Without a doubt, Modi is shrewd. And opportunistic. Just a few months back, he was conspicuous by his absence during the Karnataka state elections, in which BJP was widely expected to get routed. Now, Modi is ensuring that all the ducks fall in line to make him the head of the BJP’s election committee for the ensuing polls in MP, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. These are states where the BJP is expected to do well. And Modi knows that he simply has to be there!
Madhya Pradesh is a sure bet for the BJP. The state is similar to Gujarat in its preference for the saffron color. The BJP has invested heavily into turning the state into a Hindu cauldron with even school children being forced to sing the Saraswati Vandana and practice yoga. The Muslim population in the state is only 5%; providing a divisive communal leader like Modi the perfect backdrop to weave his Hindu magic. To be fair, the economy of the state has also done well, with the state benefitting from the overall growth of the Indian economy post 2004 (India recorded its highest growth rates in the period post 2004). People in Madhya Pradesh seem to be happy with the BJP and Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems set for a 2nd term. Net net, it’s a safe state for Modi to be seen in!
The story in Chhatisgarh is no different. It’s a state culturally similar to Madhya Pradesh. Here the Muslim population is even lower, at under 3%. The more the Hindu rhetoric in the elections, the more the applause. The only difference really with MP is that there is a substantial tribal population (approx 30%) which would be expected to pose a challenge to the BJP. Economic growth in Chhatisgarh has been decent too over the last five years. All in all, it’s a safe state for Modi to attach his name to!
Delhi is a tough city for the Congress to retain. Not because of poor work done by the state government. In fact, Delhi’s growth since 1998 has been remarkable. Sheila Dixit has taken Delhi to the numero uno position in India, catching up with Mumbai in all economic parameters such as GDP size, per-capita income, and in general, the buzz around business. The city’s infrastructure has improved dramatically with flyovers, malls, the metro, the airport all making the city a true “world city”. Even the power situation has been licked to a large extent. Delhi’s fast growth has also spilled over into neighboring Haryana and UP. It’s rapid growth has attracted hordes of migrants, and the city’s population has grown dramatically, swirling ahead of Mumbai. Sheila Dixit should have expected to win the next elections hands-down, but her problems with law and order will come to bite her. The recent brouhaha over rapes and other crimes against women have given the BJP a ray of hope. Also, the problem with Delhi is that it has become a little like Kolkata – a city of protests and bandhs. There is a protest virtually every week. It’s a city of Morcha wallahs. It was the hub of Anna’s movement. Sheila Dixit has been a good CM, but for her to retain Delhi for the 4th consecutive term has to be termed very very difficult. Modi knows this; hence the attraction to come here for campaigning!
Rajasthan has been a flip-flop state, alternating between the BJP and Congress for the last 20 years. By sheer probability, the BJP should win Rajasthan this time. Besides, the low Muslim population – its just about 8% of the population – suits Modi perfectly. Rajasthan’s economic growth rate has been better than Chhatisgarh’s and nearly on par with MP, but this is hardly going to matter. The Congress is on a sticky wicket. Modi realizes this and wants to be seen here too!
Jharkhand is a different ball game entirely. It has 14% Muslims, much higher than the BJP’s comfort zone. It has never been a strong BJP state. It’s last stint ended in a fiasco with Arjun Munda not doing the BJP proud. Economic growth in the state has been anaemic. It is my bet that Modi will stay away from Jharkhand! I also know what his excuse will be. He will say that he is busy with the other states!
And of course, when it comes to Mizoram, the BJP doesn’t even have a clue of where the state is located, forget knowing how to open its account!
The truth of the matter is that in MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan, the CMs/local BJP state presidents can well win the elections on their own. They don’t need Modi. It is Modi who needs these states. That is why Modi is making such a fuss about heading the election panel for these states. If the BJP wins as expected, Modi will claim to have influenced the voters. His PR machinery will call him a vote catcher! And he will use that as a trump card for staking his claim to be the PM candidate of his party.
The real truth is that Modi is shrewd, but hardly courageous. If he were, he would have taken the party’s challenges head on; and campaigned extensively in Karnataka. If he were a true leader, he would have accepted his inability to change the fortunes of the party in that state. But Modi prefers to play safe. Hide behind others. The key question is: how long before he is forced to take the tough challenges and show his real mettle….and (possibly) get exposed in the process.