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The Moment and the Modi

In a political milieu reeking of opportunism and corruption, Modi is refreshingly (relatively of course) clean and incorruptible.

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The Moment and the Modi

If public opinion polls are to be believed — and in India they aren’t — Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will lead the Bharatiya Janta Party to its largest electoral victory ever in Indian parliamentary elections that conclude next month. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition will win, or reach tantalizingly close to, a majority, enabling Modi to grasp, what only a year ago seemed improbable, the ultimate prize — prime minister of India.

Much can still go wrong. Voting is spread over almost five weeks from April 7 till May 12 — an eternity in politics, which can turn on a dime. Even though Indians prefer Modi overwhelmingly for prime minister — in some polls by more than a 2-1 margin — over Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Jawaharlal Nehru-Indira Gandhi dynasty, in most states politics is intensely local. Fully a third of the parliamentary seats will be split among regional parties, whose ideologies, interests, loyalties and coalition objectives are notoriously changing and fickle. Then there is the internal opposition to Modi within the BJP, whose aging leadership he has marginalized and even humiliated in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.

Assume nothing.

Not how the vote might turn out. In 2004, public opinion polls forecast 300 seats for the NDA; it ended up with just 180. The BJP’s performance was grossly overstated in public opinion polls both in the 2004 and 2009 national elections, in which it got a drubbing.

Not how the NDA or the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or the Third Front coalitions hold after the elections. All coalition bargains before the elections are revisited once the votes are in.

Not whether there might be a palace coup against Modi within the BJP. He has run rough shod over its supremely disciplined cadre and aging leadership, all of whom needed his infectious personal popularity to drum up victory. But once the elections are over, all bets are off.

All these caveats notwithstanding, Modi should be able to cobble together a governing coalition — at the right price.

Secular and left forces dread that eventuality, because of lingering suspicions about Modi’s role in the communalist riots that killed more than 1,000 people, primarily Muslims, all over Gujarat following the burning of a train in Godhra in 2002. Modi has never been charged by any judicial inquiry, but nor has he publicly answered questions about his acts of omission and commission during the riots. He has also never apologized for what are obvious failures of leadership under his watch. These are troubling concerns (for many fatal) and one can only hope that the constraints of coalition politics will serve as a deterrent to the Hindutva pressures, which no doubt, Modi will be under should be become prime minister.

But in a political milieu reeking of opportunism and corruption, Modi is refreshingly (relatively of course) clean and incorruptible, although he is accused of political favoritism and giveaways to big industrial houses to lure them to invest in Gujarat.

Modi’s redemption comes from helping to hopefully bring down the curtain on the sores of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has held the country in a thrall for nearly a half century since independence. For all his faults, Modi has succeeded in elevating the corruption, arrogance and ineptitude of the sycophants who surround Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi — opportunists who have collectively leached the country dry during this lost decade of development.

However idealistic our political aspirations might be, elections involve just two or three competing options, more often than not, the choice of lesser and bigger evils. The thought of another Sonia-Rahul term ought to be anathema for most Indians, as should the delusions of regional princelings from Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Jayalalitha, and others of their ilk, who harbor illusions of personal aggrandizement and grandeur.

We can only hope that the pragmatism that has defined Modi’s politics (even at its worst) and the pressures of coalition partners will keep the worst of Modi’s political instincts and Hindutva pressures on him in check — and liberate perhaps the promise of economic development and inclusion that he is so eloquently espousing.

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