Narendra Modi’s Iron Man makeover

Since Narendra Modi’s resounding success in the Gujarat assembly elections (December 2012) which was immediately claimed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a complete affirmation of the policies Modi enunciated and executed in that state, he had clearly embarked on a pan-India conquest of the heart and mind of people in other parts of the country, obviously much more varied in the composition of the populace, their history and the practice of multiculturalism. From the projection by a section in the media abetted as they were by his well-oiled public relations machinery with enthusiastic support by the non-resident Indians (read Gujarati diaspora in USA and UK), there appeared a concerted attempt to carefully drum up support for him as one leader who consistently delivered economic development in his state which India as a whole was missing out.


The factors emphasized to be behind his success were his decisive choices, unsentimental clarity of thinking about his priorities, creating and nurturing an unfettered administrative set up (that includes police and intelligence machinery) working in sync with the political mandate that he and his team of ministers assumed they had. Apart from the drummed up success story of economic miracle in Gujarat under his tutelage as an astute and no-nonsense administrator, Modi is being projected by BJP as a decisive leader of men. A leader that consistently delivered economic progress in Gujarat and if entrusted with the reigns of the entire country is surely expected to repeat the performance. A leader who did not allow a single instance of communal riot or conflagration in Gujarat during the ten odd years of his rule. A leader who had always talked tough about terrorism, unambiguously located its source across the border and never pussyfooted the strict anti-terrorist measures that, while not earning browny points from the bleeding heart human rights activists nationally and internationally, kept Gujarat fairly free from terrorist incidents since the Ahmedabad serial bomb blast in 2007 (and the Aksardham temple hold up a few years earlier).   


It was known that elections to four important states due towards the fag end of 2013 were just five-six months away from the scheduled Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014. Modi’s planners knew they would have to make a decisive assault on the Congress party and the UPA government at the center in the process of campaigning for and wining all these state legislatures with Modi’s signature all over them, given his growing popularity and with him actively campaigning. That would demonstrate his acceptability and effectiveness even outside Gujarat and strengthen his claim to lead the party in 2014 poll and later the country as the Prime Minister.  


If the turn out at Modi’s large number of election rallies during the state elections is any indicator, Modi certainly is a popular leader. Whether this popularity alone has garnered many more votes for BJP during these elections than it would be in his absence or with an indifferent participation is a question, which may not have an unambiguous answer. Except in Delhi, all the three states in the central India have seen polarized voting between the Congress party and the BJP. Incumbency of a ruling state administration, a particularly inept and corrupt one such as in Rajasthan, especially in presence of a clear-cut BJP alternative in the form of a tried and tested Vasundhara Raje, not hemmed in by party infighting as in the past, made the public decision for the 5-yearly change of guards (which is the usual pattern in the state) relatively easy. Modi’s role, his large number of rallies of concentrated Congress-bashing (especially after his anointment as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate) in energizing the BJP cadres cannot, however, be minimized, and this was also acknowledged by Raje.


Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, however, have independent, distinguished and decisive state leaders, local heroes, in Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the former and Raman Singh in the latter. They have had performance records, though dismal in certain areas like poverty alleviation and indicators of human development, law and order and failure to contain Maoist insurgency, are better than many other Congress and Opposition ruled states in the country (for instance, the widely acclaimed and a fairly successful PDS system in Chhattisgarh, an impressive growth in the agricultural output in Madhya Pradesh). Which is probably why, despite incumbency, BJP has been successful in wining the majority in the legislature in both these states. The number of seats won by BJP in Madhya Pradesh is improved a little. Vote share also has gone up indicating clear and unambiguous mandate in favour of BJP led by Chouhan, who with his nonabrasive personality, is notable for his mass-contact programmes including providing state assistance for marriage of girls (controversy about their pregnancy tests notwithstanding), and is quite popular among various sections of masses irrespective of caste and religion.


In Chhattisgarh on the other hand, Congress did put up a good fight especially in certain tribal areas of the state and till the end of the counting process it was not apparent that BJP would win a majority. In the end the win was by a slender majority in seats, with the vote shares almost identical for both parties. In both states, BJP was primarily led by local state leaders, who are truly popular, staunchly anti-congress in their political stance and approach without having to become personally vitriolic and abusive about the Congress party leaders. It is unlikely that Modi was a significant factor in their victory, despite considerable rabble rousing by him during electioneering.


And the astounding election results in Delhi clearly demonstrated that given a chance to choose a third alternative party to vote for other than Congress and BJP, people might exercise that option in a decisive fashion. Given the incumbency and the scam-taint that the Congress was up against, the incompetence, insincerity and insensitivity of the Delhi government administration (including the police which is of course officially under the Central home ministry run by a Congress minister) in controlling the vicious attacks on women, the Delhi assembly was up for grab. If BJP thought this was a going to be a cakewalk, considering it had made all the right and politically correct noises about anti-corruption sentiment and against gender violence, their hopes were belied. And it was here, where Modi’s electrifying presence and demagogy were supposed to have galvanized the BJP cadres with hope and aggression and given them a sure sense of victory, that this myth was cruelly punctured.


