Opinion » Lead

Updated: July 6, 2013 03:23 IST

Be warned, roadblocks ahead

Vidya Subrahmaniam
Comment (32)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

If the entirety of what Narendra Modi represents is a challenge to India, he too faces the difficult challenge of making himself acceptable to India.

For the faithful, there is no truth bigger than Narendra Modi’s ‘destined’ future as Prime Minister. His critics protest that the elevation will not happen, worry that it might happen, and agonise over what will happen when that happens.

The Gujarat Chief Minister is admittedly a challenge the like of which India has never seen before. There have been elements of NaMo in other Prime Ministers but the differences have comprehensively outweighed the commonalities. Indira Gandhi was both abrasive and hugely popular. But her mass base was formed by the very poor and the voiceless. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was from the Hindutva stable and was the first to articulate ‘India Shining.’ But he was impeccably mannered and sometimes so deliberately self-effacing that he managed to come across as the ‘right man in the wrong party.’ The BJP under Atalji was an industry favourite but not in the way Mr. Modi is.

Combination of attributes

The BJP’s new campaign committee chief is one part hard Hindutva, one part authoritarian figure, and one part business model-cum-corporate mascot. Add to this his cult status among the middle and upper classes, people with the loudest voice yet heard in the country, and the parts mesh into a whole beyond our existing imagination. Is a Prime Minister with this combination of attributes conceivable in a country with a 70 per cent rural population, around 40 per cent below the poverty line, and Muslims forming the largest minority at 13 per cent? A coalition can arguably facilitate ‘Prime Minister NaMo’ but for the coalition itself to fructify — at least before 2014 — the attributes have to be different.

So if Mr. Modi is a challenge to this country, surely his own biggest challenge is to alter the perception that his acceptability is confined to a small, if deafeningly vocal, section of voters. However, this is a project beset with problems and contradictions. Because the Hindutva-corporate baggage he carries is self-limiting. If he divests even a part of this equity, he could end up damaging his core competence. For example, the Gujarat Chief Minister needs to reach out to Muslims if not as an end in itself but at least to chip away at the ‘secular’ resistance to his larger aspirations. But he is also in debt to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for installing him in his new role. There is a similar conflict between appeasing the corporate sector, which has made him what he is today, and meeting welfare demands which have grown exponentially under the United Progressive Alliance government.

It doesn’t help Mr. Modi that just when he has embarked on a programme of Muslim outreach, attention has returned to the Gujarat government’s indefensible record with respect to the community. Ishrat Jahan’s murder in cold blood is currently in focus, but there are other ghosts from the past waiting to be resurrected, among them a string of encounter killings and the 2002 anti-Muslim violence, all of which are in various stages of investigation and trial.

Over the past fortnight, Mr. Modi has had to confront another bitter reality: the destructive potential of his own key strength, his screaming, stampeding support base. The Uttarakhand fiasco is an example of what can happen when frenzied loyalists lose all sense of perspective and believe that there are no practical limitations to what their anointed hero can deliver. To be fair to Mr. Modi, he himself made no exaggerated claims. Indeed, the tweets he sent out during the crisis pretty much capture the story of how he organised relief for Gujarati pilgrims stranded in the hill State. In his own words, he opened relief camps, arranged return passage from Dehradun, wrote to the Railway Minister seeking special trains, and deputed his best officers to fine-tune the logistics. And he himself made an aerial survey of the flood-hit regions. No more, no less.

The matter should have rested there because other Chief Ministers had been involved in similar relief efforts. On June 23, 2013, carried an account of rescue and relief in Uttarakhand whose details matched those tweeted by Mr. Modi, the aerial survey included. But the State concerned was Maharashtra and the interview was with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The twist in the tale came in the form of an absurd claim made in a national daily that Mr. Modi had, Rambo-like, rescued 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims. Even the almighty would have likely balked at pulling this off but for Mr. Modi’s admirers, the derring-do was proof, if any were needed, of the superhuman qualities of India’s next Prime Minister. One comment on the paper’s website applauded Mr. Modi for putting his life in danger. Rohit Singh (New Jersey) tweeted: “n 2 days, 15000 Gujaratis were identified, airlifted out of the jungle and taken back to Gujarat. What was our army doing then? Shameful if our whole army could not do this and Modi could get it done in 2 days ... learn from Narendra Modi.”

