Figures sometimes tell uncanny tales you wouldn’t have otherwise thought probable. Take for example the TOI-Synovate poll for selecting notable Indians who have outshone in their respective fields in the year just gone by. The results came out in the paper’s Dec 30 edition.
I was looking at the winners in the category of political/social category. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh occupied the first 2 slots with 35% and 22% of the votes. Narendra Modi came third with 19% votes.
It is normal that the leaders of the current day rulers have more popularity in opinion polls because people see and tend to remember them more. But to have no opposition leader of pan-India stature in the top 5 slots is something that is noteworthy.
One might argue Narendra Modi with 19% share of the votes is a tall opposition leader, but the fact is that Sonia led in every city except Ahmedabad and Hyderabad, and that between Sonia and Manmohan their share is 57% of the total. There’s more.
Narendra Modi polled 79% in Ahmedabad, and since state elections were also going on in Gujarat around the same time, it’s no wonder that he received so overwhelming thumbs-up. Who ranks after Modi in the list? It’s Mayavati with 8%.
Looking at the figures it is possible to argue that had the Gujarat elections not been taking place at the time when TOI polls took place or if you put aside the Ahmedabad figure, even Narendra Modi won’t have had the respectable double-digit popular nod.
There is a reason why I’m mentioning these figures. It’s my contention that Narendra Modi is a sectarian popular leader. Yes he is popular among the Hindus in Gujarat, and one may envy him for having successfully created a cult-like image for himself.
But in the process he has also created a deep chasm of division and distrust in the state. If I may quote from the editorial piece, Blame The Middle Class, written by Ashis Nandy, the political psychologist, in yesterday’s TOI, here are some selective excerpts:
Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self- respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.
If Ashis Nandy has his opinion, another columnist Swapan Dasgupta has his too. Dasgupta is effusive about Modi’s ways, and sometimes back in The Telegraph he even went to the extent of comparing Modi with Mahatma Gandhi as someone setting the national agenda.
In the same Dec 30 edition as the TOI-Synovate poll results, Dasgupta in his piece, The Modi charisma, glorifies Modi by saying that he has come to personify courage and integrity. Here’s a selected part from Dasgupta’s:
The Gujarat model is not in conflict with the Bharat model. What has clicked in Gujarat is a leadership style built on innovation, dedication and a resolute defiance of a compromised Establishment. A Modi folklore has been created around an Angry Middle-aged Man with a 56-inch chest.
It has corresponded with subliminal perceptions of good leadership. And the Gujarat voter is no different from the Indian voter.
Well, the game is now defined. As can be seen in the narratives from the 2 eminent writers, the time is upon us to take a side.
With India marching to a new destiny, and considering that the country is more diverse than what our cocoon-like knowledge permits us to realize, whether it’s Modi’s vision as exemplified by Dasgupta (or feared by Nandy) or an all-inclusive progress that takes the country to greater heights remains to be seen.