A senior BJP politician once told me that the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is "not an easy man to like".
So when Modi’s "shaken to the core" blog came out on Friday, I called the BJP leader to ask whether the blog would help Modi to win over some of those critics.
But my straight question did not elicit a straight answer from him. Instead, neta-ji said, smiling all the way, that Modi has his "own style" of handling things and that the 1,000-word blog was directed more towards the people than his critics, both inside and outside the BJP.
In any case, he added, Modi had made similar noises in two earlier media interviews; the blog was a well-timed and comprehensive version of what he had been saying all along in his defence.
When you see the crowds that Modi is pulling in these days, it is difficult to imagine that this is a man who is not easy to like. On the contrary, the crowds suggest that they will not countenance anyone but Modi for the top slot.
In such a scenario, reaching out to the people on a political hot potato like the Gujarat riots and his handling of it is a smart move and could reap rich dividends for him in 2014. Data suggests that first-time voters (between 18-23 years) in 2014 will compose 14% of the electorate in 2014.
Modi has a huge following in that segment and the blog has put certain issues regarding the riots in perspective for the young voters.
But for all his exposure on the national stage, Modi is still an enigma. We know little about him barring that he sold tea as a child, that he likes expensive kurtas, that he is decisive and yes, he is a loner.
For weeks, we have been hearing Modi’s attacks on the shehzada, the Congress president, the Congress and other political rivals like Nitish Kumar of Bihar.
But, as the year draws to a close, Modi cannot complain that Santa stinted on gifts to him. I am not trying to rain on Modi’s parade but I wonder when he will get away from his ‘I, me, myself’ routine (the blog is being seen by many as another manifestation of this syndrome) and tell us a bit more about what and whom he will bring to the table, if he wins.
The BJP is not short on talent. Why does Modi not put himself onto the backburner for a bit and tell us about his team? Certainly, right up there should be Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, a mass leader and ebullient Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha who has vast experience in government. His stint as party president was not scintillating but Nitin Gadkari is an organisation man, Yashwant Sinha is a seasoned hand at diplomacy and finance and there are a host of younger leaders like Smriti Irani and Nirmala Sitharaman to name a few. Now is the time for Modi to tell the people about the talent he has in his armoury.
It is also time for him to give credit where it is due to the chief ministers who have done the party proud. The spring, almost leap, in the step of the BJP today is because of people like Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh who beat the anti-incumbency odds to deliver these crucial states to the party’s kitty.
It would add to Modi’s lustre and image as an all-India leader if he were to share space with such people onto the stage when he is addressing his mega rallies.
And then I have to come to the crucial part. While many admire Modi’s economic vision for Gujarat, what about his vision for India? True we know that he will not take any nonsense from Pakistan, he is against dynastic rule, he wants to fight poverty but we are still a bit short on how he will do all this.
Now we need to know the nuts of bolts of how a Modi regime will be run. People certainly will not want to jump from a dynastic cult to a personality cult.
I think even people within the BJP are wary of Modi’s penchant for not letting anyone too close to him. I have often wondered whose advice he takes.
The one person whom he has gone out on a limb for is the somewhat dodgy Amit Shah, hardly a figure who inspires confidence among the masses. We know that Modi is singlehandedly trying to appropriate Sardar Patel’s legacy but bereft of the ideals that the great leader stood for.
Perhaps, a way for Modi to seem less rough around the edges is for him to play down his own undoubtedly stupendous achievements and let others have their moments in the spotlight.
Because, whether he likes it or not, inclusive politics is here to stay as the AAP experiment has shown. Modi also needs to go beyond the politics of ‘one in the eye for the Congress’ and go into constructive mode. We need to see the kinder, gentler side of Modi, a little more about what he thinks about women’s empowerment, creating employment for youth, the environment, foreign investment and so on.
At the moment, people both in India and most of the world think that Modi is a man you can do business with. But he must also make himself just a little more likable and not just be a man who inspires shock and awe.