It is now clear that Narendra Modi is making an open bid to be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, your correspondent shares his analysis on the Modi phenomenon from a 2007 column.
Narendra Modi’s victory in Gujarat is an emphatic statement by the people of the state that they have no time for the Congress ideology of political correctness. A proud and entrepreneurial people, if somewhat insular, Gujaratis have historically embraced radical ideologies, starting from Mohandas Gandhi’s fight against the British in the 1930s to Jayprakash Narayan’s nihilist navnirman movement against the Congress in the 1970s.
In the 1990s, Gujarat embraced Hindutva, partly for primordial reasons, but also because they had no faith in the Congress.
The Congress held sway over Gujarat for nearly two decades after the state was formed in 1960. Then, slowly and surely, the Congress appeal diminished. If Narendra Modi survives the next term to 2012, Hindutva will have become the mainstream ideology in the state.
Many liberal Gujaratis have become disenchanted with the Congress; an editor told me: “We don’t want Modi, but where is the Congress? Gujaratis are not going to throw up a Mulayam Singh Yadav or a Mayawati because they want stability. We are rich and have good infrastructure, long before Modi got here.”
Modi has tapped into the Gujarati disillusionment with the Congress. To begin with, they have no time for socialism and nonalignment; in 2002, they challenged the Congress on its secular ideology. In handing Modi a significant electoral triumph, they have begun to question the idea of democracy, preferring an authoritarian leader. Gujarat has revolted against the four pillars of Indian nationalist ideology: socialism, secularism, democracy and nonalignment.
These are the norms the Congress propagated during the nationalist movement and then after Independence. Trouble is, socialism became an excuse for the license-permit Raj; secularism mutated into a pandering to a Muslim vote bank; nonalignment became an anti-American ideology and democracy became a family business. Gujaratis would have none of it; they turned first to JP; now they are willing to take their chances with Modi.
The people of Gujarat are decent and hard-working and try to get along; typically they would support a party like the Congress. Over the years, they came to see the Congress as an elitist and Stalinist organisation in which regional leadership was not encouraged. Instead, the party’s leaders in the state had to be anointed by the High Command.
Even today, young leaders in the state, as on the national stage, are sons and daughters of veterans of the party. This is not true of the BJP. Thus, even sensible people in the state chose to support the nasty and dangerous Hindutva ideology over the feudal setup of the Congress.
It’s not just in politics, but in business as well. The scions of the old mill-owning families in Gujarat are now reduced to living off their parents’ wealth; my friend Sanjay Lalbhai, who presides over the growing Arvind empire, is a notable exception. Gujarat recognises and rewards only entrepreneurship and hard work; while they respect the old generators of wealth, they have no time for their progeny. Today’s big business names in Gujarat were unknown a decade ago. Perhaps that’s why the Gujarati diaspora has done so well all over the world, despite their obvious and severely limiting insularity.
So we must realise that Modi’s success is a vote against the elitism of the Congress. And against the lack of new ideas in the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, the most revered icons of Gujarat politics. The general feeling in Gujarat is that the two were given short shrift in post-Independence politics.
The widespread belief is Gujaratis rarely joined the civil or the defense services because of their proclivity to business. On the other hand, many middle class Gujaratis believe they remained outsiders because of their problems with Hindi, English and Western ways. This is the cause of the dangerous Modi whirlwind we are reaping today.
This column appeared in DNA, December 26, 2007.
Reaping the Modi whirlwind
Reaping the Modi whirlwind