THE English media does not seem, by and large, to know how to handle Narendra Modi’s victory in the Gujarat elections.
“Modi is back for the third time, but can he go beyond Gujarat?” asked The Times of India ( December 21). “If the BJP credits its big win to the Chief Minister’s governance record this self-congratulating message isn’t without basis, the paper said. Claiming that “despite his popularity in Gujarat, Modi is a deeply polarising figure” the paper said that “Modi’s image as a Hindutva hardliner therefore remains and it can’t but impact his national ambitions.” The paper predicted that Modi’s transition to the national stage won’t be easy and advised him “to widen his appeal across the social and political board”. Hoever, it added “his hat-trick in Gujarat is no mean feat” though “taking strike beyond Gujarat will be a tougher challenge”.
Deccan Herald (December 21) said Modi’s “hat-trick of victories … has significance beyond the boundaries of the State,” maintaining that the fifth consecutive defeat of the Congress shows “that Modi’s development and good government plank could not be dismissed as a mere hype”. The paper said that the election victory “has significance far beyond the boundaries of the State and propels Modi to the national stage of politics”. The New Indian Express (December 24) said the “mini-revolt by Keshubhai Patel made no difference to Modi’s juggernaut” and the BJP “has reason to be happy that it has bucked the anti-incumbency trend”. The paper noted that it was “a development agenda and not a communal or caste divide” that was “an endorsement of Modi’s model of governance”. It doubted, however “whether the spectacular BJP win in Gujarat will catapult Modi to the Delhi stage” saying that it is premature to speculate upon. The Hindu (December 21) while saying “there was never an iota of doubt” about Modi winning the elections, it nevertheless pointed out that “the real issue at stake was not the electoral map of Gujarat, but the political future of Mr Modi”. Even if the BJP’s victory was two short of 117 seats, said the paper, that “statistical detail cannot detract from the larger story that Modi has joined the ranks of other leaders like Jyoti Basu and Naveen Patnaik who had led their party to victory three times.”
The paper described Modi as “King of his jungle”, whatever that means. The Economic Times (December 21) conceded that the “fact that Modi dropped a couple of seats as compared to the 2007 tally does not take away the magnitude of his achievement.” But then it added: “Nor does it, at the same time, give him unstoppable political momentum of the kind he had hoped for.”
Incidentally, reference can be made to an interview that Keshubhai Patel gave to The Times of India which tells a lot. He was asked (December 23) how he would evaluate the performance of his newly-formed Gujarat Parivartan Party. Patel is quoted as saying: “We won only two seats, but we damaged BJP’s chances in at least fifteen, especially in Saurashtra. Can you imaging Modi’s overall tally had been if we not been in the race? He would easily have pocketed 130 to 135 seats.” And that tells a lot. In the circumstances one must assume that Modi won not just 115 seats but 135.
The Asian Age (December 23 ) felt that the victory of Modi even if he won two seats less than in 2007 “is quite impressive in its own right”. The Congress it said “could not storm the Modi citadel”. But it made the point that “while Mr Modi’s achievement in this election remains noteworthy, many high-ranking BJP leaders should be breathing a sigh of relief that the Chief Minister didn’t win in a spectacular fashion…..” “Were that the case” the paper said, “they might have had to line up behind the Gujarat Chief Minister in the party leadership stakes.”
The Telegraph (December 21) called Mr Modi as “the secularist ogre” and said “this perception of him tends to obfuscate the fact that he has never compromised on his project to bring economic development and growth to Gujarat.” It is that success, said the paper “that is paying dividend to Mr Modi in electoral terms”.
About the most thoughtful and appropriate comments were made by Hindustan Times (December 21). Having notched up 115 seats, the paper said, many feel “the road to Delhi could become all the smother for the Chief Minister”. The paper said “the victory belongs solely to Mr Modi who worked with super human energy in this campaign.” It praised him for not raising “any divisive issues whether of caste or religion”. It said: “The Congress seemed directionless, even agenda-less” and noted that “there was no single Congress leader in the State capable of countering the Modi juggernaut.” The paper made the point that “it will be very hard put to ignore a Modi’s claim, were he to make one, for the top most post” adding that he has “delivered time and again against severe odds at times”. Saying that “Narendra Modi cannot be described as just another regional leader any more”, the paper emphasised that “this is particularly true of a party which does not have too many tall leaders left”. “So” said the paper, “downplaying this as a modest victory is neither credible nor productive for the party”, adding that “Narendra Modi is the brightest star in the BJP’s firmament today and he is certainly not modest about it.”
There are, among columnists and pseudo secularists quite a few eager and willing to slight Modi. Many of them have daringly expressed their opinions, as, for example Nistula Hebbar who, writing in Economic Times Magazine ( December 23) noted that “to say the least, the political agenda of the BJP heavyweight has been quite antithetical to democratic principles” and there is Yogendra Yadav, writing in The Economic Times (December 21) who wondered whether Modi’s victory “was more an approval of his government or a disapproval of his rivals”. As he saw it “the verdict cannot be seen as a verdict on the government’s record on education and health that left much to be desired.” “Is Moditva compatible with the idea of a democratic and diverse India?” he asked. Sadly, there are many genuises is like Yadav around to mislead readers. That is India’s greatest tragedy. We live in a hate-filled world.