Narendra Modi is a man before his time. A couple of decades along, too late for him, there will be a bigger constituency in India for the anti-Muslim demagogue.
This may seem a counterintuitive thing to say just when Modi has been given control of his party through popular demand. But it is true.
Today, the group of those who idolize him is large, as we observe on social media, which the group, in fact, dominates. However it is only relatively large. The Indian voter remains confessional and sees virtue in caste. The urban Indian has never been particularly different in this sense and our matrimonial advertisements demonstrate this.
A quick transition is happening as the middle class expands. Education and awareness have produced a yearning for identity that is broader than caste, and for many urban Indians, Modi has provided this. The contours of his message are simple: Indians are a great people, but our leaders are corrupt. If we have firm and decisive rule, the Hindu nation will become a world power again.
This message is not simplistic so much as it is stupid. But it becomes darker because it is coloured with hatred.
His biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay says Modi is our first anti-Nehruvian leader. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he came to power, put forward a soft and secular face, reaching out to Muslims. Modi offers no apology for his actions or those of his murderous ministers.
This no-nonsense image is the primary reason Modi has risen and shone within his party. His eclipsing of L.K. Advani comes directly from this, and now that he sits on the margins, Advani will have the time to observe this truth.Advani took great pride in saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a party with an ideology, which was Hindutva.
Ideology insists on purity and the moderate position is always under threat from something more extreme. The leaders in all parties that claim an ideology at some point face the problem Advani does.
The cadre of the BJP adores Modi because he gives them their real ideology, what is called red meat in American politics. This is also the reason why the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose leadership doesn’t approve of Modi’s non-collegiate style, had to succumb to its own cadre, which loves Modi.
Modi dislocates the hypocrisy of a party whose leader fired up a mob and then said he regretted its vandalism. He, on the other hand, has shown Muslims their place in Gujarat and kept them there. His legions on the Internet have one defence against the barbarism of his ministers—that the Congress also did it in 1984.
The second thing is that Modi can communicate over the head of the media with his audience, and he can do this better than any other leader in India. This is why his power is independent of the media or the traditional party structures. He reaches out directly to his group in the eternal way of the demagogue.
The Greeks had Cleon (mercilessly panned by the great playwright Aristophanes) and the Romans had Gracchus and Caesar.
Like Modi, none of these strongmen appealed to the most populous segment of their society, the servants, the real landless. Their constituency was the neo-literate middle class.
For those able to look beyond his superb oratory and humour, the vapidity of Modi’s message is striking. It has not been noticed or remarked upon, but Modi has never been to college (his degree is from a correspondence course). His simple views spring from this lack of knowledge.
His writing is all in Gujarati and—I can claim to know something about this—it is mediocre. He’s not well-read, has little idea about the world or its history. It will be embarrassing, if he becomes prime minister, to have him in the same meeting as US President Barack Obama.
The interesting aspect of Modi—and this makes him honest—is that he genuinely believes the things he represents. Discussing Kashiram Rana, Surat’s six-term undefeated Lok Sabha member of Parliament (whom Modi denied a ticket in 2009) with journalist Saba Naqvi, Modi observed that Rana was different because he was non-vegetarian: “Maans khane wale logon ka vyavhar alag hota hai (meat-eating people have a different temperament).”
Those who love him purely because they agree with his dislike of Muslims and his love of unity of command, should consider this aspect to him and what it means for them if he takes power.
He is aching to bring with him his social vision, which is aligned with that of the RSS, to the rest of India from Gujarat. A money-minded, intellectually barren, segregated, ghettoized, non-drinking and vegetarian utopia that some of us have fled from.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns