'Mr Modi has never been the typical RSS pracharak. In many ways he is very different. In the sense that he has taken to politics far, far better than most pracharaks. He drew the line between what is social work and what is political work. Lots of RSS pracharaks are not able to do that.'
What is Narendra Modi like? What is his politics about? What will he do? What are his priorities? Sheela Bhatt/rediff.com speaks to Swapan Dasgupta to find out more about the man of the moment.
If May 16 helps Narendra Modi to become prime minister, around the world people will scramble to know who this man is, what his politics is all about, and how come he catapulted on to the national stage on the sheer strength of his campaign.
Much has been written on Modi, but most accounts are incomplete or biased or based on assumptions or assessments on the basis of information available in the public domain.
Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com spoke exclusively to Swapan Dasgupta, bottom, left, distinguished columnist, a friend of Modi and an avid watcher of the Modi phenomenon.
A conversation that will help understand this fascinating moment, the historic event, and Modi, the rising star of national politics.
It's a thrilling time, isn't it? Is India all set for a change?
Yes, I think we are heading for a change. We are very sure that the Congress is out. I also believe that in all likelihood we will have a National Democratic Alliance government headed by Mr Modi. The only issue today is the magnitude of the mandate and the extent of the possible majority which is there.
You know what all goes with Modi's personality. Can you help us understand what is Indian society thinking while extending support to Modi?
Through out his campaign, in rallies and in meetings, the type of support that Mr Modi got was, principally, led by youth.
It was the youth that was at the forefront of the campaign for Mr Modi. All the exit polls and opinion polls suggested that a disproportionate number of the young supports Modi. They are between 18 and 25 years old.
This led us to believe that this is a mandate for a better future.
There is a soaring expectation for a good life and for India to reach its potential and for the government to work to support their ambitions, their hopes. That's the real mandate that Mr Modi has.
He is being given an opportunity to preside over the government that can guide India's role to prosperity.
I was interviewing Jairam Ramesh on Thursday when we had a discussion about the voters who support Modi. Do you think people are now overlooking Modi's Hindutva image and voting for him?
What happened in 2002 was very unfortunate. Everybody in India understands that this should have never been allowed to happen. That is pre-history.
What we saw throughout the campaign was that it was principally focused on development and on our future. The Congress tried to make it a campaign based on the past because they had nothing to show as their own record of their government.
After 10 years in government they could only talk about their opponent's past rather than talk about their own and our future.
I think that's why all the talk about secularism and the 'Idea of India' didn't strike a chord with the people. It was Mr Modi's track record of administrative efficiency and performance in Gujarat, which was also the backdrop of this election, which was reassuring for the people.
Also, progress happened in the post-2002 riots, which were not allowed to recur. That Gujarat prospered, Gujarat showed social peace, that counted more for the voters rather than some mythical ideas about where Modi stands as far as secularism is concerned and what Modi is and if he is against Nehruvian ideas etc... All those were abstract issues and didn't click with voters.
Don't you find it quite astounding, what Modi was all about during the aftermath of the 2002 riots and now where he stands on the national stage?
Yes, it's an incredible journey. Because, if in 2002 the viciousness accompanied the riots, the severity of the onslaught against Modi was such that if you had at that time suggested that Mr Modi is destined to be a possible prime minister of India, people would have laughed.
Even till December 2012 there were too many people who were willing to laugh it off and say that Mr Modi can't do anything beyond Gujarat and India is not Gujarat. These were the phrases that were bandied about.
At the same time today you can see the BJP's vote growing all over, from Kashmir to Kerala, rest aside how many seats they win. Everywhere their vote share is rising. And, it's a vote for Mr Modi not as much for the BJP. It's the leadership quality.
After 10 years of weak leadership Mr Modi is offering a decisive leadership. It's the contrast and juxtaposition which is maturing quite a lot.
How did Modi do it?
I think Narendra Modi is able to get to where he is because he is single-minded and is able to focus on whatever he did.
Once it was clear to him that the future of Gujarat is in its economic development, he devoted single-mindedly to achieve the goal.
Despite not having any administrative experience he not only learnt on the job, but he even mastered the job. He provided a leadership that not only delivered, but inspired.
If he wins, it's because of his inspirational quotient, and compared to him what the Congress threw up was an amateurish exercise in the form of Rahul Gandhi.
We live in New Delhi. We know the air here. Three things go strongly against Modi. He is an autocrat and personality-oriented. The BJP was a party of consensus, but he is changing things dramatically. Two, his 'terrible ways of marketing.' Modi has done the kind of marketing that India has never witnessed before. Three, it's difficult to imagine a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak entering 7, RCR.
See, all the biggest criticism of Mr Modi within New Delhi is that he is not one of us. That he is an outsider. He is a person who not only doesn't care about what we say, but actually he doesn't bother to court New Delhi. That has hurt a lot of people. Specially those who believe that regardless of which government is in power they would continue to rule and continue to exercise influence.
If Mr Modi has marketed himself well, then it's an achievement.
What about the display of money power?
Who has been in power for the last 10 years? It's the Congress. They have better resources. If the Congress chose to not put in their resources in the election thinking it will be a dead loss it's not something that you can blame Mr Modi for.
The Congress is never lacking in resources, both private and public.
