Politicians and actors find the lure of a bigger stage irresistible. Thus it causes no surprise that Narendra Modi, having established his undisputed mastery over Gujarat and its politics, should seek to carve out for himself a role in a larger political space — the national. It is also entirely predictable that this quest should take him first to the capital of the country, New Delhi. He chose to speak to college students and thus to position himself as a leader interested in India’s future and not in the past. He tried in his speech to clear the air of despondency and appeal to the aspirations of the young. His oratory was also geared to appeal to the upwardly mobile middle class students of one of Delhi’s leading colleges. Pithy one-liners and witty comments punctuated his speech. It was a new face of Mr Modi — a far cry from the pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is how Mr Modi began his political career. It is difficult to believe that the wise men of the RSS sitting in Nagpur would have approved of the content and the rhetoric of Mr Modi’s speech. Mr Modi was speaking not to the people of Gujarat but to the youth of urban India. Like the proverbial chameleon, he changed his colours to suit the occasion. The refashioning of Narendra Modi has begun.
It will be wrong to assume that Mr Modi is unaware of the simple truism that Delhi is not India or Bharat, neither are the relatively affluent young men and women of a Delhi college representative of the Indian people. The applause that Mr Modi received on Wednesday may quickly die down when he faces an audience that is less appreciative and more prone to ask uncomfortable questions. Mr Modi is not known for his tolerance of dissent and difference. A national leader — a leader of India — needs to be more open and sensitive than what Mr Modi’s track record in Gujarat suggests about his mental make-up. Mr Modi’s aspirations are becoming evident but these cannot be fulfilled merely by addressing the aspirations of the urban youth. There are other more fundamental issues that a leader needs to address. And the so-called Gujarat model may not be that easy to extrapolate on to the national level. But these are early days. Mr Modi has only just begun to stake out his claims. His progress or evolution will be worth watching. The more he speaks of the future, the more his past will rise like a spectre.