The special brand of politics that the new Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) brought to the forefront of the electoral arena (which deserves a separate discussion and analysis) had provided enough attraction for practically all sections of the population in this premiere City state so that the electorate (or at least a sizable 30% of them) did not fall for the charade of BJP as an alternative in Delhi, which was truly no alternative. In any case Modi’s oratory during the election campaign was not good enough for even a simple majority. At best, following up on the party’s late choice of a relatively cleaner but low key and weaker Chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan, betraying certain level of infighting within the party, Modi’s presence and energetic campaigning might have helped lifting the BJP tally of seats to a respectable number.


This Modi as ‘the no-nonsense, in your face leader’ rant had the obvious genesis in the antithesis of a rather opaque, dithering, uncommunicative style of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His government appears stymied by an overarching shadow power center with Sonia Gandhi as the Congress party president (and now with Rahul Gandhi as the vice-president), apart from being indecisive about carrying through the liberalized economic reform policies that Singh, as the Finance Minister two decades back, had first boldly articulated and followed up year after year with alacrity. The government in recent times had indeed appeared weak kneed, over-cautious and rather muted in its reactions in the face of the Chinese intransigence and hostility in our northern and northeastern borders (e.g. the Daulat Beg Oldi episode in April 2013, Chinese reaction to the visit of Indian Prime Minister or President to Arunachal Pradesh, their issuing stapled visas to Indian nationals from this same province) and outright barbarous terrorist attacks on the Indian soldiers aided and abetted by the Pakistan military across several sectors of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.


The serial bombings by terrorists in several Indian cities all through the Congress-led UPA rule at the center, with the highpoint of the 26/11 Mumbai attack by LeT terrorists and other repeated attacks in major cities like Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad, with significant human casualties and loss of property, present a picture of a helpless, pathetic government merely reacting after the terrorist events, rather than pro-actively stopping them before the disasters, earning the sobriquet of a ‘soft state’ from the government’s detractors. Which is what is the basic premise of the proponents of Modi in projecting him as a tough-as-nail alternative.


The systematic and comprehensive build up of this image can be seen in Modi’s campaign for building a massive steel framed statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat. This is a dramatic tour de force on the part of him and his image builders. For, apart from stealing the name of a famous leader of the early independence era from the pantheon of heroes who fought for our independence and was blithely assumed by Congress to be their party’s exclusive legacy, this crack PR team carefully added misinformation, half truths and distortion to Patel’s speeches and utterances, tendentiously interpreting them as positions opposed to those held by Nehru. And Modi’s backers hopes that the assiduously built up image of Modi as a strong decisive leader of a new aspirational India will, eventually, merge with the newly resurrected image of the original ‘iron man’, one of the tallest leaders to emerge from the pre-independence India and take his unfulfilled dreams to their logical conclusion.


Common Indian voters have shown remarkable zeal during the recent election processes in casting their vote in very large numbers, making known their firm likes and dislikes in no uncertain terms. And, in the case of Delhi, they have demonstrated a streak of idealism, which have completely upset both the cynical politicians and the ‘expert’ political commentators who think they understand the essence of Indian democracy like the back of the palm of their hands. It is too early to say if this Iron Man image makeover of Modi will be good enough to persuade the voters across the varied tapestry of states of India to make the choice in favour of inviting the Trojan Horse of the storm troopers into the Center of their nation, in much the same way that Germany famously did about eighty years ago. In the name of decisiveness will they abdicate their natural cultural liberalism and plurality in favour of an archaic, obscurantist, sectarian ‘Hindutwa’ worldview, a majoritarian approach to resolving conflicting democratic aspirations of a billion plus people straining under the yoke of accentuated inequality and growing economic hardships despite two-decade old liberalization of policies? We will have to wait for a few more months for the answer.

(This is a slightly modified and updated version of  a post published in another blog of the author)

1 comment to Narendra Modi’s Iron Man makeover

  • Daddy123

    I think the writer is a cynical person who has made convenient assumptions to drive his non sensical point. I live in madhya pradesh and i can clearly observe the modi factor in both madhya pradesh and chattisgarh. Almost every voter i talked to before the assembly elections 2013 accepted that Modi was a key presence in madhya pradesh and chattisgarh elections . Both shivraj singh chauhan and dr raman singh have given modi his due credit in the bjp victory in these states. Even in Delhi , had the tainted image of vijay goyal backed by even more tainted nitin gadkari and lk advani not paralyzed the bjp , arvind kejriwal would not have emerged even as a serious leader . Actually the writer has tried his level best to prove with non sensical assumptions that the modi wave is artificial and modis leadership is not natural. Such a writer i think is behaving like the sold out news channel editors of AAJ TAK , ABP NEWS , TIMES NOW and HEADLINES TODAY . What a shame !

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