Narendra Modi - Lotus in the Mire
SOCIETY|February - March 2019

“I have always been CM, I am CM today and shall be CM forever. For me, CM means not Chief Minister but Common Man.” These were the words spoken by the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. While a lot has changed since then, he seems to continue to appeal to the ‘CM’ even today. Here’s a glimpse into the rare and no-holds-barred interview that appeared in the September 2011 issue of Society magazine

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Meeting Narendra Modi was like meeting multiple personalities at a time! I have always perceived Modi as a man of steel having gone through the fire. The constant picking and media barbs have not left him embittered. This could be attributed to his strong and courageous personality and being centered in spirituality.

Modi is the only CEO Chief Minister so to say, who has corporatised political administration in his well-groomed and well-kept state! As I proceeded to Modi’s residence for a chat, I was surprised that there were no hangers-on, no party flags or king size cut outs, no party men shouting slogans while awaiting a darshan of their party honcho and there was no desperate security frisking. Stepping into his home surrounded by well-manicured lawns was more like entering a ‘peace zone’ of sorts.

As I am ushered into his neatly laid out home cum office, I spot a Vivekananda’s bronze figurine of Swami Vivekananda tucked in a corner. The free-wheeling tête-à-tête that followed gave an astonishing insight into the man, the mystic and the leader rather than the controversial politician that Modi is made out to be. My initial apprehension, going by his public image of an intimidating person, was put to rest at the very outset. Modi seemed cheerful, gentle and benign. There was no attempt to overpower and manipulate my thoughts, no overtones or undercurrents. Modi exuded brilliant command over the session, clearly defined in his approach and never caught off guard.

“I make political statements only before the elections. There is much more to talk about than my political opponents,” he quips. We agree. Here is a man who has become synonymous with dedicated hard work and administrative genius, so much so that he is the only politician for whom a temple is built by his people. His state shines luminously as a model city. No doubt, there are still issues to be addressed but Gujarat most certainly has filed past other states in showing an all-round progress—industrialisation, infrastructure and tourism, to name a few parameters.

The architect of this new and shining Gujarat, Narendra Modi, is surely one you will either adore or despise but certainly not ignore. His political strategies that raised him from being a party worker to the Chief Minister for three terms in succession field him as a strong potential Prime Ministerial candidate from amongst the rest of the regional leadership. In a recent survey by CNN-IBN and CNBC-TV18, State of the Nation Poll conducted by CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) reveals that within the BJP fold, Modi is the top choice as Prime Minister, followed by Sushma Swaraj. Among BJP voters, Modi has a clear lead with 33 per cent as a choice to succeed Advani. That Modi has breached the gap is clear from the poll that reveals that Modi precedes Advani though Rahul Gandhi tops the table. The writing on the wall is clear that if the nation chooses to vote out the Congress, Modi is the first choice of the people.

With the grim scenario that the nation faces today, the need of the hour is an able administrator who can fix the fractures within our system. Today, regional leaders like Narendra Modi, Ashok Gehlot, Shiela Dixitt and Nitish Kumar are in the public discernment as the ideal options for replacing their national counterparts at the helm. With a proven track record of excellent governance in his kitty, Modi chooses to play the cards about his national political agenda only when the time is ripe.

Among the disadvantages Modi faces is his love-hate equation with the media. And so, here was an opportunity to peel the stern communalistic façade, and peep into the man behind the iron curtain. Is he as blunt and intimidating as he seems from a distance? As ruthless as he is made out to be? As communal minded as he is perceived? What is his typical day like? Does Modi like to watch TV soaps and sob with them? When did he last take a holiday and where does he really like to unwind? Many such questions flooded my thoughts and my research furnished no insight into the man that Modi was.

His political track record reveals him as an uncompromising and shrewd politician. Besides, the magnificent transformation he achieved in the eyes of his own people, from being an anti-hero to a hero, is a case study in itself. To the people of Gujarat Modibhai, as he is fondly addressed as, is like no one else. They view him as a brilliant politician, an efficient administrator, an able strategist and ultimately, a competent leader who has staked all his might in serving his people. The accent is on ‘systematic, non-corrupt and good governance’ and not mere tactics for political survival.

Modi is a proud, man who can flaunt his report card. “In Gujarat’s model of governance, we have moved out of the traditional piecemeal actions and knee-jerk reactions. We now look at a whole new approach to the fundamental changes that would yield qualitative and quantitative leaps. My role is that of a facilitator, and the real credit goes to Team Gujarat and the people of the state,” preens Modi.

However, history can’t be recalled without associations of landmark events to their fundamental authors. Like Gandhi and the freedom fight are two sides of a coin, Nehru and the Kashmir goof up, Sardar Patel’s police action during the Razaka movement of the Nizam State, Indira Gandhi and the Emergency, and when it comes to Modi, you cannot finish the breath without remembering the infamous Gujarat riots.

Though the riots would continue to haunt Modi, he has made conscious effort to heal the wounds and has worked in a sustained way to make the media take note of the immense progress made in the land of Mahatma. His image as the ‘merchant of death’ is reversed to that of the ‘sultan of good governance’. As shrewd and emphatic as the Chanakya in his political arbitration and in the stringency of administrative competence, Modi is in the league of the legendary Gujarat leader Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel

However, Modi’s modesty feels outraged at the comparison with the legend and he springs up in protest. “It is unfair to compare anyone with Sardar Patel. He was a great stalwart. We are lucky that his soul is there to inspire us. He was an iron man because he stood by his commitment to his ideology and thoughts. Even in the face of opposition to his stand, he never succumbed. No toothless ruler can rule the country,” he interrupts your thoughts.

Going to office is rather academic for Narendra Modi. He has drawn a definite blue print for his people and his personal political agenda. His hours spent in office are channelised towards proactive administration rather than for political sustenance. Probably Modi feels best when he talks about his innovative governance, and his schemes are no mere eye-wash. Looking closely, these schemes are universal in nature, not to be constricted by boundaries either.

An offspring of a middle class family in Vadnagar in Mehsana district of north Gujarat where Modi completed his schooling, he was conferred his PG in Political Science from the Gujarat University. As a young man, he joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student wing, and was involved in the anti-corruption Nav Nirman Movement. After working as a full time organiser there, he was later nominated as its representative in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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