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'Modi is considered either a mass murderer or a messiah'

Last updated on: April 12, 2013 14:11 IST

'Modi is considered either a mass murderer or a messiah'

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times, is a self-made man. He dropped out of college to pursue a career in the media. Since early 1980s he has worked and written for several newspapers and magazines like The Economic Times, The Hindustan Times, Outlook and The Statesman.

He currently presents a weekly show A Page From History on Lok Sabha television which debates history and issues. He is also the author of The Demolition: India At The Crossroads published in 1994. When he took up the task to write on the Gujarat chief minister, Modi initially gave him the rare access but later withdrew. Nilanjan's authorised biography of the man of the moment turned into an unauthorised one.

In an e-mail chat with rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt, Mukhopadhyay talks about Modi's vision, his psyche and his future that seems to be intricately linked with the future of India.

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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister on the lawns of his palatial home in Gandhinagar


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'It is clear that Modi is an extremely calculative person'

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Has your understanding of Narendra Modi changed after you finished writing the book? What was it in the beginning and how has it changed as you wrote the book?

A better way of putting it would be to say that my understanding of Narendra Modi has evolved from the point I first thought of writing his biography to the point that I completed writing it. My understanding of the man has continued even thereafter.

The rigorous research I put in, the amount of time that I spent interacting with him and people who knew him, and the quantum of thought that went into the exercise, also enabled me to begin looking at things while standing in the shoes on Modi.

One part of my mind developed the ability to think like Modi. By the time I completed writing the book, I developed a better appreciation of those attributes of Modi that first drew me to him. I also began to be jolted by those characteristics of Modi with which I had disagreed even before embarking on writing the biography.

My question was what was your idea of the man when you thought of writing this book and what's your view on him, now?

I had no contact with Modi from the time he became chief minister. My image of the man was drawn from media write ups, television commentators and seminarists. The image was that of a villainous character from the world of Hindi films.

I was not even sure if Modi would agree to meet me. My understanding of the man and his politics has not changed in the course of the writing of the book. I remain opposed to Hindu nationalist politics and did not agree with Modi when he told me that the minority community has to accept various Mahapurushs of this land -- meaning the majority -- as their own if they wished to be considered as Indians.

But Modi is also a more of a flesh and blood person for me in the end. He chose to speak to me, then he decided to stop speaking to me. After the book was over, he again decided to speak but I am not sure how long he will continue doing so. He has his own calculations and I do not want to speculate.

But this makes it clear that Modi is an extremely calculative person. He was always like this but has greater advantage now as the state machinery is available for him to know what his adversaries are up to. I hardly had any personal view of Modi before I began writing the book. Now I can talk for hours on the man.

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Image: Modi contemplates on the banks of the Ganga in his younger days


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'He has political ambition and the desire to acquire power'

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Is real Modi any different than his image in mind of the Indian people?

Every person who is in public life has two personalities and Modi is no different. There is one persona which is for public projection and the other is the reality within. But in Modi's case the gap between the two personalities is not so wide. It is only within very closed groups that Modi is more amiable than in public where he always projects a no-nonsense image.

When you met Modi, during the writing of the book, was he concerned about the final outcome in your book? Did he answer all your questions? What kind of questions did he try to avoid?

Since Modi gave me access despite the biography being an unauthorised one, where the manuscript would not be shared with him. I had asked him very early if he had any expectations from the book. He had said he had none but hoped his image would not be damaged.

I had said that the book would not get into character assassination and dissection but that the right to critically evaluate his policies and programmes would remain mine. He answered most questions except those pertaining to the 2002 riots guiding me to use his statements made to various commissions and official inquiries.

Can you decode the Modi mystique for our readers?

Like most political leaders, he is in this field because of political ambition and the desire to acquire power. But since politics is different from business, the emphasis cannot be only on acquisition of power. How Modi has struck the balance between his primary goal and policies, programmes and actions which help him realise his ambitions, is the basic thrust of the book.

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Image: Modi with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001

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'He benefited politically from the Godhra fallout'

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Give us choti choti baate bade aadmi ki.

Many. For instance, he has always spent time, energy and resources on personal grooming. His food habits remain simple and he is happy with himself. He is a voracious collector of knowledge but remains steadfast in his views.

