The Modi era, the birth of a pan-Indian Muslim Party and rise of urban city parties
Ok the title of this blog is a mouthful and they are three different un-related ideas. I am sure you are wondering how the three are related? You might be thinking I have finally gone cuckoo and you should stop reading this blog. But hang on. Give me a patient reading and I will tell you how these three seemingly un-related things are connected. I am going to break the story into three parts and hopefully by the end of the third story you will be able to connect the dots yourself.
Part I: The rise and rise of Modi
I am watching with great amusement how folks in urban India have reacted to Modi’s announcement as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Unfortunately their enthusiasm for Modi does not stem from deep understanding of BJP’s agenda or careful research on the Gujarat model of development. It is more based on self-interest. They strongly believe that Indian economy will boom once Modi comes to power. That Modi will be able to fix the potholes on the road, clear the garbage and fix the law and order situation in a jiffy. They also believe that Pakistan will start behaving and stop killing our soldiers on the border. In short all will be well with India and they can go back to watching cricket and drinking beer. I even read an article predicting a “Modi Bull Market (read the full story here). Some journalists like Aakar Patel have put this phenomenon in perspective (read story here)
The urban TV media has reacted to this news in a predictable manner. It is no secret that there is probably no love lost between the Political editors of news channel and Modi (read a story by written by Barkha Dutt here). Their worst nightmare is Modi becoming the PM and then ignoring them. Their unfettered access could evaporate in a second. Some journalists have tried an interesting spin by bringing up the challenge of “neutrality” that journalists now face (read Rajdeep’s blog here.) Some like Karan Thapar have openly floated the idea that neither Modi nor Rahul should become the PM (Read the story here.)
While the paranoia of political editors in various news channels is understandable, the naïve belief of liberal middle class that decades of misrule can be fixed in a jiffy is heart-breaking. But then liberal middle class is an enigma which is hard to understand. So before we proceed let’s examine the liberal middle class new found fascination with Modi and the consequent disillusionment in Part II of the story.
Part II: The liberal middle class and its new fascination with Modi
The liberal middle class is famously passive and revels in hero/ leader worship. It does not like extremes either in ideas or in their everyday life. They like the predictability of their jobs, the commute to work and their everyday existence. They celebrate their festivals but in moderation. They save aggressively and are bargain hunters. By and large they are secular and respect other religions and celebrate both Eid and Christmas. They are very family oriented and would rather run to the family and the social complex to solve their problems rather than courts. They are very focused on getting their children great education and stable jobs. But above all they don’t like to make hard choices and hate their leaders making extreme utterances and pushing them to take difficult decisions. In past they have been known to vote against leaders indulging in extreme views and utterances. Sonia Gandhi probably also discovered this post her famous “Maut ka Saudagar” statement (read the story here). In short the liberal Indian middle class has a soft underbelly and does not like to be pushed very far from their middle-of-the road stance.
This same liberal middle class is now fascinated by Narendra Modi. However Mr Modi is known to take hard decisions and has the required courage and conviction to see his decisions through the very end. He is a strong and a determined leader and is not a soft by any stretch of imagination. He is the kind of leader who probably believes in “tough love” and does not believe in appeasing anybody or any section of the society (read story here). He also stands up for himself and what he believes is right. Watch this video where he interjects Atal Bihari Vajyapee the then PM who seems to be chiding him publicly about the law and order situation in Gujarat. If you watch this video you will realize that Modi is not a soft leader. He takes hard stances. A lot of his public utterances has already upset the liberal Indian middle class in the past. For example the liberal urban press blew up his comment about “50 crore ki girlfriend” (watch the video here and read the response of the liberal media here). His views about how to deal with Pakistan is possibly in conflict with the pacifist liberal middle class (read full story here).
My forecast is that the liberal middle class will find itself in a spot once the Modi era begins. Modi could possibly be a tough pill for them to swallow. The liberal middle class which is used to being molly coddled by their leaders in past is going to find Modi a completely different kettle of fish. Modi is going to also strike at the foundation of the culture of appeasement which will un-settle a lot of established educational institutions which have depended in the past for state funding. And then there is the hugely sensitive issue of the Uniform Civil Code (read this if you don’t know about Uniform Civil code) Modi has already called for the Uniform Civil code and the opposition has already jumped the bandwagon of criticism (see video here).
