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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  The two kinds of verdicts on Narendra Modi’s one year

On TV specials debating the National Democratic Alliance government’s first year in office, there was a clear difference between the English shows I was on and the Hindi and Gujarati ones. The anchors and experts on the English ones were more likely to be critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance. They held up to examination 12 months of governance and judged it to be wanting in terms of delivery and achievement. Not much of the change that had been promised had come about, in this view, and things seemed to be the same as under the previous set.

Another point that irritated the anchors was that the Union government’s signalling for the anniversary kept referring to what it did not do: no big scams, no major riots and so on. There wasn’t much about what it had done.

A couple of channels were contradictory in their content, with the journalists haranguing the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson over what happened to delivery, and their own polls suggesting that the vast majority was delighted with Modi.

The other thing was that there was much focus on what I consider peripheral things, like Modi’s personal bloopers and the remarks made by his allies and ministers. This made the tone of the English channels a little whiny, given that the occasion was an anniversary and therefore festive.

The anchors and editors of language channels (what word is acceptable without being patronizing here? Vernacular? Non-English?) were more forgiving, less willing to see the missteps as irredeemable, or even serious. The tone here was softer, and the focus was not on the government as a unit but on the image of the Prime Minister, which was still pristine. A scan of the newspapers and their editorials and columns will reveal the same thing: Readers of English will assume that the government is in trouble because it has done little in the last year, but readers of Hindi and Gujarati will assume that it is doing quite well.

I think this difference accurately represents the larger divide, between those (the few) who are judging Modi purely on the basis of his performance and those who see in him something more than just a chief executive. For them, he has made no mistakes, even at the personal level.

Modi is a superb judge of national sentiment, easily the best we have had since Mahatma Gandhi, but it is clear he did not anticipate the nasty fallout of his wearing that infamous pinstripe monogrammed suit during his meeting with the US President Barack Obama in January. Unless, that is, he did and discounted the bleating of those who said it was distasteful.

A recent Rediff.com poll for the government’s anniversary—“Vote: Your favourite Modi look!"—has the Prime Minister in eight loud outfits. The readers are supposed to choose from these looks, and the overwhelming favourite, with 40% votes, was that monogrammed outfit. This is not what one would anticipate, going by how much it was attacked in the media and continues to be used as a barb by Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi.

The second most favourite photograph was of Modi in a cowboy hat, with a matching full-sleeve jersey. I remember that photograph because I was working for a Gujarati newspaper in Ahmedabad when it was taken about a decade ago. That sort of thing, Modi posing in fancy dress, was so common then as to be unremarked upon.

It would not be wrong to say that many people like the monogrammed suit. My relatives in Surat thought it was a terrific suit, and also felt that the advertising of his name was a nice touch and the execution nicely done (“bahu sober chhe").

The fact is that vast majority of Indians are aligned with his worldview, which some may see as reductive, but comes easily to many of us. I mean the view that goes: India great, politicians corrupt, honest saviour needed. And so long as he is in that role, he can power on in his personal style. What to some may be a display that is gaudy or undignified, will be attractive to others. Whether it is costume or behaviour: the chest-thumping and references to himself in the third person that many have noticed.

Think of it, why Salman Khan is popular among many though not so much amid the few. Or about alternative cinema versus Bollywood. Modi is mainstream. And what accounts for his high personal popularity are actually the things that the few will find off-putting.

It is true that when a man projects himself as a hero, it becomes easier to pull him down. But then to do that, an element of talent and a lightness of touch are needed in the opposition; these have so far been missing in Modi’s opponents. That leaves him free to carry on, without regard to how he is seen by the few, because so long as they are few, they don’t matter to him.

Also Read: Read Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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