Tribune News Service
Mumbai, December 23
The storm troopers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, who were out in full strength in the 2002-election campaign, were absent this time. Gone were the long columns of marchers in saffron shirts who sparked fear in the hearts of the minorities. Instead one saw cadres from the BJP and its youth wing, nurtured by the chief minister, come out wearing Narendra Modi masks.
Leaders like Pravin Togadia, who spewed venom on the Congress and the Muslims, stayed at home. The sadhu brigade, which had campaigned for Modi, was against him. So, Modi kept a punishing schedule, hopping across the state in a helicopter even leaving his own constituency, Maninagar, in the hands of a few trusted followers.
Except for Acharya Dharmendra of the VHP, roped in by Modi at the last minute, there was no one batting for him. Others like L.K Advani and some Bollywood personalities put it in a token appearance, but hardly enthused the crowds they addressed.
With the benefit of hindsight, one can say Modi had decided long ago that the saffron brigade had outlived its utility for him. Modi insisted that he was dumping old baggage because they had become a huge liability.
But Modiís subsequent claims of good governance left his audience cold. His claims to have brought in crores of rupees worth of investment into Gujarat did not resonate even among the mercantile set. The boast of providing uninterrupted power supply was tempered by the clamour about the high electricity bills people were saddled with.
But like a good speaker, who can judge the mood of his listeners, Modi changed track. Thanks to some cues from Sonia Gandhiís infamous ďmaut ke saudagarĒ speech, Modi resorted to the familiar Hindutva pitch and coupled it with Gujarati pride. Modi justified the killing of Sohrabuddin even though his own government had filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court that the encounter was staged. Modi also played on the Gujarati voters' fears about terrorism by questioning why the Congress was unable to hang those accused in the Parliament attack case.
Soon, the BJP rebels, nearly 67 of whom were given tickets by the Congress, were singing a different song. Many of them went around saying they were from the same family after all and were merely opposed to Modi.
In the end, the people simply voted for Modi.
Now, Modi suddenly looks invincible even within the BJP. As Modiís supporters said there was nothing the party leadership could do to him regardless of whether he won or lost. Many of them openly mulled that if pushed to a corner, Modi may even split the party like Indira Gandhi did and form the Gujarati equivalent of a Telugu Desam.
Modiís independence may well be the issue that agitates the old men of the RSS. But there is very little they can do to tackle him. If they chuck him out, there is a danger that he may cleave the sangh parivar beyond recognition and should they accord him high office in the BJP, the saffron party stands the threat of being transformed from a cadre-based party to a personality-oriented outfit.
More than the Congress, it is the BJP that will have to worry about Narendra Modiís rising star.