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View: Why Narendra Modi spoke in Hindi

December 21, 2012 13:08 IST

To assume that Narendra Modi chose Hindi only to reach out to a national audience because he had prime ministerial ambitions was more than a stretch, says Mahesh Vijapurkar

One thing the media made much of on Thursday after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's victory speech in Ahmedabad was that he spoke in Hindi.

But the man has been speaking in Hindi all the time whenever he was making a crucial speech, be it at his Sadhbhavana programme or an election speech, which is rather odd for a man who has made Gujarati asmita an issue time and again. That asmita -- an identity assertion with pride -- includes language apart from the cultural heritage.

Despite that, this use of Hindi has been with a purpose. He needed to address a larger audience and English -- he is not bad at it, of course -- would alienate his home ground audiences, but Hindi is understood.

My feeling is, he would have always looked out for a national television crew before deciding to use Hindi. He may have, if one was not around, settled for Gujarati.

Of course, unlike the usual electoral time political rants, on Thursday the victor had a different message for the rest of India. His development model was better than the usual politics of big promises and poor deliveries, and that Gujarat was now a provider of jobs, and if the rest of the country cared, it could be mimicked.

He also threw the entire world of political analysts into a tizzy with that 'Forgive me if I have committed an error' statement, but like everything else, what Modi says has a plan.

Nothing is off-the-cuff, and nothing is the logic of the moment. He works to a grand design of which only parts are visible as far as he is willing to show them.

There is sufficient logic to back his reliance on Hindi which is widely understood by his voters. The criticism of Modi on a variety of issues, right from the initial Hindutva articulations to the riots of 2002 and the state's complicity in it, has come mainly from outside Gujarat though a courageous band of his people who have fought him there.

So if he had a reaction, it had to be in Hindi because everything he did -- or, as in the case of the management of the riots, did not do -- would get national prime time television's attention to the extent that they would cut to the bone, sliced and diced. Since he did not entertain interviews, and did not much indulge the media even by holding press conferences, a public meeting was the platform.

So when he not only survived the blitz against him during the elections and romped home to notch his hat-trick, he had to respond and be heard, for every television studio would have experts and chatting heads waiting to pounce on every single nuance of every word he uttered. No wonder he had some reservations, because he mentioned at least 'pundits' twice and asked them to have an 'open mind'.

Had he spoken in Gujarati, there would have been utter confusion and his opportunity to laugh into his sleeves would have been lost. He is a man, after all, who waits for his chance to get his revenge and relish it too.

But to assume that he chose Hindi only to reach out to a national audience because he had prime ministerial ambitions was more than a stretch. Since he is the favourite punching bag for the proponents of the secular cause, he may also have wanted them not just see him gloat at his victory, but hear him do it. So that nothing, he perhaps sought to ensure, was lost in translation.

Then there is the absolute understanding of the processes in the media. What is a big headline on television is followed up as lead stories in the print media. He has so far made himself scarce in that he did not provide ready access to him by the hungry packs of journalists, especially television.

The dearer he became, more they made of the small things he tossed at them occasionally. That from a man who once visited television studios to present the BJP's point of view.

Modi is an astute media manager in that he found a direct link to the audiences by his pre-election launch of Namo Gujarat, with the English transliteration of the Gujarati acronym of his name. You cannot fault him for being a manic promoter of his name for 'Namo' -- as in 'salutations' -- is suffixed with Gujarat, to mean 'bow to Gujarat'.

No doubt he walked out of an in-your-face interview conducted by Karan Thapar; no wonder he bore the arrows from Rajdeep Sardesai. When Modi won the 2007 polls, he gave an interview to Sardesai who asked him about voting patterns in riot-hit and non-riot areas.

Let me paraphrase what Modi, with a straight face, asked in response: 'You tell me; you are the expert. Earlier in your programmes you had described entire Gujarat as riot hit.'

You'd have noticed that on Thursday, all studio experts were kind to Narendra Modi. One anchor text messaged a response to my question why the focus remained on Modi when the other 'decided' prime ministerial candidate, Rahul Gandhi, had been ignored: 'Today is Narendra Modi's day out'.

Is that why, when Modi started his speech, he asked the audience to be nice to the media? 'They have their work to do; they have a lot more to do'. Did Modi, after delivering his headline-grabber, the plea for forgiveness if he had made any mistakes, hope the relationship between him and the media would change now that he is the acknowledged development man?

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator who takes the common man's point of view seriously.

Mahesh Vijapurkar