Modi — still going strong

Published: July 5, 2015
The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House [email protected]

When he won the general elections last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lifted his party to a 32 per cent vote. This means he added about 10 per cent over the average the party achieved in the Vajpayee years and immediately after that.

I have always thought of his support as coming from two different, and disparate, groups. The dominant one is the traditional Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voter, who is attracted to the party because of its principles. By this I mean Hindutva, and the dislike of Muslims expressed through the three primary issues — Ram Janmabhoomi (Muslims should give up their mosque), Uniform Civil Code (Muslims should give up their family law) and Article 370 (Muslims should give up their autonomy in Kashmir).

But I also mean those who admired the BJP as a meritocratic party whose ideological wellspring is located in social work through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This makes it different from the aristocratic and dynastic Gandhi-family led Congress.

The second group of BJP voters came to the party mainly through the attractiveness of Modi. A brilliant speaker (I used to rate him in the same category as Bal Thackeray and Lalu Yadav in being able to connect with the audience, but now I think he’s quite simply the best we have produced in decades), who is able to compress complex issues into simple slogans, Modi comes across as credible. He is a great representative of Indian nationalism and an attractive figure because of his charisma. His promise of a new India and new beginning under him was bought comprehensively by this second group.

This is the background in which we have begun to receive news that India is not really very different either in reality or in the way that the government functions.

The economy hasn’t taken off and the credit rating firm Moody’s has reported a disappointment at the rate of reforms. A staggering report on poverty this week shows that 92 per cent of rural Indian families survive on less than Rs10,000 a month.

Television shows are running back-to-back scams and going after ministers of both the centre and the BJP state governments. Things seem like they are getting back to the same level as they were in the final years of Manmohan Singh’s government.

But in one very significant way they are not. The BJP has won by-elections in the last few weeks in a way that shows that Modi’s personal support is not diminishing.

This can be showed in the unusual election result of states like Tripura and Kerala. In the former, the BJP candidate finished ahead of the Congress, which is remarkable.

In Kerala the BJP candidate, an old and popular leader of the party, got a fourth of the vote. This was many times more than what the party had received in the previous election. Some said it showed that the BJP lotus was blooming in Kerala. Even if it is not, it shows without question that the prime minister’s shine is not fading at a time when the news in the media about his government is mainly negative. And the perception of the outside world, which thought Modi was so promising only a year ago, has also begun to ebb.

What explains this?

How is Modi able to hold on to his constituency despite getting hammered on both perception (through the media) and the reality of execution, as witnessed by daily stories on the state of India?

I think he continues to sail through because he has successfully been able to retain that second group of people whom he attracted to the BJP. I mean those who admire him and believe he will bring change in time. Through all the bad news, he has not let them feel that he has lost his way.

He does this through direct communication. He is independent of the media in that sense, and though he does not communicate on the issues that anchors and reporters want him to (Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and their Lalit Modi connections, for instance), he continues to keep his line open with his admirers through Twitter and through his public speaking.

The expanding nature of the IPL scandal, involving people of almost every party, should otherwise have laid Modi low. But the aspect of his attractiveness that is independent of his party (i.e., the second group) keeps him insulated from the mess.

Its result is that he is given a longer leash by his fans than they have given to any other leader of our time.

Will he be able to continue putting himself above the fray if other scandals continue to emerge in his term? No, the erosion will inevitably come, given the awful state of this country. But for now, he has managed to shine through a period that would have tarnished any other leader but him.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Javelin
    Jul 5, 2015 - 2:11AM

    This is hogwash. The reason Modi is till popular, is his dedication to the country, extremely hard work (11 hours a day) and his gift of oratory. The opposition congress party (if you can consider it an opposition) has inept people like Rahul and Sonia Gandhi leading the old fray and unable to overcome their past history of very poor governance, coupled with incredible corruption in their party. Give Modi TIME and see what he achieves!Recommend

  • sudkan
    Jul 5, 2015 - 4:25AM

    Aakar, you are really incorrigible!

    In some sense, you have pointed towards the truth – the Modi’s charisma and appeal has not dimmed despite all the noise and, in your own words ‘ ‘mainly negative’ coverage by the media.

    Thats because Indian public can clearly see that media is completely and shamelessly biased. And yes, it includes you too, my dear fellow! Indian public has completely discounted the media, basically switched off from the manufacturer noise and stories, and waiting for Modi to deliver.

