Narendra Modi would like to appeal to different people in different ways. After the initial consolidation phase, when he was seen solely as a Hindutva proponent, Mr. Modi is now in the expansion phase, trying to reach out to people who have not traditionally voted for his Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate wants to be Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani rolled into one, a Loh Purush and a Vikas Purush. The Gujarat strongman will have few rivals within or outside his party for the “man-of-steel” title with his carefully-cultivated image of political decisiveness and administrative firmness. After having outdone Mr. Advani as Loh Purush, Mr. Modi needed to extend his support beyond the core constituency of the Hindutva brand of politics. The “development” or Vikas Purush tag, which comes with holding up Gujarat as a model State for growth and development, is a more recent acquisition, but not any the less important for that reason. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Modi’s articulation of his idea of India at Sunday’s national meet of the BJP was important both for what it highlighted and what it left out. There was no space for controversial issues such as minority rights and the building of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, the trump cards of the BJP whenever it is in retreat. Instead, Mr. Modi came up with a “rainbow strategy” of strengthening cultural and familial values, agricultural-rural development, women’s empowerment and security, environmental protection, youth power, democracy, and knowledge and skill development.
Had the same strategy been spelt out by the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, no one would have batted an eyelid. Mr. Modi might not think much of the leaders of the Congress, but he appears very intent on wooing sections considered as the traditional support base of that party. As evident from the results of the Assembly elections late last year, Mr. Modi was able to reinvigorate the cadres and support bases of the BJP. But, 2013 showed that he was not politically acceptable to many of the BJP’s former allies, such as the Janata Dal (United) and the Biju Janata Dal. Without toning down the Hindutva rhetoric, and without placing governance in the forefront, Mr. Modi realises, he would not be able to bridge the seats deficit after the Lok Sabha election. Mission 272+ is easier said than done, and the BJP cannot wish away its dependence on other parties if it is to form the next government. With the growth and development mantra, Mr. Modi is not exactly engaged in an image makeover, but he is certainly showing a readiness to appear to move away from a divisive communal politics that characterised his emergence as a politician in the initial years.
Keywords: Narendra Modi, 2014 parliamentary polls, BJP, Hindutva, election agenda, Gujarat development model, Ram temple, Ayodhya, BJP national executive meet, Mission 272+, Modi for PM, election campaign