Tuesday, 1 October 2013

India 2014: Narendra Modi, his campaign, why the attention?

Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat has taken it upon himself to rather give an extremely different impetus to selecting the Prime Minister of India and thereby the coalition. No other party, including the Congress (I) has ever gone to the polls with a one person image. One person may have campaigned in the past, but seldom drawn so much attention to themselves. While there are supporters, critics, nay-sayers and vehement opposition, one must recognize the change he has brought in the pre-electoral phase in the country.

Considering that the literacy rate of India is low and the population of India that is still below the redesignated poverty line (and the earlier poverty line,) most parties do not publish a manifesto early on, almost 6 months or more before the actual elections. Establishing a precedent in his own party, Narendra Modi has steered (despite lack of complete support) to have the BJP name him as the person responsible for the Campaign as well as acknowledged him as their Prime Ministerial candidate. To change the will of a party with a record during the unparalleled Atal Behari Vajpayee Ji, is no ordinary achievement.

These are the notes of one who has been skeptic of Narendra Modi and his PM ambitions, read on if you can spare some time ...

The BJP has always had difficulty in support in rural areas as well as support in states where they have minimal or no presence. They also have limited grass-roots support for field work, and thereby need support of organizations including but not limited to the RSS, VHP or groups like the Bajrang Dal. The price they have to pay for the latter two at the very least is to adopt an elusively named "Hindutva" as a policy. It is unclear as to what the interpretation of Hindutva is, considering that Indian religion over millennia has developed into one of the world's most cosmopolitan religion with a lot of tolerance and acceptance toward other religions and minorities. Building a Temple at (the disputed site in) Ayodhya is  a lot more than a civil construction or a temple dedication. It is rife with controversy and having promised that, any failure would undoubtedly affect Modi's team if he were to get power. Considering the flashpoints in the past where we have examples throughout Indian independence of violent conflicts between Hindu and Muslim groups or disparate caste groups, this will be no easy achievement. In states and territories with diminished presence of the BJP he has been forced to coalition politics. The difficulty is each party joining the coalition has its person agenda which may not be in synchrony with his policies. As a strong leader he needs to sway their agenda to mesh with his own or risk vacillating support when he attempts to pass bills.

In his present tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the absence of him while heavy water logging took place in several cities and regions has not been seen in positive light. However, if the situation is now under control and the issue of flood/water-logging addressed, that would mean he has a team that can execute even whilst he is not present in his state. The media of course seldom covers the opposition party in good light in India forcing them to resort to their own propaganda channels which unfortunately are not fully trusted. It seems his comment on Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit was to point this out, but the more vernacular and speech, the more likely that the press interpretation becomes varied and confusing.

