Modi offers a new Camelot
20 June 2013, 07:50 PM IST
There’s no doubt Narendra Modi is a big deal. He may not be everyone’s hero. But for young, urban India, those who read Chetan Bhagat and watch Kai Po Che, his appeal has grown exponentially in recent months. Media pundits (the last to climb on to his bandwagon) think he could be the next PM. From a pariah in 2002, Modi is the star of 2013. And I don’t think his support base is hardcore Hindu fanatics, as the Congress wants us to believe. Rather, it comes from young, secular, well educated, successful young men and women. They don’t follow Modi because he espouses Gujarati asmita (which he does occasionally) or sells some exotic blend of Hindutva and nationalism (which he also does, but increasingly rarely) or because he’s rabidly anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan or anti-anything. They follow him because he promises them a new India.
What this new India is no one quite knows. It’s a curious promise Modi has conjured up. Rajiv was the last Gandhi who sold us Camelot, much in the grand old tradition of the Kennedys. Modi, on the other hand, offers us a simpler version. Good roads, well built flyovers, electricity that does not fail, a modern, transactional society where corruption may exist but will not be half as corrosive and soul killing as it is today, and cities that can grow without falling apart. He doesn’t offer high pitched rhetoric on stuff everyone knows he can’t deliver on. He wants business to flourish, jobs to be created, dollars to come in, the rupee to stay strong. His vision may not be entirely inclusive. But then who offers inclusive politics in a country split by caste, religion, language, regionalism? What Modi offers is the dream of a new nation unburdened by history.
This suits our times. The young no longer care for history. Gandhi is a distant memory. Ayodhya, a bad dream. The young are not bothered about last week’s headlines, leave alone last year’s. Modi’s pogrom is a decade old. Even the Muslims have moved on since then and, like the rest of India, are thinking about jobs, careers, money and opportunities. If Modi can offer them that, integrate them into the larger Indian dream, they will be happy to forget the past and look ahead. The Congress offers them the lollypop of secularism but nothing else. And no one is enamoured of empty promises any more. The young want change. They want it quickly. Anyone who offers it to them is welcome, no questions asked.
It’s not political amnesia alone that defines them. What defines them also is the search for a new India. They have heard about it before, in election doublespeak. But once elections are over, the traditional dynamics of Indian politics come back into play. Caste based reservations. Pampering of khaps. Vote bank politics. Socialist rhetoric. Gender prejudice. And corruption, all pervasive corruption. The more things promise to change, the more they stay the same. Both Congress and the BJP have the same problem: They seek the comfort of numbers on the basis of the existing status quo. The young resent that. They know they have no role to play in such politics. Their only hope lies in change, and Modi for them represents the possibility of that change. Rahul doesn’t. (In fact, last week’s Cabinet reshuffle underscored that.)
Rahul doesn’t because he’s a Congressman, a Gandhi. Whereas Modi is not the BJP. He is a lone wolf. He may make all the right noises but he reports to no one, is accountable to none That’s why he takes the kind of decisions a party man may not, being forced to balance countervailing forces. Modi balances nothing. He allows rebellion to raise its head and then squashes it. The young see that as the capacity to act, to take a decision against all odds. That’s why Modi appeals to them. He’s everything they want to see in the new India. Quick decision making. Decisive policy changes that can achieve swift results. No looking back at the past. The burial of history, and a new Discovery of India. It’s ironic Nehru’s great grandson has abdicated that role. It’s equally ironic the BJP which saw glory in our Hindu heritage has now found itself a leader unabashedly campaigning to be the next PM on the plank of a new, modern, unapologetic identity that seeks to capture the future.
Will he succeed? I have no clue. The algorithms of electoral politics are fickle. But many people believe (and no, they are not all BJP flunkies) that he could. Traditional arithmetics don’t give him the numbers. But then, a wave just might.