There are twenty-eight states in India. The state of Gujarat is one of them. Elections are held in all the states every five years unless the government of the day falls before it is able to complete its full term. However, the interest and the buzz that states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat elicit when they go to polls - both from the common people and the media - is unprecedented.
While a state like UP which went to the polls earlier this year attracts attention for its sheer size and the fact that it is politically volatile, Gujarat on the other hand has captured the imagination of the people for more than a decade now because of one factor or, shall we say, one personality - Narendra Damodardas Modi. The hype that has been generated as far as the 2012 Assembly elections are concerned has become manifold because of the fact that these polls are virtually being seen as a referendum for Modi to make his transition to the national scene and be accepted by the Bharatiya Janata Party as their prime ministerial candidate.
So the question that was being asked was not whether Modi will win and become the CM for a record fourth time in a row. The question that was being asked was how big a margin of victory would it be for Modi so that the central leadership of BJP including LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj can toe the line and allow him to lead them in the 2014 General Elections.
Yes, for Modi these Assembly elections are not just about winning a third straight term (though he would be CM for fourth time). If one looks at his speeches and his poll campaign carefully, then it becomes evident that he left no stones unturned to stake his claim for a bigger role in the party in 2014. Modi’s first election speech when he started his poll campaign was in Hindi and that too in Gujarat’s heartland. Clearly, he was addressing a larger audience which went beyond the boundaries of the state.
While on the one hand he has been unresponsive as far as accusations of the state Congress leadership are concerned on the issues of development, water, cotton crop failure and so on, he has been relentlessly taking on the UPA government at the Centre for its failings - be it the 2G scam, the Coalgate, price rise or inflation. The message that he wants to send to the people of India is apparent – that he is the right man to occupy the top post of the country.
People who have followed the incumbent Chief Minister of Gujarat for years now cannot help but notice one fact of his personality which has undergone a sea change – the politician Modi has over the years become Brand Modi. Right from his deliberate way of delivering speeches to his carefully chosen and tailored ‘kurtas’ replete with accessories, to his taking to the social media, be it Twitter or the blogosphere, Modi and his managers have managed to carve an image out of him which is larger than life. So much so that when one thinks of Gujarat the first thing that comes to mind is Narendra Modi. And think of it - a decade back when one talked of Gujarat, the first thing that came to mind was the fact that it was one of India’s most progressive states.
While on the one hand 62 year old Modi became the first politician in the country to host a live Google+ Hang Out wherein he gave his definition of secularism as “India first”, on the other hand he went virtual in the course of campaigning in the present elections, again becoming the first Indian politician to use the latest 3-D holographic projection technology, something that is used by international rock stars during their concerts. A special type of stage was erected to project the CM’s image in such a way that the crowd felt that he was speaking to them. This way he could address those voters where he could not personally be present. All of this has gone a long way in enhancing the image of so called ‘Brand Modi’.
With an apparent lack of emotive issues in the present edition of the polls, Modi has made a bid to woo the so called “neo-middle class’ whom he promised five million houses and made them central to his game plan. He also promised urban housing for low income groups and jobs for three million youths with an eye on the 42 percent population which lives in urban Gujarat. This was also aimed at neutralizing similar proposals made by the Congress. Clearly the man at the centre of one of most keenly watched elections in recent times is left no stone unturned in the run-up to what was being described as his toughest electoral battle till now.
Modi has the ability to judge the pulse of the people. While in 2002, when elections were held after the 2001 post-Godhra riots, Modi projected himself as the redeemer of Hindus and targeted enemies like ‘Mian Musharraf’, in 2007 he successfully managed to evoke sympathies for himself after Congress president Sonia Gandhi referred to him as the “Maut ka Saudagar” in one of her rallies. No wonder the Congress has gone quiet as far as attacking Modi directly is concerned or as far as reference to 2001 Gujarat riots is concerned in the latest edition of the polls.
Narendra Modi is also a contradiction of sorts. No wonder the country at present is divided into Modi-lovers and Modi-haters. Very few must be fence sitters. The man’s personal integrity is said to be above board, he is said to have no tolerance for corruption, is considered a workaholic and has made the word development and progress his mantra as far as governance is considered. However, he is also said to be arrogant and dictatorial and one who cannot accept dissent and disagreement in his scheme of things.
On the one hand he is considered to be the mascot of Hindutva in Gujarat whom the majority population trusts, on the other he is said to be anti-minority and has been blamed directly for the riots in the state, though no court has indicted him so far. Again, while he undertook Sadbhavana mission and kept fasts to project himself as a secular leader who was for inclusive growth of all; he also refused to wear a skull cap offered by a Maulana.
And very recently Modi drew flak for referring to Sonia Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant as “Mian’ Ahmad Patel and give a communal colour to the polls. He also warned the voters that the Congress had decided to make Patel its chief ministerial candidate. Modi has a penchant for courting such controversies. Probably it reaps him dividends. Remember in 2002 polls he had called the then election commissioner, JM Lyngdoh by his full name - James Michael – hinting at his Christian origin.
Modi had seemed infallible from the start and had an air of self-confidence around him, even though there were setbacks in the run-up to the polls like the Naroda Patiya verdict where a former minister Maya Kodnani, who was in his cabinet at the time of the riots, was indicted. He had remained unfazed as far as accusations relating to 2001 riots are concerned and had turned a deaf ear to the shrill charges that various NGOs and social activists claiming to work for the riot victims have levelled against him. He has also persistently refused to apologise for the carnage post the burning of S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express. His argument – why should he apologise for something that he did not do? The man may leave many exasperated at times, be it members of his own party or the RSS but his demeanor remains unflinchingly calm.
Post Script: Narendra Modi may project himself as an administrator par excellence with sharp political skills who appears to be a superman. But at the end of it all he is also a human being with his own worries and fears though he may not show it. The foremost apprehension that must be on his mind is whether he can trudge the long path to New Delhi successfully and fulfill his next ambition.