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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt

Understanding the alchemy of Modi's victory

December 23, 2007

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Rediff.com Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt is one of the few journalists who called the Gujarat election accurately.

This is the second election this year that Rediff.com's forecast has been breathtakingly correct. In May, columnist Nazarwala pooh-poohed the so-called mainstream media's predictions for a hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh and declared Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party a clear winner.

One of the best informed voices on Gujarat and Gujaratis for the last 30 years, Bhatt correctly detected the undercurrents in Gujarati society to inform our readers that despite the exit polls and surveys that claimed a close battle in the western state, Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] would emerge triumphant.

Today, she examines the communal, social and personality factors that led to Modi's famous victory.

Riding against all odds, Narendra Modi has won the election convincingly. In one line, the victory shows that it is a people's mandate for his personality. It is a clear vote for a person and leader called Narendra Modi. Like Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, in Gujarat too, the leader is much above the party.

THE EMOTIONAL PITCH

This was one of the most-emotional elections that India has witnessed. Modi wanted this election to be fought on emotional issues and not on real issues. He assured a 'riot-free Gujarat' to all when there was no imminent threat of riots. His speeches sent the clear message, 'I am promising you Gujarat's progress, which will be free from communal tension.' His unspoken message said, 'Under my rule, disruptive elements, including jihadis, will be repressed by any means.'

The Hindu majority in urban areas liked what Modi promised. The chief minister may have looked bold and fearless, but his election strategy was actually cautious and conservative. He did not let himself be trapped in idealism. He knew clearly that his development agenda could not by itself win him the election and that the anti-incumbency factor would corrode his electoral platform.

Indeed, Modi's development message neither lacked clarity nor credibility, but he did not dare to dilute his own brand of Hindutva. He wanted this election to be fought on emotional issues and his theatrical and melodramatic performances were deliberately calibrated to sustain a high level of synergy between him and the public.

It was a no-holds-barred war; Modi and even the Congress used, abused and relished all weapons available with them.

THE PERSONALITY CULT

Modi carefully built up his image. His photographs, his shampooed-conditioned hair, his crystal clear, anti-glare spectacles, his watches, his crisp kurtas -- everything was part of his package aimed at building up mass hysteria. Not many would comprehend that there is a wide difference between the perception of Modi in public life and his real self. But the public perception of Modi -� what he means to the people -� has so outgrown all else about him that it has become a reality.

The real Modi (who is not counted as a hardcore Hindutva leader) looks pale by the side of the public perception of him, and may have become, arguably, pointless -� including, perhaps, for Modi himself.

The real Modi has scripted a certain image of himself for public consumption. It was merely a strategy to win the election or garner influence in his party. And, what success he has earned in doing so!

The media, unknowingly and knowingly, helped him. His last six years of power made his agenda easier. He got hold of resources needed for creating a wave for himself. In the era of television personality cults, it is not difficult to build up a public image if you know how the mindset in television newsroom functions.

Modi's personality of being a macho man with a 56 inch-size chest, a leader who toils for Gujarat, a politician who will get things done in New Delhi and the Hindutva hero who will keep Muslims under control -� all these, each in its own way, has helped him win the votes of a majority of Gujaratis.

People who are entrepreneurial and hardworking loved their chief minister who would attend office from morning till late in the night. Also, his decision to sack one-third of the sitting MLAs proved advantageous. He thus overcame anti-incumbency factor in a big way.

THE ANTI-MODI MEDIA HELPED MODI

In Gujarat many people wondered: "Look, how powerful is Modi. He can even defeat the media."

Today, the common belief is that the corporate media wields power. And the media, too, has come to believe in its power. But Modi has punctured the vanity of the corporate media. He ignored the media barons. Modi is the first Indian politician to transcend India's corporate media. The result was predictable. He got so much bad publicity that the people started sympathising with him, concluding that he was a victim of the 'power-wielding' media.

When the media delivered brickbats to Modi, BJP supporters gave him bouquets. His image of being a lone ranger also came in handy for Modi even as the media mauled him with epithets. The common man felt, "The poor fellow -- the media is just not allowing him to work for Gujarat's progress."

The Congress's biggest mistake was to believe the anti-Modi propaganda. Some of it was actually planted by its leaders. They were trapped in their own web when they started believing the so-called logical arguments and not looking at the emotional fervour within the masses.

BJP REBELS, A SPENT FORCE

Modi's men always maintained that the anti-Modi brigade within the BJP, led by Keshubhai Patel, was a "spent force". Modi ridiculed the dissidents with confidence because he believed that the so-called Patel leaders, who were with Keshubhai, were corrupt and the people knew it. But he was careful to give tickets to Patels so that no anti-Modi campaigner could monopolise the Patel votes. Equally, he was careful to send the signal that he was not anti-Patel.

Modi trumped the caste card by playing the caste card with elan.

THE CONGRESS FAILED TO PROJECT LEADER

The Congress, fearful of being overwhelmed by Modi's popularity, made the fatal error of not projecting even a weak leader under its banner. Fear does not win you power. The absence of a Congress chief ministerial candidate proved expensive.

Modi filled up the vacuum by pitting himself against Sonia Gandhi [Images]. He has thereby raised his stature in national politics.

In corresponding terms, Sonia Gandhi's stature was diminished once she found herself with no choice but to take on Modi in her speeches.

When people are emotive, the local hero always has an edge over a leader, no matter how tall a figure s/he is in national politics, who cannot even speak the voter's language. Sonia Gandhi's speechwriters should be sacked for clumsy political writing.

How can you keep talking about the issues people don't want to talk about?

When one talks about the 'fear factor' in Gujarat, one is talking about the plight of Muslims. Certainly, that has to be an issue and it must be talked about in an election campaign. But you need credibility amongst the majority when you talk to them about the plight of the minority.

Sonia Gandhi's usage of the phrase 'maut ke saudagar' has proved to be no less foolish than Rajiv Gandhi's 'nani yaad dilayenge' remark. After that remark, whenever Congressmen resorted to anti-Modi rhetoric, many Gujaratis took it to mean anti-Gujarat remarks.

MODI EVOKED REGIONAL PRIDE

Modi's cunning political acumen turned Sonia's wordcraft to work in his favour. He played his regional parochialism card astutely that anything said against him began to take on the resonance of being 'anti-Gujarat.'

TRIBALS REMAIN SAFFRONISED

The tribals of Gujarat took up the Ram Mandir issue after 10 years of hard work by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It seems the tribals want to remain connected with the Sangh Parivar. The Congress seems to have decisively lost the tribals of Gujarat to the BJP.

MODI, A LIKABLE LONER

Modi exudes raw energy. His behaviour, his speeches and style conveyed to the youth and women a direct compelling message: 'I am a karmath (doer). Come, help me to build a rich and prosperous Gujarat. See, I live alone without a family. You are my family. I don't enrich myself and I don't allow others to indulge in corruption.' This message in public was peppered by innumerable anecdotes, which have become the stuff of folklore -- that he writes poetry, he eats vegetarian food (mostly khichdi), he likes yoga and, of course, that he is a lonely soul.


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