Narendra Modi is the most talented politician of our time. He has charisma, the Greek word that means the ability to make people devoted to you. He is a superb orator (especially in Gujarati), as compelling to listen to as Demosthenes was or the Roman senator Cicero.
He is a very disciplined administrator. To illustrate this simply, I can tell you that every time I’ve met him in his Gandhinagar office, it has been at the exact hour of the appointment, to the minute. You could, as they said in another time, set your watch to him. He is tough and talented in his managing of local politics.
He is also acquisitive of power, as I shall show you over time, and the most divisive figure in Indian politics since Jinnah. This divisiveness comes from his actions, which thrill some and worry others.
A mix of these aspects, his assets and liabilities, are responsible for his becoming the central figure of our next general election. This is remarkable because he is from a state which is 5% of India’s population, and he has never held office in Delhi. The 2014 election will be the first one around a personality outside the Congress. For this reason, it will be the most important one to be fought in India since 1977, and for the next 15 months, the news will revolve around Modi.
We have never had a regional leader find supporters across India. Modi is the first.
What sort of a man is he? This weekly series in DNA, The Candidate, will reveal him in two ways.
One is through his own writing. Modi is author of three books. All in Gujarati and none ever translated. We shall examine his worldview, and his poetry, through these books. The second way will be through my opinion and interpretation. I have known Modi personally. I wrote the Editor’s Guild of India report which looked at the 2002 events. And I have known his work through my time editing a Gujarati newspaper in Ahmedabad. We shall try and understand his actions, and his ambition in this series. We shall, hopefully, arrive at an understanding of the man who promises to change India.
Modi and the youth
I was on a television panel with Rajdeep Sardesai on February 6 to disuss Modi’s talk at a Delhi college. With us were a group of people in their 20s, most of whom were enamoured of Modi, except for one Bengali girl.
He is a remarkable speaker, of course, and difficult to disagree with. This is because he speaks in a heroic manner. Like Pericles addressing Athenians, he points to the greatness that lies in front if the problems of the present, which are all external and caused by incompetent leaders, are overcome. This, Modi indicates to them, he is capable of doing.
Perhaps he is, and we shall see that as this series unfolds. But I wanted to know if the young know what Gujarat under Modi is like for the young. Has he turned it into a first world nation in his 12 years in power? Is it the sort of place they would like their own states to be turned into?
Let’s look at a few aspects. First, Gujarat is under prohibition, and alcohol is drunk, like in Pakistan, illegally and furtively.
The criminalising of alcohol has kept the police corrupt, and destroyed the nightlife of Gujarat’s cities. I know that Modi personally is inclined to lift prohibition, but he cannot because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh won’t let him do it. Second, Gujarati cities are segregated by religion. After the violence, Ahmedabad’s largest concentration of Muslims is in a vast suburban ghetto called Juhapura. This separation of people by religion means that the city’s restaurants, in an oppressively vegetarian culture, are also divided. Hindu areas have no non-vegetarian restaurants.
Is it the sort of place the young have in mind when they imagine the future? There’s more. Next week, we will see what Gujarat’s economic model means for young, middle-class job-seekers.
Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist