Few politicians are as fascinating as Narendra Modi. And for the last 12 years, no politician has been as controversial. Neither has been any politician accused, blacklisted, vilified and treated like a pariah as much. Yet he has not only survived, but thrived.
Today, people will be surprised if he doesn’t win 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Elusive allies are sending accommodating feelers. What’s amazing is the criticism has not stopped even as the Godhra riots’ censure has subsided. There’s a new industry of experts looking for holes in Gujarat’s development story. One can almost imagine them looking for the most pathetic places in the state.
They need a visual of that one school with fewer teachers or one underfunded hospital so they can scream, “Look, your Gujarat is so terrible.” These experts forget Gujarat is a part of India. India is still largely run by the central government which controls most funds and policies. A messed up Gujarat (or a progressive Gujarat) is not entirely the state government’s creation.
Anyhow, whether Gujarat is amazing or not, one thing is clear — Modi’s political graph has continued to rise. Even the always righteous but not always right Arvind Kejriwal who has successfully tarnished many reputations so far – Gadkari, Vadra, Ambani, Sheila Dikshit to name a few — has been unable to puncture the Modi effect.
Why is that so? Is it just Modi’s development agenda? Is it a lack of choice? Is it Modi’s personality and oratory? Or is it his never overstated yet always present Hindutva stance? Other BJP leaders have run states well – Manohar Parrikar and Shivraj Singh Chouhan for instance. So why does Modi command a wild and passionate fan base like no other BJP leader?
Answering these questions is important. First, for BJP, which needs to capitalise on the Modi wave a bit more as it is not home yet. To have a stable government that Modi has promised his fans, 20 more seats than currently projected are needed.
Secondly, understanding Modi’s popularity is important for his opposition. For now, opponents seem to be helping Modi more than hurting him. Criticism is Modi’s polish, making him shine even more. Finally, figuring Modi out gives us insights about who we are as Indians.
An aspect mostly overlooked about Indian society is its understated, often subdued but strong sense of Hindu entitlement. Sure, our Constitution and laws are secular. Our public discourse shuns communal arguments, and rightly so. However, this doesn’t mean the sense of entitlement goes away.
With over 80% Hindu population, comprising most of the world’s Hindus, it is nearly impossible to eliminate that sense of majority entitlement. Add to that Congress’s strategy of turning Muslims into a vote bank and responding better to Muslim issues. This triggered the Hindu sense of dissatisfaction even more.
In this context, a leader representing Hindu pride will find resonance. This is why many people do not ascribe much importance to the handling of post-Godhra riots when it comes to judging Modi. For one, his role wasn’t clear (and legally has been un-proven). Second, to a section of people it felt like retribution.
Of course, this ignores the fact that Muslims who burnt the train or organised terror attacks had nothing to do with Muslims who suffered during the riots. How-ever, emotions often supersede reason and a disgruntled Hindu populace has mostly pardoned Modi. Again, i make no judgment if this was right or wrong, but this is what happened.
The third reason why Modi did well is his ability to manage expectations. He worked in Gujarat until it showed at least some good metrics. Gujarat may not be a perfect state, but at least on a few parameters it did better than others. More importantly, Modi never made tall claims beforehand. He worked hard first and marketed himself later.
Fourth, his personality is the exact opposite of Manmohan Singh. Modi is a straight talker and people like that. They want a PM who has opinions, even if they are not the most polished. It doesn’t hurt that Modi has a sense of humour. Humour creates connect and adds charm. Even if many of the jokes are at the expense of the ‘shehzada’ and the ‘mute PM, they do induce a chuckle.
Five, he represents practicality. Most Indians know that while it is good to remove corruption, nepotism, dynasty, oppression of women and a million other wrongs, it isn’t easy. Things change, but slowly and over time. The leader many Indians seek is not idealistic, but someone who can do a fairly good job despite the muck in our society.
Finally Modi is, plain and simple, lucky. Rahul Gandhi is weak as a major opponent. Even the TV guys are struggling to find a real adversary for entertaining election coverage (Kejriwal is helping somewhat). The scam-ridden UPA decade has upset most Indians. The arrogance of Congress leaders hasn’t helped either. Modi arrives at a time when people want change.
Overall, we don’t know what will happen in elections. The stars seem to be getting aligned for Modi. This might be due to his and his party’s efforts. It could be luck. Or as they say in Hindu terms, it might just be destiny.