Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, is everywhere. Every word he utters is broadcasted live, and it is heard by millions. Every move he makes is scrutinized by just as many. He has an army of very vocal and ardent supporters, who adulate him. His critics are equally vocal and ardent. The media loves him and hates him; but it certainly cannot live without him. While the drama surrounding him plays on, he is singlehandedly redefining the political discourse of India in the run up to the highly anticipated 2014 general elections.
To put simply, Narendra Modi has become a phenomenon.
He has risen above every single leader across the party lines, and he has captured the imagination of the nation. His policies, his creed, his ideas and his aggression have been analyzed to death. Many have tried to unravel the person that he is. What I find to be the most intriguing aspect is however the reaction of the general public.
“Modi… Modi… Modi”
These chants are perhaps the standout feature of his monstrous rallies. They are an unprecedented occurrence. They are rabid, crude but honest. They are neither sponsored nor elicited by indirect incentives. These chants are not standard election slogans either. It is just a name, pronounced by those who believe in it.
They remind me of WWE events. Pardon a slight digression here, as it is vital to the premise. At WWE events, when storyline villains are ambushing a helpless good guy, the audience starts chanting for the biggest hero on the roster to come and save the day. 15000 odd thousand fans chant his name in unison.
The reaction and emotion of the two audiences is uncannily similar. The people, who chant “Modi… Modi… Modi”, believe that he is the one, who will save them and their country.
Why do they do that? Why do they feel so? These are natural questions. A part of the answer lies in the history of independent India, and another in the present situation of the country.
In the search of “The Leader”
In the last 66 years India has seen only two leaders transcend the general squabble of politics: Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Their influence pervaded in the distant corners of the country. Their appeal cut through the barriers of class, caste and languages. The world identified India with them. However after Indira Gandhi India has remained a faceless country.
The 80’s and 90’s were tumultuous decades. 80’s was marred by conflicts in the every realm of the society. The entry of terrorism, Kashmir problem, Mandal commission, Shahabano case, Bofors case and Mandal Commission; the list goes on. The economy had hit the nadir. The new decade started with three events that changed the complexion of Indian politics. The tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the liberalization of economy in 1991 and the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992 transformed the dynamics to unimaginable extents.
All this while, India was a lurching ship without an able captain. During his tenure as the PM in the 1980’s, Rajiv Gandhi promised a lot but he reneged just as much. After him, it was all void.
People like VP Singh, now forgotten Chandra Shekhar, IK Gujral and HD Deve Gowda became prime ministers in the coming years, and all they delivered was instability and uncertainty. P.V. Narsimha Rao ruled for a full term of 5 years. He was one of the most astute politicians, but he was not a great leader either.
In such a desolate period, people were searching for a savior, but they found none. A curious outcome of this era was Sachin Tendulkar. In any other era, he might have only been a great sportsperson and someone who brought joy to millions. Thanks to the void in social and political arena, Sachin went on to become one of the biggest unifying figures this country has ever seen. A country so bereft of heroes found one in him, and clung on to him. That was purely substitution.
Finally after a decade of turmoil, Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought stability to the country. A great orator and a great leader, he was a widely respected figure. His leadership during the Kargil war endeared him to the masses even more. Unfortunately, he got the opportunity a little too late in his life. And secondly, leading a coalition of 24 parties in the NDA put a lot of constraints on him.
The Present Situation
Manmohan Singh succeeded Vajpayee, and he has remained the prime minister for the last 10 years. While he was a decent to good prime minister in the first tenure, he has been an unmitigated disaster in the second term. He has enjoyed very little power while simultaneously bearing all the accountability. The dynasty, on the other hand, has lived in exactly opposite situation. They enjoy all the power, but bear very little accountability.
The messy policies of the UPA II have effectively put India in a retrograde. Every single sphere of India is in shambles.
