Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Decoding Modi's Rise

An upwardly mobile nation does not need moral or spiritual discourse from its leaders . It needs meteoric careers . Great names . Absolute majority for one man led party in the Parliament . The Great Leader Who has Come Up The Hard Way, and who can work as a symbol, and make up for the irreversible delays and deprivations suffered by Bharat in the last six decades. They hope a Great Leader with his own memories of poverty and anonymity will finally compensate them for all those years of humiliation and facelessness. 
To some extent it is true that most of India's major political leaders in its first decades after Independence, from Nehru to Vajpeyi, Maulana Azad, Patel and Jagjivan Babu, to Princess Amrit Kaur, Rani Vijaya Raje Scindia or Biju Patnaik did not have to climb the ladder to political success laboriously . They were educated middle class Indians or erstwhile royals catapulted  to prominence by India's great freedom struggle . As children of a great collective struggle for liberation as leaders of Independent India, they symbolised not personal success stories, but the longings of a nation, even an entire Asian subcontinent. They did not shout or thump their chests or indulge in image makeovers . As they rose to speak at Election rallies, to explain, to persuade, a hush fell over the crowd. If you listen to old tapes of their speeches you can even hear their breathing, not the shouts of the audience . The thunderous claps came only after shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai led by the great leader .
In 2014 Modi must uset different tactics . The times are changing fast and pinching vote banks and bowing to patrons is often necessary . Since the post Emergency years when Raj Narain and George Fernandes went around in carefully careless attires, leaders find it pays to carry the electoral fight among dissatisfied masses as street theatre wherein a man from the underprivileged classes challenges a dynasty and its privileged retainers and wins the battle for the people. Modi is good with that sort of histrionics . He lets it be known daily that he is a pan Indian leader who thinks of the entire nation not just Gujarat . It may have taken Gandhi twenty years to cover it on foot . It takes him twenty weeks. What he lacks in depth he makes up with fiery rhetoric using vernacular phrases and popular sayings. He uses the media that is happy to project the theatre in racy vernacular evening after evening . The panel vivisections of the day's speech that follow in English, only serve to underscore Modi's repeated jibes at the power pack that rules India today . 
Modi should be thankful to Congress MP Manishankar Iyer for calling him dismissively a Chaiwalla, a tea seller who can never become the Prime Minister of India. It immediately presented him in a background that is his natural element. Indian tea shops are not like the posh Starbucks outlets where one stands in line to be served a drink of choice. Tea shops are male clubs, a boardwalk a theatre and party cell simultaneously . They serve talkative clients with a readymade and much cheaper brew in kiosks with tin tables or just benches lying here and there. In the mornings from Bhagalpur to Bhimtal, newspapers are read and commented upon collectively in Chai shops unhurriedly while listeners slurp tea from impossibly tiny glasses with maybe a dry rusk. Here the males from small and cramped homes find a second home where they can step over squabbling women and children to talk, argue and debate political choices . Here they can safely explode in rage or laughter set meetings or check on job opportunities. The street dogs lie around , the kids torment them or pee in corners. But overall the atmosphere is political.  
Modi understands this perfectly. He lets himself be shown using advanced media technologies, chatting people all over India, engaging them in casual banter first and then raising the pitch slowly. He takes care not to back Gujarat too much . He talks of th nation as being above all, even above Party and Family.  We have enormous potential as a nation he repeats only if you will help me eradicate the Congress Party. He does not go too deeply into things like economic policy or foreign trade or the minorities' rights and wrongs. He is naive and mystical here and jumps from explosive joy to seething contempt. He fascinates because he is complex and defies definitions and charges of being a hatred monger against the minorities by denying public interviews . Always confident that he has the right solution to everything , he remains deaf to questions and hisses that charges levelled against him and his government are a political conspiracy hatched by his opponents and a few NGOs, funded by hostile foreign sources using a deep baritone . As he sips mineral water, wipes the sweat with a snow white wash cloth through rhetorical questions he makes people repeat his own analysis of what is wrong with India, as right . Then he gets into his air conditioned vehicle and drives off or flies away. 
Later as they return home from dusty rallies and head for their dark, smelly and water starved villages, the audiences repeat the words with melancholy reflection . Everything is possible since nothing is known for sure. And since the most common version about the communal riots is the official one put out by the Gujarat government , it might be true that all this is a plot to keep the Great Common man away from becoming the Prime Minister. A new India is being born as everyone wants to know what is happening 


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