    If Modi delivers, then he will bury this sorry cabal of paid journalists once and for ever. And you all know it – thats why the desperate scramble for manufactured stories and assorted lies.

    Like the pious baloney you are peddling right here, in this very article. India is the Fastest growing large exogamy – when every other economy is slowing down, including Chinese economy. It is projected to grow by 8% next year, by every independent financial institution.

    And you (an economist of world renown, I am sure!) have discerned that economy is not doing well! Any other such world class talent you are capable of?Recommend

  • prashanth
    Jul 5, 2015 - 5:56AM

    Sorry, I disagree with you. Modi is not an orator of the caliber of Lalu, Nitish or Vajpaye. Though I cannot comment on Bal Thackery. He just works hard on his speeches, that’s all. Modi is not a natural public speaker and it shows.

    Lalu, Nitish or Vajpaye are natural, their deliveries were/ are poetic and they just flow.
    Modi’s speeches are prosaic there is no fluent flow in his speeches.Recommend

  • Salman - SK
    Jul 5, 2015 - 6:58AM

    Author has painted a pretty accurate portrait of challenges and prospects India faces under Prime Minister Modi’s government. Though he has given credit to Modi for the considerable assets, political and personal, he will still attract the ire of Hindutva Brigades who want to see nothing less than total adoration and infallibility of Modi. Regardless, those of us who wish India well were hoping, and still do, that Modi’s government brings transparency, efficiency, good management, and farsightedness to the country, so as to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the dispossessed. India represents an ancient and vibrant civilization whose people deserve to see a high standard of living and happiness. Plus, they are our neighbors with whom we share our culture, cuisine, customs, and common language, so their happiness should make us happy.Recommend

  • Jul 5, 2015 - 7:39AM

    Modi should take college level night courses. Specially, English and history.
    He should be able to afford tutors, because he needs an education,..desperately.
    That will allow him to understand World history, Pharoahs, Greeks, Romans,…
    It is very very discouraging to hear The PM of 1.8 billion people claiming
    plastic surgery was invented Banaras,…5000 years ago. Very disheartening.Recommend

  • Dishum
    Jul 5, 2015 - 7:42AM

    I support a Uniform Civil Code and abolishing Article 370 and this makes me a Muslim hater according to author I believe Muslims are equal and should not be given special privileges. So, by extension of the author’s logic, I hate Muslims because I consider them equal.Recommend

  • Jul 5, 2015 - 8:47AM

    [email protected]: Lalu, Bal Thakre, Nitish are totally idiots when compared to Modi. India never ever had a leader born of his kind, the most intelligent, practical and the only man of visions.Recommend

  • JSM
    Jul 5, 2015 - 9:20AM

    Why should the country have separate laws for Muslims? Muslims seem to be having an extreme feeling of the right to entitlement, Why should it be pandered to? The special privileges should be eliminated immediately. Those who are unhappy can leave to enjoy special favors.Recommend

  • Indian Catholic
    Jul 5, 2015 - 9:21AM

    Family law in India is not just about Muslims, it includes Christians as well. The current hodgepodge of disparate personal & family laws frays our social fabric, gives exalted status to the clergy and inhibits the ability to provide social justice to our masses, especially women and the underprivileged. Just see what happened in the Shah Bano case.

    I unequivocally support a Uniform Civil Code. Why should I be afraid? Already most, if not all, countries in the West have UCC. Nearer home, the Goa Civil Code from the pre-Independence era is also closer to UCC.Recommend

  • jay
    Jul 5, 2015 - 9:23AM

    another low!!!!Recommend

  • C. Nandkishore
    Jul 5, 2015 - 9:47AM

    Just like the monkey does not know what to do with the coconut but still carries it around so is the middle class. They have put all their eggs in Modi basket and are reluctant to see the truth. Modi is an all round failure. Economically no new jobs have been created. Nor do we see anything anything in the near future. Exports are going down for the seventh month running. HSBC PMI for manufacturing is going down and PMI for services is negative (which means forget new jobs, existing jobs are being closed), nearly all top companies have shown negative results, agriculture has grown at 0.2% only, yet MSP increase is less than inflation rate, still farmers are committing suicide, roti (wheat) has increased by 20%, dal by 60%, petrol at $120 used to cost Rs74 a litre it still costs 74 a litre at &60 a barrel. Politically he has not said a word about Vyapam case in which 43 people have been serially killed. His foreign minister has allowed a fugitive to run free and not even informed him for eight months. He came to know about it from the media. Even Dawood can now roam free in Europe, reading Vasundara Raje’s letter no European court will deport him to India. Promises: The latest aid of 1600 crores to Kashmir boils down to, after cutting, 43 crores only; Andhra is yet to see the 1000 crores he promised a year ago after the cyclone; he is yet to bring back one rupee of black money. Nawaz Sharrif has got more FDI (45 billion from China, 2 billion from Russia; one plus military aid from America and unknown from Saudi) without going all over the world. The Indian middle class may be still clinging to him, hoping a hopeless hope. Recommend

