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Narendra Modi, the biggest PR con of our time: P Sainath

There is no question that Narendra Modi towers over Gujarat. The state is not just a one-party state (BJP), it has effectively become a one-person state. But the big question for Narendra Modi, the presumptive BJP candidate for Prime Minister, is whether his Gujarat model of growth and good governance is for real and can be replicated on the national stage.

The issue, as it always is when it comes to Modi, is that he is a polarising figure. While , the CNN-IBN panel discussing Modi agreed on the data that showed Modi and the BJP sweeping Gujarat in the 2014 national election, Modi the man, and his model, was the subject of much disagreement.

The panel was analysing the data from a poll conducted by CNN-IBN and The Hindu. The panel members were Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow at the Center for Study of Developing Studies, Journalist Swapan Dasgupta, Professor Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi, P Sainath, the rural affairs editor for the Hindu, and columnist Aakar Patel.

 Narendra Modi, the biggest PR con of our time: P Sainath

Modi will sweep Gujarat, but is he PM material?

The poll showed that 64 percent of respondents in Gujarat approved of Modi’s government in the state, though this was not the highest level of satisfaction among all states. 75 percent of respondents approved of the BJP government in Chattisgarh and 82 percent approved of the Madhya Pradesh government.

The poll also showed 49 percent of respondents wanted Modi to be the BJP’s PM candidate.

All the panelists said there was no one to match Modi in the state because he had successfully marginalised potential opponents within the BJP, and because the Congress was no match for him ideologically, politically or organisationally. The polls predict Modi sweeping the national election in 2014 – the Congress getting just 2 to 6 seats - and the consensus was that it would be a wipe out.

Patel called him a “big star” and Sainath and Guha agreed that he towers of his state in a way no other politician does today. In the light of Modi’s probable projection as a Prime Ministerial candidate though, the robustness of his approach was much disputed.

Dasgupta defended Modi and the Gujarat model, saying the reason why Narendra Modi has been elevated where he is today is not merely on account of what he has done in Gujarat, but on the strength of his personal charisma [as well].

“He was always going to sell the Gujarat model, which is a model of good governance, taking into account certain broad realities of Gujarat.

Sainath, however, called Modi’s reputation and the Gujarat model “the biggest public relations con job of our time”. According to Sainath, Modi espouses a pro-corporate outlook and therefore where the Gujarat model falters is in human development indicators, pointing out that the state has one of the slowest rates of poverty reduction in the country,

Yadav concurred, saying while no one can dispute there has been growth, the human development indicators have lagged behind, suggesting that the Gujarat model is not the silver bullet that will solve all of India’s ills.

Where the panelists did agree was that Modi is tapping into a general sense of disastifaction running through a section of Indian society over where the country is headed.

“Modi epitomises a generational impatience with the sluggish rate of growth”, Dasgupta said, adding that Modi also epitomises those people who believe that India has not reached its potential and that the current government has become a drag on India’s growth and that potential, rather than a means of unlocking it.

Guha felt the section of society that Modi most appeals to is the young, educated, social media savvy upper class who “don’t represent the diversity of India”.

Yadav argued that Modi stood at the intersection of what he called “three fundamental flaws of our democracy”, though he is not the only leader to exhibit these traits. Modi’s growth model has two sides; he functions in a sub-democratic way i.e. by wielding total control; and that he indulges in majoritarianism, which is using communities to carve out a permanent majority.

“[This is] fundamentally at odds with democratic India,” Yadav said.

Meanwhile Sainath pointed out that Modi’s ability to polarise opinion starts “at home. The BJP itself is divided over him, with LK Advani openly disagreeing with the decision to make Modi the head of the BJP’s election campaign committee and Shivraj Singh Chouhan putting up campaign posters that did not feature Modi at all.

The issue of sectarianism was raised by Guha, who said the Muslims in Gujarat had been ghettoised and were scared. “I think these are signs of what that brand of politics might do if exported elsewhere. This is the challenge that faces Modi.”

For Dasgupta, while what happened in Gujarat may be distasteful to some, Modi has become the hero of the neo-middle class because he offers an aspirational model “which has nothing particularly Gujarat about it. It is a pan-India aspiration.”

“A process of self-improvement, the process of self emppowerment, that is what we are talking about, Dasgupta said. “We have to discard this notion of the charitable state. We have to talk about self empowerment.”

Given the last word, Patel said there is no such thing as a Modi model. He claimed that only one Gujarati had made it to the Forbes list of Indian billionares since Modi became chief minister of the state and that if Modi were to make it to the center, billionaires would not suddenly start sprouting around the country. He also criticised Modi’s method of functioning.

“He has chased away leaders in his party. He has not left anybody. A very nasty, extremely self-cenetered man that people should be wary of. Once he takes up a space, he occupies it entirely.”

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Updated Date: Jul 25, 2013 13:45:19 IST