What has Narendra Modi achieved in his campaign that is vital to success?
  1. Beyond the urban and semi-urban voter, his name and image are now known to rural-urban transit areas and rural areas too. The campaign has been to deal with the lack of field/grass-roots workers and there is no doubt that the campaign has reached.
  2. The Campaign has also carefully addressed the Urban voter whom the BJP depend on a lot in their previous successes.
  3. He has forced media to compare states based on their performance. We haven't seen these statistics published in earlier elections.
  4. He has confronted the party in power in terms of the lack of clarity in Leadership. Although the public seem to understand who's who behind the present UPA government, they do not see Dr.Manmohan Singh, an able economist and former RBI governor as a strong Prime Minister. Such an attack previously launched by Shri L K Advani was less successful, but with Modi it does seem to have gained more traction.
  5. In projecting himself, Modi has also forced the Congress-(I) to try and post a candidate on their own behalf as their future prime ministerial candidate. This has undoubtedly led them into the older criticism of dynastic politics.
  6. Unlike the BJP leaders of the past, including Shri L K Advani, Modi has tried his best to connect with as many of the population. He has modeled his campaign much like the US presidential election. He has reached out to Indians living abroad, who normally do not statistically exercise their right to franchise in high numbers.
  7. Narendra Modi has drawn all the parties allied to the UPA to actually target him rather than other senior leaders of the BJP, affirming that he has indeed achieved his numero uno status within the party.
  8. Each criticism, note on his propaganda has always worked in his favor. The UPA has not been able to entirely turn the eyes of the media away from him. Considering the amount of control in Indian media & press (which is alarming,) this is no ordinary feat.
  9. Undoubtedly his self-promotional campaign has drawn enemies within the BJP and former allies of the NDA. However he seems to have dealt with it without complaining or repeatedly attacking those who disapprove of him within his own alliance plans.
  10. Despite all that we are led to think, the UPA has not been able to present a strong economic revival plan nor demonstrate any financial instrument to stabilize Indian economy amidst a global recession. The NDA has their own ideas, and Gujarat's amiability to launching companies (in image, if not in mere statistics) has garnered a lot of support to Modi's positioning of the problem.
  11. Although he is not an impressive orator to compare with some of our past leaders, including Sardar Patel to whom he has drawn attention in comparison (as an Indian leader emerging from Gujarat,) he has been able to deliver his speeches with far more conviction than almost any other leader with his level of aspirations. Needless to say, his oratory is far better than our existing Prime Minister or most of the Congress (I) Leaders.
  12. When he advocated the "Common Code of Conduct," Modi did not succeed in convincing the press that he was actually talking about a 'Secular', 'Religiously Accepting' policy by removing diversity in the name of religion. Yet, that is what a "Common Code of Conduct" would achieve. 
What Narendra Modi has not yet achieved, but would have to, to ensure that the BJP gets a majority at least as the NDA alliance is not simple.
  1. Narendra Modi, in many of his campaign posters has not drawn enough attention to the BJP symbol for voting. However for rural voters, this is necessary and he has to somehow make his larger than life posters also reflect the electoral symbol of the party that he belongs to.
  2. While everyone has projected him as having been incompetent of stopping the Gujarat riots at the time when the Central Government was headed by Shri A B Vajpayee, he needs to somehow produce proof to the contrary that the common man will understand. The UN report does talk about a whole year of unrelated violence precipitating into the issue that is taking focus. Sadly, the onus is on him to prove that he did all that he could in stemming the violence. This is exactly what people are finding difficult to believe and he hasn't made statements or releases to the contrary.
  3. By attacking Rahul Gandhi or Dr. Manmohan Singh (an economist lauded by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen himself,) Modi risks losing the lime-light.
  4. In terms of foreign policy, economic policy, the BJP in their earlier tenure did prove that they could continue economic reforms. However somewhere clinging on to the Hindutva, Modi has used the term"Nationalism", when in fact he seems to have meant "Patriotism" and "Indigenous Industry." Vernacular when translated to languages that the rural public have access to, needs to reflect this accurately or risk misinterpretation. His words were clear, "I am a Hindu and a Nationalist."
  5. In terms of education and administration, Modi has not been acknowledged as equally educated as some of India's previous Leaders (Shri A B Vajpayee, Shri Narasimha Rao.) 
  6. He has not used the point that from a Tea Stall owner to a Party heavyweight, he has now shown a variance in the new Indian dream (cognate with the American Dream.) 
  7. He has not addressed comments about his being a Bachelor, where there are claims to the contrary. However, he seems to be comparing himself to the unparalleled Shri A B Vajpayee Ji, and may be forcing his supporters to have extremely high expectations. (In my opinion, his being a Bachelor, or having taken up Child Marriage that he did not later advocate does not really merit his stand or deride it in any way.)
  8. The press has created an image as if Narendra Modi does not really gel well with other party leaders in different states where the BJP has been successful. This has been projected so in Madhya Pradesh and needs amends. Fortunately he has the time to plan and execute amends.
  9. Indifference between Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, whose party was formerly part of the NDA may be a costly affair. If Modi can do what he has managed in Karnataka with Yediyurappa (despite the fact that the state government elections) did not work well for the NDA and the BJP, he will be seen as a transformational leader. At present the interpretation is more of a strong and stubborn person which hasn't scored enough high points as he is perceived by his critics as disapproving anyone who is against him.
  10. World economy is sliding and Narendra Modi would like the reins of the nation while almost every economic instrument is falling apart. The solution will be bitter medicine, if we adopt heavy indigenous industrial push and clamp a lot of our imports which will have an equal effect on export business. 
  11. He has a plan ready to win the elections, however has not been very clear on a timeline of how he would go about addressing the plethora of issues India has. This of course is important only for Urban voters and key supporters from the Industry sectors.
  12. The Congress (I), leading the UPA has been very secretive both in the past and even now on their approach. Their strategy has always been to go with the freebies. The unfortunate truth is that these freebies have proven to work in the past, yet movements like Anna Hazares may offset interest in those who provide the freebies. This happens despite the keen watchful eye of the Election Commission which has been stronger since reforms introduced by T N Seshan and his successors.
  13. The BJP/NDA plan for Kashmir is rather unclear. "Restoring to Normalcy" is a statement that has little to explain. Naxalite influence in Chattisgarh, the Telengana movement have already dented a struggling economy in those regions.
  14. The one thing that the Nehru family (which is repeatedly labeled the Gandhi family,) has is a charisma to draw crowds and seem amiable. Modi, carrying a whole lot of power is seldom perceived as amiable and approachable (although he is a lot more approachable through multiple media as compared to leaders of the Congress (I) and members of the UPA alliance.
  15. Some of the statistics presented by the propagandists working with Narendra Modi are incorrect and it is in their best interests to present facts. Presentation along with the facts will work in his favor while immunizing him from attacks of the kind (especially on depicted numbers of inflation, GDP, and so forth.)

