A dark horse gets ready

At the fag end of Jawaharlal Nehru’s regime, political commentators discussed no end ‘after Nehru who’; an American journalist even wrote a book by that title. A somewhat similar situation obtains now: Lutyens Delhi speculates after Narendra Modi who, though the context and assumptions are quite different this different.

Nehru was, as The New York Times put it in an article in January 1964, “the beloved and undisputed leader of India” whose “cardinal principle [is] that India is a secular state with religious freedom and equality for all.” Liberals all over the world feared if there would be anybody worthwhile to pick up the baton from the first prime minister of India.

This time around, however, the speculation is predicated upon the supposition that the Bharatiya Janata Party would get about around 100 seats fewer than it got in 2014, so it will have to depend upon and, more importantly, listen to the allies; and the allies may not favor Modi, given his unilateral way of functioning.

Two names appear prominently in the discussions—Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. But there may be a dark horse, as we shall see.

Singh’s role as Home Minister has been inconsequential. That’s also true for other Minister’s in Modi’s Cabinet but even earlier Singh didn’t blaze a trail as an able administrator. It was under his watch, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, that the party lost relevance in the country’s largest state. And now, in his avatar as Union Home Minister, he has done little more than kadi ninda (strong condemnation) of terrorists and other wrongdoers. For this, he is being regularly slammed and lampooned in the social media; he has been given such names as ‘ninda mama’ and ‘ninda turtle.’

Yet, his chances are bright, for he is the quintessential consensus guy. He may be admired by few; unlike Modi, he doesn’t have legions of bhaktas or even an army of admirers. But what goes in his favor is the fact he is hated by fewer; and in the time of coalition, what matters is not how many support or love you but how few oppose or hate you. Singh has been able to cultivate the image of an amiable leader who doesn’t step onto others’ feet.

Gadkari, however, is known for his rough and tough functioning. For instance, he goes to an event organized by the automakers’ association and tells them he would “bulldoze” them to follow government diktats. Yet, generally, he is not seen as anti-business. In fact, he has the image of a go-getter, a minister who can manage (and, if the need be, bully) the bureaucracy and negotiate his way through the maze of rules and regulations.

Further, he has an excellent equation with the RSS—which is the reason that he, unlike his ministerial colleagues, isn’t submissive to Modi. The buzz in the corridors of power is that in case the allies object to the stewardship of Modi, Gadkari would be acceptable not only to the constituents of the BJP-led National Development Alliance and industry but also the RSS.

But there is also somebody from the RSS itself who is raring to go: Sanjay Joshi, currently in forced exile because of the intense rivalry with Modi. A longtime apparatchik of the saffron brotherhood, he couldn’t recover from the setback he received when a sex CD emerged in 2005. Though later it was found to be doctored, the damage it did to Joshi was immense—and, so far, irreversible. He remains sidelined.

According to sources, Joshi is preparing to challenge Modi for the top post. And he may not wait for the BJP to do badly in the 2019 general election. Joshi is likely to make some sensational revelations about BJP president Amit Shah. This, Joshi believes, would begin his comeback.

It needs to be mentioned here that the 56-year-old Joshi was once a very powerful and popular person in the BJP-RSS circles. He was National General Secretary (Organization) during 2001-2005, an important position. He doesn’t seem to have lost popularity, and he believes that it would stand him in good stead in his endeavor to regain relevance.

We will soon have interesting times.