On December 16, Narendra Modi will be contesting only the third election of his life. He has been in electoral politics for just six years. Yet, the clout and fame — notoriety if you will — he enjoys surpasses that of most veterans with decades of political battles behind them.
He is the darling of large sections of society — and not just in Gujarat. They see him as a messiah who has put intransigent Muslims in their place, and ushered in a golden age of development formidable obstacles.
What the media — or political opponents — says makes no difference to Modi. Or to his fans. For, those who count for him continue to praise him — and this includes some of India’s leading industrialists.
The BJP’s electoral propaganda is replete with quotes from the Ambani brothers, Ratan Tata, Kumaramanglam Birla and other titans of Indian industry, eulogizing Modi. The one-time pracharak talks commerce and industry with them in their own language, and has been able to draw enormous investments into Gujarat — completely confounding those who predicted no one would put money into as blood-soaked a state as Gujarat was after the 2002 riots.
Born September 17, 1950 at Vadnagar, Mehsana district.
Joined ABVP, and later RSS. Joined the BJP in 1987.
Key organiser for LK Advani’s Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra.
Became BJP national secretary with charge of five key states in 1995; became general secretary (organization) in 1998.
Became chief minister in October 2001.
“Modi is not just another power hungry politician. He has a vision for Gujarat,” says political commentator Vishnu Pandya. “But his temperament is that of a loner and an autocrat. His ekla chalo style is not liked by many.”
Those who hate Modi say Gujarat’s development has little to do with him. “Gujarat’s growth is not Narendra Modi’s creation,” said renowned political scientist Ghanshyam Shah. According to a leading Ahmedabad activist: “Gujaratis were always enterprising. Business-savvy runs in the veins of every Gujarati. It has nothing to do with Modi.”
Modi’s own life is also an instance of Gujarati endeavour, a genuine rags-to-riches story. He comes from Mehsana, and belongs to a little known backward caste with no influence on the state’s politics. For years he ran a tea stall at Ahmedabad’s bus terminus.
Some say Modi owes his image to a three-month course in public relations and image management he attended in the US in the late 1990s. He has studied how to use the media, and does it in a methodical, precise manner to generate publicity for himself. His pronouncements, timing of his interviews and what he says in them are apparently all the results of his training in image building. He knows even adverse publicity can be made to work in one’s favour.
It is true that Modi has shown how the administrative machinery can be used to settle scores with opponents. At the same time, Modi has also campaigned vigorously on issues no one can quarrel with — the need to educate the girl child, the need to stop female foeticide, the need to use modern techniques in agriculture.
All of this has contributed towards the building of his image as a modernizing chief minister.
In the final analysis, you can laud or attack Modi, but you can’t ignore him.
Gujarat elections snippets
Parties come together on visiting card
There is one place where you can find the Lotus, the Hand and the Elephant: the visiting card of a person employed with the printer of election material. Jolly Printers of Ulhasnagar, Maharashtra, has set up a temporary kiosk outside the Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad. The visiting cards of those running it have the symbols of all political parties printed in a neat line in appropriate party colours. To solicit business a few local boys have been engaged to distribute the cards to candidates, but since they do not know who the candidates are, the cards are being given out to all and sundry, including visiting press reporters.
RPI candidate grabs the eyeballs
Among the oddballs contesting the elections is a eunuch, Sonia De. As the Republican Party of India’s candidate from the Shahpur seat, she may not be a serious contender, but she certainly grabbed attention when she arrived to file her nomination papers, riding an ornate horse carriage. Why should anyone vote for her? “I have no family which I would want to amass wealth for,” she says. “Unlike other candidates you can be sure I will always remain honest.”
Cong rebels on a rampage
It is not only the BJP that is fighting rebels. For the last two days the Congress office in Ahmedabad has been resounding to the chants of Hai, hai. The supporters of at least eight Congressmen who hoped to get tickets, have gone on a rampage, smashing window panes. The entire party unit from the constituencies the ticket-hopefuls were lobbying for, have resigned, including Shaherkotda and Naroda in Ahmedabad.
Notorious Porbander comes clean
Porbander, it seems, has decided to go in for an image makeover. The birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi had become a den of crime in the 1990s where contestants from all parties, had long criminal records. But this time BJP candidate Shantaben Odera and the Congress’s Modhwadia have squeaky-clean, middle class images. Odera owns a hotel in the town, while Modhwadia is an engineer.