Within a couple of days by the end of the BJP national executive meeting in Goa starting 7 June, Mr Narendra Modi may be declared chairman of the party&’s election campaign committee or perhaps the party&’s prime ministerial candidate. In either case, it will almost certainly pave the way for him to become the NDA&’s 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. But who is right?
Seldom has an individual polarised public opinion thus. A combination of circumstances has led to the 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 destination. It is in this context that Mr Modi has surfaced to become the hope for change. His stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat convinced the corporate world that he is a muscular version of Mr Manmohan Singh and will do everything required to promote economic growth. Undoubtedly, the powerful big business media has had a big hand in promoting the image and prospects of Mr Modi.
On the other hand, there is a considerable section of the population that is fearful of Mr Modi&’s rise because of the 2002 Gujarat riots. It is feared that he will target minorities and promote communalism. But, what would Mr Modi actually deliver were he to become Prime Minister?
Consider Mr Modi&’s attributes dispassionately. His supporters believe that as the party&’s prime ministerial candidate, he will ensure a massive victory at the polls. They also believe that as Prime Minister, he will rid the nation of corruption and misgovernance. On the other hand, 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 proportion due to past events and the peculiar circumstances prevailing in the country.
Assess first the fears of his detractors. Mr Modi&’s role in the Gujarat riots was no worse than of Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The riots in Delhi and Gujarat targeted two different sections of the minorities and were sparked by an event that aroused deep emotion. It is a different matter that on both occasions, reality might have greatly differed from public perception.
The extent to which Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi, personally affected by prevailing public emotion, allowed unchecked rioting to go on remains open to debate. The bottom line is that on both occasions, bad judgment in running the administration was at work. And on both occasions, post the riots, there was no evident communal hangover clouding either Rajiv Gandhi or Mr Modi. The latter 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 preclude that.
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.
Hardly anyone will dispute that Adolf Hitler was the greatest demagogue of the last century. 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 well during election. 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 the Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka Assembly polls and 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 IPL, he has remained a mute and impotent spectator. Does that speak of a leader who will end corruption across the country? There are other aspects of Mr Modi&’s performance that attract attention. He has hit out at the government for its ‘weak’ response to the Chinese incursion in Ladakh. But at the same time, he 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, the media is full of reports that he telephoned BJP President Mr Rajnath Singh to complain against Mr LK Advani as the latter had praised the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister more than he had praised Mr Modi. Since no party spokesperson has contradicted this report, it may be taken to be correct. After his phone call, Mr Singh and the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister issued statements to mollify Mr Modi. Perhaps, BJP workers perceive the use of such authority by Mr Modi as a sign of strength. However, it reveals not strength but brittle vulnerability arising out of 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 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 are yet to be exploited.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com