nationalist, ideological fervour and they become immune to the social, political and cultural trends impacting the rest of Indian society.
This is questionable. There is no empirical evidence to indicate that the Sangh Parivar members remain untouched by forces of modernity, cultural globalisation and ‘aspirational’ economic growth. Organisationally, too, RSS is as prone to the pulls and pressures of competing beliefs and value systems, internal power struggles, bureaucratic turf wars, petty intrigues, scandals as any other. Their ideology machine is rusty, with little by way of fresh intellectual inputs in response to fundamental social and cultural changes taking place all around them.
The westernised, Nehruvian, liberal elite that it saw as its principal threat is no longer a force and the minorities too cannot be overtly identified as the ‘other’ to define themselves against without harming the BJP’s electoral prospects. There is little left therefore to sharpen their ideological claws against.
Continuing to see Modi as an arch, iconic representative of the RSS blinds us to the dramatically different phenomenon Modi is turning out to be and the way he is shaping Indian politics around ‘Brand Modi’.
Keeping it clean
We know that Modi is possibly the smartest, shrewdest politician in India today with an unmatched capacity for long term strategic thinking; plays his cards close to the chest and has supreme confidence in his abilities to turn the game around.
He is also the most inspirational mass communicator we have seen since Vajpayee. We also know that first in Gujarat and now at the national level, he has decimated and marginalised any internal dissidence in the party. The elders have been kicked upstairs and the rivals co-opted in a way that they can be checked at will. Some of the loony fringe have been inducted into positions where they can be controlled and some others thrown into oblivion.
Since the Gujarat riots neither in word nor in deed has Modi betrayed any signs of communal bias. True, he may not always have spoken out against communal potboilers as vociferously as he could or should have (but there could be a tactical reason for that), or made demonstrable overtures to win the hearts of the minorities, but he has scrupulously avoided making an overtly communal remark or gesture.
On the other hand he has displayed a single-minded focus on good governance, on economic growth, on business promotion and investment attraction, on infrastructure creation and on ‘delivery’. Throughout his election campaign and thereafter he has been at pains to talk of cultural inclusiveness, of all Indians coming together for a mission to transform India, of humanity, of his debt to Buddhism, of the need to abjure violence, of the need to fight battles across South Asia against poverty, against terror, against sectarian trends. All these are part of a very carefully constructed and attractively packaged ‘Brand Modi’.
This brand has no place for anti-minority propaganda and no room to carry the Hindutva baggage. The electoral success of the brand depended and will depend on biting off huge chunks of the secular, centrist vote. Modi does not have to pander to the Hindutva brigade.
He has created a huge constituency of his own across India, across the young, aspirational population, across castes and communities and across regions. No one in the BJP has ever managed to do this. While cadre-based support of the Sangh Parivar has its uses, Modi is now capable of building his own cadres around Brand Modi. The RSS and the BJP need Modi to stay relevant not the other way around. Brand Modi is much, much bigger.The road ahead
Obviously, throwing out the Hindutva baggage cannot be done overnight. It also has to be done in a way that avoids direct confrontation. So how can this be achieved? It has been done partially by having co-opted and accommodated sections of it within the government, where they have been kept completely under control. The rest of them were left to work off their own steam.
The Yogis and the Sakshi Maharajs had come to believe that it was the stridency, the pugnaciousness and the belligerence of their variety of Hindutva which had given them the edge in UP and they could rely on communal mobilisation plus anti incumbency against Samajwadi Party to carry them home. They were allowed, intentionally I think, to take the lead and build their own lunatic platform of Love Jihad. Access to Brand Modi was denied.
At the same time by maintaining complete silence on their shenanigans they were allowed to think that they could dominate the show. They now stand discredited in ways that no disclaimers from Modi could ever have achieved.
Is this a genuine transformation? Will the closet Hindu in Modi make an eventual come back? Who knows? But personal political ambition is a bigger driver than any ideology and Narendra Modi is here to realise and fulfil his ambition to be the greatest Prime Minister of independent India. Hindutva will not be allowed to thwart that ambition.
The writer is a former Secretary to the Government of India