Narendra Modi as prime minister for 10 years reached the pinnacle of his political glory with the inauguration of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024. How will this reshape the destiny of India? Can the opposition INDIA group in any way diminish the stature Modi has gained over these years? Will Modi’s phenomenal persona and his mass appeal alone take the BJP to a 400-plus victory at the hustings in May 2024 provided the elections are not advanced.
Here, we are analysing the charismatic personality of Modi—how different a politician he is and how he has changed the India polity ever since he entered politics.
Modi became a chief minister even before becoming an MLA and he became prime minister when he was only a first-time MP. He won numerous political battles for the BJP and single-handedly made the BJP a majority single party government after a long gap of 30 years. He is the first person who has shown the courage to include all the core aspirations of the BJP in the election manifesto and exclusively on the BJP’s declared political agenda and repeatedly win elections. In 10 years, he implemented them all and set a new style in politics. I once asked Modi the secret of his political success. He said: “When I take a decision, I take it on the lines of the party agenda; I don’t bother about its consequences. I came to politics empty-handed and I can leave it anytime if the people get fed up with me.” He had said that he has the gravitas to take the most adventurous political risk even at the cost of total annihilation. I have dealt with Modi’s new style, new approach and uncommon capacity to take political risks extensively in my book 'Narendra Modi: Creative Disruptor' (2018).
There are many firsts in Modi’s political career graph. He has broken all records all politicians in the past had achieved. He has reframed, redefined and reinterpreted all the political discourses that were familiar in India’s political history. Modi was not born in a grand political family with a silver spoon and a well-defined orchestrated dynastic pedigree. Neither was he the most brilliant academic nor did he belong to a political lineage that we so easily take for granted. He also did not speak the idiom that India is most used to. Neither was he the darling of the Indian media, industry, political class or social elite. How did Modi accomplish a record that beats even that of Jawaharlal Nehru? His real strength is his direct connect with the masses.
Remember, even after 10 years as prime minister and 13 years as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi still is more popular than he was in 2014 when he first became prime minister and 2001 when he first became the chief minister of Gujarat. His entire political life was surrounded by insurmountable controversies. He was haunted by an uncompromising, hostile media. The socio-political elite in the country laughed and ridiculed him.
With the inauguration of the Ram temple, Modi has re-established the glory of India’s cultural heritage and rebooted a nationalism based on India’s cultural ethos.
What is the secret of Modi’s success? Did anybody believe in the heart of hearts that Article 370 can be abrogated? Did anybody imagine that the fabulous Ram temple in Ayodhya will become possible in our lifetime? With the inauguration of the Ram temple, Modi has fulfilled the aspirations of the Hindus nourished for over five centuries. There is perhaps no parallel in history of reclaiming a sacred land occupied by the invaders in a short span of 35 years when the BJP had first taken up the agitations in 1988 at its Palampur Resolution. With this, Modi has re-established the glory of India’s cultural heritage and rebooted a nationalism based on India’s cultural ethos. With this, Modi has ushered in an era of golden age similar to that of Chandra Gupta, and Vikramaditya in the pre-Muslim invasion and his achievement is equal to that of Chhatrapati Shivaji who established a Hindu empire at the zenith of Aurangzeb’s Mughal empire. Now, we are in a democracy and every action and his success are tested at the ballot box.
There are many critics who say Modi is all propaganda and headline hunting. There are some who tried to establish that Modi is a creation of international-quality public-relations. However, the world has not seen any public relations that have succeeded over a long span. For instance, many attributed Modi’s 2014 poll victory partly to the efforts of Prashant Kishor. But Kishor himself failed repeatedly in many states when he tried to replicate it for parties in the opposition. In 2014, Modi’s election campaign was anchored on the promise, Ache Din Aane Wale Hai (good days are here to come) and Chai Pe Charcha (debate over a cup of tea). In this election, Modi has extensively used the most modern technology to make more than larger-than-life images to communicate with the masses. He made the most extensive use of social media and imageries, symbolism and catchy PR techniques, which totally changed the style of poll campaigns in India. While the opposition was still in the 1980s mould, Modi spoke the language of the 21st century young India. For instance, in the 1960s, the Tatas, Birlas and Singhanias were the whipping boys of the Left, and the Ambanis in the late 1990s, and now Rahul Gandhi is using Adani to create a socialist narrative. This was bound to backfire in a free market economy.
Modi set a record in the number of miles travelled by aircraft and the number of rallies addressed. In 2019, Modi’s campaign theme was Modi Ho To Mumkin Hai (Modi can make the impossible possible). For 2024, it seems that ‘Viksit Bharat’ and ‘Modi’s Guarantee’ are the new themes. Modi is thriving more than his promises on his performance. He does what he says. And by all records, Modi has been the most inexpensive Prime Minister India ever had. When he shifted to Delhi from Gujarat, he closed his bank account and donated his savings to women welfare schemes in Gujarat. Even the housing plot he got as an MLA in Gandhi Nagar, he returned to the state. It is not only because of his training as a RSS pracharak, but also because of his personal character and reticence that Modi is branded as a saintly figure in the Indian political landscape.
Our topic here is how Modi is different from the regular Indian politician. Modi has successfully built an image of detachment around him. He is unbeatable, unassailable and he has no equals in Indian politics today. The way he conducted a yogic life in the fortnight preceding the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya has established him as a yogi. The agenda for the 2024 election is set here. Many now think it will be an easy walkover for the BJP in the polls. This is where my initial assessment of being a creative disruptor comes into play. It is well-known how a whole new controversy was created when Modi demonetised the rupee on November 8, 2016. This led to the great digital revolution. The Jan Dhan Yojana is now considered the marvel that made direct money transfer possible.
Modi’s return to power in 2024 is again assured because of the passage of the 33 per cent reservation for women bill, which the opposition parties were glossing over for decades. Making the triple talaq a crime has endeared a section of Muslim women, and the schemes for empowering women in India were never so effectively executed until Modi.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched in 2015 became so relevant in the fight against COVID in 2020. All these initiatives make Modi a seer. Modi is a tireless campaigner during elections. He fights from the front and he puts his record at stake in every election. No other politician has shown such gumption. Modi brought yoga into his personal lifestyle and at the world stage through World Yoga Day. India’s reputation on the world stage as a voice of peace, non-alignment and fight against terror has never been as loud as it is today. India is respected and Modi is heard by world leaders with respect, and for the confidence and reason that he personifies. No other politician has spent so many days at the frontiers in freezing cold with the soldiers, and guiding children in examinations through his popular “Mann Ki Baat” as Modi. Modi’s tireless effort to fight corruption, dynasty in politics and favouritism and parochialism has no parallel. Is Modi riding a tiger? There are many like the proverbial fox who wait for Modi to slip and fall. I have heard many saying they are not able to tame him because every move makes him successful. This actually is what makes Modi the phenomenon that India had not witnessed before.
(Views expressed are personal)
(This appeared in the print as 'What Makes Modi The Phenomenon He Is?')
(R Balashankar is Former National Convener of the BJP’s intellectual cell and is now a member of the BJP’S national training and publication department.)