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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 7, February 11, 2023

After Modi who? | Faraz Ahmad

Friday 10 February 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


Much before India’s first prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru died at 74 on 27 May, 1964, the common refrain of political analysts was ‘After Nehru Who’ or After Nehru what, presuming that India would face chaos due to political vacuum after Nehru.

This was discussed more seriously by western commentators, banking on Morarji Desai succeeding Nehru to tailor India’s internal and external policies to the benefit of the United States of America (USA) and its western European satellites.

It didn’t happen, though despite Morarji’s determined effort not once but twice because of the maturity of Indian democracy and the sagacity of the Congress leadership. He succeeded in the third attempt only after Indira Gandhi handed over reins of governance to son Sanjay Gandhi without any legal or constitutional accountability.

Since Indira Gandhi’s assassination this question was never raised because it was clear to all political observers that Rajiv Gandhi would succeed Indira which he did. Rajiv of course died a sudden and unfortunate death through a conspiratorial assassination by the powers that be while he was out of power. Thereafter there was a brief speculation about who would succeed Rajiv. But with Sonia Gandhi refusing to don the mantle and the Congress party choosing P.V. Narasimha Rao, not much speculation took place. Thereafter there was some speculation over the next probable— whether former Prime Minister V.P. Singh would don the mantle once again. Post United Front brief interregnum, BJP leader, from RSS stock Atal Behari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister and L.K. Advani, the other leading light of the BJP, also from the RSS school, the Deputy Prime Minister. There was therefore no confusion in the minds of political observers. Even before all the results for the 1998 elections came in, Prannoy Roy congratulated Vajpayee as the future Prime Minister.

Have I ignored Dr Manmohan Singh, who led the UPA government in 2004 and 2009? Yes and partly because, some friends privy to Sonia Gandhi’s thinking then, in spite of Sanghi calumny against her, said then that she had made up her mind much in advance that given an opportunity she would never don the prime ministerial mantle and would make Dr Singh the Prime Minister. Was it because she admired and valued Dr Singh’s personal and political integrity and intellect or did she want herself and her party to do penance over the attack on Harminder Saheb and the 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi and other parts of northern India?, even though she had no role in any of that, by any stretch of imagination. Perhaps that is why she agreed to remove Jagdish Tytler from the UPA ministry and denied ticket to Sajjan Kumar who were perceived as perpetrators of anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi.

After the Manmohan Singh led government handed a resounding defeat to Advani led BJP/NDA party in 2009 elections, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wanted to ease out Advani, though thanks to the media hype of alleged corruption in UPA tenure, by 2014 Advani was pretty confident of winning that round and becoming the Prime Minister. But Sangh Parivar had other plans, waiting only for the results of Gujarat elections of 2012, where victory convinced the Sangh that Modi alone was capable of realising their dream of Hindu Rashtra.

The RSS has a tradition of dumping any leader they don’t consider useful anymore. They dumped Balraj Madhok one time president of the Akhil Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the political arm of the RSS, formed in 1951, who led the Jana Sangh to its first electoral successes in the 1967 general elections and helped the Jana Sangh to come to power singlehandedly or in coalition with other parties in a number of north Indian states. But Madhok was a hardliner and the Sangh felt the need to enter coalition governments to grow further, advocated by Vajpayee and Nanaji Deshmukh. So they dumped Madhok who died in virtual isolation and oblivion, a bitter man in 2016. In that coalition era beginning 1967 and continuing till 2002, Vajpayee was the best bet for the Sangh because his flexibility encouraged various regional forces from Chaudhry Charan Singh to Chandrababu Naidu to Nitish Kumar to Mamata Banerjee, all found Vajpayee an acceptable soft face of Hindutva.

In February 2002, within months of becoming Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi demonstrated to the Sangh by the pogrom of Muslims, the limitations of flexibility and soft Hindutva. In December 2002 when the results of Gujarat assembly elections started pouring in Vajpayee and most top leaders of the BJP along with a large battery of journalists were enjoying lunch under the Sun at then MoS PMO Vijay Goel’s bungalow, when Modi’s patron Advani, who had resisted Vajpayee’s move to sack Modi, rushed to Vajpayee and broke the news, ‘Hum Gujarat jeet gaye (We won Gujarat)” Vajpayee, poker faced quipped, “Aur Desh haar gaye (And we lost the nation)” Being a seasoned politician he could foresee the consequence of Modi’s work of polarising the society so sharply and starkly. And how right he was then! Two notable BJP leaders, Ram Vilas Paswan and Arif Mohammad Khan, quit the BJP and for some time form a front, sensing the mood of the nation against what happened in Gujarat.

