India: PM candidate Modi lets dirty work take care of itselfBy Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Sep 19, 2013 12:18PM UTC
Almost a week after being announced as his party’s prime ministerial candidate for the next parliamentary polls in India, Narendra Modi has not exactly scorched the tarmac. Those who expected a sudden shift in gears in his campaign have found the steady pace that he has continued with, somewhat difficult to unravel.
Like previous years, Modi began his activities on September 17, his birthday, with a visit to his nonagenarian mother, Hira Ba, who stays with one of his younger brothers – a clerk in the government over which the elder sibling presides. The bulk of tweets on his Twitter handle @narendramodi since May 13, the day when he was anointed by his party, have been largely congratulatory and polite thank you notes to fans. In between, there was the electrifying meeting in Rewari, a small town less than a 100 km from the heart of New Delhi, where he addressed a gathering consisting of thousands of former soldiers.
On the most volatile issue in India these days – Hindu-Muslim riots in Uttar Pradesh that have left almost 50 dead – Modi has been judiciously silent. If there were any who expected Modi to jump into the fray and follow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President, Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi to visit Muzaffarnagar, the district town which has borne the brunt of the violence; they have been mistaken. Reasons behind this are not difficult to seek: Modi’s party colleagues have done the ‘dirty job’ for him.
On September 18, story petrel, and one time iconic leader, Uma Bharti waged a battle with police in Lucknow the state capital to prevent arrest of her party legislator who has been accused of inciting communal violence. She in fact warned of ‘more tension’ in Uttar Pradesh if politicians from her party were arrested.
Modi has actually not felt the need to intervene personally in UP by paying a visit to the sites of communal violence because the task of deepening inter-community prejudices and social cleavages is being done in absentia.
As far as Modi is concerned, he has to balance between two facets of his persona – the one that wins elections by making use of existing intolerance and dislike of the other community and the other that governs efficiently to enable him to claim that he has moved on from the discourse of 2002 when he had infamously stated that relief camps after communal riots could not be construed as “baby manufacturing factories” by Muslim residents of these camps.
Modi has in fact not even changed his programme after his elevation. On September 3, his office announced a schedule of his programmes through September and he has stuck to the plan. The meeting in Rewari was pre-scheduled and so is the forthcoming meeting in Bhopal on September 25.
The latter meeting will be keenly watched because it is in the state capital of Madhya Pradesh that goes to the polls this winter and where Modi’s party colleague and rival Shivraj Chouhan is chief minister and ready with his development model to buttress claims that Modi is not the only efficient chief minister in his party.
Over the next few months, Modi’s task is cut out: balance between the two facets of his persona. This will ensure that his core supporters do not get disillusioned by perceived abandoning of his aggressive brand of Hindu nationalistic politics and the neo-converts do not get put off by his old-style politics where he underplays the development plank, a strategy Modi has skilfully used for the past several years.
As Modi’s days roll into weeks and they convert into months, all eyes will be on him and to assess if he is beginning to make a transition from an aggressive state leader to one who is more acceptable not just within the country but also internationally.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay has recently written ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. The book is available at: http://www.uread.com/book/narendra-modi-nilanjan-mukhopadhyay/9789382618478