The gushing turned into anger against the newspaper once analysts pointed out the implausibility of the rescue plot. The alleged source of the story sent the paper a legal notice that comically underscored the irony of the initial euphoria turning into outrage. The rescue of 15,000 people was a “scurrilous” claim that “slandered” his reputation, the alleged source bemoaned, not realising that he was equating hagiographic praise of ‘dear leader’ with slander and calumny.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Clearly, those who live by their fan following must be prepared to be brought down by it. Unfortunately for Mr. Modi, his fans have turned into a Frankenstein’s Monster beyond even his control. And the image they have created of Mr. Modi is of a macho man out to defend ‘Bharat’ from its enemies, for which read Pakistan and Muslims.

A Google search for ‘NaMo for PM’ will throw up hundreds of fan clubs and discussion forums, all with the same vision: Finish Pakistan, teach a lesson to Muslims and dispatch Sonia Gandhi to Italy. One fan club, which calls itself ‘Modi-Fying India’, recently held a rock concert in Delhi in aid of ‘Prime Minister NaMo.’ The centre-piece of the show was a composition called Shiv tandav — Shiv stuti sung to heavy stomping of feet and shouts of “Har, Har, Mahadev” and “come on, everybody”. Unsurprisingly, the event’s theme slogan eulogised NaMo’s manliness: Jaane kis din Lal Kile mein mardangi bhasha bolenge (when will we hear masculine language spoken from the Red Fort?). Equally unsurprisingly, the organisers feted a Muslim invitee as a nationalist different from his community.

How does Mr. Modi get out of this image trap? Post his elevation, Mr. Modi has consciously toned down on the hardline talk and the authoritarian manner. There is today none of the chhappan chhati rhetoric (his own bullish take on his 56-inch chest) that once formed the Modi staple. But this outward change is not going to lessen his problems because NaMo as a ra-ra nationalist is a demand both of his voters and the wider Sangh Parivar on whom he has become critically dependent. Viewing Muslims as the ‘other’ is part of the narrative that makes up NaMo. His supporters may exult over the ‘development man’ but it is the hawk in him that they really worship.

Difficult task

Even should Mr. Modi want to break out of the mould, it would be difficult because, as Zafar Mahmood, formerly Officer-on-Special Duty with the Sachar Committee, pointed out in a recent presentation made to Mr. Modi, opposition to Muslims forms the ideological core of the BJP. Mr. Mahmood asked Mr. Modi to prove by action, including supporting the passage of a long list of pro-Muslim laws, that he is no longer inimical to the community. If Mr. Modi even attempts this, he would be wishing death on himself.

Therefore, the standing media ovation for Mr. Modi’s Muslim outreach efforts notwithstanding, he can only appear to be reaching out. If he goes beyond that, he will incur the wrath of his own support base and the RSS. On the other hand, merely pretending to be a do-gooder will only further alienate a community hurt beyond endurance by his government and whose memories have been refreshed by the renewed focus on Ishrat Jahan and more.

The BJP currently has only two major allies, and there is no indication as yet of a significant political shift towards it. But even assuming NaMo crosses the hurdles and gets to South Block, his problems will have only just begun. The RSS will push for overt Hindutva, the corporate sector will demand cuts in welfare, the coalition partners will drive their own bargains and Lal Krishna Advani will become an irritant and the focal point for internal dissidence.

Besides, there is Mr. Modi’s own troubling vision of development. Speaking at India Today’s annual conclave, Mr. Modi suggested that India’s rights-based job guarantee scheme be renamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi Development Guarantee Scheme.’ This means that a poor worker who has been denied a job under MGNREGA will now go to court asking for development to be guaranteed and not his own livelihood. Welcome to the land of ‘Prime Minister NaMo.’