The society and the polity have been a sad story. The crime against women has only been increasing. The internal security has been poor at best. The gloriously stupid statements of honorable ministers do not help the matter either. Communal tensions and riots take place on regular basis. The caste problem is as unresolved as ever. The lesser said on the corruption issue is the better. The overall climate is that of distrust and gloom.
The economy grew substantially during 2004-2010, but the growth was jobless. According to the report of the Planning Commission, titled “Joblessness and Informalization: Challenges to Inclusive Growth in India”, the years 2005-2010 saw the loss of 5 million jobs in the manufacturing sector, while only 1 million jobs were added in the service sector. In total, only 2.64 jobs were added to the economy. Since 2010-11, the high rate of inflation has shot the prices of essential goods to roof. Food, fuel and houses have become outrageously expensive. Every summer, water crisis paralyses at least a few states. There is no way that the poor people and the lower middle class could afford a complete set of necessities.. The middle class is living a difficult life too. Naturally, the demand for consumer goods have decreasing steadily, its effects are reflected in the shutdown of plats by the automotive companies and widespread layoffs in the service sector.
The segment that has been affected the most by this turmoil is the youth of the country, and especially the urban youth. They are facing crises at virtually every step of their life. Consequently, they are looking for someone to come and change the situation. It is important to note that it was the same section that re-elected UPA to power in 2009. The reason is very simple. No country in flourish searches for a hero, but a country in crisis does.
This is not a defeatist attitude. It is simply a human tendency. When a crisis beyond one’s control emerges, believers pray to the god. Children look at their parents, and citizens look to the political leadership.
This is where Narendra Modi comes in. His decisive leadership and proven track record of the able governance has offered a hope to people in a hopeless situation. He has been able to strike a chord with people. His communication is simple and effective. It is precisely something the Congress and its dynasty are miserable at. He has been able to relate with the people, and that is the fundamental hallmark of a great leader. Today he offers the same optimism to the people of India, which Margaret Thatcher did to the British population in the 70’s and 80’s, and which Barack Obama did circa 2008. He promises to be a great leader that India has lacked for decades.
I have observed this sentiment in my friends, autowallahs, taxi drivers, and other sections of the society too. And it is the same emotion, which is the soul of “Modi… Modi… Modi” chants.
This is one of the two main reasons behind the phenomenon of Narendra Modi. The second reason is the classic storytelling of the “Good vs. Evil” that this upcoming election offers.
The Entitled One vs. The Risen One
The beauty of history is that it is not just a bland sequence of events; it is rather a collection of stories. Stories of struggles, defeats and victories, and central theme of stories is the battle between the good and the evil.
Today we live in a world of grey. There is no clear line that distinguishes between the good and the evil. Therefore, it all boils down to the distinctness of the choices.
For many years, Indian general elections were a bland matter. There was no clear distinction between the two sides. 2014 is the first election, when we have two clear and contrast choices.
On one hand is the dynasty that has ruled this country for most of the independence. They advocate the policies of entitlement, and they subscribe to the creed of the paternalistic state. The crowned prince has no track record of governance whatsoever. And it is very much likely that in the event of Congress winning the elections, there will be another delegated prime minister.
On the other hand is Narendra Modi: A son of a tea vendor, who rose through the obscurity on his own merit. He advocates the policy of empowerment. He is a proven administrator, who subscribes to notion that government is a mere agent of change and that it has no business in interfering in every matter.
These choices are very clear. 2014 promises to be the most colorful election since 1977. The only difference is that then the opposition gathered forces to take down one individual, whereas now the establishment is gathering forces to vanquish one opponent. Such a battle always augurs well for a good story.
To put it in nutshell, Narendra Modi is a distinctly different leader, someone whose kind we have not experienced before.
This is the second factor that has led to the Narendra Modi phenomenon.
No wonders the media has been so frenzied about the entire saga. No wonders the population is taking clear sides.
We are watching history unfold itself after all.
(This article was originally published on now defunct isaidit.org on October 5, 2013)