Modi makes the right noises in bomb-scarred Patna
...But will he be able to win over the crucial M-Y – Muslim-Yadav – combo in bête noire Nitish Kumar’s state?
Narendra Modi at Patna rally
A loud bang rang out just behind the press enclosure around 10.30 am on Sunday at Patna's Gandhi Maidan. I had heard many explosions of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while covering Punjab terrorism in Uttar Pradesh's Terai region and insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, and I was quite sure the bomb that went off in a nearby enclosure was an IED. A bit worried and alarmed, I looked around to see if there was a commotion in the crowd. But none was visible.
A group of BJP workers tried to dismiss the blast as nothing but the bursting of a tractor's tyre. But I was unconvinced. Then came three more blasts. The intensity of each explosion left me in no doubt that IEDs were planted at the venue of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally. It formed a sinister pattern. But there appeared to be a strange equanimity and indifference about it in the atmosphere.
By noon, news started trickling in about bombs going off all around the rally venue and one at the railway station. Together, the explosions killed six persons and left several injured. But not a word about successive explosions came from either the BJP leaders or security personnel on duty at the venue. And what appeared quite curious was the deceptive impression of business-as-usual prevailing in the Gandhi Maidan. Given the fact that the entire venue was surrounded overwhelmingly by youthful enthusiasts, I had no chance of escaping from the scene. I suppressed my sense of dreary premonition and resigned myself to the fate by remaining in the venue along with other colleagues of the media.
Gandhi Maidan has hosted many historic rallies that brought about tectonic shifts in Indian politics. In comparative analysis, each rally boasts of being bigger than the preceding one. The Gujarat chief minister’s rally on October 27 was no exception. The BJP leadership called it the biggest ever rally held in Patna, while rivals dubbed it nothing unusual. But nobody could dispute that Modi’s rally was markedly different from others in many respects.
The behaviour of the crowd, comprising mostly youth drawn from various parts of Bihar, bordered on fanaticism which was more religious than political in nature. Modi’s speech was cleverly punctuated by the blowing of conch shells, a ritual considered auspicious in the Hindu tradition to mark the beginning of any work. At the same time, large LED screens put up around the venue to provide the crowd a better view of Modi gave the event a modern, hi-tech touch as well. Thus, Modi’s rally was a heady cocktail of religious tradition and modernity.
That the restive crowd gathered around the venue was yearning to listen to a different political narrative was emphasised all through the event. Even in the midst of their speeches, leaders like Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh were interrupted by chorus chants of “Modi, Modi”. Significantly Modi deftly tried to weave a new political narrative which consisted of new idioms and symbols. His attempt to strike empathy with the powerful Yadav caste by invoking Lord Krishna’s link with Gujarat was meant to lure a numerically strong social group to the Hindutva fold. He was conscious of the fact that the Yadav community had been feeling marginalised after the emergence of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and imprisonment of his predecessor, Lalu Prasad Yadav, in a corruption case.
Similarly he delved into political history to prove his point that Nitish Kumar strayed from the path of his mentors like Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia to stick to power. In fact, his sharp barbs at Nitish Kumar were calculated to energise the BJP cadre who had felt quite let down after the JD(U)-BJP breakup in Bihar. And Modi evoked a nearly hysteric response from the audience.
In a clear attempt to wriggle out of his Hindutva image, he offered a “development dream” to Muslims in Bihar and promised a prosperous future should he come to power. Coming from Modi, this formulation was a radical departure from his archetypal image.
By all account, those gathered at Gandhi Maidan looked at Modi as their saviour. And this is not a new phenomenon in Indian politics. In the post-emergency phase, JP donned the same mantle but his political progenies squandered the opportunity. In a not too distant past, VP Singh revolted against Rajiv Gandhi and emerged as a yet another saviour who would ensure deliverance for people from all ills. Those who have heard the full-throated slogan describing VP Singh as “Raja nahi fakir hai, Bharat ki taqdeer hai” in the late 1980s would find cries of “Modi, Modi” feeble in comparison. But Singh lost his charm much sooner than expected.
A similar euphoria was created for the BJP when LK Advani took out a rath yatra and forged a formidable coalition with disparate political groups to create NDA under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In less than six years, however, the NDA government proved to be no different from the past regimes. The emergence of the UPA in 2004 and subsequent anointment of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister was the logical culmination of people’s disaffection with leaders on whom they repose great confidence. Going by the frenzied response that Modi evoked in his Gandhi Maidan rally, he has cast himself in the mould of an individual “saviour”. But such a halo around one’s personae has its own limitations.