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Friday, December 21, 2012

TOWARDS GREATER HEIGHTS - Modi’s victory shows he has quietly reinvented himself

By Swapan Dasgupta

Those familiar with elections in West Bengal prior to the Mamata storm of 2011 may not find it too difficult to understand the dynamics of Assembly polls in Gujarat since 1995. A dominant party, with deep social and organisational roots, was periodically confronted with patchy challenges that often led to occasional upsets in isolated constituencies. It was also the case that an opposition that seemed moribund during the non-election years suddenly sprang to life and secured tacit endorsements from a media that had its own scores to settle with the established order. No one doubted the end result but there was furious speculation over the margin of victory. Did a spectacularly high turnout—recall that in many parts of West Bengal the long queues meant that polling had to be extended by many hours—suggest that there was a ‘silent undercurrent’ for change?

There is, however, one significant difference. In West Bengal, Jyoti Basu was the dominant figure from 1977 until his retirement in 2000. For the Left and for many others, he was a patrician-like figure who commanded respect. His rallies were well attended but sober occasions. For all his personal appeal, Basu was no great orator and his staccato sentences, riddled with more common sense than Marxism, were often looked upon with quiet amusement. If there was ‘electricity’ in the air, it was impossible to detect it from a Basu rally. The CPI(M) was a machine that worked with quiet efficiency.

To really understand an election in Gujarat, it is obligatory to attend an election rally addressed by Narendra Modi. I have been to umpteen meetings addressed by Gujarat’s longest-serving Chief Minister but his election rallies are special.

In 2002, when the riots and the so-called communal question dominated the agenda, I saw the Modi phenomenon at work for the first time. It was late in the evening and the location was a crossroad deep inside Dariapur, an area in Ahmedabad that had become infamous since the 1980s for unending Hindu-Muslim clashes. One lane from the chowk led to a Muslim locality and the others to Hindu-dominated areas where, it could well be said, the votes for the BJP were weighed rather than counted.

It was a star-studded evening. First L.K. Advani would speak and be followed by Modi. As usually happens, the timings went a bit awry. Advani had barely spoken for five minutes when he was silenced by a roar, originating from the rear and then overwhelming the entire crowd like a Mexican wave. Modi had arrived and the crowd reacted with absolute frenzy. Discretion getting the better of hierarchy, Advani took the message, ended his speech abruptly and departed. The audience had made it clear this was Modi’s election.

I witnessed a repeat performance in 2007 at a more middle class venue in the Sabarmati constituency, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Crushed by a human wave that surged forward to get a better view and wave to a man who had been declared “Lion of Gujarat” , it was easy to forget that this was an election rally and not a rock concert. The absence of music was duly compensated by the audience’s gleeful anticipation of Modi’s one liners.

In 2002, they used to wait for his ‘Mian Musharraf” lines; this election, and despite a voice that grew hoarse in the final days of the campaign, the familiar mix of boisterous youth and middle-aged women who occupied the stall seats eagerly awaited the mention of ‘Madam Sonia ben’ and ‘Rahul baba’. At the meeting in a working class locality in old Ahmedabad, it didn’t really matter what Modi was taunting the Congress President and the heir apparent with. What was important was that Modi was on the offensive and at his sarcastic best.

Translated versions of his Gujarati speeches often drag Modi into controversy. They are so totally different from the deferential idiom of pol-speak in Hindi. In Gujarat, however, the popular reception to his flamboyant irreverence, often laced with a touch of self-deprecation, is rapturous. In everyday life Gujaratis may be abstemious, even a bit austere, but their self-expression (or so my Gujarati friends inform me) is often biting, without being bawdy. Modi has mastered the art of penetrating the heart of the Gujarati. He has his finger firmly on the pulse of their concerns, their aspirations and even their prejudices.

In the aftermath of the 2002 riots, Modi was painted by India’s uber secularists as an ugly, fringe phenomenon born out the basest of Hindu prejudices. By 2007, the obnoxious Hindu had been modified into one of into a disagreeable Gujarati who, as Ashis Nandy once suggested also reflected the ugly side of its middle classes. And in 2012, he is being pilloried for presenting a flawed development as the national alternative.

