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'Will it work in the rest of India?'

Print edition : Jan 11, 2013 T+T-
Christophe Jaffrelot: "The situation of the BJP, in a way, reflects that of the Indian political system at large."-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Christophe Jaffrelot: "The situation of the BJP, in a way, reflects that of the Indian political system at large."-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Interview with Christophe Jaffrelot, French political scientist.

CHRISTOPHE JAFFRELOT, THE WELL-KNOWN French political scientist, has done extensive research on politics, communalism, Hindu nationalism and society in India and has authored and co-edited several books, which include The Hindu Nationalistic Movement in Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s (1999); Religion, Caste and Politics in India (2010); The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India; and Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation (2012). A keen observer of Gujarat, who has toured the State frequently, Jaffrelot spoke to Frontline about the results of the Assembly elections and about Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Excerpts:

The victory for Narendra Modi was predictable. However, analysts had maintained that the Assembly elections were crucial for him if he hoped to play a bigger role at the Centre. Do you think the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ready to give him a place in national politics?

The leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including those of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), may not be comfortable with the personality cult that Modi has introduced [they think more in terms of organisation than individuals], but they have hardly any alternative. Arun Jaitley and even Sushma Swaraj rallied around Modi during the campaign and L.K. Advani is almost a spent force.

The main question is: what will the other components of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) do? Can parties such as the Janata Dal (United) with its Muslim voters be associated with such a man? Maybe. None of the BJPs partners withdrew their support during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. Power exerts a very strong attraction, and Modi may appear as the best card the NDA can play today. After all, he has the money everybody needs to win an election. Things would be different if the corporate sector was not backing him. He is also seen as someone who may relaunch the economy, and that is critical as the crisis is deepening. There are factors that go in his favour, but Modi is not a coalition man. He is a product of a unique microcosm or micro climate. Gujarat is unique in that it has always had a two-party system and Modi is used to just that.

What next for Modi and the BJP? is the question in everybodys mind ever since the results were out. The BJP appears to be a party in disarray but the victory in Gujarat and the 25 seats it has won in Himachal Pradesh are an indication that the party is gathering itself. What is your view?

The situation of the BJP in a way reflects that of the Indian political system at large. The apex bodies are in disarray. Look at the laborious implementation of each and every measure the Manmohan Singh government wants to make.

Who is running the show? State parties, be they partners of the Congress within the ruling coalition or outside of it, like the Samajwadi Party [S.P.] and the Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP]. Similarly, the BJP is affected by a leadership crisis at the Centre, but it is flourishing in many States. In a way, the situation is worse than in the Congress: while Manmohan Singh cannot control [West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo] Mamata Banerjee, who is outside the Congress, Nitin Gadkari [BJP president] cannot exert any form of authority over Modi, who is inside the BJP.

What could be the key to his success? It was not a landslide victory but Modi did manage to retain a near-two-thirds majority.

This election was different because the BJP and the Congress are not locked in a two-party system any more. But if you go by the CSDS [Centre for the Study of Developing Societies] exit poll, you realise that in fact the Congress has probably been as much affected as the BJP by the performance of Keshubhai Patels Gujarat Parivartan Party [GPP]. This new player has won about 7 per cent of the valid votes, mostly in Saurashtra and Kutch where the party has attracted a large number of Leuva Patels at the expense of the Congress and the BJP.

Yes, this is not a landslide victory for Modi. In fact, the erosion of the partys popularity is continuing. He lost one percentage point in 2007. He has lost one more point this time. But this is something new. The GPP may offer a credible alternative to other BJP leaders whom Modi may alienate because of his authoritarian style of governance.

There were not many major upsets for the BJP except for Jaynarayan Vyas, a Cabinet Minister. Modi calculated well. Of course, he gave some safe seats to Amit Shah [former Home Minister] and Anandiben Patel [Revenue Minister in the previous government]. Could you comment on this.

