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Home > News > Columnists > Pravin Sheth

Will Modi now modify his style?

December 24, 2007

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In no assembly election in India has a political party returned to power for the fourth consecutive time except, of course, the Congress before it split in 1969 and the Communist Party of India-Marxist in West Bengal. Narendra Modi [Images] is also the first chief minister in Gujarat to win a third consecutive term. In the assembly election of 2007, Modi was the issue. His masks became symbolic in more than one way.

The election exploded many a myth spread during this election. The so-called rural-urban divide was not borne out at the hustings. Instead of the expected setback in Saurastra, the Bharatiya Janata Party recorded its biggest margin over the Congress in the region. The rebels were trounced in their own den. Keshubapa's (Keshubhai Patel) 'charisma' and Patel power came a-cropper.

The Mahasammelan -- the 200,000 plus rally of Patels, Kolis and farmers -- in Rajkot, and Sonia and Rahul Gandhi's [Images] rallies did not translate into votes. Anti-Modism was buried in Surat, Rajkot and Amreli, the very epicentres of anti-Modism.

The exit polls again did not prove exact. The assessment by the BJP's central leadership that Modi would be cut down to size after the expected narrow margin of victory has not materialised. Even in the absence of the emotive issue of Hindutva, the BJP recorded a performance better than the 2002 assembly election in all regions of the state except in Central Gujarat.

The election became a proxy national poll with national impact. Ironically, it was the Congress/United Progressive Alliance which gave Gujarat's chief minister national stature. In its campaign material, images of Modi and Sonia Gandhi [Images] were displayed. The speeches of these adversaries were juxtaposed.

Modi ignored state Congress leaders like Bharatsinh Solanki and Shankersinh Vaghela and directed his cryptic repartees at Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images]. The campaign established a strange equation that helped Modi to catapult himself as a regional leader of national stature.

However, the Gujarat model of politics cannot be repeated in other parts of India. Communal riots did not spread outside Gujarat in 2002. There is not a single pattern of state politics, but patterns of state politics in the Indian polity with its continental dimension and highly differentiated socio-regional differentiations. BJP leaders in other states do not possess Modi's charisma, resourcefulness or political acumen.

But the model of development with its massive mandate will sought to be replicated in other states, even in non-BJP states. Though Modi's imaginative projects of ports-based development and SEZ (Special Economic Zones) chain cannot be repeated, his policy to bring home bijli, sadak and paani as well as caring schemes for, instance, the girl child will generate a ripple effect nationwide.

The verdict may be seen in an unexpected area. The national media perception and evaluation of Modi -- who is generally demonised in the national print and electronic media -- if open-minded, will incline course correction to their approach to this seminal phenomenon.

This election may help Modi to enter into the breakthrough trajectory of transformation. He will have to undertake course correction. He will have to be respecful to the norms of a democratic system and observe the rule of law. He may become more cautious lest he looks abrasive and authoritarian.

His first public appearance on victory day, perhaps, gives some indication of this. One noticed behind Modi at the first press conference after the resounding verdict, a banner displaying photographs of BJP President Rajnath Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani. A little below were photographs of state party president Purshottam Rupala and Modi, both in the same size! In his short address, Modi mentioned the supportive role of his party and the goodwill of the central leadership. He said he would carry on development, which, he said, would also be beneficial for people outside Gujarat, if pursued elsewhere as well.

One hopes the new scenario is more than symbolic.

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