Narendra Modi has fascinated me the most among all politicians, along with Lalu Prasad Yadav. Observing their speeches and the way they handle their election campaigns have given me great insights into how politics work in India, particularly in Gujarat and Bihar, two fascinating states. Bitterly opposed to each other, Modi and Lalu are both extraordinary communicators, and performers. This season is all about Modi.
Modi has done to politics what Baba Ramdev has done to Yoga – converting it into a performing art. Modi's speeches are all about himself. I remember listening to him – and watching him perform – in December 2007 on the outskirts of Ahmadabad, during the last assembly election. His ability to electrify the crowd is immense. He turns them all into a trance, an almost ethereal world in the centre of which is Modi himself. Just watch this performance from five years ago, and multiply by 1000 what you can sense today, to imagine what it was like in Bapu Nagar that wintry night.
In his speech that lasted exactly 30 minutes, Modi named himself 29 times!!
I watched him on Thursday, speaking at the conclusion of his Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra. He still manages to stir the crowd, seeking another five years after two consecutive terms. His yatra itself was focused on youth, but another constituency that eats out of his hands is of women. In his speech, Modi touched upon the issue of Gujarat's lopsided sex ratio and vowed to fix that. The response that Modi gets among his women audience is outstanding – they are in awe of him and don't hide it. In Gujarat's political ambience - which is largely Modi's own creation - if you are young or female, Modi is the only choice. Being opposed to Modi makes you old and perhaps cynical. In this milieu, opposing Modi becomes a defensive act while supporting Modi becomes the political equivalent of owning an Apple gadget, a statement.
Still, there was something lacking in his speech on Thursday. His sarcasm lacked sting and his rhetoric lacked flourish compared to 2007. What Modi lacks in 2012 is an adversary. Modi's tactic has always been to pitch himself against a big adversary- sometimes imagined, as 'Mian Musharaff' in 2002 or real, as it was the case of Sonia Gandhi in 2007. Sonia Gandhi's speech in 2007 that referred to Modi as 'maut ka saudagar,' and Congress leader Digivjay Singh's reference to 'Hindu terrorism' in the context of the 2002 Gujarat genocide were the staple for Modi's electrifying campaign last time. This time, there isn't an adversary in sight, at least until now, on whom Modi can train his oratory skills. And that is going to be his biggest disadvantage in this election.
Going by indications, the focus of Modi's campaign will be corruption in the centre government and his own track-record in governance. Allegations of corruption will give him some talking points, but that will not come anywhere close to launching a personalised attack on a formidable enemy. Modi is looking around to discover or even invent one.
(The writer is Chief of Bureau at Hindustan Times. The views expressed are personal)