Why Modi is effective in drawing the crowds

The Gujarat CM invoking Sardar Patel is just another instance of a studied political game plan: tailor the narrative as per requirement to channelise public anger against Congress

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Ajay Singh | November 7, 2013



Politics is often akin to nonlinear equation whose output is not directly proportional to its inputs. There have been instances when politics defied conventional wisdom but the strange phenomenon around Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi appears an even more complex puzzle than mathematical equations.

After the BJP declared Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, he has been travelling extensively across the country and weaving a narrative distinctly different from the traditional and conventional political idiom and vocabulary. He is neither a gifted orator nor a polemist, yet he is drawing crowds whose attraction to hear him could be matched only by religious fanatics.

Apparently it is not easy to decode what makes Modi click. There are many factors that combine to Modi a symbol of formidable political strength, which is now recognised even by his arch-adversaries. That Modi’s attraction is greater than fear of bomb blasts was patently evident at his rally in Patna on October 27 when six persons were killed and tens were injured in a series of explosions.

The crowds gathered at Gandhi Maidan showed no signs of fear or anger despite the fact that the blasts were intended to trigger panic or stampede.
Of course Modi’s speeches, devoid of usual scholarship, may fall foul with the traditional political discourse but they are certainly attractive to his audience. That is the precise reason why the audience usually jeers and hoots any other speaker, irrespective of his/her standing, at the Gujarat CM’s rallies. If BJP patriarch LK Advani was shouted down at Bhopal with cries of “Modi, Modi”, it was the turn of party president Rajnath Singh and leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley to put up with such humiliation at Patna.

In all these places, Modi’s speeches were ordinary but directly addressed to the audience.

He was intensely political without appearing to be doing politics. He cleverly camouflaged his partisanship by invoking a variant of nationalism represented by Maharana Pratap, Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh. His mantra of "India first" is carefully coined to stoke the fire of imagination of an aspiring social class whose yearning for development and prosperity is insatiable.

Despite his image of being the most divisive political personality, Modi emphatically talks about "unity in diversity". In fact, Modi's enigmatic formulations may be indecipherable for intellectuals but they get resounding resonance from the audience.

Nothing explained it better that the show at Kevadia in Gujarat. Advani spoke at length about the historicity and rationale of the project named after Sardar Patel and gave insights about the personality of the first home minister on October 30. His erudite exposition evoked a rather indifferent and bored response. His attempt to strike a rapport with the audience by recounting some jokes did not evoke laughter, producing yawns instead.

Whatever little response he got were the times he referred to Modi's name in adulation. There was a collective sigh of relief when the grand old man of BJP wound up his address.

Contrast this with Modi's one-hour speech punctuated heavily by rhetoric, selective historicity with dramatic expressions – the Gujarat chief minister was an instant hit and toast of the audience. This explains Modi's ability to steer the country's political discourse on his own terms, which has effectively stunned not only his rivals but also a veteran BJP leader like Advani. The manner in which he appropriates the legacy of Sardar Patel and used his symbol to build an alternative political narrative is illustrative of his skills as politician.

In his long speech, Modi built Sardar Patel a symbol of nationalism which was suppressed by the domination of the Nehru Gandhi family within the Congress. Without discounting the history that Patel belonged to Congress and was responsible for banning the RSS, his project of building 183-metre statue of Sardar Patel, twice the size of New York’s Statue of Liberty, is intended to build a powerful icon against the Nehruvian dominance.

His espousal of Sardar Patel's secularism by invoking the words of prime minister Manmohan Singh was calculated to unsettle the Congress leadership. His words evoked the desired effect.

Politics is not scholarship, and kings need not be philosophers. As a firm believer in pragmatism, Modi seems to be more bothered about the ends than the means. If he cares two hoots about the historicity of Nehru-Patel debate, he is equally vehement in tapping people’s anger against the Congress party symbolised by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. And his project for Patel comes in handy for his political game plan. Given the fact that India is hit by an economic downturn and the perception that an effete UPA regime could not contain scandals, Modi appears successful in channelizing people’s anger against the Congress for building his support base.

What appears an innovative political experiment is his ability to tailor his narratives as per requirement. If he emphasizes the need of a strong Centre which can deal with intransigent neighbours at Trichi, his exposition in Jammu was particularly soothing for resolution of the Kashmir question and blamed it on the Congress for the mess.

In a society ridden by castes of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Modi conveniently sheds his pro-corporate image and champions for the backward classes. At each place, he weaves a new narrative deftly mixing facts with fictions to win over the people. And his efforts are largely successful.

 

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