Then there is the issue of Article 370 that grants special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir (read about Article 370 here). Given the anti-appeasement stance of Modi he is not going to favor any special status for Jammu & Kashmir. That means the Article 370 might have to go. Anticipating this, our dear friend Omar Abdullah has been attacking BJP and openly proclaiming that the special status to Jammu & Kashmir will be revoked “only on our dead bodies.” (Read full story here).
Modi is going to push the Indian middle class to take tough stances on all the issues that have been shoved under the carpet by the various political leaders for decades. And the liberal Indian middle class is not going to like it when they are pushed to look inwards and examine their values and beliefs. Ideally they would not like to come out of their comfort zone and examine all that has been wrong in the past and their own complicity via “studious silence”. They would like to go back to their old mundane predictable life and crib once in while on Twitter and Facebook about how the “country is going to the dogs”. That is the token contribution that liberal middle class would ideally like to make towards nation building. For they have better things to do like paying EMIs and focusing on their kids topping IIT and AIIMS entrance exams. From my understanding of Modi as a leader he is not going to give the liberal Indian middle class a free ride as a passive commuter. The liberal middle class will be forced to “Wake up and smell the coffee”.
My personal opinion is that the liberal middle class will fall out of fascination with Modi fairly quickly. The liberal middle class will have to look elsewhere and that is why I am forecasting the rise of urban city parties. The fact that Arvind Kejriwal of AAP is going to decide who sits on the throne of Delhi in 2013 will have far reaching consequences. You will see the rise of dozens of urban city parties like Lok Satta (read about Lok Satta here).
Where does that leave the minorities? The Sikhs will cast their lot with Modi as Akali Dal supports Modi. The Christians don’t have the numbers to make any significant move. What the Muslims voters that comprise 19% of the electorate in states like UP and Bihar do is going to be very significant. Let’s discuss that in part III of the story.
Part III: The birth of Pan-Indian Muslim Party and death of caste based regional parties
A lot of ink has been spilled over the Muzzafarnagar riots. Amongst all the allegations and counter allegations an important statements was made by Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Mehmood Madani who warned Congress that they should not take Muslim voters as granted and treat them as captive voters (read full story here). Now why is statement by Jamiat-e-Ulema important? Let me quote from the same article from Firstpost:
“Founded in 1919, Jamait is India’s biggest Muslim organization with around 125 lakh active members in various parts of the country. The members pay Rs 1 per month as subscription, and the organization has a formidable track record in social, religious and educational activities. Therefore it commands enormous political clout in the community and outside.”
Another important Muslim leader Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad, who leads the Friday prayers at the Shahi Asafi mosque in Lucknow’s Imambada openly said “We will campaign against Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders and explain why Muslims shouldn’t vote for them.” (read full story here).
Other Muslim leaders have been threatening the Congress to pass the very important “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill” and “Waqf Bill” in the Monsoon session of the Parliament (read story here). The various leaders have threatened that they have options other than Congress on at least 300 Lok Sabha seats.
Rahul has been criticized by Maulana Saif Abbas Naqvi, a Shia cleric for his remarks that Pakistani agencies approached young Muslims who lost family members in the communal riots of Muzaffarnagar (read full story here)
Are these aggressive threatening statement by powerful Muslim leaders a harbinger of an important strategic shift in thinking and action?
So here is how I read the situation and what I think will happen in times to come.
The Muslims have been traditional allies of the Congress. However it all started changing once VP Singh passed the infamous Mandal Commission. Out of the Mandal fire and demise of Janata Dal emerged Other Backward Caste (OBC) leaders like Mulayam, Laloo and Mayawati. The Muslim thinkers quickly saw an emerging opportunity and aligned with these backward caste leaders to displace Congress in UP and Bihar as the ruling party. However leaders like Laloo did the grave mistake of favoring only Ashrafi community who are upper caste Muslims (to learn more read this article). The Pasmanda Muslims have been oppressed by Ashrafi community for decades. Nitish wooed the Pasmanda community and grabbed power in Bihar in 2005 (read full story here). The Muslim vote bank is not as consolidated block as people would like you to believe.
However the strategy of aligning with the OBC leaders to grab power in UP and Bihar has run its full course. In past it has been effective in bargaining for resources and entitlement with Congress which has been in the power at the Centre for the last several decades. Now there is new situation emerging and there are two new players. Congress has transitioned power to Rahul Gandhi. And BJP has named Narendra Modi as the PM candidate. All pre-poll results are showing that Modi will become the PM. The Muslims thinkers and scholars are well aware of the non-appeasement stance of Modi. They are also aware of his views on Uniform Civil Code and demand for revocation of Article 370. Now if you are a Muslim leader and thinker who is in-charge of drafting the strategy for the community then what will be your Plan A and Plan B? Given the anti-Rahul utterances by various Muslim leaders it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that the Muslim leaders might not be very confident of Rahul’s ability to protect their interests. After the allegations against Azam Khan in the Muzzafarnagar riots (read full story here) they probably don’t even see Samajwadi Party as a long term bet. That leaves Nitish Kumar who is struggling to safe guard his home turf against the BJP onslaught. Expecting him to play any national role is wishful thinking. So what are the options?
