Purely as a leader, setting aside his politics, Narendra Modi is the most popular chief minister in the country. No other state's population rallies around its CM as does Gujarat for Modi.
Gujaratis are proud of the national appeal he has, and the bad press that he is given does not really matter to them. We must look at why that is.
The first thing we observe is his charisma. He is the most talented politician of his generation, if by talent we mean the ability to attract people to him. The connection he has with his audience is almost unmatched. He is one of the three best communicators in India, the other two being Lalu Yadav and Bal Thackeray.
All three men combine humour, drama and informal, conversational language. All three, not accidentally, are entertainers. Performers of high calibre. Modi is very comfortable with large crowds. His quality can only by hinted at to those who don't understand Gujarati. He speaks a pure Gujarati, touched by the accent of neither the rough western parts of Saurashtra, nor the urban slang of Surat. Like Advani's Hindi, Modi's Gujarati is deliberately cleansed of Perso-Arabic words.
The second thing is that he is not a caste-based leader. Like Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee, and unlike Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Nitish Kumar and Mayawati, Modi's electoral popularity does not come from belonging to a community. Modi is a Ghanchi from the OBC caste of oil pressers called teli in the north. It is not numerically significant in Gujarat in electoral terms, and not a votebank he can rely on. In any case he neither makes reference to it, nor does he have the reputation for promoting fellow Ghanchis.
Despite his OBC background, he has been able to rally around him the votaries of Hindutva, which in Gujarat are mainly the forward castes.
The third thing is that organisationally he is sound. His attention to detail can be compared to the Mughal emperor Babur's, who was as meticulous in running his everyday administration as Modi is. I have never been admitted to Modi's office for an appointment a single minute later than scheduled. If he says he will meet you at 8, it will be exactly that time when the assistant comes to fetch you from the waiting room.
His fourth quality is the ability to judge which events are likely to be popular, and which lines and which words will capture the imagination. This is a supremely important political talent in a nation where slogans are used. On admittedly a much smaller scale, in this sense he is like Gandhi, who through his early career coined words and phrases that did not exist before, such as Satyagraha and Sarvodaya. Modi's contribution is things like "Gujarati Asmita", and "Vibrant Gujarat".
He can encapsulate much meaning into a couple of throwaway words. And he can get the media to use them, a sign of success. It is true that there have been other BJP leaders with small caste backgrounds, for instance Dilip Parikh and Suresh Mehta (Baniya), and also Shankarsinh Vaghela, who is from the Congress-leaning community of Kshatriyas. And it is true that there have been other great organisers who became chief minister of Gujarat, like Chimanbhai Patel.
But nobody else has had all four things--charisma, broad appeal, organisational ability, and political talent. This is why, though he has a negative image outside of Gujarat, in his state Narendrabhai is a hero.
(Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist. The views expressed are personal)
The story was first published on 17th October, 2012.