  • Tamil Arasan
    Jul 5, 2015 - 11:45AM

    PM Modi is popular because he is hardworking and non corrupt, also IPL issue happened when Congress was ruling the country – what PM Modi has to do with IPL scandals…!! By the way India is a huge country and PM NaMo don’t have magic wand to swipe it to bring changes, give him time he will do what ever he has promised and I have complete faith in our PM NaMoRecommend

  • Hmm
    Jul 5, 2015 - 1:28PM

    What makes him different from other “leaders” is his NATIONALISM .Yes, Hindu Nationalism. Being a Hindu, I can say this because we are taught this from childhood that Mother and Motherland are far superior than Heaven, though lure of heaven is still there in some sections among Hindus .We keep Nation ahead even when religion comes in Picture. Hindus and Sikhs of Subcontinent, Chinese Hans and Japanese are the cultured and civilized people of Asia, hence where-ever they reside, they will bring it forward. Converts can’t be same, because for converts, Mother-land and Spiritual-Land are different, but for us it is same . Just check our independence struggle and let us know how many Muslims or Christian leaders spent their days behind bars.Recommend

  • Hmm
    Jul 5, 2015 - 2:27PM

    @Rangoonwala: Yes, It is very disturbing and disheartening for Pakistani and Muslims as well. Check history and try to find out “Who is the father of plastic surgery” . Invaders don’t invent. Civilized and cultured people invent. Leave alone converts . .Recommend

  • jai
    Jul 5, 2015 - 4:03PM

    Please study “Sushruta Samhita” written in 6 BCE ?Recommend

  • Jul 5, 2015 - 4:42PM

    Modi is not a leader that the present journalist can understand. Every one of them predicted modi to lose after 2014. They felt Modi does not have coalition partners since no party will have majority hence others will force BJP to elect other leaders. So Advani and others waited for such development. But Modi planned and executed a resounding victory. Now he has ignored the journalists, going direct to people with social media. These pampered Js can only cry hoarce and mke an issue on a matter of low value. Modi realised that massive money required to kick start the economy is only by powers that be All his foreign visits are aimed and done with success. If Pakistan was not in his priority it is due to them not giving India the trading privileges. His focus is on trade. Once he does that one will see great improvement in relationship with Pakistan. He is very nationalistic and ambitious. Recommend

  • C. Nandkishore
    Jul 5, 2015 - 5:12PM

    Modi’s nationalism is a joke when it comes to Susma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje. Recommend

  • Jag Nathan
    Jul 5, 2015 - 6:21PM

    I am one of those from the so called Second Group. I will vote for him for two reasons –
    1) He has made Indian the number 1 destination for foreign investment, (read Foreign Policy).
    2) He has rebuilt our relationship with everyone of our neighbors.
    3) He has in Ajit Doval one of the best minds when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.
    4) He has carried the fight to the enemy’s home – He has raised the ante on Kashmir and raised a demand on Pakistan vacating from Gilgit, Baltistan and Kashmir occupied since 1947 by Pak forces. No more addressing Hafiz Saeeed as Shree Hafiz Saeed or debating whether it was regular Pak army men or ihadis who beheaded an Indian solider.
    What more can we ask? He is the best.Recommend

  • abhi
    Jul 5, 2015 - 9:35PM

    Jouranlists like Aakar still do not understand that english media has lost its clout long back. Shouting Arnab goswami doesn’t change opinion of the nation and same is true for Barkha Dutta or Rajdeep Sardesai. People can clearly see that this whole IPL fiasco is actualy created during UPA regime and many of their ministers were involved in it. Now if they are trying to implicate somebody like Sushma Swaraj in conflict of interest case it is actually a big joke, By this standard even PM manmohan singh had a big conflict of interest, he is former emplyee of IMF and world bank and he changed the India policy to suit the demands of his former employer.Recommend

  • Ravi
    Jul 5, 2015 - 10:00PM

    The biggest achievement has been jn foreign policy.

