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Home > Election > Report

Modi evokes strong passions in Ahmedabad's womenfolk

December 10, 2002 01:08 IST

There's something about Narendra Modi, say his fans. They claim that the chief minister, widely known by his Gujarati initials Namo, is very popular among womenfolk because they see him as a man who can take the 'anti-national' forces head-on. Their view is that if the Bharatiya Janata Party wins this election, it will be largely due to Modi's image. And if it loses, it will be because his charisma could not make up for his party's lacklustre governance in the last four years.

Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt spoke to some women in Ahmedabad belonging to different areas and classes to find out if this is indeed so. We present four voices:

Tara Thakore, 32, a housewife in Vejalpur, lives in the old basti of Thakorevas, which was once a Congress bastion. Her husband owns a paan shop, which gives him a modest income. They belong to the Other Backward Classes.

Thakore, who is besotted with television, says, "Modi is a gentleman. All our neighbours say he is a big name in society today. We see him on television; he looks like a good man."

But what does she like in him? Her answer is clear: "When there were riots in the city, he gave encouragement. God is so kind Modi was around, otherwise many more Hindus would have died."

Thakore says she will vote for the BJP, though she does not even know the name of the local candidate.

Heena Patel, 32 , lives in Narainpura, an area that lies in Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani's parliamentary constituency, Gandhinagar.

She, too, is a Modi fan. "Whenever Modi speaks, he speaks with confidence," she exults. "It seems to me that Modi is the man who will be able to work for Gujarat. After Godhra he handled the situation with wisdom. He does what he wants. Look how he remained stubborn and didn't give a ticket to [Haren] Pandya."

Patel goes so far as to say that Modi is a better leader than Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "When Vajpayee speaks it seems that he is sleepy. Compared to him even Musharraf talks with confidence," she says. "Many people say here that one day Modi will be the prime minister."

Ask her if she knows that Modi is also hated by large numbers of Indians and she almost ignores the question. "I think the public has a soft corner for Modi in Gujarat," she says. "We know there are people who want to defame him. Television channels and secularists are running a campaign against him. When Akshardham was attacked, even at that time they showed the situation at Naroda Patia. People are angry over such biases of the media.Why don't you ask which community helped the terrorists of Akshardham to reach Gandhinagar safely? TV channels only show Muslims. They don't show us! This creates sympathy for Modi."

Shockingly, she adds, "My relatives informed me that in Shahpur constituency of Ahmedabad people [the Hindus] are  against BJP candidate Bharat Barot because he had started relief camps after the riots for Muslims." 

Supal Shah, third-year student in the city's HL Commerce College, who lives in an upper-class society of Ambawadi, disagrees with the perception that Modi is gaining popularity. "He is, after all, a typical man," she retorts. "I do not want him to become chief minister again. From the bottom of  my heart I wish that such a man should not represent my state."

Shah believes that Modi generalises matters too much. "He uses language that does not suit a chief minister," she says. "If he wants to get re-elected, his attitude should be better."

Ask if he is a popular leader and she hits back, "If you think he is a popular man, then it may be so only because a majority in India is illiterate. His propaganda will work amongst the illiterates. Most people in Ahmedabad connect him to the riots. But I have a serious problem with his attitude."

Rahat Bastawala lives in Juhapura, a Muslim-dominated locality that has almost become a ghetto now. She is a widow and mother of five. An expert at zardosi embroidery, she is the only breadwinner in her family now. According to her, "Everything in Ahmedabad happened because of Modi. Only after he came to power Godhra  and the riots occurred. We are petrified. There is permanent fear. Modi engineered the riots. Even our Hindu friends believe so. They tell us he is not good for us."

Her neighbour Shamim Banu prays, "I hope the Congress returns to power. Modi wants to keep Hindus and Muslims separate. I am sure he is going to lose. He killed our people for no fault of theirs. Even now I have fears in me. Only in Modi's time things became so dreadful. Riots are not new here, but they were never as violent."

Leela Desai, a Congress member and social activist, says, "People who don't think much, who don't use their brains, are supporting Modi. People who want a respite from the rise in  prices of commodities will vote the Congress while people who talk of 'getting protection from Muslims' will vote for the BJP. I am not impressed by Modi because he speaks ill of women and that's against Hindu tradition. How can he ridicule Sonia Gandhi? After all, she is a woman. I think Modi is just hype. Yes, he is a good speaker. That's the only quality he possesses."

Suchitra Balasubrahmaniyam-Sheth is an expert in visual communication and works with children in remand homes. She did a five-year course from the National School of Design before joining SETU, a non-governmental organisation. Married to a Gujarati, she has been living in Ahmedabad for 20 years.

She explains the phenomenon called Modi. "Pravin Togadia, Uma Bharti, and Modi articulate themselves very well," she says. "They hug the camera. Modi speaks without hesitation, convincingly. Unlike the secularists there is no pussy-footing. He is a doer. Most people in Gujarat feel that post-Godhra whatever happened was long overdue, but it's Modi who accomplished the job!�

Sheth herself finds Modi 'disgusting'. But "my neighbour, with whom I go for morning walks, is a fan. She said one day, 'These Muslims are terrorizing society'. I asked her to specify. She had no answer. She had formed her opinion on the basis of what she had read in newspapers. She had no firsthand experience of Muslims."

Suchitra says the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and BJP have been successful in Gujarat in separating reality from the images created by them. "People think Modi is 'himmatwala', a man who did it!" she says. "In his era violence is okay. If you don't like someone's face, kill him, burn him. People have found a legitimate way of certifying their resolutions. In Modi's presence, a secular dialogue is not possible. A whole generation will now be brought up without a dialogue with the other community. Modi has turned the clock back."

Sheth, who has studied for a decade the synthesis between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat in areas like food, language and architecture, blames secularists as well. "Modi's eyes show conviction beyond votes," she says. "He and other saffron leaders look insane, almost. But Modi communicates passion through his body language. Secularists don't have half the belief in their own passion."

Modi, she says, conveys the impression that he is not a man who sits on the fence. Congressmen, on the other hand, look hungry for votes. "Sometimes I think Modi is a very good actor," she remarks.

Mona Patel, a Navrangpura housewife, confirms these observations. "When Modi appears on TV," she says, "you know he is a good guy. His style, his talk, his clarity of thought are enough to make him a good leader. He is the future of the BJP."


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