The Gujarat electorate has thrown up a conundrum for India that raises deep hilosophical questions about the
future of its polity.
First, electoral compulsions have once
again prevailed over the rule of law. The
difference between brute mobocracy and a
fair democracy is the rule of law.
Second, Gujarat has again tacitly
approved a rather contemptuous message
to its minorities that says you are irrelevant. This has implications on national politics.
For these reasons alone, Gujarat’s political choices need careful scrutiny.
It may be useful to recall the Bharatiya
Janata Party’s general electoral strategy of
polarization along the communal fault line
to generate a larger share of votes for it.
I am by no means implying the Congress
party strategy of polarization along caste
lines is less harmful to the BJP’s polarization along communal lines. Both are terribly debilitating for India. My effort here is
more geared to showing why Gujarat cannot be scaled up to India.
For the purposes of a crude but simple
model that helps explain the strategy of
polarization, consider the total electorate to
be made up of four blocs: These are the
Upper Castes or UC, Middle Castes or MC,
Lower Castes or LC, and Muslims, M. The
size of these blocs varies from state to state,
district to district, town to town.
Furthermore, there is significant difference in size and composition between
urban and rural areas. Muslims in particular cluster around town and cities and shun
rural areas unless they happen to have a
significant majority by themselves.
For the purposes of understanding the
dynamics, assume UC is 20 percent, MC is
40 percent, LC is 20 percent and M is 20
percent. This also roughly corresponds to
the caste composition of the Hindus that
one observes in practice.
An increase in the degree of polarization
works differently on the four blocs. A working political assumption is that UCs tend to
polarize favorably towards the BJP, LCs
and Ms against. MCs is where the real battleground lies.
Note, as an initial condition, a majority of
UCs is aligned with the BJP, and Ms and
LCs against it.
So the real gain or loss from an increased
degree of polarization comes from the MCs.
The other groups are more or less committed in their preferences.
The above configuration, very back of the
envelope, gives the BJP roughly 30 percent
of the vote without any polarization. With
maximum polarization, the vote percentage
goes to about 40 percent to 45 percent
So the real battle for the BJP is to find an
emotive issue that polarizes the MCs into
voting along communal lines. It helps the
BJP to have MC leadership at the state level
to gain some extra leverage.
Ever since the Ayodhya affair, the BJP has
pursued the same electoral strategy without any change.
In Gujarat, Muslims constitute no more
than 9 percent of the population against a
national average closer to 18 to 20 percent.
Other minorities in Gujarat are insignifi-
Why Gujarat is not
scalable to India
cant at less than 1 percent. This changes the
composition of Gujarat’s electorate to the
BJP’s natural advantage.
Without any polarization, the BJP comes
in with a 40 percent share of the vote compared to others (including the Congress
party) at something close to 30 percent.
No wonder, therefore, Gujarat has traditionally been a BJP stronghold. Note,
issues and the electorate’s mood change
from election to election. What we are taking of is general tendencies. The fact is, the
BJP doesn’t need polarization in Gujarat to
win. It needs that outside Gujarat.
Kumar, the BJP just cannot find the winning combination on its own, no matter
what the degree of polarization its ideologues drum up.
With Gujarat not being scalable to the
rest of India, what options does the BJP
have to capture power?
If the BJP is to be the main player in a
winning coalition, the BJP needs a degree
of emotive polarization. However, that by
itself is useless without an alliance with
other MC leaders. That is the basic reason
why we find ourselves in an era of coalition
REUBEN NV/REDIFF. COM
Sweets are distributed in Ahmedabad
Therefore, Gujarat is a model to be sold
to the electorate outside Gujarat — preferably in a different garb: More development
rather than naked polarization.
The basic arithmetic changes drastically
once you step outside Gujarat. Firstly, the
Muslim vote aligned against the BJP jumps
to 20 percent. The degree of polarization
required to offset that is much higher
because the BJP needs to get more than 50
percent of the MC votes in order to win as
opposed to 25 percent in the case of
Moreover, extreme polarization generates
a backlash in lost UC vote share.
Under such circumstances, the BJP is an
under a compulsion to find a Middle Caste
leader, well disposed to its ideology, who
can pull in the additional votes necessary to
put together a winning combination.
As we see from history, the BJP has done
well in states where MC leaders lead it.
Modi himself is an MC leader, which sort of
seals the arithmetic in Gujarat for the BJP.
The same play was evident in Uttar
Pradesh, Karnataka and in the BJP alliance
with Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
When the MCs have their own leader of
stature like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Nitish
The BJP just cannot win on its own steam
given the rival Congress party’s strategy of
polarization along caste lines. India is
locked into divisive politics of one sort or
Nitish Kumar, and other MC leaders like
him, will find Modi’s creation of a cult
around himself too hard to swallow.
Furthermore, aligning with Modi’s hard
Hindutva will lose them the critical M vote
on which they depend to keep the Congress
party at bay.
Given the Congress party strategy of
coalition-building, the BJP will have to find
leaders acceptable to its potential coalition
partners in order to win. And Modi, with
his near contemptuous disdain for minorities, together with his strenuous efforts to
build a personality cult, has more or less
ruled himself out of the game.
Can a softer, more balanced narrative
rehabilitate Modi after his power struggle
within the Sangh Parivar is settled in his
Modi faces stiff competition from a gaggle of BJP national leaders but few of them
have his electoral reach or access to corporate war chests. The latter is critical in the
BJP because central leaders have no separate access to resources that are needed to
reward corporate generosity. Their funding
comes entirely from regional satraps like
Also, it is not clear that the Brahmins of
Nagpur are ready to surrender their vast
cultural organization to an MC leader like
Modi. The BJP has no organizational muscle of its own. It depends more or less
entirely on the cultural reach of the RSS
and its cadres to pull in voters.
The RSS is the political party of cadres
and the BJP the political party of leaders.
The latter is nothing without the former.
Modi has supplanted BJP/RSS cadres
with his own people in Gujarat. Will the
Brahmins of Nagpur risk losing their only
crown jewel to a relative outsider? This is
not a question to be taken lightly.
Whatever be its merits or demerits, the
RSS remains one of the most potent political organizations in India.
Much of Modi’s obduracy towards
minorities is predicated on his need to win
the battle for supremacy within the Sangh
Parivar. As a shrewd politician with an eye
on Delhi’s throne, he would have made the
appropriate noises of remorse and regret
for 2002 long before this, but for the need
to keep his firebrand supporters by his side.
Modi needs to win over either the RSS or
his rivals in Delhi to emerge as the undisputed leader within the Sangh Parivar.
Without one or the other, he cannot win.
This triangular contest is what constrains
Modi’s emergence as a national leader in
his own right.
Modi has various other options open to
him, one of which is to be less aggressive
and perhaps join the collegium of BJP leaders in Delhi and become a team player and
bide his time. Provided he mellows down,
the BJP could then use him as the polarizing factor to lead the Hindutva charge for
If Modi were to consent to play L K
Advani to a more acceptable BJP leader as
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he would give the BJP
the chance it needs to build a winning
coalition with MC leaders.
Is Modi really larger than his image? If
you find him retaining his chief minister’s
post in Gujarat and consenting to work for
the greater good of his party, you will have