Do you think he, indeed, gave a silent nod to the communal rioters after the Godhra incident?

The matter is still sub-judice and has been inquired by judicial commissions and investigation teams assisted by well-equipped and professionally-trained officers. Circumstantial evidence suggested that Modi did not act with the kind of promptness and sternness that was needed. There is also a consensus in the view that the events of 2002 benefited Modi politically and he became what he is today because of the fallout of the Godhra carnage.

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Image: Modi with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh team in the 1980s

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'Modi does not have friends because he does not need them'

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How will you draw his psychological profile? Is he an autocrat? Is he insecure like most leaders are?

He definitely is impatient with the views of others. In his personal planetary space, he is the main character and everybody else has to move in orbits that are determined by him. Modi has always been ambitious and like most leaders competing for preeminence, he remains insecure even after having reached a pinnacle.

Of course he is an autocrat and does not like anyone having different views. He seeks suggestions from his subordinates only when he wants it. He does not like unsolicited views. His dislikes it most if people think they have become very big. He wants to dwarf everyone around him.

Modi does not have friends because he does not need them. He has companions but they all have different roles in his life. If they stop being of use, he can cast them away without batting an eyelid. Modi himself is the centre of his existence. No one can claim that they know every aspect of his life.

He is probably one of the most opaque personalities and projects a very hard image because he wants to be seen as the alpha male. That is his political USP and he will never dilute this. How he scales this down when interacting with equally despotic satraps when looking for allies is going to be fascinating for Modi watchers like me.

What was the turning point in Modi's life?

The most important turning point in his life was when he decided to go away from home as a teenager and make a career that was different from his family occupation. Look at where his brothers have remained -- petty trade or small-time service. This huge difference between his background and what he has become is because of the bold step he took after school.

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Image: Modi during the ekta yatra in early 1990s

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'I did not find evidence of Modi amassing personal wealth'

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What is this 'meet myself programme' of Modi when he goes into hiding?

You can read about this in the book. This is when he had the time to 'disappear' incognito in the wilderness for several days for internal introspection. I think he draws a lot of strength from within when he is all by himself.

Is he a successful administrator? Really?

He is an efficient manager -- a very good team leader and this has resulted in Gujarat being among the better administered states in India during his tenure.

Is he really Mr Clean?

I did not find evidence of Modi amassing personal wealth.

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Image: Modi when he was a RSS pracharak


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'He has pre-fixed views on religious minorities'

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What are his views on Indian Muslims and other minorities?

He has pre-fixed views on the issue of religious minorities and believes that minorities need to adhere with the beliefs and value systems of the majority community. Modi says that the idea that Gujarat has become more communal in the course of his tenure is a wrong idea spread by people who are opposed to the state and its people.

Kindly give us two favourite anecdotes that you came across while collecting information for the book?

When he was not chief minister, I often interacted with Modi in the 1990s. There was a time (he had been banished from Gujarat then) when he displayed child-like enthusiasm at a new digital diary I had acquired. That was the first time I saw the human trait of his personality from such close quarters.

The other anecdote was during my research when I was shown a picture of Modi standing up like a common person and getting his measurements taken for a kurta. We decided not use the picture because it would be a violation of his personal space.

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Image: Modi interacts with Muslim leaders
Photographs: Courtesy: http://rakeshanugula.blogspot.in/
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'Modi believes that he a strong chance of becoming prime minister'

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Do you think Modi is, what we call, 'prime ministerial material'?

That is for the people of India to say and express in the elections. As far as I am concerned, I exercise my right to disagree with him and reiterate what I have already said that Modi pursues divisive policies and if he becomes prime minister he will promote an idea of India that will be at variance with mine. 

Do you think he has started feeling that in 2014 he may be a resident of 7, Race Course Road? 

That is his ambition and he believes that he has a strong chance of becoming prime minister. 

Do you think if at all he becomes prime minister he will change face of India? How?

Of course he will change the face of India. My only problem is that the new face will not be to my liking.

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Image: Modi addresses his supporters during a rally in Dahod district
Photographs: Courtesy: http://www.narendramodi.in

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'Modi is not very religious'

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Who is Modi's icon? Is he religious?

Modi says that has been greatly influenced by Swami Vivekananda. He spent a lot time at the Ramkrishna Mission when he went away from home as a youngster. He is not religious in the ritualistic way though he fasts twice a year during Navratras. I have written about this in detail in the book. Do have a look at this fascinating aspect of his persona.

