By Vijay Darda | 29-07-2013
When Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen rejected Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for the prime minister’s job, we witnessed a very instructive episode for our polity. The unambiguous rejection came in the backdrop of a determined effort by the BJP-RSS combine, as well several sections of the media and the corporate world to change the basic nature of our democracy. They are all bent upon converting the 2014 general elections from our current Westminster style parliamentary democracy into an American style presidential one. Their reasons for making this effort are pretty obvious.
These are rooted in the limitations of the BJP as a political party. In spite of being in existence for more than 60 years — first as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and then as the Bharatiya Janata Party, it has not been able to develop a pan-India presence. Recently, it got a drubbing in the only southern state it had managed to capture. It remains essentially a party of few states, but then this does not prevent it from having national ambitions.
However, the logic of numbers in the Lok Sabha goes against it. Given its current status, the party has been a serious contender only in about 250 (winning at best 180 during its peak days) of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, for the last several general elections. So, even with any strike rate in terms of winning the seats, the magic number of 272 required to form a national government remains out of reach for the BJP even in the best of electoral conditions.
So, having realised that the Westminster style democracy in which the national scenario is a reflection of the aggregate of the state’s political health will never deliver a verdict in their favour, the BJP strategists have opted to convert the election into a presidential referendum on a single person — Narendra Modi. They have already invested him with a larger than life role as the chief campaigner of the party.
They have had persons occupying this post in previous elections as well — the late Pramod Mahajan in 2004 and then Arun Jaitley in 2009. But then both of them were not elevated to the status of potential prime ministers as Modi has been even before a formal announcement has been made. Both Mahajan and Jaitley — perhaps better potential prime ministers — were not invested with that kind of halo by the Sangh Parivar that has been bestowed upon Modi.
However, like any change, this paradigm shift also comes with its own problems. The first is the persistent refusal of the Congress party to join this battle of personalities. The element of drama that would have created the aura of two warriors — Modi versus Rahul fighting for the prime ministerial prize which would have gladdened the hearts of the TRP seeking television anchors — is simply elusive. The Congress party’s reasons for taking this approach are ideological as well as tactical. But then if this contest is not joined, then the nature of the battle does not get transformed. The national election still remains an aggregate of state elections, instead of becoming a polarised single battle. So, while the BJP is yet to realise the gains from this strategy, the pitfalls are already beginning to visit it.
In America, it is quite open for newspapers, interest groups and celebrities to either endorse or reject a candidate. All the sides take such endorsements or rejections in their stride. Quite obviously the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen rejected Modi in the same American style. Ordinarily, this should have been taken in the right spirit by a matured political party. But then the BJP’s response to it has been instructive. To say that it has exposed its intolerant face would be to make a mild statement.
Indeed, my fellow parliamentarian in the Rajya Sabha, the learned editor of a newspaper Chandan Mitra who likes to proclaim himself as a champion of the freedom of expression has shocked me out of belief. I simply cannot believe that someone like Chandan can use such language and talk of stripping a Bharat Ratna of the award. Now, if he has used such extreme language, then Modi has remained silent. For the people this is an ominous endorsement. Any other liberal leader like Atalji would have reacted instantly with reassuring words. But there it is, and all of us should be wiser if we take note of this BJP behaviour.
Indeed, the terminology of revenge used by the BJP for the Nobel laureate should alert every citizen in the country. Now both the BJP and Modi have given all of us advance notice of their attitude. For them this is not a democratic country where dissent is allowed and encouraged. They have made their intentions to throttle and muzzle the democracy very clear. Let us not make any mistake about it.
But then what is Sen’s objection? Let us not forget that his objection is not against BJP, it is against Modi. In its essence, the Sen principle against Modi is as same as US President Barak Obama’s. The message is very clear. The world does not wish to have anything to do with a man of his track record. Nobel laureate Sen and President Obama are conveying us a message on behalf of the entire world. For them India is a place where plurality and diversity thrives. They are all accustomed to an India where by and large the individuals are respected. The world has no problem with governments changing political colours, but then it simply does not like something that is divisive.
The politics of hate and the politics of revenge have never served any society. The Indian electorate has demonstrated its maturity for several decades now. It knows how to reward good governance and punish the laggards. Modi knows this himself. The people of Gujarat have reposed their faith in him. Now as he reaches out to the rest of the country, it is for him to earn the people’s trust. It is for him and the BJP to ponder if the people’s trust can be ever won by threatening to strip a Nobel laureate of the Bharat Ratna conferred some years ago by their own government.