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The real conclusive pith of a political debate of this nature is not
merely understood by impassioned rhetoric or a psychoanalytic
disparaging of the incumbent and despicable admonishment of an
individual, but by a calculated weighing of the 'desirable' vs the
'expendable' and a series of charges of corrupt governance, a blithe
ignorance of development and welfare of people, disguised self-
incentives in the garb of pro-poor policies, and an utter disregard
for fundamental essentials of a democratic set-up would categorize the
UPA as an 'expendable' in this conflation over the 'desirable', even
so true desirability seems illusory and distant.

from:  Saurabh
Posted on: Jul 8, 2013 at 02:18 IST

Success does not come with out obstacles. It is indeed an herculean
task to detoxify the Indians, who are intoxicated in the name of
religion,caste and freebies. Incidentally Congress has survived by
poisoning the Indians by these elements and has become richer and
richer leaving the Indians poorer and poorer.
concerned about the Country are with you.

from:  Ravishanker
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:52 IST

Problems galore,but can India survive the maladministration and
corruption of the utterly depraved Congress for another 5 years? Modi as
PM is an idea whose time has come and as Victor Hugo observed,an idea
whose time has come is more powerful than all the armies in the world.

from:  guptadkj
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:27 IST

I can't understand that how these days only NaMo bashers like Mr.Khare,Ms/Mrs. Subramamiyam,... get the lead plot in once prestigious news paper opinion.There may be only two reasons , either Modi supporters are no good at literature to capture the space or the once egalitarian newspaper is not the one any more.

from:  Rajiv Utpal
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:12 IST

Development is the only option as is evident from Congress' 6-decade
model of development which produced more than a quarter of the
population in the mire of Africanish/sub-Saharan poverty and the
Maoist model in China which created millions of poor in China's
hinterlands and the resultant swift salvage act done by Deng. These
are all history written with blood and gastritis of the empty stomach.
You arm-chair advocacy is nothing but a hellish joke. For the
bleeding-heart liberals it's a great art of welfarism to ensure food
security for the poor whose fate was invariably scripted by the alms-
givers themselves. Congress created the poor ensemble and what is a
big deal in giving them the alms. What is apt is to fix the
responsibility for the misrule on the Congress and they should be
voted out and its leaders should be put in the dock before the UN
human rights panel. Madam, Frankenstien usage is cliche and can't be
used as an effective tool of communication to vomit your ire on Modi.

from:  M N Raveendranth
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:10 IST

Repated desperate attempts by The Hindu to arrest the growing support for Modi. But the
thing is, it is always the rural and poor masses that form the real voter base. The voices in
support of Modi mainly comes from the middle class population, which, unfortunately is not a

from:  Aravind
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:04 IST

Biased article.
1."Viewing Muslims as the ‘other’ is part of the narrative that makes up NaMo. His supporters may exult over the ‘development man’ but it is the hawk in him that they really worship." Its arbitrary to paint Modi and Modi supporters with a communal paintbrush.The educated middle class supports him because he has delivered good governance and not freebies,unlike Congress.
2."a community hurt beyond endurance by his government and whose memories have been refreshed by the renewed focus on Ishrat Jahan and more. " Did the author stop to consider that Muslims too are rational citizens of India,and might desire development and growth? Why pigeonhole them as eternal victims?Infact a large percent of muslims voted for Modi in the last Gujarat election.
3.With respect to NREGA renaming , Modi s motive was to respect the worker as a nation builder instead of looking at him as a beneficiary of governtment largesse.

from:  Halak B.
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 09:48 IST

A biased and narrow minded opinion. Modi and his vision has the acceptability amongst the majority of Indians and not confined to a minority as described by this writer. This is confirmed by all polls, surveys etc. Clearly the writer is either blind to the writing on the wall or having a different Political Agenda.