What are his likes and dislikes?

On an impertinent note, I will say Modi likes people agreeing with him and dislikes if they do not.

What is he afraid of? What makes him nervous?

Modi fears losing power and the spectre of defeat and political isolation makes him nervous. But he is a hard fighter and does not give up in moments of adversity.

Who are the members of Modi's core group? Who is his advisor or advisors?

Modi devolves specific tasks to different people. Barring him, no one has a complete knowledge and vision of what he is doing.

Can you explain what makes him so charismatic?

In a sentence -- the belief in his abilities, the confidence he exudes and the power he exhibits. People like a strong-willed and decisive political leader like they once plugged for Indira Gandhi.

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Image: Modi performs a puja at a temple town of Ambaj
Photographs: Courtesy: http://www.narendramodi.in

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'Modi always liked to look nice'

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How much does he spend on himself? Like, on his kurtas, watches and travel?

He would be spending a huge amount on himself for his clothes, his watches, his pens, and spectacle frames but he also gets a lot of these as gifts from admirers and designers who obviously must not be billing him for the goods provided.

Modi always liked to look nice and spent much more time in grooming that his peers in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Others mostly had that just-out-of-bed look, but Modi was always the immaculate dresser. He initially wore white trousers and short white kurtas.

His clothing evolved with time and the name of Modi kurta was given after he became chief minister. He giggles like a child when talking about this -- mind you he does not blush, so there is no embarrassment. He probably feels very nice -- after all a boy born in a nondescript lower-middle-class family who grew up in an overgrown village, has made it purely on his own and has clothes named after him. Wow!

If anyone says she or he will not like this -- then they are obviously not being truthful. Modi's favourite texture is linen and it does not come cheap. I do not know how much his clothes cost but the few items I bought from Jade Blue where most of his kurta pyajamas are made, were among the most expensive clothes I have ever bought.

But they are good and we do not regret that. When he was balding a few years ago, Modi got hair transplants done. His beard is rarely shabby but he also has a consistently rugged look. Modi knows that he has a good fan following among women and does everything to cultivate them.

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Image: Modi reviews preperations for 2013 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit
Photographs: Courtesy: http://www.narendramodi.in

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'Modi has often been in too much of a hurry'

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Does Modi love anybody in his personal life? Did he share anything about his love life?

He loves himself. He shares work tasks with most and has a little private space which he does not want anyone to intrude. I did not probe that because it is against my ethos. I have written about his marriage but that is pure research -- put together from what is available in the public domain.

I have written why I made no effort to meet his wife. I do not think it would have served the purpose of writing a politically insightful and good biography.

Can you help us know Modi's weaknesses and strengths that will make or ruin his chances to become the top leader of the country?

Modi has often been in too much of a hurry and he is currently displaying this trait. It could go against him and prevent from realising his ambition. In the run up to the next election, he has to calibrate his initiatives and assertion to ensure that he reaches the crescendo at the precise moment of necessity and before.

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Photographs: Courtesy: http://www.narendramodi.in
Tags: Modi

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'There is no Indian who can be indifferent to Modi'

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What surprised you the most about Modi?

The fact that despite having written so critically of him in the past, he allowed me to write the biography, gave access to himself, agreed with the manuscript not being shown before publication and made no effort to prevent it despite knowing that several parts of it would be critical of him.

Lastly, tell us what's exclusive in this book to spend Rs 495 on it?

Everything is exclusive. But most importantly, my vision and approach to the book -- that is, I began the book with no pre-conceived notion in my mind. At the end Modi will be a living character in the midst of each reader of the book. It will be money well spent -- that much I can guarantee.

Agreeing or disagreeing with my views is a different matter. When I began writing the book, I was clear that it will not be an opinion piece on Modi. Every Indian -- even me -- have views on him. Some like and love him others hate or detest him. But there is no Indian who can say they are indifferent to him.

Modi is considered either a mass murderer or a messiah. I tried to find the truth in between and I have succeeded. This is a book which a lot of people on either side with or dislike. But there will be more numbers of people who will get to know Modi because my book does not come any with ideological baggage.



Image: The cover of the book Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. Inset: Author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

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