That Modi remains a controversial politician is undeniable. But what is significant is how much the goalposts have shifted and the remarkable extent to which Modi has entered the mainstream discourse—not for his lapses in 2002 but for his achievements in the past decade. Despite all the rhetorical flourishes that characterise every time the voters are asked to choose, the 2012 election was really a test of bread and butter issues. Had the development process in Gujarat been utterly skewed and left the so-called aam aadmi untouched, it is doubtful that Modi would have been re-elected in an election where voter turnout touched a 70 per cent high. The absence of any focussed anti-incumbency would suggest that the indictment of the Gujarat model did not correspond to people’s lived experiences. In presiding over high economic growth and the improvement in the quality of life, Modi could be said to have delivered. To those who have long argued that a high growth strategy centred on infrastructure, capacity building and state efficiency is a certain election loser—witness the examples of Vajpayee, Chandrababu Naidu and even Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee—Modi is proof that the opposite also holds good. Perhaps Manmohan Singh should take heart.

The question that now confronts the political establishment of India is stark: can Modi and his model be posited as the path for India? There are no easy, pre-determined answers. Nor is this the most appropriate moment to speculate on whether or not Modi will be among the choices in the next general election. As Harold Macmillan famously said, “events” can often unsettle calculations. Yet, some larger conclusions from Thursday’s election results are warranted.

 It is clear that what has derisively been called the ‘Modi cult’ is no longer confined to one mid-sized state of western India, it has infected the rank-and-file of the BJP and a sizable section of the middle classes yearning for high growth, purposeful leadership and integrity in public life. Much more needs to be done but Modi, it would seem, has quietly reinvented himself.

Whether this push from below is sufficient to catapult Modi to the national stage is now the big question. India, unfortunately, doesn’t have a system of primaries to determine leadership question in political parties. Yet, the Gujarat election has come closest to settling the issue for the BJP. The party would be foolish to not heed the message.

Prime Minister Modi is still a distant dream. But if the momentum generated by his political victory in Gujarat gathers pace, India could yet witness the unravelling of politics as we know it. At every stage since 2002, the bar on assessing Modi has been raised. Each time Modi has both met the challenge and readied himself for greater heights. 


Prashanth said...


Do you have any suggestions about how we can let BJP top brass understand this ground swell across the country for Modiji....

We don't have primaries....but what else can we do...anything online will be quickly dismissed.

How can there be a show of strength about Modi to BJP top brass?

Anonymous said...

gadkari needs to step aside.perception matters.u can't fight corruption with one hand tied behind.HP results show that u can't be dismissive of with differences will hv to settle for opp.benches if immediate actions aren't taken.justice should be seen to be done.

संजय अ. राजगुरू. said...

Just spread the message of Modi's developing Gujarat on ground lever to everybody who meets. This will enhanced his popularity further. BJP will bend to make him PM candidates if Modi's popularity keep growing further.

No Mist said...

It is true that Modi has now arrived. However there are still some things to consider.

At the end of the day almost 40% of the Gujaratis voted against Modi. And this does say that development is not yet truly the issue it needs to be. It is undeniable that Keshubhai has played the spoilsport here. And if he can do this in Gujarat, there are umpteen keshubhai's and nitish's who can do this in the rest of india. Modi has to keep this in mind.

I dont think there is much to go for Modi (however much I like it), unless he presents a little softer face. And for that he must make a beginning today from a state of strength. His conciliation to Muslims today would sound much more genuine than if he were to make such gestures when he is down. And in politics, there will always be a moment of 'down'.

From here Modi has to work tirelessly to -

1. Present a team friendly face to BJP

2. Present a soft benevolent image to the public without compromising his no nonsense image.

3. Present a more accommodating face to the Muslims without any appeasement. This has to be more emotional than material.

4. Cobble good working relation with other senior members of BJP. after all he will need a full panoply of talent to run the central govt.

5. Starting from today begin articulating his vision for India. And this include his stand on foreign policy as well as defense policy. Just like BJP used to do regularly in 1995-98

Modi has shown that he is capable to manage all the above. The only question is, does he has sensible enough core team of advisers and 'good-cop/bad-cops' to take care of the nitty-gritties. He badly needs one or two Brajesh Mishras. Given that he is certainly no Vajpayee, the need is more than ever.


