IIPM Admission

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

From Hindutva poster boy to a mellow right winger, Narendra Modi wants to wing it from regional to national politics.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi
22nd September, 2012
Sankheda, 50 kms. off Vadodara

Modi: “Are you all satisfied with development in Gujarat in last 10 years?”
Crowds: “Yes”
Modi: “You receive water for farmlands? Are you happy? Be louder?
Crowds: “Yes”
Modi: “Roads and flyovers are across Gujarat now. Are you happy?”
Crowds (now screaming in frenzy): “Yes”
Modi: “But I am not happy.”
The crowd is stunned into silence.

Modi continues: “Last 10 years I only made up for the mess created by Congress regimes. From January 2013, I will begin building a Divya, Bhavya (sacred, glorious) Gujarat.' The crowd breaks into resounding cheers. Modi is not finished: "I removed all dirt from the state in 10 years. Now it is your turn to remove the dirt in these elections". The 9,000 plus crowd goes berserk. They laugh, slap each other’s backs and applaud the implied pun and sarcastic delivery of Modi's punch line ahead of the assembly elections later this year.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi plays the crowd like a piano. He is a master of crowd management, a theatrical Pied Piper mesmerising people with his studied gait, rasping voice and careful weaving of oratory with provocative statements, and made-to-order pauses. This gift of the gab combined with a slew of ‘visible’ development initiatives such as roads, highways and industries has won him two terms as chief minister despite the stigma of 2002 riots always hovering in the background.

That Narendra Modi has a clear chance of a third shot in the corridors of power at Gandhinagar is certain. Despite accusations of a dictatorial working style and arrogance, anti-incumbency seems to be just an irritating fly to be swatted away by Modi. Many believe that it is only a matter of how many seats will the BJP corner in round three. Pundits indicate that it may be a tall order for BJP to surpass their earlier record of bagging 127 seats in 2002, and 117 seats in the 2007 assembly polls. But Modi has a different plan.

Party insiders say that the man is hoping for his biggest seat tally yet in the upcoming assembly polls which will help consolidate his position in the state and also in national politics. Modi, known to micro manage every election, has his eyes set on 151 seats in the 182 seats assembly. He dreams of surpassing the record 140 seats won by former Congress CM Madhavsinh Solanki in post-Emergency elections. An overwhelming mandate in the state will likely give Modi the power and the glory to drive all the way to New Delhi and the prime minister's office in 2014.

Everything that Modi has done for the last one year is tailored to achieve this ambition. It began with the Sadbhavna Mission which Modi flagged off in September last year after the Supreme Court appointed SIT gave him a clean chit in the 2002 riot cases. It was an attempt to build bridges with the minority community, shed his saffron persona, and effectuate a secular makeover – a must for realising any political ambitions at the national level.

The makeover is not merely cosmetic. The last year has seen Modi meet a slew of Muslim delegations to understand the issues affecting the community. He has also attended Muslim functions, praised the community for its role in Gujarat’s success story and even inducted some Muslim faces into his party.

Likewise, Modi’s campaign this poll season is built around Swami Vivekananda, a known secularist. The Yatra which kicked off on September 11 has already seen Modi address over 50 large public meetings across Gujarat including Saurashtra, a region known to be the stronghold of rebel BJP leader and former Gujarat CM Keshubhai Patel. A life size statue of Vivekananda travels with Modi’s impressive fleet of some 40 SUVs, cars and buses wherever he goes for public meetings. His party mangers say that Modi will reach out to almost one crore people directly in under a month during the Yatra.

The text of Modi’s speeches in 2012 has also undergone a sea change from 2002 and 2007 in keeping with his ambitions. His 2002 speeches had overt Hindutva overtones. Remember the infamous remark about polygamy among Muslims and family planning? 'Hum paanch hamare pacchis,' Modi had said to frenzied crowds, many of whom had still not forgotten the flames of the post-Godhra riots.

Cut to public meetings in 2012 and his stinging communal brickbats are conspicuous by their absence. He credits himself and the BJP for development in Gujarat and slams the Congress for price rise and corruption. The rest of the time he plays to the gallery but plays it safe. “He is taking his personality above communalism. He knows that only AB Vajpayee like secular credentials can take him to the prime minister’s chair,” explains Ahmedabad based columnist Vishnu Pandya.

The manner in which Modi refuses to even acknowledge local Congress leaders in his rallies – training his guns only at Manmohan, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi lends further credence to his burning desire to play a role at the national level. All of Modi’s scathing remarks and repartees about the functioning of UPA II have come at his public meetings.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same. It will not be easy for Modi to corner the desired 151 seats this time and procure a one way ticket to New Delhi. In the cold, harsh world of realpolitik there are three things working against Modi’s national ambitions. Much water has flown in the Sabarmati since the 2002 riots but its spectre still haunts Modi. Decade long trials such as the Naroda Patiya case are winding down now and Modi is finding himself tarnished with the same communal brush he has tried to do away with. This is a far cry from the image of growth and development that Modi wanted to convey with the polls so close.

Secondly, what was an almost decimated opposition at the state level is fighting for a comeback. The Congress is playing the populist card ahead of the assembly polls with sops such as free land and more. Modi in turn is also playing the same game especially in rural areas where there is widespread discontent over handing of large tracts of pasture land to big industrialists. “Giving away of gochar or pastoral land of villages for industrial use has become a big issue in Gujarat. There is huge resentment among Maldharis (cow breeding community) due to this,” says Gautam Thakar, secretary, PUCL, Gujarat.

There is also Modi’s acceptability as a potential prime ministerial candidate among the BJP top brass and NDA allies. NDA ally Janata Dal (U), for instance, has publicly announced that they would walk out of NDA if Modi is projected as the prime minister. JD(U) is also fielding candidates in the assembly polls, polarising BJP votes. Despite all the negatives, a third consecutive term in Gandhinagar is not an impossible feat for Modi. Sheila Dixit in Delhi and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa have already shown the way. His development agenda has ensured that Modi continues to shine as the blue eyed boy for Gujarat’s ever expanding middle class. Terms such as Vibrant Gujarat and his latest Divya, Bhavya Gujarat further pander to Gujarati parochialism – making Modi’s persona synonymous with Gujarati pride. The jury is still out on whether the national middle class will embrace Modi with the same fervour come 2014. 

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