Can the NDA bear Sangh’s Hindutva baggage?

The VHP’s endorsement of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate to carry forward the Hindutva agenda is a double edged sword. It might unite the Sangh Parivar’s core base while cutting the NDA into pieces.

Technically, the last word on the issue belongs to the saffron party’s parliamentary board. But the VHP’s pronouncement and the (media interpreted) oblique support of it by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat could trigger a much bigger political polarization ahead of the 2014 polls.

A big section of the BJP’s erstwhile and present allies in the NDA are weary of Modi. Their unease will be compounded by the Gujarat CM’s projection as a torch bearer of the Hindutva plank, at the core of which is the divisive Ram Temple issue.

For his part, Modi has been attempting an image transplant since his electoral hat-trick in Gujarat. It will be interesting to watch whether he will— in the emerging scenario— revert to the basics the BJP had to forego to become acceptable in a coalition arrangement under Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the 1998-2004 NDA ruled.

If Modi’s indeed accepted as the candidate for the PM’s office, the BJP will in all probability be going into elections at the head of a badly truncated NDA. The first to exit the alliance will be the JD (U). The position of Shiv Sena isn’t also clear on the issue, the late Bal Thackeray having voiced his preference for Sushma Swaraj before his death.

If the ostensible pro-Modi tempo sustains, the poll outcome will depend on the size of Hindu consolidation in a polity driven by caste allegiances in vast parts of the country. However, in urban areas, where aspiration often triumphs identity, the gamble might be worth the risk for the BJP. It might recoup the middle class constituency it lost to the UPA in 2004.

That nothing can be said with certainty — not at the current juncture — is explained by the series of assembly polls in the run-up to the general elections. If Modi’s counterparts in MP and Chattisgarh score hat-trick victories, the picture might change dramatically. It will provide Modi’s detractors an opportunity to turn the tables in the name of keeping intact the NDA.

There are many acts to the unfolding drama. The opening scenes at Allahabad could be misleading.

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