Sunday, December 16, 2007

E=M^2: THE MODI PHENOMENON

Shakespeare had something to say about leaders. Some leaders are born, he said, some are made, and some have leadership thrust upon them.

Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is without doubt one of the few politicians in India belonging to that very small and exclusive club of exceptional leaders born just to lead. Mayawati is another such stand out leader who has emphatically demonstrated that she has it in her. Scan the political landscape and you will quickly be able to identify the few at the other end too. In between these two types are sandwiched all the remaining politicians who have
been made leaders mostly as a consequence of the fruits that the profession of politics provides to those who join it.

It is, therefore, only natural that the current Gujarat elections have become an almost one-man issue and the parties have become secondary. The last time this happened was when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Then too, there was rebellion in the party and many stalwarts had periodically left the Congress in protest against her dictatorial and authoritarian style of functioning. Sycophancy had also simultaneously reached its zenith when Dev Kant Barooah said famously:” India is Indira and Indira is India.”

Natural leaders naturally attract both awe and dislike. While the comfort of status quo is the elixir which nourishes made leaders, to born leaders it is often the poison which can kill. Thus, when they get about doing the things which need to be done, or which needed to have been done long back, in a hurry and with a decisiveness which is often disruptive, the reactions can be severe.

In India, if a leader cannot speak English and does not fit into the template of rootless western liberalism adopted by some, particularly the English media, as the only acceptable political path, then he/she is ignored. But when someone like Modi breaks through all barriers and begins to tower over the national landscape like no one has in recent years, the warning bells begin to ring and every trick in the book is used to destroy him.

During the last couple of weeks, Gujarat, indeed the nation, has been bombarded by Modi magic, Modi mania, Modi madness, Modi maelstrom, Modi masks, Modi the moderniser, Modi the murderer, Modi the megalomaniac, Modi the messiah etc. The electrifying energy generated by brand Modi is unrivalled in the history of Independent India.

Depending on which side of the fence you are - no fence sitters visible - this electricity is either nourishing or incinerating. This is the electricity which is getting people out to vote in such large numbers.

The second and final round of polling in Gujarat is under way and various exit poll results will be out this evening. Like the exit poll results after the first round, the predictions will vary widely, like they did during the last UP elections, when Mayawati surprised almost all by winning decisively on her own steam. Even then, there were psephologists who were pursuing their personal political agenda rather than carrying out an honest and unbiased analysis of the voice of the people. This time, the stakes for them are much higher.

Whether Narendra Modi wins or loses will be known on December 23 2007. My hunch, assessment, gut feeling, whatever you may call it, is that he will finally romp home. Tehelka and the relentlessly inflammatory harking back to the 2002 riots to scalp Modi are going to backfire with a ferocity that will surprise all. Modi will lose only if the rebels of the BJP are able to carry enough voters along with them.

Yes, Indira Gandhi lost too in 1977 when many senior leaders deserted her. But the loss was not due to their leaving; it was because of the dictatorial excesses that were committed by her and her all powerful son, Sanjay Gandhi, during the Emergency that she had imposed to stay on in power after a judicial verdict against her election.

Modi, a personally squeakily honest person, is not saddled with any such baggage. On the contrary, this natural leader has been called India’s best Chief Minister by even party organs of the Congress. There is no anti incumbency factor at all. Will, then, the few defectors of the BJP and the shrill media and Congress campaign to resurrect the ghost of 2002 be enough to counter the electrifying and, to some, terrifying energy generated by Modi, and successfully dethrone him?

No matter what the outcome this time, there is no getting away from the stark fact that the enormous energy unleashed by the Modi phenomenon is going to increasingly dominate and influence the national political landscape for a long time.