If there is one word that captures the crux of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s address to the students of Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi on Wednesday, it is aspiration. On a day when BJP president Rajnath Singh reiterated the BJP’s “commitment” to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and VHP patron Ashok Singhal compared Mr Modi to India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the BJP’s Hindutva poster-boy from Gujarat stuck to development as his mantra. In this, he even carefully distanced himself from the VHP’s stance, perhaps aware that his image as a hardliner was the greatest stumbling block in his attempted rise to the national centrestage.
Emphasising that India’s strength lay in its vast army of youth, the Gujarat chief minister said the existing administrative and political systems have to be reworked to make India a global brand. In this, the senior BJP leader was directly addressing Delhi’s restive youth, a group that has repeatedly come out on the streets, to have its voices heard on corruption and women’s safety. He then went on to showcase Gujarat as an example of good governance, obliquely patting himself on the back. Seeking to hardsell himself as the “natural” leader of young and aspirational India, the Gujarat chief minister said that he was neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He repeatedly also made the point that Gujarat was what the rest of India was not, and the state was serving the country through its own economic success. Fully aware that he was speaking to a young audience, Mr Modi chose his terms carefully and focused on issues that would connect with them easily: skill development; scale (dreaming big) and speed of implementation of policies without delays. Adding that effective governance in Gujarat has led to the state’s consistent double-digit growth, he said that governments have no business to be “in business”. The Gujarat CM emphasised that India needed better work culture and also better branding, something he himself seemed to be doing all the while.
But where does Hindutva figure within such a discourse of this Hindutva icon? Despite the focus on development, Mr Modi very cleverly attacked the BJP’s secular opponents: “Development is the answer to all problems. The country has been destroyed by vote bank politics.” In other words, the opposite of development politics is the “secular” rhetoric. Despite his focus on development, Mr Modi’s speech also had a hint of cultural symbolism and national pride. Saying that India, once derided as a land of snake charmers, has become a land of “mouse charmers” (infotech professionals) Mr Modi recalled Swami Vivekanand’s dream that the nation would once again become the “jagat guru”.