The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have all but anointed Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, but the only way he will ever get there is if he steps out from under the shadow of Lal Krishna Advani. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? However, everything that has happened in the last few weeks seems to point in that direction. The only way Advani is going to give up his claim to the PM’s chair is till the verdict for 2014 stares him in the face. And maybe not even then! And don’t be surprised if he plots and schemes to ensure that Modi is discredited and disgraced, even after the party has backed Modi.

Observing the manner in which everyone – from media to politicians, both from the opposition and the BJP – has been gunning for Narendra Modi, reminds me of the days after the Emergency in 1977, when the Janata Party set up the various Commissions to inquire into the excesses committed by Mrs Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their cohorts during the Emergency.

The Shah Commission was set up soon after the Janata Party came to power in the elections declared after the Emergency was lifted in 1977. Unfortunately, instead of putting Mrs Gandhi and her son in the dock for the manner in which they ran the country in those 21 months, the proceedings were hijacked by the duo and won for Mrs Gandhi the elections when the Janata Party collapsed.

What was interesting was the manner in which the wily Indira Gandhi garnered tremendous sympathy during the Commission hearings. I was then still in my teens but I remember pouring over reports of the Shah Commission proceedings in the newspaper. I think I got the Indian Express at home, and it was full of reports about the Turkman Gate incident, children being sterilised, people dying during such operations, the disappearance of P Rajan, a student from Kerala who had protested against the Emergency (incidentally, his remains are yet to be recovered). To a teenager it was riveting stuff. And then there was Vidya Charan Shukla, the then information broadcasting minister who had his stooges stationed in all newspaper offices that he believed were against his leader Sanjay. He also destroyed all (so he thought) copies of a film (Kirsa Kursi ka), which was a satire on the government.

When the Commission started its hearings, the wily Mrs Gandhi, ever the astute politician, played the victim so convincingly that midway through the proceedings the tables had turned. She attended the hearing everyday dressed in a simple cotton sari, sitting on a hard bench and even refusing water. It struck a chord. People began to feel that it was not her but her son who was the culprit, which in many ways he was. By then the newspapers too (we didn’t have 24×7 television news then) began to portray her as a woman wronged and from the accused she became the victim. It was now the Janata Party that was in the dock! What is happening today with Narendra Modi comes pretty close,

Look at the way everyone – politicians, activists, media – is going after Modi every time he opens his mouth. It borders on paranoia. It is either about his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 or his claims of a development in the State or his remark about being a ‘Nationalist Hindu’ or the very loaded puppy remark. Anything he says gets mercilessly flogged by the politicians and picked up by the media. According to the dictionary the word ‘nationalist’ is defined as ‘Devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation’. So what did Modi say that was so abhorrent, ask his supporters. Or for that matter his puppy remark. There is already a large segment of the population that believes Modi is being unfairly targeted. Just like the original Mrs G was. They would also have us believe that it was not Modi but others around him who should be held responsible for the pogrom in Gujarat.

It’s not like he is the only politician in the country who has allegedly ‘engineered’ a riot. Some former Congress prime ministers and chief ministers have watched as mobs have gone on the rampage, and quite a few ordinary politicians who are today part of the ruling dispensation, have been accused of not just inciting riots but playing an active role in them. What this is doing for Modi, is that it is making him a hero in the eyes of a large chunk of the population that believes that he is articulating their angst against everything that is wrong today.

For example, the tax-payer is angry with the UPA politicians for filling their pockets while they, the public, bears the brunt of rising prices. And no politician is bothered about them. Modi has, very smartly, stepped in to fill that breach. Like Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra who deliberately takes on the ruling establishment – be it the politician or the bureaucracy – Modi’s rhetoric has touched a nerve. And just yesterday I read that India Inc prefers Modi as prime minister to Rahul Gandhi. Must be a bitter pill to swallow for the Congress party.

Tomorrow he might turn out to be just another politician, but for now Modi seems to find support. And that worries the political class, including those in his party like Lal Krishna Advani. Coming from a politician who is part of the RSS, which has been known for its discipline, it speaks volumes of Advani’s desperation to become PM. Let’s wait and see whether Modi’s opponents who have been taking pot shots at him, find their target or just end up shooting themselves in the foot.

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