    Modi has extended hand of friendship to all who wants to reach out.

    He has changed Pakistan policy and has removed that Nuclear overhang bug, which we always fear will bite us. He has made everyone from common citizen till the defecto PM Raheel sharif squirm in his seat.

    Change is refreshing Recommend

  • Gp65
    Jul 5, 2015 - 11:00PM

    So a demand for UCC makes one anti-Muslim? How so? Having same laws for people of all faith is the heart of secularism. Baba Ambedkar wanted that and put it in the Directive principles of the constitution. and the Indian Supreme Court has also directed the government to do so. Abolishing article 370 would give equal rights to all Indians. You consider that as being anti-Muslim? Why? Because somehow you feel Kashmiri Muslims (who constitute less than 5% of Indian Muslim population) are more entitled? What about people of Jammu who are keen that it should be removed so that there can be more development?Recommend

  • Naresh
    Jul 5, 2015 - 11:33PM

    @Rangoonwala: The PM of 1.8 billion people
    The Indian Population is about 1.265 Billion. Your Figure of 1.8 Billion is Outrageous!

  • Naresh
    Jul 5, 2015 - 11:38PM

    Aakar Patel : Article 370 (Muslims should give up their autonomy in Kashmir).
    One is aware that in obedience to your Foreign Paymasters you must create divisions between Hiindus and Muslim.
    Please correct you thinking as Article 370 is for KASHIMIRIS IRRESPECTIVE OF THIER RELIGION!

  • Jul 6, 2015 - 2:48AM

    [email protected] Nandkishore: most Congress idiots forget that all ministers including Pappu and Robert in Italian Maid’s times were corrupt to the core. The maid is one of the richest Mafias in the world. Pappu was caught red handed with $200,000 in undeclared cold cash at Boston Logan Airport in 2001 while returning with his girlfriend from South American Druglord. It was PM Vijpayee who helped him release from FBI with the help from then President Bush. Mr. Nandkishore, you must apologize to the world and especially Mr. Modi and BJP.Recommend

  • sharabi
    Jul 6, 2015 - 12:02PM

    i am a Muslim & can not resides in Kashmir so why dragging Muslims in 370? Mr. Akar can you explain? WHAT IS THE LOGIC ABOUT 370?Recommend

  • Rex Major
    Jul 8, 2015 - 12:06AM

    @Dipak: Pappu was caught red handed with $200,000 in undeclared cold cash at Boston Logan Airport in 2001 while returning with his girlfriend from South American Druglord. It was PM Vijpayee who helped him release from FBI with the help from then President Bush.

    Does this cheap rumor mongering become you?
    Have just invented this yarn or can you substantiate this with proof?
    Even if you hate the Gandhis, what does this do to your credibility- that you believe such balderdash!Rex Recommend

  • Rex Major
    Jul 8, 2015 - 12:13AM

    Does your visceral hatred of Modi, Indians and Hindus (in that order) really numb your senses and your intellect?
    Do you think writing things like 1.8B Indians and that Modi should take courses makes you appear intelligent?
    If you have no background on Indian culture and history – which you apparently do not – at least google before you write so that you don’t sound hollower than you are!Recommend

  • Rohan
    Jul 11, 2015 - 6:25PM

    I love reading Aakar’s columns! And I must congratulate Express tribune for being a newspaper of such good quality!
    Aakar is as usual incorrect in his observations and opinions! ROME WASNT BUILT IN A DAY. So to expect Modi to work miracles in India is being ridiculous! Congress govts have kept the country down and robbed it for 60+years & to expect Modi to change things in 1 year or even 10 is silly. Yes 10 years of Modi will definitely make India a much better place in 20-25 years. It’s called laying a solid foundation! If Modi lays the foundation for a Burj Khalifa, even if the final building is half as tall, it will still be a great building, with strong foundations! And it’s the little things Modi has done which have laid the foundations of a great India. Swachh Bharat have at least got Indians talking about cleanliness, the successful telecom auction recently DID earn the Indian exchequer billions of dollars (unlike CONgress, which are up all that money). So Indians need to have patience. Give the man atleast 10 years. India is a democracy, he is limited by it’s constraints, unlike China where the leadership clicks their fingers and things get done!

    For Pakistanis I would also suggest that they also give democracy a chance. Give it 10 years to settle down. Things will work out I. The end! Recommend

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