The Congress put up huge advertisements for Bharat Nirman just before the elections. What happened? They did spend money, but it was misdirected. They said they transformed the nature of India. Their Bharat Nirman advertisement claimed the people woke up from sleep and found that they had bad dreams and now the reality is so much better. But, it didn't correspond with the people's actual experiences.
The people were concerned that after 1991, when India's rapid development started, Dr Manmohan Singh does get credit for it, but growth started faltering and the Congress didn't take that into account.
It was an incoherent government. The people were pulling each other down, one wing was doing something, other wing was doing something totally different.
Finally, despite the twin centres of power working well in the first term, it didn't work in the second term because it was accompanied by the economic mess.
The bad governance of the Congress was responsible for it. See, people talk money power and all that, but the fact is that the Congress message to voters was all wrong.
What about the RSS pracharak reaching 7 RCR?
Yes, that is to a large extent simply unimaginable. But Mr Modi has never been the typical RSS pracharak. In many ways he is very different. In the sense that he has taken to politics far, far better than most pracharaks. He drew the line between what is social work and what is political work. Lots of RSS pracharaks are not able to do that.
Thirdly, Mr Modi is a modernist. Mr Modi moves with the times. It has got to do with the environment of Gujarat. It is most globally exposed and clued in with the current of the world. Mr Modi has been able to absorb all those things and bring that modernity into a very traditional idiom. This has been his great success.
Modi studied in a Gujarati medium school and is not widely read on many great subjects. He hasn't, probably, read war history, or Churchill or literature. How will he fare in international affairs?
So what? The world doesn't give you respect because you have read the English language. Actually, your importance to world leaders depends on how important your country is. Dr Singh is individually respected, but the stock of India has been falling at the same time.
If India prospers economically, do you think having translators would matter? Doesn't Vladimir Putin use translators while talking to us? Don't the Chinese, every one of them, use translators? Why do we want everyone use the same language? Why have Anglo-Saxon assumptions? We have to be ourselves.
Look, in Gujarat, Modi has been the most successful practitioner of attracting global capital. He speaks Gujarati and Hindi primarily. Is it a deterrent to that?
Modi's politics is personality-oriented, it sustained in Gandhinagar. Will it sustain in New Delhi?
Who says it will sustain? It will be team work. India is so large a place. What is good about Mr Modi is that he is a workaholic. He works from sunrise to very late at night. He monitors everything. He is attentive to details.
,p>All this in a time where politicians see politics in a very narrow sphere, and he sees politics as a much bigger exercise. That's what distinguishes him from other politicians.
I believe Mr Modi represents a generational shift in the style of Indian politics. If his style catches up, then it's good for India. He ran the campaign with the help of very, very young people.
What is Modi's great passion?
He is a good human being. We share jokes. He laughs at jokes. We have a good relationship.
He is very committed to the job he is doing. He is bubbling with new ideas everyday. He is always in search of new ideas. He is an intellectually alert person. Such alertness doesn't come only from reading books. It also comes from your experience. It is your acceptability to new ideas.
He is considered quite ruthless in his politics.
You may see it as ruthless. But, if Mr Modi didn't have public backing he would have been a zero.
Everything that has happened to Mr Modi has been dealt on the sheer strength of popular backing. He is not battling out of thin air. He knows he has the support of people. He doesn't need to build factions. He gets the support from below.
The elevation of Mr Modi to prime ministerial candidate by the BJP was not because of a committee's decision. It was the surge from below.
When he was giving speeches he was sarcastic, taunting, and the way he spoke of 'Ma-bete ki sarkar' was not considered the qualities of a prime ministerial candidate.
I get what you are trying to say. Today, we have a new generation. We have a restless generation. We have the T20 generation. Mr Modi represents the T20 generation.
This entire issue of inclusive growth may not remain the centre-point if he comes to power.
Inclusive growth at the end of it is the celebration of poverty. All growth has to benefit people. The United Progressive Alliance strategy was based on dole culture, based on giving handouts. Not based on giving an opportunity to people to stand up on their own legs by creating opportunities for them.
What the Congress meant by inclusive growth was that they had a vested interest in poverty.
Modi is, essentially, the provider of the middle class.
Middle class aspirations are driving India. Mr Modi is helping the neo middle class. Those who are knocking at the doors of the middle class is the Modi class. Those who want to graduate from bicycle to two-wheelers are supporting him.
The sheer thirst of education in society now is looking forward. India is a country which is bursting with ambitions. Poverty and Gandhiji's idea of villages and simple living are left far behind.
What will be Modi's economic policy?
It will be to enable people to go on the job of creating wealth. The State will intervene only when it is necessary. It will be to lessen control.
Will his diplomacy be quite macho?
It will be, for the moment, to gear up India's capacity and economic clout, till then it will be hawabaazi (empty talk)! Mr Modi will be like Modi in his diplomacy.
India has not seen a Modi kind of leadership. A person is coming from below and then occupying the centrestage.
It is new for India. That's the exciting thing to watch out for.
The high expectations can be a problem if he doesn't deliver.
What will be Modi's first priority?
To unlock India's economic potential. Today it is caught up in a crisis of confidence. Only after that, nation-building will start.
Image: Narendra Modi launches a mobile application, Jobs In, for government jobs. Photograph: PTI Photo.
- Election Insights You Mustn't Miss!