from:  Paras Kothari
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 09:31 IST

Obviously, one more article targetting only a particular party and a particular person. The author is using the word 'Hindutva' pejoratively, a usage that has not been accepted by the Supreme Court. But, it will be continued to be used so by people with an agenda. The author also has to explain as to why the 13% Muslims alone must be the touchstone to determine the 'secular' nature of an Indian leader. Isn't it ironical that the Indian Union Muslim league, whose earlier avtar bisected India on communal lines, is considered 'secular' while Bharatiya Janata Party is considered communal ? The killing of four terrorists might have been a fake encounter but the fact remains they were terrorists and the Congress vouched for that fact through court affidavits. It is better the author, in her campaign against Modi, does not get entangled in this. Let us recall the extent to which Congress went to deprive poor Muslim women in India of alimony because of opposition from Muslim orthodoxy.

from:  S.Sridharan
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 09:27 IST

Thought provoking. Well said about core strengths as well as weaknesses of NaMo. Let people of secular socialist republic of India can decide his future as PM on merits.

from:  S.Shivaji Namakkal
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 09:22 IST

The tone of this is not of a holistic, impartial analysis of the
challenges faced by Modi, but is like a venomous tirade against him, as
if the writer wants to influence the public opinion to turn against him.
The writer seems to be warning the readers, that they should keep away
from Modi for their good.

from:  Shrey
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 08:55 IST

There should be some balance in airing views, and this newspaper seems to be moving far away from this point. The Hindu could start a daily column on this topic, and even think of a special feature every Sunday.

from:  Premod
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 08:42 IST

Vidya-ji- why give such valuable advice free to
undeserving NaMo fans? Let them stew in their own juice.

from:  Siva
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 08:31 IST

There seems to be something about Narendra Modi's personality that brings out negative almost atavistic fears in the English educated media elite and the intelligentsia which they go on to generalize and project to the whole nation. This goes beyond his ideology and record. I would hazard a guess it is due to his self-made son of the soil persona that stands in striking contrast to the elitist, privileged personalities like Rahul Gandhi and even L.K. Advani. It is no coincidence that if elected, Modi will be the first prime minister to be born after Independence (1947).
This seems to strike a dissonant chord in the media, academia and the NGOs who are used to dealing with institutions with colonial roots. They seem to project their own apprehensions to the nation as a whole. But the curious fact is Modi is highly popular with the youth while support for the 'youth icon' Rahul Gandhi seems to come from the older generation nostalgic about the Nehru-Gandhi era. This bears watching.

from:  N.S. Rajaram
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 07:59 IST

It seems the author is seeing everything with one lens I.e Congress lens.
U find no wrong when CAG found corruption in MNREGA SCHEME. where poor were denied jobs. And millions are stranded jobless.
Well I can only suggest that be vocal , be true and always reveal truth. As journalism is irrespecttive of Political influence , caste and creed.
So be responsible as ur thoughts do influence readers.

from:  Navdeep
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 07:30 IST

//Besides, there is Mr. Modi’s own troubling vision of development. Speaking at India Today’s annual conclave, Mr. Modi suggested that India’s rights-based job guarantee scheme be renamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi Development Guarantee Scheme.’ This means that a poor worker who has been denied a job under MGNREGA will now go to court asking for development to be guaranteed and not his own livelihood. Welcome to the land of ‘Prime Minister NaMo.’ //

Sorry Vidya - I am eagerly awaiting the day when India becomes the land of NaMa - and so are all right-thinking people who want to give the corrupt, minority-appeasing, pseudo-secular UPA ( and their sidekicks) a nice kick in the behind.

from:  Arun Subbu
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 07:23 IST

