AFP (From Outlook 31 December 2012)
Across lines Modi’s women followers cut across age groups
women/youth
The Benediction Of Bens
Modern, city-dwelling women of Gujarat adore Modi and seem to think he can do no wrong
COMMENTS PRINT
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Fan Club

  • Much of the “Modi fever” in Gujarat is the result of his vocal women followers and fans
  • Most of Modi’s women followers are from the cities and belong to the middle or upper middle class
  • Working women and business women point out how they feel safe in Gujarat’s cities
  • Modi’s development agenda too has resonance with them
  • A strong go-getter, that’s what women see Modi as

***

Narendra Modi is quite the ladies’ man, so it would seem in the cities of Gujarat. Many of his unabashed fans are modern, working Gujarati women. Meera K. Selarka, an insurance advisor from Ahmedabad, in her early fifties, says Modi is the only leader she has worshipped since Indira Gandhi. “Labelling Narendra Modi as a political star or hero amounts to limiting the appeal of his personality,” she gushes. “In my social circle, most of us feel he’s the best thing to have happened to Gujarat. There’s been no leader like him for decades. India needs a politician like him.” Zarna Sheth, a fashion designer from Baroda, calls the sweeping wave of female support for the chief minister “Modi fever”. She says, “My mother-in-law and my teenaged daughter—both are equally in awe of him. Let’s face it, he has brought about a kind of revolution. We all associate Modi with positive development. He has instilled in us a sense of self-confidence.”

LensOnNews, an online media site, conducted an opinion poll of 12,078 voters after the filing of nominations was over. It only confirmed what is well known—that Modi enjoys a significantly higher popularity among women than among men. Indeed, in the eyes of urban, middle-class Gujarati women, Modi can do no wrong. If his detractors expose the underbelly of Gujarat’s growth model—low literacy, the worsening of the lot of the poor, marginalisation of women and the loss of livelihoods and resource bases—they will be dismissed in a hurry.

Modi has uncannily emerged as a larger-than-life figure, a saviour of urban women from the big, bad world. The sweeping confidence in him stems possibly from the view that he, as a strong, male leader who gives impressive speeches, has managed to offer what women value: a sense of security and safety. “Look at what’s happening in Delhi! Horrific rapes day after day! Such a thing wouldn’t happen here,” is commonly heard in Gujarat when talk  turns to women’s safety. “Filmstar-politicians of the south like N.T. Rama Rao and MGR were hero-worshipped by women. Modi has won the same kind of following without having starred in a movie,” says Rafat Naeem Qadri of Ahmedabad, who edits Bilkul, an English fortnightly. “The Congress has lured 40 lakh women with a ‘Ghar Nu Ghar’ scheme, promising cheap housing, but despite that, there seems to be a craze for Modi the leader, the hero.”

Nikhil Shah, a Baroda-based businessman, does not begrudge Modi his popularity with women. His wife Raksha, a freelance website designer, is impressed with Modi’s “style of working, his long-term vision, his ease with technology”. “He’s popular because he’s well-mannered, considerate and oozes charisma. He’s like a Bollywood star,” says Shah.

Just as surely as Brand Modi has found a place on the mantelpiece of middle-class Gujarati homes, his hard-nosed, media-savvy personality has planted itself firmly in the minds of Gujarati women. Zarna Sheth believes “his body language speaks volumes”. Meera Selarka says she’s smitten by “his intelligence, the way he handles his critics”.

More discerning observers speak of the TINA factor—there seems no alternative to Modi in sight. “There’s no visible political opposition, and therefore, dissenting voices are muted,” says Indu Agnihotri, of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies. “It’s a very middle-class mentality that Modi represents good governance. How can you call the silencing of the minorities and of alternative voices good governance?”

As Ganesh Devy, a Baroda-based activist, says, it’s not possible to rationalise and explain Modi’s popularity with urban women. He says perhaps “a section of the state likes to have a ruthless ruler”. Meera Velayudhan, a Gujarat-based gender issues scholar, ventures an explanation: “Religiosity, combined with modern living, is really the ethos of Gujarati cities, and Modi reflects that mentality. The globalised, commercial cities he has built appeal to the middle and upper middle class, who are part of this development.”

Roopal Trivedi, a housewife in Ahmedabad, counts herself part of this positive change: “I can step out of my house alone at 2 am and feel safe. Loans for women entrepreneurs are easier here. There is more employment thanks to increasing industrialisation.” One woman says she’s proud that Modi is now an “international figure, bigger than his party”. Her 84-year-old mother adores Modi too.

However, his popularity is less universal. Hundreds of miles from the posh colonies of Gujarat’s cities, rural women have taken active part in people’s movements against the miseries Modi’s brand of development has brought through mindless industrialisation. Says Velayudhan, “The post-earthquake tax holiday offered to industry in Kutch, where 44 industries have been set up since 2001, and the fast-paced push given to industry on the Saurashtra and Kutch coast has undermined traditional livelihoods, affecting thousands of women.” Organisations like the Working Group on Women and Land Ownership, a Gujarat-based network of ngos, puts up a brave fight against the increasing exploitation of poor women and marginalised communities. Such groups will point out that the real story in Gujarat, being written in the villages, isn’t the ‘Prince Modi and his Swooning Gopikas’ fairytale it is made out to be.

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COMMENTS PRINT
gujarat polls
The Gujarat strongman does it thrice in a row. More modest than he’d have liked, but he’ll no doubt make a play for India’s top job.
Saba Naqvi
gujarat polls
Will the Congress finally ask itself tough questions now?
Cover Story
The hill kingdom was only cause for cheer for Congress
Prarthna Gahilote
opinion
The Congress is left to count its gains; Modi’s success infuses a certain piquancy into the choices the NDA has to make in the run-up to 2014
Harish Khare
rss and modi
Modi’s big bang victory has neutralised, at least for now, the Sangh’s opposition to him
Prarthna Gahilote
Interview
Once a force to reckon with in the BJP, the man who called Vajpayee a mukhota
Panini Anand
opinion
By plotting a development course, Modi created pro-incumbency
Nirmala Sitharaman
victims
Amidst all the cheer for Narendra Modi, dissenting voices—not just Muslims, but Gujaratis of all backgrounds.
Panini Anand
muslims
A climate of fear combined with Congress ineptitude drove Muslims to Modi
Pragya Singh
Interview
The director of Final Solution, a searing documentary on the 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat
Namrata Joshi
women/youth
Why Modi is a powerful magnet for young men and women
Priyadarshini Sen
opinion
Only one voice in Gujarat, said the visiting prince. How wrong he was.
Shiv Visvanathan
the middle class
Arch-deliverer of progress: Modi fits the bill. The middle class wants nothing more.
Debarshi Dasgupta
Modi & india inc
Big industry, Modi feed off each other in win-win relationship
Lola Nayar
MEDIA
Modi made it impossible for the media to ignore him
Anuradha Raman
Cover Story/ opinion
Anti-Modi crusaders run their rabid campaigns blindfolded
Madhu Purnima Kishwar

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