Seldom does a politician achieve cult status in India. It’s even rarer for an Indian politician to become a symbol of hope for many.
Narendra Modi, however, has accomplished just that.
His rise in the last decade has been meteoric. His popularity at the moment is immense. While his good governance in the state of Gujarat, his polarising personality and astute PR practices have been instrumental in his emergence, it is the situation that this country finds itself in, which has been the real catalyst behind his national appeal.
The present state of the India can hardly get any worse. The society is troubled in every possible way. The economy is crumbling. Businesses are down, and jobs are becoming precious. Peoples’ expenditure is rising, but the income has not been following the trend. The security of the nation and the safety of its citizens is another sorry tale. Rapes, Murders, Bomb blasts and atrocities committed by the police have become a routine. And then there is that other issue of the corruption.
The government has preferred to instigate the fire instead of extinguishing it. The overall policy and the intent of the UPA government have been insipid and spineless. Their ineptitude in dealing with the common people is dumbfounding. Since it has been spared of the ignominy that has come Dr. Manmohan Singh’s way, the almighty and yet scantily accountable dynasty has been living comfy in its ivory tower. Apart from bombastic welfare schemes that often spring out of its philanthropic sighs, the dynasty has remained distant and aloof. It is difficult to infer whether it is actually blind to the reality, or just deaf enough to not hear anything louder than the whispers of its sycophants.
At the receiving end of this turmoil are common citizens, anguished and livid. They feel the pinch, and the desolation that accompanies difficult times. All they are left with is a hope: a hope for a change in their collective fortunes.
This is where Narendra Modi enters the stage.
Today, Narendra Modi stands as the foremost alternative to the Congress rule. He has a proven track record of strong governance in his state and sans massive corruption. He takes decisions, and implements them. He is promising a prospering economy and abundance of opportunities. From the so-called “Merchant of Death”, he has transformed himself into a merchant of dreams. More significantly, he is the antithesis of Gandhi dynasty in every possible way. Desperate for a change, many have thus placed their bet on him. He is symbolising their hope for a different tomorrow.
Interestingly, there has been a similar instance before. There was a similar troubled time in Indian society, and there was also a leader who sold the people a similar dream of change. In a sweet irony, possible journey of Narendra Modi shares more than a few parallels with the ascendance of Rajiv Gandhi.
As Individuals, They are as contrast as possible. Rajiv Gandhi descended from a genetic cloud. His charm lied in his refined personality and gentle demeanour. Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has risen through ranks on the basis of his work and shrewdness. His charisma lies in his rustic personality and aggressive attitude. Rajiv Gandhi was still a novice in politics, when he became the prime minister. Narendra Modi is already a veteran.
What they share is the backdrop that orchestrated their waltz.
In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi won the general election with unprecedented, and so far unmatched, 415 seats. While Indira Gandhi’s unfortunate assassination was one major factor behind that number, it was the change that Rajiv Gandhi promised that gave him such an emphatic electoral approval. People at that time were tired of licence raj, corruption, stagnant economy and the feudal system of governance. People were desperately searching an alternative. Opposition had failed to offer that. It was the young and modern Rajiv Gandhi, who eventually did.
The biggest parallel between Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi is their appeal to the respective new generations of India. Rajiv Gandhi enamoured the first generation of post-independence India, whereas Narendra Modi is catering to the aspirations of young post-liberalisation India.
Given the parallels between the two, the tale of Rajiv Gandhi can provide many lessons to Mr Modi.
Rajiv Gandhi did contribute to the modernisation of India; he however failed in bringing about the change that he represented. He committed several blunders such as his handling of Kashmir, the case of Shah Bano and Bofors scandal. Perhaps, his undoing was the sycophants that encircled him. He could not get past those whispers, and thus failed to hear the nation. From achieving unprecedented majority, he went on to lose the next election 1989. If Rajiv Gandhi’s story forewarns Narendra Modi about anything, then it is the fickleness of a desperate society.
Narendra Modi may be immune to the whispers, but what he could succumb to are the screams of his vocal and at times visceral supporters. He enjoys an army of blind admirers, who are omnipresent. They refuse to hear any dissenting voice irrespective of its merit and honesty. They are capable of muffling real voices, and hence of hiding deep pitfalls.
Delhi is still almost a year away. No one knows how the die will be cast in the end. There is no possibility that BJP will get even remotely close to Rajiv Gandhi’s tally. However, if Narendra Modi does become the PM, he will have to deliver on almost every promise he is making today. If he reneges, people will not wait for a moment to turn their back on him. Modi’s situation becomes more precarious due to the fact that it is the young India that is backing him. Most of us are ridiculously restless. In our universe, fads last as long as a Twitter trend does. So the same people, who love him today, will be impatient once the honeymoon period is over. From there, their journey towards disillusionment would be just a disappointment away. Critics may be unpleasant, but these jilted lovers would be far more scathing and damaging.
It is indeed a slippery track, but most likely Narendra Modi knows it better than the most.
One cannot deny that he does stand at a cusp of something special. A groundswell is propelling him towards a pantheon inhibited by a few Indian leaders.
History beckons for Narendra Modi, but not without lessons.
The question is whether he will learn and flourish, or ignore and perish.