Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | A theory about the sudden rise of Nitin Gadkari

I believe that there are only four kinds of people: the philosopher, the fan, the actor and the builder.

The philosopher is under the spell of intuition that makes him or her see clearly through the smog of scholarship. Intuition is not a mystical force. It emerges from subterranean knowledge but does not require excessive information. The primary quality of intuition is that it is truth, or an opinion, that precedes substantiation. Philosophers are usually found in mathematics, science and literature, but very rarely among people who are known as philosophers.

The actor is a person who can project a myth and in whom others can see what they wish to see. He is the art whose true nature is that he is its canvass. He is also an onion. The peels are the substance. Examples of the actor are successful mass politicians, top salaried managers of a corporation, many writers, some people in the organized compassion business and singers.

At this point I wish to reassure you that this column is about Nitin Gadkari, who is a beloved of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the central minister for road transport and highways, shipping and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, a man who has been enjoying a sudden and mysterious rise in political stature these past few weeks.

However, I have to first tell you about the fan. The fan is the receiver, patron, consumer, conformist and the most efficient transmitter of all human achievements and delusions. Struck by the greatness of some philosophers, actors and builders, the fan imitates them and becomes an imposter.

Now we come to Gadkari who is an example of the builder. A builder is consumed by the idea of creating giant objects, grand things. The true modern builder shares some traits with ancient builders across all cultures. Building grand beautiful things is expensive, so they have to invent good reasons to build, which they find in two powerful stories that might even be true. One is that building is good business and the other is that building is moral.

For many years, Gadkari has been a builder who claimed moral reasons to perform his art—the public good. He was popular in Nagpur, but beyond that, he was never a mass leader who could influence elections. He was, as journalist Rajdeep Sardesai told him in March, “an Upper House leader". But now something is changing. A huge cut-out is being crafted by an unseen force that is presenting him as a man who has built great expressways and ports, and who will transform the infrastructure of the nation.

In the past few weeks, he has allowed and been granted considerable attention by the media, to the extent that in the perception of the urban middle-class, he is the second most noticeable leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, just below Narendra Modi but above Amit Shah. Political journalists have promoted the idea that the RSS is readying Gadkari in the eventuality that the party does not win a majority and needs to woo new allies. Then this agreeable man will be presented as the prime ministerial candidate instead of Modi.

How did a builder become more agreeable than an actor? The manner in which Gadkari has presented himself in recent weeks is significant for the fact that he spoke like a builder. For long in Indian politics, actors have won elections and builders have quietly got things done. However, it now appears that Gadkari knows the time has come for the builder. Indians are finally willing to accept the morality of building.

Of late, this is what Gadkari has said on various platforms: That Priyanka Gandhi could sail on the Ganga and drink the sacred river’s water because he cleaned it and that very soon, Indians will be able to travel from Delhi to Bangladesh on a network of rivers. That the whole nation should have only concrete roads and that he is at the helm of so much infrastructural work that 40% of the cement produced by the nation is consumed by his ministries. That corporate defaulters are not always frauds and that a salaried man will never understand the pressures of business. That when we build, we must think a hundred years ahead. That he has commissioned work worth “ 16 lakh crores", yet no contractor had to visit his office, and that he is a straight-talking man who once told “a million Muslims" that he would like to have their votes but they should know that he is essentially a “chaddiwala".

He appeared in several forums this month as he usually appears, in shirt and trousers, underrated modern political garments, which are emerging as a sign of either honesty or efficiency. He spoke with a command over detail that politicians usually don’t demonstrate: “1kg of CNG is equal to 1.3 litres of diesel"; “if you harvest human waste you can separate methane, which can be used to make biofuel".

He also conveyed that as a builder, he plays politics only during election time and that he has an excellent relationship with a spectrum of politicians, including Arvind Kejriwal. There are images of the two getting along fine, both in shirts of the same size.

The favourable public perception of Gadkari in Modi’s bastions points to some simple facts: Most Indians, even in big metros, are villagers when it comes to infrastructure and they are in awe of giant swanky projects. Also, as a nation progresses, it is not only the actor who can win elections. Even the builder can.

The ultimate goal of democracy, though, is to make the philosopher win.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’.

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