Congressmen are a worried lot. The rising popularity graph of Narendra Modi has already begun to give them sleeplessness nights. A day after the seven-lakh-strong Bhopal rally, where Modi was the main draw, a group of them met over lunch in an upscale Delhi eatery. The mood was somber. Two hours of lunch were mostly spent ruminating over the rise and rise of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate – and their own leader’s inability to make an impression on the people.
Each one of them nodded in agreement when one openly acknowledged that Modi had caught the imagination of the people, particularly the young voters. “The Modi tornado (aandhi was his word) is blowing in the country and if we fail to do something it will blow all of us away,” said a senior leader who has been an MP for multiple terms. After the stupendous success of Rewari, Bhopal became the litmus test of Modi’s overpowering mass appeal. He came out triumphant. Even when popular Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan rose to speak, the crowd kept up the Modi chant, drowning out much of his speech. Sushma Swaraj, an MP from Madhya Pradesh and no mean orator herself, too had to put up with the intermittent Modi chant from the huge crowd which had gathered in such record strength only to hear the Gujarat strongman who himself was now out to conquer India.
Talking of India, the fact that Modi could hold forth on the UPA’s ills for over an hour in Hindi in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, before an attentive audience of ‘over two lakhs’, according to The Times of India, underlined his appeal outside the traditional strongholds of the BJP. Whether it was the popular disgust with the misdoings of the UPA or it was due to the aura around his own public persona, or a combination of both, the fact remains that Modi today is by far the most popular leader in the country. No other leader in any party can match his mass appeal. Which brings one to LK Avani’s petulant act at the Bhopal rally. Like a spoilt child who sprawls on the ground when denied a candy, the BJP veteran left no one in doubt that he was still sulking at being denied the mantle of leadership for the coming 2014 Parliamentary campaign. He clings to his Prime Ministerial ambitions even though his followers have long embraced Modi as the new mascot.
Such sullenness would only harm Advani. Should he persist in such graceless conduct, he may well find himself being made fully redundant in a party which has a history of marginalising its presidents who develop big egos for anyone’s comfort. Remember Balraj Madhok? He was the most successful president of the Jana Sangh, BJP’s previous avatar. When he began to behave temperamentally, assuming himself to be the sole arbiter of a party which puts a premium on consensual decision-making, he found himself cast aside. Though he floated his own outfit, it proved a complete non-starter.
Therefore, it is in the interest of Advani that he reconciles to the fact that he is well past the sell-by date as a vote-catcher; sooner, he does that, the better the chances of his getting due recognition as an elder statesman who had indeed done a lot to bring the BJP to where it finds itself now. Back to Modi. His claim in Bhopal that the next election will be a contest between the BJP and the CBI was significant. Political pundits may have chosen to dismiss that telling Modi assertion, but the grapevine in the national capital is thick with the talk that the too-clever-by-half Congress managers are now relying on the Apex investigative agency to try and stop Modi’s onward march. The CBI parrot has already begun to sing the Congress tune, going after a number of former ministers and functionaries in the Gujarat BJP with the sole objective of ‘fixing’ Modi.
Unfortunately for the Congress leadership, the credibility of its pet parrot, …er, sorry, CBI is so low that even if they were to charge Modi with direct complicity in the alleged fake encounters, or the 2002 riots, it will only help boost his popular appeal. An agency which can allow the Bofors thug, the late Ottavio Quattorrocchi, to slip out even when he was ensconced a few kilometers away from its headquarters, an agency which in the case of Mulayam Singh Yadav can say in 2007 on affidavit that two- plus-two do make four, but in 2013 says two-plus- two make zero, to give but only two examples of its extreme flexibility, well… that agency can always declare that it has clinching evidence against Modi and slap some or the other charge against him.
But the question is: who will believe it? The above is not an unlikely scenario. Indeed, we have some inkling that it is most probable in the next couple of months as the pressure on the parrot-like CBI grows to come to the rescue of the ruling Congress and try and stop the Modi juggernaut before it rolls over the family-controlled empire. Trumped-up charges against Modi, according to the script, will be followed by a high-decibel orchestrated campaign to condemn him as unworthy of being the nation’s Prime Minister. The contrived CBI intervention in the political arena, even if meant to please its political masters, will further ruin whatever little remains of its credibility. But it would certainly boost the Modi stock with the lay people. For, like it or not, CBI has become synonymous with the ruling party, having become its instrument for protecting its friends — like Quattrocchi — and harming its enemies.
The bail to Jaganmohan Reddy within days of Chandrababu Naidu cosying up to Modi underlines the C for Congress in CBI. Meanwhile, serious students of politics stand to profit from a study of the Narendra Modi phenomenon. No other Indian leader in recent times has attained such popularity in relatively such a short time. Vajpayee took more than five decades to become the Prime Minister. Even then he did not evoke the kind of frenzied excitement that Modi does among his followers. Most of the Congress leaders were products of the freedom movement or, later, owed their claim to fame to the family name. In the case of Modi, whether it was the social media, or the private television channels, or the fact that insufferable secularists targeted him incessantly for a most virulent campaign of calumny and hatred, or it is the popular disgust with the UPA, there can be no denying that Modi has risen in the political firmament like a colossal, whether the CBI, er. Congress likes it or not.