Nice blog post Swapan....

Narendra Modi is a natural choice and the US of A is only playing its part to ensure that a corrupt,soft and incompetent india gets a leader with a strong character.

RISHI said...

Swapanda, you were at your best yesterday on CNN IBN during the entire election analysis :)

Anonymous said...

You said it!

" yearning for high growth, purposeful leadership and integrity in public life".

Sri.Narendra Modi's mother tongue is Gujarati no doubt but he is not a provincial ill informed person. He knows the entire INDIA.

Considerable UNPARDONABLE harm was inflicted by ndtv crew , rajdeep & his wife sagarika ghose , shabana azmis & tehelka. HENCE they should be spurned by us hindus even if they make some ingratiating noises as sagarika ghose is attempting. They are highly treasonous.

The word "development" grossly understates what Sri.Narendra Modi has achieved single handedly. Mercifully I GDP & percentages calculations are beyond me. However I know what BAN on cow slaughter, alcohol & INTEGRITY can achieve.No scientist or IITian would be able to add anything new as HINDUS' VEDAS have unequivocally amplified the salutary effect.

Thank God , Vajpayee is indisposed. I remember very well Vajpayee was actually jealous of Sri.Narendra Modi.

Words like minority,that caste this caste, poor upliftment quotas reservations, different paths leading to God have been in circulation for decades in India under INEPT congress full of power hungry RASCALS people have started almost believing in that web of deceit.

Sri.Narendra Modi has proved all are equal citizens meriting no special appeasement sops.

Hence let him be what he IS.
ASSERTIVENESS is becoming of him & sits well on his shoulders.

lET US ALL PRAY FOR HIM & HIS WELL BEING.Therein lies our well being.

Anonymous said...

On one of the prominent News channels today they were airing clips from Congress & BJP rallies. A party cadre at Modi's rally goes "Bharath Mata ki.....!" and to my utter surprise and disappointment a cadre at Congress's rally goes "Sonia Gandhi ki....!". Don't you think its time that we place our nation way ahead of our pseudo-secular political leaders?

Anonymous said...

USA is NOT anti Narendra Modi.

It is the congressis & certain malevolent vermins like barkha dutts who are instigating kindred people there to belch fire & brimstone against Sri.Narendra Modi.

By God's Grace Sri.Narendra Modi can say with legitimate pride he owes nothing to Harvard and SYCOPHANCY as p.chidambarams.

Kiran B said...

The so called Secularists try their best to doubt his credentials. Right wing Hindu organizations opposed him during the election. Many in the self proclaimed secular media still leave no opportunity to question everything that he has achieved. In the mean while, people across the board, irrespective of their caste and religion vote for him! Modi's win despite all these odds is bound to make Indians think about changing political paradigm. Imagine - if voters across the country rise above the caste equations and vote for governance and accountability, India will be a vastly different country! Rise of politicians like Nitish Kumar, Patnaik, Parrikar and Modi is a clear sign of a different India that is emerging!

Krishna Chaitanya said...

BJP has, in my opinion, got the right combination in the form of "MODI-JAITLEY jugalbandhi" which has all the guts and material to counter "Rahul & Sonia duo" in 2014. The question now is will Sangh led by RSS (with the support of some within the BJP) allow this combination to emerge.

What the RSS and sections within BJP are forgetting is that allowing a united BJP to win 2014 will obtain its main objective of getting back to the power at centre which ironically all sections within the BJP and the Sangh also wants !

I have been in Germany for the last 5 years before moving to Norway recently. I have observed very closely how a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has transformed itself from a religious based party to a more modern appealing party. It required some leadership on the part of Helmut Kohl to make this transition. After Vajpayee, I guess this Modi-Jaitley juganbandi got in them to make this transition.

Forget Nitish for a moment and concentrate on making BJPs's foundations strong and we got a right combination now to do this. Nitish + Congress will fall short of the required majority in the next state elections of Bihar (because Congress is just a nonstarter in Bihar). It needs BJP to hangon in Bihar.

No one mentioned this but take a look at the "strike rate" in the last Bihar state elections (2011). I define strike rate as number of seats won to number of seats contested. If you pit BJP vs. JD(U) the strike rate of BJP is in 90s, whereas the strike rate of JDU(U) is just under 80 ! Who needs whom in Bihar ???