Personally, I have been skeptical about Narendra Modi, mostly owing to the confusion as to whether the BJP and all the NDA allies will unequivocally support him, if they are able to gain the majority. The game plan of the Congress (I) and UPA at present is sketchy and it always has been in this era of coalition politics. The UPA cannot gain any strength by mentioning that their judicial investigations of scams, criminal charges have been far higher than any other party. This in part is seen more as their failure, which is more a product of coalition politics, having to put up with parties of the UPA alliance with entirely different agendas than the Congress (I) itself.

The attention to Narendra Modi is not purely self created. India has been craving for a strong leader who would transform the nation into a true economic superpower. Perception of the people plays a key role during the elections in India, and that has swayed towards Narendra Modi. There is no point in painting him entirely as a leader unable to stop a genocide, and any admittance of a mistake, however truthful or necessary will force him to be perceived as weak. He seems to be avoiding this. I have seen the oratory of the younger Nehru dynasty leaders - Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have botched up speeches even worse than Sonia Gandhi whose native language is certainly not Hindi. They have contradicted themselves in more than one issue for whatsoever reason. The truth is, no party or coalition has a candidate who can portray himself to go head-on-head with Modi after his image building campaign.

What I am most concerned is political maneuvers by components of the UPA who are in power, as well as other nations (especially after the Arab Spring,) may help in building up major perceived opposition among the people. Modi's head-on confrontation with the UPA has to be most careful, as they seem to have both tactical and strategic games working for them. The role of the 'Aam Aadmi' party during its debut is unlikely to cause much, but may result in splitting votes and reducing margins. Further Modi has not yet begun to introduce his team, especially within the BJP. Modi's political craft is quite uncertain as compared to Pranab Mukherjee who took the President post as a win-win for himself to pave way for the younger Nehru dynasty. It is also uncertain in comparison with some BJP leaders, notably the CM of Madhya Pradesh. These might easily turn into strategic and tactical weapons in politics against Modi. Further, when Rajiv Gandhi drew too much attention to himself, the end was not quite successful for him, but worked in favor of his party. Modi is dangerously close to a similar situation.

It is quite a farce that the press keeps comparing Gujarat state's performance with other states, although they would dare not present figures for purely Congress (I) dominant states or UPA allied states. It doesn't matter whether they statistically show up as #12. We are aware of roads being recorded as laid, when in fact nothing has happened. Graft has to be addressed, but by senior political administrators and not by kangaroo courts or more laws. No party or coalition has a plan yet to address graft, excepting that they want to address it. It is also strange to pin all the blame for Godhra on one man, considering that it was a Congress (I) led coalition Prime Minister, namely P V Narsimha Rao who was unable to stop the demolition of the Masjid in the disputed site in Ayodhya.

I know that there are those who consider Modi to be demonic and genocidal. The clashes that happened then in Gujarat and even recently in Uttar Pradesh have been most scary. India is a fragile country as the states are not united together as one strong unit at the center. Coalition politics may ruin our chances to become a superpower, and Modi seems to be a strong bet to minimize the number of Coalition partners in the bid for power. He also needs to label a second-in-command who is also perceived strong, but is loyal to him. This is yet to come. Representation of Women is another area where he has been tackled, but I am not sure Gujarat produces a high number of Women politicians even from the past. The Thackerays in Mumbai do not seem to be most supportive at the outset, but then again their support however minimal has helped many parties during elections.

These are the notes of one who has been skeptic of Narendra Modi and his PM ambitions. Yet, I too crave for a strong Indian leader who can minimize the coalition fragmentation. I see almost no other strong alternative. The UPA in their dealing with Trinamool Congress (esp. Mamata Banerjee) has also been testament to their inability to dictate terms in the coalition. There have been too many all-party meets with no results. The terror-attack in Mumbai (dubbed 26/11) is a huge black mark on the current UPA. The new "Fodder Scam" conviction is also testament to the level of corruption and inability to avoid or stem it. Cure has always been unsuccessful, especially in relating to the 2G License issue scam and countless other issues involving graft. No preventive measures have been implemented with better effectiveness as far as I perceive. 

Yet, it is going to take Modi a lot more than creating a strong perceived image to actually taking the helm of Indian politics. It is a tall ask from any person, and Modi needs to somehow reach more people through the press which is more than likely ignoring him thanks to censorship and media control.