Saturday, November 2, 2013

Modi is great in speech….poor in content

Give Modi any opportunity and he will convert it into a good speech! He is probably India’s best orator. In the initial days, this makes him look very very impressive. He cuts through the banality of politics and even gets the uninterested to notice him. Many even think of him as manna from the skies in human form. But a few months down, it all becomes very very clear. It’s no manna. It’s just dirt! That’s starting to happen now!

In the corporate sector, we have a simple rule: Don’t be too impressed or too disappointed with any new recruit in the first six months. First impressions are grossly overrated. I know from personal experience of colleagues about whom I formed wrong opinions based on initial impressions. It’s the same with candidates who impress hugely during interviews. They somehow come out as having no chinks, no imperfections. They know everything, are confident, have all answers….and when asked that ultimate killer question “What are your weak spots”, they even have the answer to that pat down! Such people should be avoided. The real world needs real people. Those who know they cannot solve all problems, who know what the difficulties are in public life, and who are real enough to acknowledge them. A real person gives credit to others when it is due. A real person is naturally humble, because he knows even he cannot deliver everything to perfection.

Now look at Modi. Going by his political rhetoric, I get the impression that he is God himself who has descended on earth. His governance in Gujarat is apparently exemplary (no one else is even close). His rising from a poor chai seller to corporate India’s biggest hero is the stuff of pulp fiction (again, no one else has achieved such a feat). His ability to connect with people, his grip on subject matters that people can relate with, all seem just impossible to replicate. Maybe that’s why a simple person like Lata Mangeshkar said what she did, taken in as she must be with the initial euphoria. Why, he even makes short shrift of his key opponent Rahul Gandhi, who appears to have so many fault lines, and none of his strengths! Well Modi is coming apart….and how.

Well, I travelled to Ahmedabad yesterday and was shocked with the state of the city. In a city of nearly 75 lacs population, and one in which there are nearly 10 lac scooters/bikes/cars, it’s famed BRTS is used by just about 1.25 lac people. The common refrain on the streets is that the BRTS is a great showpiece, especially after Modi showed it as proof of good governance, but in reality is a big nuisance. The BRTS corridor takes 50% of the road space, but caters to <10% of road users. Has it led to more people shunning their private modes of transport? No way. What has happened to the rest of the traffic? Its become worse. There are jams innumerable, brawls all the time, even abuses showered by youngsters on law abiding elders….in short, there is huge stress on the roads.

Then take this thing about basic decency. Last night, the firecrackers – the really loud ones (inspired by Modi I am sure!) – kept going off till 2 am inside of an apartment complex with buildings in a circular layout (leading to even more amplification of the sound). In Mumbai on the other hand, Diwali is much quieter, and definitely celebrated within decent hours. There is a hospital in the vicinity of where I stay. What about the patients there? Well, that’s their problem. Why did they fall sick during Diwali!

Then just look at the kind of language youngsters have started to speak. Youngsters follow those they see, and the Modi rhetoric in Ahmedabad is so strong, the language matches exactly his! They refuse to accept a counter point of view, are happy to shower the choicest of abuses on you, and are even willing to threater dire consequences if you persist with your argument. Modi is a product of this crowd, and vice versa. When I expressed my anguish on this subject on twitter, one person even said “Go back to Mumbai”. Made me wonder what would happen if Modi did become PM. Would I have to leave the country?

Forget Ahmedabad. Most of Modi’s governance is fake. He is now so smug he has started becoming unprepared. He shoots and scoots because he is shallow. A few days back TOI exposed that the Congress had spent as much on Patel’s birth anniversaries as it had on Nehru’s, proving Modi’s charge that it had forgotten Patel wrong. Today’s TOI says that Modi hasn’t even understood Patel. The relationship Patel and Nehru shared – having differences but knowing how to resolve them – is something that is beyond the BJP/RSS brand of politics. But on the most important subject – their views on RSS/Hindu Mahasabha – both were united. Did Modi read all this? Oh sorry….now that’s expecting too much! The question should probably be posed to his script writer!

But Modi has a lot of native wisdom. That’s why he has engaged a whole battalion of senior journalists to speak on his behalf. If Modi even says something preposterous, like for instance “we must attack China”, they will find a whole lot of intelligence in it! Why, some of them even attempted an explanation for Modi’s “China spends 20% of its GDP on education” gaffe! And if something is simply indefensible, they will simply go on to something else! Or point the mirror at the Congress and say “you are no different”, forgetting that it was not the Congress that said it was different, but the BJP! The onus of proving that it is different is on the BJP, not the Congress. If the BJP is to repeat everything the Congress did, then it should be branded the Team B of the Congress!

I am no great fan of Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Advani. But I think those leaders are well read, intelligent and grounded in the reality of India. Some of them are equally good in rhetoric and in embarrassing the Congress (remember Sushma Swaraj’s “mota maal” on the coal scam figure?)….but additionally, they also possess the real stuff behind the rhetoric. Modi doesn’t. That’s why he makes a speech and runs. That’s his true genetic coding. Shoot and scoot.

The real truth is that Modi’s “magic” – his ability to mesmerize audiences with his speeches – may last till the assembly elections later this month. But it’s a matter of time before it starts to wear off. There will be many more mistakes of the birth and death anniversaries of Patel and Alexander’s Ganges and Beas conquests and so on. Just wait and watch the fun!

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