The Muslim leaders know that they are pretty much on their own now and that they need a long term strategy to deal with an emergent BJP and declining Congress. My suspicion is that once BJP comes to power at the Centre you should see the launch of a pan National Muslim party which will stand on its own feet. They will expect the OBC leaders like Mulayam and Laloo to support them. The roles are going to be reversed. Rahul Gandhi and Congress party are going to get further squeezed and might face existential crisis when this happens. Re-inventing the Congress Party might be the only option that Rahul might have. We will see how that pans out though I am personally bearish on that outcome.
The big question then is will this pan National Muslim party be able to win seats on their own. It is hard to say how that will turn out. However small experiments that have been run in South India have shown that they are capable of winning Assembly and Municipal Corporation seats (see details about All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party based out of Hyderabad here). The Indian Union Muslim League based out of Kerala has held 3 Lok Sabha seats (more about them here).In Tamil Nadu parties like Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) and Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ) have gained prominence. Please read this article by Hindu to get a background on the changing Muslim politics in TN.
However aligning various regional parties and uniting them under one common vision and manifesto is not going to be easy. As BJP pushes it agenda more and more at the Centre it will strengthen the hands of Muslim thinkers and scholars to launch a pan national Muslim party with a common vision and common election symbol. I will be very surprised if that does not happen.
Part IV of the story: The rise of urban city parties
If you reached this part of the story you should have figured out by now why I am predicting the rise of urban city parties. Anyway let me spell it out. As I said in part II of the story the liberal middle class will rapidly fall out if its current fascination for Modi. The Congress has abandoned them anyway in favor of the rural and urban poor. The liberal middle class will be forced to look for alternatives.
Traditionally the left parties have attracted the more liberal and intellectual thinkers from urban India. But the Left parties seem to be hobbled by some internal policy paralysis that is difficult to fathom. The Left parties should have been at the forefront of the dramatic rise of the civil society and the demonstrations in the streets against corruption and lack of law and order in 2010 and 2011. However their place has been taken by new urban parties like Aam Aadmi Party with sophisticated activist-leaders like Arvind Kejriwal. A lot of people would have loved to see Sitaram Yechury along with Arvind Kejriwal agitating on the streets. But that was not to be.
The Left parties have conceded their rightful place in the Indian political milieu to urban parties like AAP. In doing so, they have missed a very important strategic moment in history of the Indian politics. The place that has been vacated by the Left will be taken by the urban city parties which will further expand its base amongst the liberal middle class. Early pre-poll surveys are predicting a very impressive debut by Aam Aadmi Party. See this latest pre-poll survey about AAP’s stellar debut in the Delhi state elections. As per the survey AAP could get as much as 32% vote share in the Delhi elections. Very impressive for a party which is less than 2 years old and is made of technocrats, bureaucrats and lawyers.
I am fairly bullish on AAP’s performance in the Delhi elections. The urban liberal press will lap up this event and drum it up as a massive new trend in Indian politics. While AAP itself will go national in 2014 Lok Sabha elections there will be other urban parties that will debut in 2014 elections. By 2019 I see a scenario where most of the Municipal and local governing bodies will be controlled by the urban city party and they will also have a big voice at national stage.
2014 LS election is going to be a watershed election in the history of Indian politics. Both Congress and BJP know this and you can sense their quiet desperation in the feverish electioneering (Read full story here). The two big surprises in form of the emergence of a pan national Muslim party and urban city parties will force BJP and Congress to completely re-haul their strategy going forward. Both BJP and Congress could be dramatically different parties by the time we reach the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. All this will not happen without inflicting a lot of pain on the common man. The re-modeling of the Congress Party, the assertion and re-tooling by an ascendant BJP and activist-infested urban city parties is a heady concoction for massive disruptions. All the four forces will jockey to influence the direction this great old country takes. It will be messy and not at all a pretty sight. But then democracies are always messy. But the big question is “Will we remain a functioning democracy?” As they say in Hollywood movies “Fasten your seat belts…”