New Delhi: Here’s a corollary to Murphy’s law: the amount of publicity Mallika Sherawat garners is directly proportionate to the stupidity of her actions. That her latest video felicitating BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on his 64th birthday went viral within hours of her launching it on Twitter is proof.
“I want to send a birthday wish to the most eligible bachelor in India,” gushed Sherawat before she broke into a little birthday jingle for “Narinder jiii” breathily overlooking the fact that Modi is not a bachelor. The Twiteratti slammed Sherawat for pulling off one of the craziest publicity stunts ever before the launch of her reality TV show, The Bachelorette India.
But was Sherawat, who can be trusted with knowing about the selling power of sex, onto something with her act? Remember Sherlyn Chopra expressing her desire to be Narendra Modi’s personal assistant? While a lot of urban middle-class women we interviewed didn’t go as far as calling him the most eligible bachelor, most find Modi charming, suave and extremely well turned out. It seems Brand Modi, after wooing industry captains and “internet Hindus”, is becoming a hit with the ladies, especially the humble housewives.
From iron man to ladies’ man
Rani Singh, a 54-year-old housewife in Hyderabad, feels Modi can deliver India from the twin problems of “corruption and mehangai”.
What makes her so certain? “Yeh bas dil ki feeling hai. He gives out positive vibes,” she says, adding that she likes how Modi seems always on the alert. Singh is a fan of Modi’s bright “pagdis” and likes the fact that he never seems dull. “Unke chehre main ek alag sa tej hai (he has a glow about him).”
She is not the only woman who speaks of this mysterious glow or ‘aura’ that surrounds Modi. Over a decade now Modi has carefully crafted his image as a tough, no-nonsense leader. The strength of the outcomes on the ground may be debatable but the perception that he “gets things done” lends him a larger than life image, perhaps adding to the ‘aura’ that so many women and, indeed, men find themselves attracted to.
Delhi-based Ritu Suri (65) describes herself as an ardent Modi fan. She states in unequivocal terms that he is the only Indian who can “give back Indians their dignity” and tackle intruding Chinese soldiers, the dwindling economy and even “communal forces”. Suri also says it wouldn’t be wrong to call Modi good-looking and she would be proud to have him represent India at an international level.
“I feel he has the power to control conditions in the country and bring change,” says another Modi fan, Delhi-based Kiran Kathpalia. She finds Modi “really powerful”, dynamic and assertive.
The love of women for strong male leaders is not a new phenomenon. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger both came to power on the dint of substantial female support. More recently, Barack Obama has been the beneficiary of the affections of this demographic.
Be that as it may, how does one reconcile Modi’s allegedly anti-secular image and “masculine” brand of hard politics with his female fan following? Isn’t it axiomatic that women would support a leader who talks more of peace and comity?
The answer perhaps lies in Modi’s own deft packaging. He has successfully transcended the debate over his image to portray himself as a leader who stands for growth and development.
“Look at the work he has done in Gujarat. Ahmedabad today is a transformed city,” says Priti Gandhi, secretary, BJP, Communication Cell (Maharashtra). Gandhi was enrolled in the BJP after the party saw her effectively take on Modi and BJP detractors on Twitter with her conspicuous Twitter handle @MrsGandhi.
Gandhi, like a number of other women, views Modi’s aggressive brand of politics as a positive and feels it helps in getting things done. “It is the woman, after all, who has to manage her husband’s income. And it is becoming increasingly tough given the current condition of the economy.
Housewives are looking for someone to change the scenarios,” says Gandhi. She’s met Modi several times and says he is absolutely charming and soft on women.
“The segment of Modi supporters among women are perhaps attracted to the ‘take charge’ alpha male personality he projects. Or perhaps it is his grey stubble,” says columnist Shobhaa De, adding she is far from smitten.
There is also the shared belief that cities will be safer once Modi comes to power. At a recent rally in Gujarat last month Modi said, “In the country of Sita and Savitris....protection of mothers and daughters is a big question for the Indian society.” We don’t have the right to call ourselves ‘mard’, he added, if women are feeling unsafe in the country.
For Gandhi, it is price rise more than anything else that makes the faithful look up to Modi. “The average housewife is deeply affected by price rise and has finally woken up. I meet a number of women in my circle who absolutely want Modi to win,” she says, adding that he is viewed as a strong and confident leader.
On the question of Sherawat calling him the most eligible bachelor, Gandhi says she wouldn’t like to comment and found it extremely silly. De sums it up succinctly, “Sherawat is no Marilyn Monroe. And Chief Minister Narendra Modi isn’t President John Kennedy. Let’s leave it at that.”
How charisma works
Ironically, only a few years ago Rahul Gandhi, the man Modi is pitted against in the prime-ministerial race, was flooring the fairer sex with his charm. College girls found him extremely handsome and starlets dubbed him a hottie.
Considered a role model for the youth, many pinned their hopes on Gandhi. But lately, with corruption cases and scams tarring the Congress’ image, Gandhi the next-gen face of the grand old party and his ‘charm’ are finding fewer takers. Few talk about his style statement or what he wears to a cricket match. Instead it is Modi’s trademark half-sleeved cotton kurtas that are making headlines.
“Modi is not so much about style. People look at him for what he says and what he has achieved. It helps that he is well-groomed and not portly like many other politicians,” says Delhi-based designer Rina Dhaka, adding that she quite likes the Modi kurta and prefers the CM in his usual fuss-free attire than in western wear.
Gandhi’s age factor now seems to be working against him.
“Rahul abhi bacche lagte hain. Unko polish hone main time lagega,” says housewife Singh.
Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says charisma is not as much about a person or the gist of grace but about the situation. Rise in crimes against women and the feeling that the current government has been inept in making cities safer make the prospective of an aggressive, go-getter leader all the more charming. Specially, when there’s a perception that Gujarat is free from incidents of rape.
“A lot of effort has gone into evoking, building and crafting this response. But I wouldn’t overestimate Modi,” says Kavita Krishnan, popular women’s leader.
She says there are women within the middle class itself who feel an instinctive sense of unease with the kind of language that Modi has used in the past, like the “sau crore ki girlfriend” remark. “It would be incorrect to say that everyone in the middle class is a Modi supporter,” she adds.
It helps, however, that Modi has articulate women with a huge fan following of their own defending him in primetime debates on national television. Kirron Kher, Smriti Irani, Meenakshi Lekhi in the Modi bandwagon are looked on as modern, reasonable and well-meaning. Unlike the qualities one would associate with traditional Hindutva ideologues. Therein lies the inherent irony of Modi’s image.
NaMo on women
“People who don’t respect women are demons”
“Status of women in India is worse than the 18th century”
“If we have to build a modern India, then we will have to first give dignity to the Indian woman”
“Our culture gives the highest status to women”
“If women are feeling unsafe we are not fit to call ourselves mard”