Such disparaging remarks about Sri Narendra Modis i not new to The
Hindu. He represents a new wave of aspiring Indians who are real
secularists - appeasement of none. This is what our ancient scriptures
and way of life preached and followed. Let us hope Modi gets a
resounding victory, and gets a comfortable majority; he can then pursue
his goal of lifting India's prestige in the eyes of the world and
burrying communal politics. I am sure it will happen

from:  sampath
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 06:50 IST

I do not remember any other political leader so viciously vilified and demonized in the Media
as Modi. Instead of objective journalism, what we see today is a motivated campaign
against a politician (with his own weaknesses and strengths) who is rising up to cleanse a
political system,corrupted by years of dynastic rule and misgovernance.

from:  G. Narayanaswamy
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 06:29 IST

It is another typical Namonian treatise by the writer. If 2002 haunts Modi, so does 1984 with
Congress despite regrets from its PM as the then PM's role cannot be put on board as he is
RIP. So-called appeasement of corporate sector by Namo should be compared with the
recent largesse offered to RIL in gas price and allocation of coal blocks and air waves in 2G
scam by 'secular' UPA. As far as fake encounters by state police for tackling extremism,
what Congress governments in AP and Maharashtra 'encountered' to put down Maoism in
Telangana and street warfare in Mumbai and did the same thing but the writer ignores the
dubious claims as it does not suit her theme. Regarding the fan clubs' exuberance on social
web sites towards Namo, it is known that Maken and Tewary are just recently assigned the
task of eulogising the first family who are a very big contrast in a democratic country, as they
enjoy the supreme power in making all the decision making without Parliament

from:  MvjRao
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 06:29 IST

Be warned, The Hindu is getting ready for 'Prime Minister NaMo'

from:  Karty
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 05:52 IST

All supporters of dictatorship of Sonia Gandhi (dynasty) are scared to death. Nobody is talking about misuse of CBI for political benefit of the dynasty and utter loss for the nation. Their agenda is to destroy Modi even if that means eventual destruction of India because of corruption and loot. Nobody is talking about slower growth of Indian economy but focus on one riot that took place in Gujrat. They are focused on police encounters in Gujrat even though it is common practice in every India state and nations to eliminate terrorists before they could strike.

from:  Praveen Mathur
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 04:55 IST

Watching events in Egypt, when a democratically elected leader from the Muslim Brotherhood failed to convince those did not vote for him and thus paid a huge price. The BJP has to be very careful in this unrealistic image building for NaMo because the majority fear this halo around the man.India has survived as a democracy because whoever gets elected, tries hard to stay in the middle and extremes are promptly rejected by voters. Modi comes across as a slick politician who does not tolerate dissenters or the weak. The Muslims are fearful that they will have prove their loyalty to Hindu India before they will be included in NaMo's growth model. The sorry parting of ways by Nitish Kumar confirms that something is seriously wrong in this dramatic ascent of NaMo in the BJP.The poor villagers in UP,Bihar or Andhra do not tweet and follow Gujarat's success story. Will he speak for more than his hardline BJP supporters?

from:  sidney sridhar
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 04:29 IST

This article says "nothing" about Modi's ability to lead his party to victory, except an assumption that he does not have the support of rural mass. His Muslim outreach efforts have been portrayed as a negative, and the thrust of the article is about the misprint(mischief) by the media regarding Uttarkhand. This article lacks basic scholarship.

from:  jaya
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 04:15 IST

The Hindu's article on Narendra Modi have become self defeating. What
The Hindu does is tantamount to hijacking the political discourse to
focus on an extremely narrow perspective of secularism and Mr. Modi's
personality and then forcing its readers to see through that
perspective only. All the authors seem to have a bias. At least the
readers deserve a dispassionate analysis of all that is wrong with our
country and what the two leaderships have to offer so that voters can
make an informed choice. Last but not the least, I would like to say
that MNREGA is hardly a scheme which India needs. Probably the
administration/corruption costs are more than what poor actually get.
Such low skill jobs are not going to help anyone (For some reason the
author's tone suggests that MNREGA is the best thing that could have
happened to India).

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 03:50 IST

"...This means that a poor worker who has been denied a job under MGNREGA will now go to court asking for development to be guaranteed and not his own livelihood..."

