Why chest size matters
At the neighbourhood dhaba, the one next to NDTV Convergence office in Okhla where Barkha Dutt did a ‘Chai pe Charcha’ some weeks ago, friends turned foes and strangers united under a common chant. With the euphoria reaching a crescendo as the BJP got an absolute majority on its own on Friday, NaMO, short for Narendra Damodardas Modi, may soon be inducted into the Oxford dictionary of new words with two very different meanings: an invocation to a higher power as well as a cuss word.
Days are not far when in sanitised urban spaces, like in college canteens, restro-bars and newsrooms, riots will break out not among Hindus and Muslims, but among Modi fanboys on one hand and secular soldiers on the other. While the latter will continue to rattle off 2002 horrors when a thousand plus Muslims were raped, maimed and killed under Modi’s watch, the former will argue tirelessly no court of law has held the Gujarat chief minister guilty for the riots and we should forget the past to forge a stronger future. The operative word here is strength. For his faithfuls, Modi has become synonymous with strength, though it means different things to different sections that have come out in his support and voted the BJP to power.
Let us look at how Modi, the marketing maverick, first dramatised the ‘weakness’ of Manmohan Singh (the dehati aurat comment, harping on the fact that ma-bete ka sarkar rules the country and not him, his years of silence, his meek nature as well as the outgoing prime minister’s failure to revive the economy) and then targeted disparate social groups and sold them the idea of strength. Let us not kid ourselves. Many Hindus do want Muslims to be ‘tamed’. For this lowest common denominator that is his traditional support base, the Ram bhakt, Hindu majoritarian, cow-worshipping, Manu endorsing, obscurantist, mostly north Indian voter, Modi is the pillar of strength that would teach Muslims a lesson or two like in Gujarat 2002 or Muzaffarnagar 2013. His much-flaunted, 56-inch chest (44 inches according to his tailor) is a symbol of Hindu pride for these guys, who feel slighted by the politics of minority appeasement that parties like the Congress and Samajwadi Party practice at the expense of the majority community.
Though it has to be said that in his public speeches this election season, Modi has mostly steered clear of communal agenda, for this traditional voter base, he will deliver ‘revenge’ when he comes to power and bring in an era of hyper-nationalism. And there are always the Giriraj Singhs to send off Modi critics to Pakistan when that happens so that this remains a nation of faithfuls. Bharat Mata ki Jai and all that.
For the burgeoning middle class, an important voice this time, Modi means new strength in the economy. More credit cards to swipe, bigger cars to ride and swankier homes to buy. Fed on a healthy dose of market reforms since the economy was opened up in 1991, this new group of Modi fans has no time or timeline space for Hindutva but is dismayed by the state of the economy under UPA-II. It has no love lost for what it thinks are populist measures like the MNREGA and are waiting for Modi to bring in more reforms and by waving some magic wand bring the economy back on track. It cares two hoots for the ‘Pink Revolution’ and would rather have the cows back on the plate, but has bought Modi’s Gujarat model which his media managers have fed into our collective consciousness through mass media.
Losing the support of this group was a big loss for the Congress, whose traditional elitism is something this segment has always aspired for. Also, not too long ago, Manmohan Singh was their hero for opening up the economy. The brilliance of Product Modi lies in the fact that now the urbane middle class fell for the dreams that a vernacular type like him sold to them. Last and perhaps most
significantly, Modi’s ‘strength’ has attracted almost all top industry houses. From Ambani to Adani, Modi is seen as the powerful CEO-type who will do away with red tapism and NGO activism to attract Big Business. There is no doubting the fact that Modi has over the years made the right noises to attract industry. When West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee queered the pitch for Ratan Tata, he took his Nano to Modi-land. Other industry captains have also found the going easier in the state.
Sometime late last year, at a FICCI event, Modi charmed the predominantly female audience by saying his focus once he comes to Delhi would be to tap into their entrepreneurial skills and talents as well as give them special status in elected bodies. And so industry captains are outdoing each other in extending support to the Gujarat strongman.
It says something about us Indians that we look for strength in a leader and not conviction. Or moral character. But we will leave that analysis for another day. Today, what needs to be relooked at is how a former tea seller from a ‘backward’ caste has come to signify strength for a vast majority of Indian voters, irrespective of caste, creed, region and eating pattern.
It is another matter that the Supreme Court has finally recognised transgenders as an OBC group and they are also feeling rather strong this poll season.
Maybe, they rooted for Modi too!
The author is executive editor of Millennium Post