There are three ways of looking at Britain's decision to withdraw its decade-old embargo against Narendra Modi's Gujarat: cynically, seriously and politically.
Modi has good reasons to wear the long-denied British endorsement on his sleeves. But his celebratory tone and that of the BJP at the Centre had cynics pointing at the gap between the chief minister's Gujarat and that of the Mahatma who made the British quit India.
The irony's only aggravated by the chief minister's nationalistic pretense that had him mock Congress president Sonia Gandhi so often in the past for her foreign origin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his alleged proclivity to "please" the US and the West. How then could Modi who is so used to whipping up xenophobia be euphoric about an overture driven by exigencies of the British economy? The serious answer: it isn't abnormal for politicians to be expedient.
The British turned their back on Gujarat when it seemed to forget Gandhi and follow Modi. Their return has potential to boost the controversial CM's bid for an image makeover. Once embraced by the international community, it will be easier for him to find acceptability at home. The pariah tag that he now has is the biggest stumbling block for his barely concealed ambition to be the prime minister.
Politically, Modi should feel twice obliged by the UK's gesture; coming at it does in the middle of the battle for the Gujarat assembly. The sheer timing of it circumvents the Election Commission's model code that prevents contestants from dolling out promises or concessions that could have a bearing on the poll outcome.
It's hard to say whether London did it deliberately. On the positive side, it will force Modi to keep the campaign civil, as was evident from his speech marking the conclusion of his month-long Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra. His Hindutva pitch at the Pavagadh rally in Central Gujarat was subtle, invoking the goddess Kali to showcase his government's schemes to empower women.
The emphasis was on development. There was no mention of Sonia's travel expenses and her son-in-law Robert Vadra's business dealings with realty giant DLF.
But Modi contradicted himself while exhorting his audience to not give Gujarat to the Congress the way Lakshmi Bai--an enduring symbol of the 1857 rebellion--refused to give Jhansi to British colonialists. The way he writes history is quite different from the way he reads it. (The writer is political editor at Hindustan Times. The views expressed are personal)