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The Hawk In Flight

Alone, austere and in control, Narendra Modi stands for everything in Gujarat today

The Hawk In Flight
The Hawk In Flight
Modi Manners
  • He is a complete loner
  • No durbars
  • Prefers to eat alone
  • Entertains no relatives: Even his mother does not stay with him.
  • Not emotive at the personal level
  • Is only good at mass interactions
  • Is obsessed with his public image
  • Has a carefully cultivated sartorial style and gestures to suit his public persona
  • Is a workaholic. Election or no election, he works from 6 am to 11 pm.
  • Is tech-savvy and spends considerable time on his laptop


"Modi is like a man possessed when it comes to work. he's in office till 11 PM."
-Arun Jaitley, BJP general secretary

"Modi brought a corporate style to government. So the business class is happy."
-Utkarsh Shah, chamber of commerce

"Narendrabhai isn't personally warm, but he's a tireless worker, campaigner."
-BJP worker

"The local press is against modi. Yet it has not affected his popularity."
-P. Javedekar BJP spokesman

"I am proud that I am a human, and I am a Hindu/ Every moment I experience I am big, wide, I am Sindhu."
—Gaurav, from the anthology Aaankh aa Dhanya Chhe (Blessed are These Eyes), a compilation of verse by Narendra Modi

If the verse is a reflection of the man, then the inner world of Narendra Modi is all about Narendra Modi. That's why even those who claim to be close to the Gujarat chief minister say that on December 23, after the assembly results are out, victorious or vanquished, Modi will in all probability eat his dinner in quiet solitude with himself for company. For at his core, the man seen as one of the most effective mass leaders and rabble-rousers in contemporary Indian politics is a complete loner. No one gets through the armour of authority that he wears, no one can claim to have established a personal, warm relationship with the CM. The man is a paradox—a solitary soul with a following that would be the envy of even international cult leaders.

As is the rule, his home speaks volumes about the inner man. Most chief ministers, even minor politicians, run huge rambling establishments with a retinue of staff, live-in retainers, and a regular flow of hangers-on. Besides the security staff, Modi employs a personal staff of just three who live at his official residence—one cook, two peons. When the cook is on leave, one of the peons prepares dinner for the man who is the toast of corporate India.


Five months after Godhra and the riots, Modi rewrote history. A BJP joke: "Raju guide became mahatma.


He is also the rare politician who does not enjoy a durbar. Even the three regular official assistants—O.P., Tanmay and Dinesh—who screen all calls made to Modi do not have access to his home. An old-timer in the Gujarat BJP, considered close to Modi, says, "People used to get hurt as they were unable to establish a personal rapport. But we realised he did not mean any ill. That is just the way he is."

So much so that when his mother showed up for his swearing-in as chief minister in 2002, Modi did not publicly acknowledge her. When other BJP leaders realised who the elderly woman was, they organised a seat for her. There is undoubtedly a rigid austerity about the man who deals in crores and has, since the defeat of the NDA in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and the death of Pramod Mahajan, been the main finance organiser of the BJP.

So, what drives Modi? A popular joke about him in the state BJP rides on a comparison to the character, Raju Guide, who people suddenly saw as a holy man in the Dev Anand classic, Guide. Modi was nothing more than an RSS pracharak, exiled from Gujarat for fanning trouble within the different factions of the state BJP. From 1996 onwards, he lived in a room in the BJP's Ashoka Road national headquarters in Delhi, ate at the communal mess, and hung around joking with journalists when he was made in-charge of the national media between 1998-99. Then on October 7, '01, he became the first pracharak to cross the lakshman rekha—occupy high office when he was sent to Gujarat as chief minister. The Godhra incident and subsequent riots, and five months later he rewrote Indian history, and "Raju guide became a Mahatma", goes the joke in BJP circles.

Modi orchestrated a whisper campaign that reduced Ahmed Patel to a Muslim neta.

But even during his years in Delhi, Modi stood out among the regular stock of pracharaks. He understood the mass media and was a master at public speaking but the RSS-ingrained prejudices often showed through. He once told this correspondent that "maas khane wale logon ka vyavhar alag hota hai (meat-eating people have a different temperament)". And Modi wasn't even referring to Muslims but to his own party colleague from Gujarat, the non-vegetarian Kashiram Rana.

Written in... Pracharak Modi from the early ’90s

Years before he occupied political office, Modi had effectively used the Hindu-Muslim card against Ahmed Patel, now one of Sonia Gandhi's closest advisors and then a popular Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch in south Gujarat in 1980 and 1984. In those days, Ahmed Patel was almost never identified as a Muslim, known locally more as Babubhai Patel. That was before Modi the RSS pracharak orchestrated a whisper campaign that reduced Ahmedbhai to a Muslim leader and effectively ended his Lok Sabha career (he now prefers the safe Rajya Sabha route). In a twist of fate, it is the same Ahmed Patel who is today orchestrating the Congress campaign against Modi from New Delhi.

But while the Congress MP has ended up a backroom strategist, the pracharak is now the mega-leader. Historian Ramachandra Guha sees no parallel to Modi in Indian politics. "Jayalalitha, Mayawati and Indira Gandhi, they all had autocratic styles but their careers were built on parties. Modi has obliterated the party and stands for everything in Gujarat. Usually, it is extremist regimes of the Left and Right who throw up such figures, not democracies."

He's even adopted the mannerisms and style of godmen like Murari Bapu. The dress sense too is cultivated.

That Modi has managed this feat is in itself a testament to the man's drive and ambition. He has crafted his own image carefully, adopting the style and mannerisms of popular Gujarati godmen like Morari Bapu. The finger-pointing hand movement, the V-sign with his hands, the confident stride, the trademark half-sleeve kurtas with tight churidars or the full-sleeved, tailored variety with buttoned sleeves. Even the Modi look is carefully cultivated.

He is also the rare figure in Indian politics to become a mass leader without a caste base of his own. Although an OBC, his Ghanchi caste accounts for less than one per cent of Gujarat's population. Which is perhaps why Modi is the first OBC leader to appeal to a middle-class constituency—they see him as a genuine liberaliser.

Former president of the Gujarat chamber of commerce Utkarsh Shah says Modi has become an iconic figure for the business community because he's brought a corporate style of functioning to government. As he put it, "Since Modi himself takes all the big decisions, businessmen don't have to run after other ministers and officers. We are not kept hanging. Modi will call one meeting, get the relevant officer and minister in, examine the project himself and say yes or no. If it's yes then everything moves quickly. No one loses money in delays."

Shah says he has personally received calls from the CM at odd times like 8 am and 11 pm, to seek clarifications about specific projects. "He understands business and personally follows everything." Even Modi's enemies agree the man is a workaholic. The business community, of course, will any day prefer autocratic clarity to even-handed inefficiency. There's also no doubt that Modi has very definite ideas of what development should be, and that he has pursued these with an almost missionary zeal. The middle class swears by his investments in infrastructure.

The cult of the self has also been promoted by Modi weaving himself into the social calendar of Gujarat's booming towns. During the Navaratri season, for instance, Modi makes it a point to visit every small and big town and inaugurate eight to nine navratras every night. It is small steps such as this that have built itself to Moditva, ultimately the result of a man's single-minded dedication to the self.

Psychoanalyst Madhu Sarin believes figures like Modi are moved only by considerations of their own power. "Individuals like this have no empathy at the human level. But they have a grasp and understanding of the insecurities and anxieties of the people who elevate them to the status of demagogues. They play on these anxieties but they are incapable of any real attachment." Modi is certainly attached to power and he does know how to wield it effectively. That is why it is so essential for him to retain power.

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