By Swapan Dasgupta
There are politicians whose perceptions of the outside world are derived almost exclusively from interactions with karyakartas who now live abroad or whose son/daughter or neighbour’s first cousin is now the proud holder of an OCI card. This could explain why their sense of the world happens to be somewhat eccentric. I recall an NRI who had lived some 26 years in a small town in southern USA (and thereby becoming his politician brother’s main intellectual input on foreign affairs) turning livid when he heard me argue that President George W. Bush had a lot of popular backing for his politics. “I have not a single person who ever voted for Bush”, he informed me. When I suggested that his social experiences were limited, he took very serious umbrage.
I was reminded of this incident all through last week after the Supreme Court angered activists by refusing to order the filing of a FIR against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. This anger turned to apoplectic rage after Modi, with his keen sense of the spectacular, decided to undertake a three-day fast for ‘sadbhavna’. A friend of mine with a high media profile proclaimed grandly that she hadn’t met a single person who was supportive of Modi’s new campaign. “We have to draw the line somewhere”, she said grandly. Modi’s supporters “aren’t the types you can invite into your home.”
What bound the gentleman who’d never encountered a Bush supporter (and therefore felt they didn’t exist) and the lady who wants Modi supporters out of her life was their sense of denial. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t shaped by individual experience; nor, for that matter, are all attitudes in India determined by the babalog media. Had that been the case, Modi would have by now been banished to the most inhospitable island in the Indian Ocean and left to rot. Instead, the more he is vilified and painted as the blood-sucking inheritor of Dracula’s mantle, the more he seems to grow from strength to strength.
Modi’s trajectory is fascinating. In 2001, he was parachuted into Gujarat after a six year absence to salvage a government that even the BJP had more or less written off. By March of the next year he was at the centre of a political tsunami that would have blown most politicians off their feet. Instead, Modi has successfully turned calamity on its head, learnt from that experience and come out stronger.
In December 2002, the Congress actually believed it was winning Gujarat. Its optimism was based on the inputs of NGOs who were central to the crusade against Modi. So fanatical was social pressure of the chattering classes that opinion polls scaled down the magnitude of the impending BJP victory by portraying it as a touch-and-go election. Outlook magazine’s poll, for example, forecast a convincing Modi defeat because the clever pollster had conveniently transferred all the ‘undecided’ responses into the Congress kitty.
It was the same story in 2007. This time the media assumed the role of the opposition and wrote about Modi encountering indifferent crowds. Psephologist Yogendra Yadav declared that Modi could be defeated. I recall meeting a senior editor from NDTV at a large Modi rally on the outskirts of Ahmedabad that resembled a rock festival. Earlier in the day he had told me that Modi’s prospects seemed very iffy. “Very impressive”, I remarked amid the melee. The man shrugged his shoulder and replied nonchalantly, “Hardly. This is his home turf.”
The point was simple: Modi had to be seen through tinted lens. There were global tenders issued for issues, real or contrived, to keep the Gujarat pot boiling. The court cases indicate the pattern. First, it was said that the Gujarat police was biased. Next, the charges of partiality were levelled against the Gujarat judiciary. The Supreme Court then undertook to monitor all investigations through its own, specially appointed Special Investigations Team. When the SIT doubted the veracity of the claim by activists and witnesses whose testimonies came touchingly close to outright perjury, its integrity was questioned. An environment was sought to be created so that trial by judiciary became trial by media. Last Monday, a gleeful media waited in anticipation of an adverse Supreme Court order that would inevitably have led to Modi’s resignation. The judges stuck to the law and ignored the pressures on them. Now, even after the Supreme Court has pronounced its unwillingness to accept every wild claim as the Gospel, the Modi baiters are undaunted. “Modi hasn’t got a clean chit” is the mantra of the day.
In their eyes it will always be a heads I win, tails you lose.
For the past decade Gujarat has averaged a GDP growth of 10 per cent, the highest in the country. Its agricultural growth has also been around 10 per cent—a stupendous achievement for a sector that is limping. Yet, the only Gujarat stories that make news are those supplied by Teesta Setalvad.
As a news agency, Teesta has done wonders and even secured a Padma award. But let’s look at the parallel career of Narendra Modi. Nine years ago, his ability to withstand Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s opposition and remain Chief Minister was a matter of conjecture. This week the talk is of him emerging as a possible Prime Minister of India in 2014.
Sunday Pioneer, September 18, 2011