But Sangh saw growing irrelevance of Vajpayee in 2002 itself and BJP sources disclosed that Vajpayee was approached before the 2002 Presidential polls to move to Rashtrapati Bhawan and vacate the Prime Minister’s chair for Advani. Instead in a bid to thumb his nose to Hindutva hard liners, Vajpayee chose a Tamil Muslim Defence scientist, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to climb up the majestic stairs of Rashtrapati Bhawan. But BJP/NDA lost in 2004 and Vajpayee slowly melted into obscurity.

Even if we go by Narendra Modi’s official date of birth which could be doubtful when he has admitted on camera that he abandoned formal education while at school. Nevertheless in 2024 he would be approaching 74 years of age. And so the question who is likely to succeed Modi is pretty relevant. At the moment he seems invincible no doubt, what with the Opposition in a disarray. And therefore it is pointless to speculate who from the Opposition could succeed Modi. But what about the inhouse candidates? At the moment there appears to be a competition of sorts in the BJP among the various claimants to desirable successor to Modi. No doubt Modi and the BJP would not concede an inch to the Opposition in Parliament or outside to admit to the extraordinary and unusual patronisation of Gautam Adani, which in common perception is nothing but a scam of unparalleled dimensions. But then insiders have started a whispering campaign of how this scam could adversely affect BJP’s fortune in the coming elections.

Be that as it may, various claimants seem to be positioning to be counted. Curiously among the front runners are almost none from the loyal RSS/BJP stock, it seems. Yogi Adityanath, who managed to become the chief minister of India’s biggest state, UP in spite of and not because of Modi’s charisma, with the help of his vituperative communal brain, has already thrown the gauntlet by denying permission to Adani soon after the Hindenburg expose, to install new digital electric meters. A news report said, Madhyanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited declined the Adani group‘s proposal to provide around 75 lakh million smart meters . The Nigam cancelled the offer though Adani Transmissions Limited, a part of the Adani group offered the lowest bid, “due to unavoidable . issues”, said insiders. The deal is worth 5,400 crores. But Yogi is not from the RSS stock.

Assam chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has only one point programme and is single minded to harass poor illiterate Muslims, who are barely making a living for survival. His latest tirade is to round up by thousands Muslim men and even women using some obscure law about child marriage as if poor Muslims alone marry off their daughters early. Most poor people specially among the Dalits and tribals are forced to adopt this route. And while there is no harm in imposing such a law strictly but only prospectively. The very act of retrospectivity shows that the entire act is mala fide. However he believes and with some justification that the more he acts against Muslims in a mala fide manner the more brownie points he would score with the Sangh. And if they could make this ex-Congress minister whom the BJP charged with chit fund and other scams, demanding his resignation one day and making him a minister in the first BJP government soon after, and ultimately the chief minister after one term, what prevents this ambitious man from hoping and trying to reach the pinnacle in the BJP set up.

Then there is our very well-known minister of Minority Affairs Smriti Iraniji. She too has done yeoman service to the Sanghi cause by scrapping the Maulana Azad scholarships for minority students. And why not? The noted freedom fighter and India’s first Education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is bound to raise Sanghis’ hackles. First being a Muslim and a Maulana at that and above all a much-respected Congress leader. If Yogi Adityanath could rise in esteem of the Hindutva brigade and aspire to rise further in politics, by harassing Samajwadi leader Mohammad Azam Khan and taking over land purchased and developed for creation of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Urdu University, merely because a mosque was also built there, then Smriti Irani too could look to better prospects by scrapping scholarships named after another Maulana, also when both were well known freedom fighters and Mahatma Gandhi’s close associates. Moreover Smriti Irani also claims the distinction of having defeated Rahul Gandhi in Amethi last general elections. Only Smriti Irani sat on a dharna against the Muslim pogrom of Gujarat in 2002. But defection to the Sanghi camp seems to be an added qualification. So why rule her out?

Not to forget, Karnataka chief minister Basvaraj Bommai another paratrooper who has distinguished himself by preventing young Muslim girls from attending government colleges and schools if they covered their heads with a scarf. Add to this taking over Idgah lands in his state. All these activities would naturally add to his bio data.

In effect it is hard to imagine a single eligible candidate from the RSS/BJP stock who could replace Modi if need be. The paratroopers appear to fit the bill far better.

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