Narendra Modi in fast forward
So, nearly 71 per cent of Gujaratis over 18 years of age went to the polling booths to bring back Narendra Modi, seen by the world as a divisive leader, awarding him a third term as chief minister, well aware that this could be his launching pad to the prime ministership.
Gujarat, which has one of the largest diasporas based in the US, UK and Africa, has re-elected a chief minister who has been denied a US visa since 2005, for "violations of religious freedom" during the 2002 riots. It has brought back the same Modi whose election campaign borrowed from Barack Obama's presidential campaign in the United States, even ending with his slogan, "Forward", which Modi translated on his blog as "Aage kadam Gujarat".
But the way Gujarat votes is
not the way the rest of India votes. To fit into the shoes of a PM, Modi would have to go beyond symbolism and rhetoric.
Also, while bijli, sadak and paani are basic issues in most parts of India, villages in Gujarat have 24x7 power supply, which gives them access to information and technology, besides water, and the option of an induction cooker, if the gas bottle is out of reach.
In his victory speech, Modi called the voters his "hero" and went on to refer to them as "god", seeking their blessings so that he "does not commit any mistake in the future". An admittedly remote possibility it that he may have wished this to be understood as an expression of regret for the 2002 killings. But coming ahead of a crucial meeting of the Delhi-based ambassadors of all European Union countries, who will review their stance on Modi next month, the three-time Gujarat CM should have been more explicit.
Still, the verdict was humbling for Modi in some ways. The hero of Moditva in 2012 was not just Modi — because the Gujarati voter did not just vote the BJP back, but also hand-picked Modi's opponents. The old guard of the Congress will now be replaced with people who have grown up with Modi and go back to his RSS days — Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela. This was the six-crore Gujaratis' way of telling Modi that to be PM, he would have to temper governance with real inclusivity, much like former BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was of the same vintage but could also ride the bus from Delhi to Lahore without making it look like tokenism.
Somehow, when Modi raised the issue of Sir Creek being "handed over" to Pakistan on the eve of Gujarat elections, instead of whipping up nationalistic fervour, it created a buzz about "polarising" Hindu votes. Modi may be the BJP's poster boy and the party's best bet for the 2014 general election, but he has yet to mature into a leader that doesn't succumb to the temptation of flippantly raking up issues to stimulate vote-banks. Or was this an attempt to step into the boots of the Hindu Hriday Samrat, Bal Thackeray?
Over the last 10 years, he has been inclusive of minorities only to the extent of an "Eid Mubarak" greeting on Twitter or good wishes for Haj yatris before their pilgrimage. Thus, Ahmedabad's five-day carnival on the Kankaria lakefront (which is in Modi's constituency of Maninagar) beginning December 25 was launched not to celebrate Christmas, but instead to celebrate Vajpayee's birthday.
Muslims across Gujarat, even if they voted for the BJP, cannot forget that Modi wore every other kind of turban at the Sadbhavana Mission fasts but the one given to him by a Muslim cleric — unlike his counterpart in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, also from the BJP, who not only celebrated Eid but wore the cap and the keffiyeh with the Muslims on the occasion.
A few public meetings also heard the BJP leaders of Gujarat saying that it was about time Delhi had a Gujarati PM after Morarji Desai. But in this vision, a sense of Gujarati pride is more important in the selection of leaders than faith in them as the leaders of a nation. Desai was a social conservative, but in favour of private enterprise — perhaps like Modi, who wants a public-private partnership for every venture. But Desai also built bridges with Pakistan and was a true-blue Gandhian.
In Gujarat, Modi is seen as the leader that made minions of most ministers. Bureaucrats were assigned politician-like roles to "connect" with people through programmes like the Kanya Kelavni girl enrolment drive and Garib Kalyan Melas. One IAS officer, known as the man behind the success of the Garib Kalyan Mela, got a ticket to contest the election, and became an MLA on December 20. This "empowering" of the bureaucracy was seen as a move to reduce the levels that could lead to corruption, and connecting the government directly to the beneficiary. But Modi's resistance to the appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat is also well known.
The voter today is not just someone who tweets and posts praises. He also screens the man or woman he will vote for with a fine-toothed comb.
Misra is editor, Ahmedabad, firstname.lastname@example.org
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