Better development automatically guarantees better livelihood. The otherway is not guaranteed i.e. better livelihood never translates to better development. The western big-social-welfare countries have learned this the hard way. Their economies are crumbling and they cannot afford their own massive welfare schemes e.g. UK's NHS. With the Congress party announcing massive welfare scheme just before elections to get votes, has made India into world's biggest welfare-state. How is India going to sustain this scheme? And with corruption endemic we all know who will be filling their coffers. Please don't guarantee livelihood without development! Alas, the author would not know basic economics. After all common sense is not a common thing! Just because someone can write doesn't mean one has automatically become an intellectual

from:  Ponga Pundit
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 03:00 IST

So what does the author say? There are many roadblocks ahead.
He knows and everyone knows. He knows how to overcome.The so called
secularists(in otherwords hindu baiters) shout day in and day out to
defame him in every possible way. But his popularity keeps rising and
Ishrat Jahan case is a fake case and She was a terrorist by any
standard and there is conflict between Intelligence Bureau and CBI
and Congress game plan will not succeed. Congress can stoop to any
level and even compromise country s security to get muslim votes.
The whole country is watching through television channels what is
happening in Isharat Jahan s case. WHY NOT THESE SECULARISTS GIVE
SERMONs TO PAKISTAN TO treat the minorities equally. Recently they
have banned the film Raanjhaana which is after all a film.

from:  K.N.Sridharan
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 02:46 IST

The author seems so negative . One has to observe how much interference RSS has in Gujarat. Even RSS doesnot initially like modi. It is not hardcore Hindu followers that pushed bmp/rss to elevate Modi for PM. It is those people who saw hope in him , his attitude and get it done ,task master,who has ideas and vision.

If we go by authors description , rss supported bjp should be in power for long time by now. Coming 2014 elections people vote bjp for MODI and his ability to turn things for best of nations intrest. Modi is not a kid to be influenced by what ever author wrote. He knows when to take control of ship

from:  Sunny
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 02:06 IST

This newspaper should take a break from its continued Modi-beating and
should let other side also to present its argument. It can start a
weekly debate column, As it would be much more interesting and would let
the reader decide, which side it wants to believe. This regular
criticism of a man is doing no good to this newspapers image.

from:  prav
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 01:58 IST

Ok i was kind of worried that Hindu stopped Modi attack. Thanks for the
article i am happy. Good Job Hindu, keep writing anti-Modi articles and
we would love it.
At the end we would vote for Modi. Modi 2014.

from:  Hari
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 01:49 IST

Only time will tell he is NaMo or not . but surely India needs a secular PM unlike what is painted about Mr. Modi. If he comes up with secular motive He should be made a PM... Pure Macho...

from:  Sandeep Pise
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 01:40 IST

There is nothing difficult to a LEADER NAMO can do it. The county's youth has started dreaming India as a developed nation.! Economic, Defence, international affairs etc are important. A leader can do it! We need a change come on we feel really bad when we hear India slows down in development!!

from:  Gopikrishnan
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 01:32 IST

A very nice article! This analysis surely presents the realities. Though I personally feel,that many of the concerns can be taken care of in time. Considering the fact that congress would not push for,elections early due to anti-incumbency, BJP will have 10 months to work on it. Mr. Modi is is loved by middle class and above. His obc status will help him in up and Bihar. If by next elections CBI is autonomous again, sp and bsp will have a freedom to make choices. Considering the present scenario, mr. Modi's own credentials may help him in rural up. A coilition with bsp is also possible. It will help BJP in rural areas. In urban areas, his acceptance is not a problem. Didi and amma may come to the rescue of BJP. Bihar has its own limitations. But considering the fact that mr. Modi is obc and he is pro development, he will get support. Muslims do support him but they have their inhibitions. In Gujarat, muslims do vote for bjp. Rest of them should know about this.

from:  arpit
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 01:29 IST
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