Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay comes up with the well-timed and simply titled book Narendra Modi: The Man. The Times

“Hunuz Dilli door ast.” (Delhi is still far). Renowned sufi Nizamuddin Auliya had told Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty, way back around 1325 when the sultan was returning from a successful military campaign in Bengal. The sufi and the sultan had earlier engaged in a war of words with the latter threatening the former on his way back to Delhi, prompting the aforesaid prediction of Nizamuddin Auliya. Of course, Ghiyasuddin could not reach Delhi, hence the prediction found place in legends.

The words of Nizamuddin had been ringing in my ears for the past few weeks as the media has been in a relentless overdrive over the Prime Ministerial ambitions of Narendra Modi. Even a term like NaMo (like NATO, and with similarly disastrous consequences?) has been coined to define the man. It was inevitable that sooner rather than later, a book on Modi will hit the stands. True, we have one now: Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay’s book, simply titled Narendra Modi: The Man. The Times. Truth be said again: it is way better than a couple of books that have been written on Rahul Gandhi, supposedly Modi’s direct opponent in the forthcoming elections, giving them the air of a slugfest between Yuvraj and Loha Purush. For me though the words of wisdom come late, very late in the book. They remain the lifeline though: Mukhopadhayay, after all the image building — and at times shrill one with terms like base camp used for the leader’s preparation — says simply: Hunooz Delhi door ast.

On page 374, the author cautions the Modi supporters, the ‘Modi for PM’ placard holders with the advice of Delhi’s best known sufi. Ironically, Mukhopadhyay starts off like those placard holders, recounting his debt to Modi for the time he gave for the book which is not an authorised biography, then shares with the readers Robert D. Kaplan’s effusive words about the CM-waiting-to-be-PM, leaving me wondering if this was going to be yet another hagiography despite all the protestations of the author! After all, Kaplan had said, “I have met Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and both Bushes. At close range, Modi beats all in charisma” and Mukhopadhyay happily reproduces his words. Then come the usual sob stories, his humble brothers, his little house in Vadnagar, little Narendra lending a helping hand to his father at the tea stall (gulp, gulp), Modi keeping Navratra fasts, doing upasana of Shakti and the like…Uff. Was it not another exercise in image building, subtly telling the electorate that their CM was like them, humble upbringing, devout Hindu…?

But as they say, never judge a book by its cover. I would merely add, never judge a book by its initial chapters. Through with Modi’s grandiloquent gestures and convenient recall of early day stories, gradually, Mukhopadhyay turns into a dispassionate observer. This time he uses words like a surgeon’s scalpel. They hurt, they provoke. They also heal and restore balance. It is well into the second half of the book that he raises its level a couple of notches. This time, he is a revelation. He is candid, he is honest. For instance, talking of the Gujarat elections, he writes, “Narendra Modi did not begin his campaign for the Gujarat assembly election in the autumn of 2012 with the sole intention of making it to the podium to take oath as the state’s chief minister for the fourth time. His goal lay beyond Gujarat — in the citadel of power in Delhi.”

Then he concedes, “There was a brief period when he was nervous…like the mythical character, Abhimanyu, in the Mahabharata who was trapped within the web of Chakravyuh.” Then, talking of his victory, Mukhopadhyay says, “Modi’s real audience was outside Gujarat and he chose a medium to speak — which was understood by people in other parts of India.” Then comes Modi’s much talked about expression of remorse. Finally, Mukhopadhyay does some crystal ball gazing for us. “Modi’s journey will have to go through many portals…he will have to cross the paths of other regional leaders who are no pygmies…an overt gesture of a Congress-style public repentance for 2002 will be essential for his greater acceptance at a national level…he may…hope to polarize the aggressive Hindu sentiment the moment there is negative reaction.”

Mukhopadhyay is no Auliya. And Modi’s supporters are certain the Gujarat CM is not going to be another Tughlaq. But a word of caution would do just fine. Hunuz Dilli door ast!

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