If Narendra Modi has mutated from bogeyman to icon for many Gujarat yuppies and “intellectuals”, blame it partly on a board game where a pawn can turn queen. With the right moves.
When the chief minister dropped by at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, ranked on a par with the Indian Institute of Management and the National Institute of Design, the students had looked askance at him.
What did they, with their “liberal” ideas on art, life and politics, have in common with a riot-tainted Hindutva hawk, they wondered.
That was till the chief minister drew them into a discussion on chess and its origins. When the students asked if the game was really born in India, Modi’s answer was simple: among all the countries, India alone had each of the three animals — the horse, camel and the elephant — in its cavalries. And what else, pray, can the knight, bishop and rook represent'
The nugget, which can be sourced to good old Google, so impressed the “elite” students that they asked for Modi’s autograph and became his “dedicated” fans. At least that’s what the Modi lore says.
“Modi is an asset, asset, asset,” stressed Gujarat BJP spokesman Yamal Vyas.
If election 2002 was about legitimising the chief minister by defending the carnage, polls 2007 is about his iconisation.
In this US presidential-style election — to be held on December 11 and 16 — Modi can do no wrong. He is incorruptible, the god of development, the saviour of Hindus and the repository of knowledge. He is an authority on IT, infrastructure and river-water sharing (not to speak of chess).
Modi’s posters, showing him in his trademark half-sleeve kurta in stylish tussar with a churidar and a shawl thrown carelessly over the shoulder, look more like ads for Fab India.
The signature slogan, “Jitega bhai, jitega Gujarat”, captures the mood and the message: you can’t think of Gujarat without Modi and vice versa. And not just the Gujarat of saffron adherents.
The Modi lore has it that he has added three “new” constituents: the youth, women and “intellectuals”.
“Just imagine, university vice-chancellors are vying to write his speeches!” said an IT professional in the BJP’s media cell.
In this personality-based contest, the Congress has failed to throw up a rival.
“Its campaign is faceless, there’s no state leader. Modi is not just about ideology but about personality and powerful leadership,” said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley.
History may weigh heavy on voters’ minds when they assess the Congress’s choices.
Shankersinh Vaghela has still not been forgiven for “betraying” the BJP and plunging the state into chaos through a short-lived dalliance with the Congress in 1996.
Bharatsinh Solanki — son of former chief minister Madhavsinh — is seen as a “creature of privilege” and a bearer of the “casteist” Kham (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) legacy that was spurned by the Patels.
At 70, Dinsha Patel, Modi’s opponent in Maninagar, is pitied as a “sacrificial goat”.
But for Modi, even his flaws morph into strengths.
“He’s known to be arrogant and hot-headed, but who cares' Most people don’t have to approach him directly. They have benefited from the economic prosperity and law and order during his rule,” said a professor at a science college.
Many feel that the dissidence — tacitly backed by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and instigated by former Modi lieutenant Gordhan Zadaphia — lost steam the day Zadaphia and other rebel leaders shook hands with the Congress.
“Their workers and supporters went back to the BJP and the dissidents’ alienation from the masses was complete,” a former Zadaphia backer said.
Still, the BJP has a few niggles on its mind. For instance, how would Gujarat’s first “non-emotive” election play out at the booths, and what if the voter turnout plummets'
“This is a nuts and bolts election,” said party spokesman Vyas.