Modi played it safe this time by renominating a large majority of the sitting Members of the Legislative Assembly [MLAs]. His capacity to attract Congress dissidents such as Narhari Amin, a former Deputy Chief Minister, also helped. He definitely wanted to have Amit Shah and Anandiben elected. They may take over from him if he leaves the State.

Was it not an audacious move to field Amit Shah, who is facing charges in a criminal case?

Audacious indeed! There are very few democracies where politicians charge-sheeted in crimes such as fake encounters can be elected to Legislative Assemblies. Amit Shah played a major role during the campaign after he was allowed to return to Gujarat in November. Few Chief Ministers are that close to charge-sheeted politicians.

Do you see a new face of Narendra Modi emerging?

No, I see a new India emerging. Modi is always the same; he cultivates a populist and authoritarian style. In 2007, he was ubiquitous because his supporters were wearing the mask of his face throughout the State; this time his image was everywhere in 3D! The American [lobbying] firm APCO Worldwide has taken care of his image, after working for the Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, and the life-President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Modi has not changed, but Gujarat is changing. The voters do not mind supporting this brand of Hindu nationalism in exchange for the promise of more development. Will that work in the rest of India? This is what remains to be seen. The urban middle class will certainly approve of Modis style, especially in the context of the economic slowdown. Theyll think: Who else can re-launch growth? And if India needs to compete with China, it may emulate its [Chinas] model.

The problem is that coalition politics requires leaders who are good at bargaining and making compromises. Modi has probably forgotten what that means. But the Congress may not be in a position to resist a Modi wave (if any) and the corporate sector seems to have made up its mind already. Weve seen the irresistible rise of similar leaders in similar contexts in Europe before.

Modi has always worked out a clear strategy while contesting the elections. How different were the latest elections from the previous ones?

It is interesting to see the way Modi is projecting himself; his impressive use of technology, particularly 3D and mobile technology. I have not seen any politician in India use technology in this way. This time the use of 3D is innovative. He owns a television channel, NaMo, which, incidentally was owned by the State of Gujarat until he turned it into a separate private channel. I cant think of any other Chief Minister who has done this. It is a technologically advanced propaganda.

In the decade since the 2002 riots, the division in Ahmedabad on religious grounds is almost complete. You have made a clear observation on this aspect in Muslims in Indian Cities. Could you comment on this?

Yes, it has. Juhapura, which is on the outskirts of the city, has become entirely Muslim. It is a satellite city which houses only Muslims. This is dangerous for India. It is a disturbing example of the future of Indian cities. It has come to such a stage that even the rich have to move here. They are not happy about it but they have little choice. It is interesting to see that in a city in India the class element is submerged by ethnicity.

The minority representation in the elections is minimal in Gujarat. There were only a handful of Muslim candidates, and none of them contested on the BJP ticket. Why are Muslims unable to rise in politics in this State?

Muslims represent only 9 per cent of the voters. Their proportion is two times higher in Uttar Pradesh. They are divided. Among their economic elite, the Bohras do not project themselves as Muslims, and their leader, the Syedna, has even tried to make peace with Modi, who blessed the Bohras trade fair in 2011 with his presence. Bohras may well be among the 20 per cent of Muslims who have voted for the BJP, according to the CSDS survey.

In his speech after winning the election, Modi said, Forgive me if I have made a mistake. This is probably the closest he has come to tendering an apology in all these years.

This is the clearest indication we have so far that hes now thinking about going to the Centre. He never needed to apologise for winning the elections in Gujarat. But he may need to present a new face to become acceptable to the NDAs partners, and to get an American visa. Incidentally, the non-resident Gujaratis will now lobby the Barack Obama administration to lift the ban that had been imposed on Modi by the George Bush administration after the 2002 pogrom.

For the first time, the fate of an Indian politician is partly depending on Washingtons policy. This, along with the role of APCO, is another illustration of the globalisation of Indian politics!