Anonymous said...

This is a brilliant analysis, Swapan. RSS Bosses and B JP leadership should do some serious introspection . If they have to win atleast 175 seats they should push for Modi. Forget pseudo secularists like Vir Sanghvi and the likes of Burkha Dutt. If not in 2014 then never ever fir the BJP!

Anonymous said...

Shri Modiji has accomplished more than any other politician in India today and is the only one who gives people hope for the future of India. Hence, he is accepted as a natural leader. People like performance. Shri Modiji has changed the dynamic from populism to performance. His achievements are many, but the vested interests are arrayed against him. Here are the electoral tactics of his opponents:

1. Split the BJP vote by cultivating BJP turncoats like Keshubai Patel and BSY.
2. Pursue their leaders through the courts, and since the courts lack evidence, they try trial by (paid) media
3. Cultivation of vote-banks.
4. Use the (paid) media to sow dissension in BJP ranks. e.g. All this PM speculation and Nitish Kumar.
5. For every accusation of corruption, the Congress will say the BJP is corrupt too.
6. The BJP should be wary of the Arvind Kejriwal movement as it could hijack the anti-corruption movement and split votes, thereby promoting what Kejriwal wants to stop. Could he be made an internal anti-corruption watchdog within the BJP?

If we look at the assets of oppoonents, they have money power, media power, and vote-bank power. All are based on the ill-gotten gains of corruption.

The BJP, if it is to win in 2014, must:
1. Neutralise defection by turncoats through respectful engagement with them and the promise of benefits linked to performance. How about pay-based performance and promotion? This cannot happen in a dynastic party but can happen in the BJP.

2. Mount a strong anti-defamation campaign and counter-sue to raise the costs of silly allegations. Use outreach technologies (social media, TV, newspapers) that are favoured by the people. BJP must invest time and effort to ensure media sentiment is not negative. They should mount a campaign to expose media ownership by opposition parties. All candidates who deal with the press must be given excellent media training.

3. Split opposition vote banks by directly reaching out to their potential turncoats.

4. The BJP must have a better website, Twitter, Facebook, page for younger voters. It should have an IPTV channel, run articles in newspapers and linear / digital broadcast. Their voice must be consistently on-message and consistently heard.

5. The BJP must punish corruption within it's own ranks. It must be squeaky clean.

6. The BJP must retain its existing allies (JD-U, SAD, AIADMK, Shiv Sena) and cultivate new ones (TMC? TDP? GPP?)

Fatty Liver Treatment said...

When do you think sir will the final call happen by BJP and will they go all out with Modi?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous@December 22, 2012 1:38 AM,

BJP gets completely outdistanced in corruption & deceit by congress & its allies like dmk. Hence BJP should not get ensnared into this trap. Congress & dmk stand far ahead in the queue. Let them face PUNISHMENT along with their paid media. For EVM tampering also.

PChidambarams , kamal nath -the whole lot is ROTTEN to the core. India has faced lots of bomb blasts but mysteriously congress , its allies & the leftists have NEVER perished in any bomb blast.They DO NOT have the people's mandate. Intimidating with CBI which in itself is congress in disguise shorn of any autonomy does not tantamount to people's mandate. Let them FACE the public US HINDUS unprotected by a single black cat commando , police & savour the alleged regard people of India have for them.

What do you mean by "squeaky clean"? Once the thugs of congress & dmk are gone squeaky clean Bharath would manifest itself.

AIADMK would be a fine ally.TDP's chandrababu naidu is also a LOOTER of Thirupathi Temple. Hence an untouchable.

BJP should NOT empower people like hemamalinis. She is one rich bollywood celeb that travelled without a ticket in a train in Tamil Nadu. And has a dubious reputation. Just because congress fields bollykolly BJP should NOT imitate them. It would be disastrous.

Jitendra Desai said...

His reinvention is Indian youth whom Rahul Gandhi and his babalog have been courting since last 10 years.While everyone else talked of demographic dividend, he has pocketed bulk of it.It will not be easy for BJP to ignore his claim for the top job.

Gyanesh Talwar said...

Why Christians hate modi?