Modi: Neither Monster, Nor Messiah!
Within a couple of days by the end of the BJP national executive meeting in Goa starting on June 7 Mr. Narendra Modi may be declared chairman of the party’s election campaign committee or perhaps even the party’s prime ministerial candidate. In either event it will be perceived with near certainty that he will become eventually the BJP prime ministerial candidate. This prospect fills his supporters with glee and his detractors with alarm. One section thinks that his ascent to the post will bring deliverance. The other section believes it denotes disaster. Who is right?
Seldom has an individual polarised public opinion thus. A combination of circumstances led to such division. India stands poised between enormous potential and possible collapse. A new assertive generation yearns for change. This is accompanied by large sections of the corporate world in the global economy desperate for India to emerge as a good investment market. It is in this context that Mr. Modi surfaced to become the hope for change. His stint in Gujarat as Chief Minister convinced the corporate world that he is a muscular version of Dr. Manmohan Singh. He will do everything required to promote economic growth. Undoubtedly, the very powerful big business media went a long way to promote the image and prospects of Mr. Modi. Equally there is a considerable section fearful of Mr. Modi’s rise on account of the Gujarat riots in 2002. It is feared that he will target the minorities and promote communalism. What would Mr. Modi actually deliver were he to become Prime Minister?
Consider Mr. Modi’s attributes dispassionately. It is believed by his supporters that Mr. Modi as prime ministerial candidate will ensure a massive victory at the polls. They also believe that as Prime Minister he will rid the nation of corruption and misgovernance. His opponents believe that as Prime Minister he will unleash a reign of terror and communal discrimination that could destroy national unity. Who is right? The answer is that both are wrong. The significance of Mr. Modi has been blown out of all proportion due to past events and the peculiar circumstances prevailing in the nation.
Assess first the fears of his detractors. Mr. Modi’s role in the Gujarat riots was no worse than that of Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Both the Delhi and the Gujarat riots targeting two different sections of the minorities were sparked by an event that aroused deep emotion. It is a different matter that on both occasions actual reality might have greatly differed from public perception. It remains a matter of debate that the extent to which Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi were personally affected by the prevailing public emotion to allow unchecked the rioting that followed. The bottom line is that on both occasions bad judgment was displayed in running the administration. And on both occasions after the riots there was evident no communal hangover clouding either Rajiv Gandhi or Narendra Modi. Mr. Modi has clearly shown that his political ambition overrides any ideological commitment. His single-minded devotion to success permits him to switch from Hindutva to economic growth with consummate ease. In other words, Mr. Modi is neither moral nor immoral. He is amoral and is ruthlessly committed to success. Therefore, fears of communal discrimination under his governance may be misplaced. Democratic compulsions would
Next, consider the sanguine hopes of his supporters. They pin their hopes on his potential as a vote getter and on his effectiveness as an administrator. Let us consider these in that order. Mr. Modi is articulate and an orator. He has an imposing personality. These attributes make for a good communicator. But how much impact does individual personality exert on electoral results without regard to other factors? Very little, one fears. One thinks that there would be little dispute that during the last one century the greatest demagogue was Adolf Hitler. Yet in elections he never succeeded in obtaining more than 50 per cent of the popular vote. Mr. Modi’s strength lies in the enthusiasm he has created among his party’s workers. That is undoubtedly an asset that will help the party perform in the polls. But how much popular support will the BJP acquire from voters given the party’s policies and image? Media hype and the enthusiasm of workers has created a legend about Mr. Modi’s vote-getting prowess. It has yet to be proven outside Gujarat. Mr. Modi campaigned in both Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka assembly polls. He made no visible impact in either state.
Next, consider Mr. Modi’s commitment to principled governance and his potential for ending corruption. He is the head of the Gujarat Cricket Board and a member of the BCCI Governing Council. Yet in the raging controversy related to match fixing and corruption in the IPL cricket overseen by BCCI he has remained a mute and impotent spectator. Does that signify a leader who will end corruption across the nation? There are other aspects of Mr. Modi’s performance that attract attention. He waxed eloquently against the government for its response to the Chinese incursions in Ladakh. He berated the government for weakness before the enemy. But the same Mr. Modi is ardently wooing the Chinese for enhanced trade, is teaching Mandarin to school children in Gujarat, has visited Beijing several times, and is the declared favourite of the Chinese Embassy in Delhi. Does Mr. Modi seriously believe that border security can be compartmentalised from trade and cultural ties while dealing with a foreign power? If so, he is dangerously naïve.
Another disturbing trait displayed by Mr. Modi is his sense of insecurity which no real leader should have. His treatment of his colleague Mr. Sanjay Joshi who was hounded out of Gujarat revealed that. Currently, media is full of reports that he telephoned BJP President Mr. Rajnath Singh to complain against Mr. LK Advani for praising the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in excess of the praise showered on him. Since no party spokesperson contradicted this report it may be taken to be correct. After his phone call, Mr. Rajnath Singh and his the Madhya Pradesh CM issued statements to mollify Mr. Modi. Perhaps BJP workers perceive the use of such authority by Mr. Modi as a sign of strength. It reveals not strength but brittle vulnerability arising from a sense of insecurity. If Mr. Modi aspires to be a really successful national leader he will have to eschew such insecurity.
In conclusion therefore it may be seen that Mr. Modi has the superficial attributes of leadership. He is a good communicator, an efficient executive and a decisive politician. But to exploit these attributes as a Prime Minister he has to acquire the depth and vision required for a real game-changing leader of a billion people. Ultimately, good governance relies on policy and not on mere personality. It is time for realism. The impact of a single individual should not be exaggerated. Mr. Narendra Modi is neither a monster nor a messiah. He is a politician with attributes that have yet to be exploited.
By Rajinder Puri