The playground bully
Modi can’t play nicely with others. That works fine when his sandbox is limited to Gujarat — a world where his way IS the highway. But New Delhi is an entirely different ballgame. The man who inherited a state with a two-thirds BJP majority is ill-equipped to managing a fractious and precarious coalition with egos almost as outsized as his own. He can bully the BJP national enclave into falling in line on Sanjay Joshi, but as Prime Minister he will soon find out that a Jayalalithaa can out-sulk him any day.
The raj dharma of coalition politics, as Mamata drills into Manmohan Singh every other day, is about learning to win some and lose some. “Modi only thinks of winning – and winning all the time,” a former CM of Gujarat told Caravan magazine. In a way, Manmohan Singh has survived as long as he has, because he is quick to bend – though increasingly at the cost of being ineffectual. Modi may be every bit as impotent in New Delhi for the exactly the opposite reason. “The man is so intolerant and full of himself, how can anyone expect other leaders to work under him!” a BJP leader told Outlook.
The charm deficit
While a broad streak of authoritarianism is hardly a disadvantage in a nation that still worships Indira Gandhi, Indians like their uber-strong leaders served to them with a hearty helping of paternal benevolence, be it Indira or Vajpayee. The investment rates in Gujarat may be important to the urban middle class, but the average Indian is looking for a leader who inspires trust and affection.
Modi suffers from a charm deficit disorder that’s lethal for a politician in national retail politics. The Loh Purush has all the warmth of stainless steel. His cool detachment makes for bad television, and even his favourable media stories emphasise a technocratic competence and impersonal integrity. The often-touted fact that his mother still lives in a one room apartment may be evidence of his anti-nepotism, but it hardly makes for a “good son” story that can bring a tear to the eyes of his audience in, say, a village in Chikmagalur.
India is not Gujarat (or China).
Modi is lionised by a section of the middle class because as Vinod Jose points out in his profile in Caravan “he appears to prefer power to money, which is a particularly appealing proposition for voters who regard most politicians as corrupt, ineffective and weak.” He is the man who can get things done and has been able to deliver their dream state – one with minimal red tape, where a file goes through five people not 30, and the markers of progress are out there, ostentatiously displayed for everyone to see.
“But the problem for him is, Gujarat is not India,” a political commentator, sympathetic to Modi, tells Shoma Chaudhury in Tehelka.
As Chaudhury notes, Gujarat is more industrialised, more urbanised, and more homogeneous than most other Indian states – and therefore more receptive to Modi’s corporate Hindutva message. Even the Muslim community, (10 percent of the state) is largely Bohra and Memon, business communities that are amenable to working with Modi.
Modi’s also been able to turn all criticism about Godhra into an attack on Gujarati asmita (pride). But it will be near impossible to repurpose the inevitable flak generated by the campaign trail as an attack on mera Bharat mahaan. Modi is not India.
For huge swathes of India, the dream is not a Shanghai-style GIFT city rising out of barren wastelands. And even those on the development bandwagon have their doubts. A businessman who admires Modi because “he has made Gujarat relatively corruption-free” and “there are better roads and infrastructure,” also adds “You have all that in China too. But would I want to live in China?”
A Modi at the helm is the wet dream of a certain section of middle-class India that is impatient with the snail’s pace of progress in a parliamentary democracy, and yearns for a no-nonsense strongman who will not pander to any vested interest. But that fantasy of Modi, the CEO-CM, does not make Modi, the CEO-PM, any more likely.
“Hand Modi a two-thirds Lok Sabha majority, control of all the ministries he wants, and he might be able to govern India firmly. That may not be the same thing as governing India well,” muses Aakar Patel in Outlook.
But to put it differently, Modi will only be able to govern — at all — if he gets his party’s nomination and if he then delivers a two-thirds Lok Sabha majority and if he then gets control of all the ministries he wants. Anything less, and he is likely never to govern at all — or not for very long.