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How Narendra Modi's propaganda won out in Gujarat

December 20, 2012 19:17 IST

The proactive engagement with business and corporate leaders and the reciprocation in turn indicate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's ability to exploit the superficiality and lack of ideological depth on part of those preoccupied with profit and business isolated from a larger world view, feels Jatin Bhatt

As the results of the final tally of Gujarat elections trickle in, I revisit my morning flight to Ahmedabad from Delhi on February 27, 2002. Although aware of the Godhra event the earlier night, I hardly imagined what I was in for.

Being from Ahmedabad and visiting one's hometown, you take so much for granted. The fact that the official car did not show up at Ahmedabad airport did not ring any alarm bells until I was told that the driver refused to risk travelling to the airport.

Managing to reach my family somehow, I started to sense the unfolding of a new chapter in Gujarat. While being tensely preoccupied with the possible means to reach back to the airport, I experienced the worst fear as I set out to ensure my colleague's anxiety and tensions are attended to. No marks in guessing that with his beard and name he could have been found out.

Two elections later, the scenario in Gujarat has changed beyond reason. There has been a complete homogenisation of social construct defying the core of the multi-cultural and multi-religion premise of India as democracy. But, the roots of the communal hiatus go back to the constant conflicts witnessed all through last four decades or so.

The political astuteness in recent times has leveraged this in most beneficial manner in Gujarat, almost in similar manner as what has been significantly witnessed in Maharashtra where in the identity and pride of state has been an effective emotional bind among the larger community.

Of course, there is a tactical difference in finding the enemy within the larger societal diversity.

While I fail to understand the transformation to such a huge shift in the mindset of people of Gujarat, there is little that can be doubted in the popularity of the leadership and acceptance of ideology that many of us with reason may not endorse.

The return of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi-led government for a third consecutive term puts to question the very psyche of the voters and its implications to the emerging future. In such a scenario, it is difficult to assess whether it is the development story, or a divide on communal lines, or the Gujarati pride which a large part of the voters have aligned to.

But I do recall that during the Sadbhavna initiative recently, Modi did refuse to put on the skull cap offered by a Moulavi while accepting all other possible headgear from other communities.

This is when he had moved distinctively to the argument of development and Gujarati pride.

Development in Gujarat has been almost consistent, regardless of the change in the leadership since its inception. I continue to believe that this is integral to the very persona of Gujarat, regardless of which party has been in power. How then, do so many people outside Gujarat assign this to the current leadership?

While one agrees or not, Modi has managed to impress a lot of middle-class and business communities beyond Gujarat through his well-strategised propaganda and promise of a future demonstrated through Gujarat as a model.

The proactive engagement with business and corporate leaders and the reciprocation in turn indicate Modi's ability to exploit the superficiality and lack of ideological depth on part of those preoccupied with profit and business isolated from a larger world view.

The overtures from diplomatic lot to engage with him too, seem to be driven by some assessment of emerging future scenario.

The bottom line, is that India badly needs a leadership that enjoys the stature of a statesman and is decisive, impactful, efficient and in control of delivering a promise that people value beyond manipulative games.

Modi has managed to get an image of him as someone who ensures that he can deliver governance through the myriad of bureaucracy and politics. Whether true or not, in absence of any demonstration of meaningful governance, a lot of people have found in Modi an image of what people seek from the political leadership.

Professor Jatin Bhatt is a faculty and dean of the School of Design at the Ambedkar University in New Delhi. He has been in Delhi since the last 28 years. He visits Ahmedabad and Gujarat regularly to almost always lose his geographical and social bearings in the process of negotiating the nature and pace of change.

Jatin Bhatt