Once Chandrababu Naidu discovered the mouse in 1995, he would hold forth on how far it would take the world. Give him a mike and he would speak only about how technology transformed life. He blushed self-consciously when corporate honchos called him the CEO of Andhra Pradesh Inc. who he wooed with cheap land around Hyderabad and ‘Hyderabadi hospitality, Hyderabadi biryani and yes, Hyderabadi pearls for your wife’. He often spoke of how Hyderabad will be the bridge between Europe and China, how the only ‘ism’ of relevance in the 21st century was ‘tourism’ and took credit for the telecom revolution, claiming that he had told the then prime minister A B Vajpayee to open up the sector. There was a mini-clamour among the progressive sections in the pre-Twitter era about how he would make a great Prime Minister.
Listening last night to Narendra Modi, my Twitter timeline’s prime minister-in-waiting, there was therefore a sense of deja vu. Like Naidu, Modi was obsessed with the ‘I’ and the NaMo mantra was a 2013 upgraded version of Babuspeak. He also claimed that he secretly advised the PM who, he mockingly revealed, was a enthusiastic listener but a poor doer. His tone throughout was ‘If only India followed what I have done in Gujarat but alas …’ The pregnant pauses were cues for the audience to clap at the India Today conclave.
I have absolutely no quarrel with Modi’s ‘Gujarat Shining’ slogan. After all a chief minister is also like the chief marketing manager and full credit to Modi (and Naidu before him) for having raised the profile of his patch with his aggressive pitch. With a heavy-on-statistics, 12-minute film screened at the gathering, he aimed to stump everyone in the numbers game but as his party colleague, Navyot Singh Sidhu told us many matches ago, ‘Statistics are like miniskirts, what they reveal is tantalizing, but what they hide is crucial’.
To Modi’s credit, he has picked up several of Naidu’s success stories (like the women self-help groups, the use of IT to introduce transparency in government functioning) but more importantly, learnt from Naidu’s mistakes. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister behaved like the Mayor of Hyderabad and paid the price for his urban-centric approach. Modi claims he has focussed on agriculture and irrigation and now his mind is working on developing 50 towns all over Gujarat.
The question then is whether India will buy into the Gujarat story. Last night, one hour into hearing Modi’s spiel, my nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter said, ‘Appa, doesn’t he talk of change just like Obama. Why not we move to Ahmedabad?’ Amused at this neo-convert, I knew who she would have voted for if she was already 18.
That is proving to be Modi’s biggest strength. He is a fantastic communicator and his anecdotal style of speaking (as opposed to Naidu’s oratory) connects. He is like a dream merchant who is asking the non-Gujaratis of India to dream of Utopia, which he claims is already existing in ‘mere Gujarat mein’.
In February, when Modi was addressing the gathering of students at the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi, I was with a couple of acquaintances at a friend’s place. At one point, I exclaimed, ‘the students are cheering for every word he says’ to invite this terse remark from one of the gentlemen present. ‘Don’t they see the blood on his hands?’
Indeed, for all of Modi’s stress on governance, the ‘blood on his hands’ makes many in India see red. Point this out and the Modi fan club goes ballistic. Why I wonder. If a person aspires to lead India, the country has a right to ask questions and seek answers.
At the same time, I find this obsession to extract a ‘sorry’ from Modi meaningless. What purpose would it serve now? If Modi had indeed expressed regret in 2002 or even before the 2004 elections, it would have still made sense. `Sorry’ as a balm has passed its expiry date and wouldn’t heal any wounds. The thing to do is to pursue the judicial process to its logical end and if indeed Modi is found guilty, punish him as per law.
The Congress has no leg to stand on to question Modi on 2002, given its own track record vis-a-vis communal riots. Jagdish Tytler, one of those accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is still a senior Congress functionary in charge of Odisha and the only reason why the likes of Sajjan Kumar are persona non grata in the Congress is because they have become electorally irrelevant and not because of the 1984 taint.
Modi presents India with a difficult choice. Do we continue with the Mai-baap culture’s condescending tone or give this man a chance? Despite his divisive image and the past history and DNA of the party he belongs to, Modi does not project himself as a macho Hindu. Instead, in a very American manner, he harps continuously on inculcating the pride of being an Indian. For the average middle class Indian, obsessed with putting heroes on a pedestal, this is Modi’s sex appeal.