The many messages in Narendra Modi's walk and his talk

Underlying message of Himachal and Gujarat polls is simple: given an option of choosing two discredited personalities, people will rotate them, and Modi, familiarity does not breed boredom or contempt


Ajay Singh | December 21, 2012

In this age of 3D election campaign, ironies, paradoxes and hidden messages which the election results throw are usually ignored. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections throw many such signals which are yet to be deciphered.

For instance, was it not a cruel irony that while Modi was feted for his hat-trick while his understudy, Prem Kumar Dhumal, was licking his wounds in Shimla, badly mauled in the election? Old timers would vividly recall that Dhumal was Modi's discovery during the latter's stint as in-charge of Himachal Pradesh as the BJP secretary. Modi sidelined old guard Shanta Kumar who had earned the ire of the state employees for his image of a tough taskmaster as the chief minister of the hill state and lost out earlier on that count. Shanta Kumar was the first chief minister among the BJP-ruled states to have been identified with good governance. But his good governance proved to be bad politics – a theory then subscribed by Modi.

Obviously, Modi must have been ruing at the loss of Dhumal after the poll results in the two states were announced. But given his own experience in electoral politics, he seems to have read the underlying political message of the election rightly. Dhumal lost because of evident administrative adrift and encirclement of cronies and family members – a situation that took toll on his governance. Perhaps Modi's grooming for Dhumal proved inadequate. In such a situation, it appeared quite ironical when Modi declared after his victory that in his case "good governance proved to be good politics as well”.

In fact, the underlying message of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections was simple. If the electorate has the option of choosing two discredited personalities, they will rotate them by turn. In the event of Modi, who inspired the trust of voters, familiarity does not breed boredom or contempt. This was the significant message of the two election results which remained less debated.

In the post-election scenario, Modi has once again successfully reinforced his image of an anti-hero. This was evident in the manner in which he went around meeting his own mentor-turned-rival Keshubhai Patel and seeking apology from people of Gujarat for any of his acts of indiscretion which would have hurt them. This well-scripted oratory delivered in Hindi was meant to convey an unambiguous message to the national audience that Modi is far from arrogant. For voters in UP and Bihar, such a show of humility – even if it is practised theatrics – from the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati or Lalu Prasad Yadav is unthinkable. That he chose to express himself on a public platform denying the media the role of intermediary between him and the people is a carefully crafted strategy of keeping up his anti-hero image.

Interestingly, he deftly uses the media as his "intimate enemy" which faithfully delivers to the masses his message, while he himself maintains a relationship of perpetual hostility with them.

As an RSS pracharak, Modi was always fond of visiting the US. In 1999, he stayed there for months on end and returned only when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who happened to visit the country in the meanwhile, ran into him and quipped, "Kya yahin rehne ka irada hai (do you intend to settle here)?” It is hardly surprising that the Modi model conforms largely to the American model. And this was evident in the manner in which his speech after the victory was interrupted by the cheering crowds with chanting of "PM, PM,PM" (just like the "4 more years, 4 more years," chants of Obama's supporters). Whether the crowd was trained to do it or it was responding spontaneously to a latent political impulse is a matter of debate. But one thing is clear, there is no regional leader except Modi who can bring ingredients of the US presidential elections to the national canvass.

In his long speech, Modi successfully sold a dream to the rest of India with a practiced ease. He conveyed in unambiguous terms that his Gujarat is different from the rest of India, probably more akin to the USA, not only in physical infrastructure but also in political thinking. In his powerful speech, he identified the bane of the Hindi belt as "casteism and regionalism" that held back these regions from growing like his own Gujarat. And this message was clearly meant for a wide social spectrum of the “neo middle class” which has emerged as the dominant opinion maker in the post-liberalisation phase of market economy. Modi realises it more than anyone else that this class cutting across regional, caste and communal boundaries thinks alike and loves to chase an American chimera. And Modi has been projecting himself as their only hope.



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