Even if Narendra Modi breasts the tape far ahead of his rivals in this December poll, he has possibly erred by over-identifying himself with everything about Gujarat, especially Gujarati pride and Gujarati sentiments. Those who have followed the Modi brand of politics for more than a decade believe that such a degree of commitment to Gujarat will make it difficult for Modi to peel off the epidermis of a regional leader and try his luck on the national stage. They believe that Modi, the successful chief minister stands in the way of Modi, the aspiring Prime Minister.
And these are not the usual suspects, the exceedingly hostile Modi critics, who are saying that the chief minister has happily surrendered himself to an overdose of regionalism. Even his committed supporters like Bakul Dholakia, the former IIM Ahmedabad director, believe that Modi would have to tinker with his persona once he reaches Delhi. A simple majority of the kind Modi always won in Gujarat is not what the BJP can hope to secure at the Centre. Modi, who is aggressive, egoistic and self-willed, will have to learn the nuanced tenets of coalition politics where there is always a give and take, more give than take.
“He will have to be his exact opposite,” says retired academic and poll pundit, professor Ghanshyam Shah. In Gujarat, Modi has made it certain that nobody, none whatsoever, challenges his authority. He has eliminated senior leaders, the likes of Keshubhai Patel or the late Kashiram Rana, antagonised those sections of the RSS and frontal organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who never tired of criticising his style of governance. Modi eliminated all opposition within the party and the Sangh Parivar, chose a few faceless yes-men and cohorts to help him in his administration and then centralised all power in his hands, making the whole of Gujarat his fiefdom.
With his macho image and with his focus on development, Modi’s voice may find resonance in Gujarat which had long been thirsting for a “strong, no-nonsense” leader. Gujarat wants a government that does not interfere with entrepreneurial activities, does its best to provide the necessary infrastructure and creates an atmosphere of peace and stability which is conducive for doing business. Modi has understood this requirement better than anybody else though many would argue that during his tenure the growth-rate of 9 to 10 per cent was nowhere near to the phenomenal growth-rates achieved by his illustrious predecessors like Chimanbhai Patel or Madhav Singh Solanki.
Modi is a powerful orator, a master of delivery and poise. He mesmerises his audience, who almost dance to his tune. But the fact remains that he is a natural Gujarati speaker. His Hindi is also remarkable but is not comparable with his impeccable, flawless Gujarati. Modi will have to re-invent his oratorical style once he reaches Delhi. That Gujarati magic may not quite be replicated in the Hindi heartland. “If you closely hear his speeches, you will realise that there are moments when his onslaught becomes personal. He seems to be targeting his opponent below the belt,” says Ahmedabad intellectual, Achyut Yagnik. “Modi is everything but a statesman. He is not entirely prime minister-material.”
Gujarat is a land of simple political equations. It is not a caste cauldron. A politician does not have to remind himself of the precise percentage of Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits while taking his policy decisions. Modi himself insists that he is against vote-bank politics, against these artificially created divisions in the society. But he cannot escape the reality when he makes his political calculations for Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. He cannot reject the caste dynamics just because it does not suit him. “Delhi is another ball game. It won’t be that easy for Modi to adjust with Delhi’s machinations,” says human rights activist, Father Cedric Prakash.
To begin with, how will Modi win over his rivals in the BJP’s top leadership? There are many prime ministerial hopefuls among them. He cannot expect to accomplish a repeat of what he did in Gujarat and simply politically extinguish the significant careers of, for example, a Sushma Swaraj. He will have to learn to live with criticism and enmity – a failing for which he did not have to pay too big a price in Gujarat politics. He cannot insist on throwing out leaders who are not to his liking. The RSS has let him have a relatively free hand in Ahmedabad and given in to his tantrums about Sanjay Joshi. But the RSS wields a greater degree of power when it comes to influencing key BJP decisions in Delhi and Modi may be expected to toe the line.
As Yagnik said, “India is not Gujarat. Elsewhere in the country, there are several states with more than 15 per cent Muslim population.” Modi will need to instil in himself a greater sensitivity towards minorities whom he completely ignored during his prolonged stint in Gujarat.