|Narendra Modi addresses supporters at a rally in Bhopal on September 25. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Oct. 6: Narendra Modi’s popularity could surpass that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his peak by “leaps and bounds”, BJP leaders have concluded at the end of the first leg of his public meetings in north India.
Why Vajpayee, the leaders said, Modi might have outgrown the BJP and every other vote the party polls in 2014 could be for him.
In Modi’s public meetings in Jaipur, Rewari, Bhopal and Delhi the party did not have to slog to mobilise the crowds.
In Jaipur, a gathering billed as a workers’ meeting that could perhaps be supplemented with “some” public presence swelled into a mega rally. People poured in from outside the city, in SUVs, minibuses and tractors, on their own.
Rajnath Singh could not believe his eyes when he saw the crowd, which refused to hear his speech or that of any other besides Modi. The BJP president made up his mind on the spot that Modi should be announced the prime ministerial candidate or he could have a revolt on his doorstep, sources said.
The announcement came four days after Jaipur.
In Rewari, a dot even on Haryana’s map, people again came mostly on their own. Unlike Rajasthan, the BJP does not even have a semblance of an organisation in the state.
In Delhi, the faction-riven BJP surprised itself by the turnout. Its leaders worked overtime to print passes that were snapped up by high-school and college students, wanting to “see and hear” Modi, sources said.
Whatever the agenda — in Rewari it was targeted at ex-servicemen, in Bhopal at party workers and in Delhi it was billed as development rally — the listeners were predominantly youths sold on the idea of Modi.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has yet to reveal his vision for India in 2014 and thereafter. But that did not seem to matter as people came to hear him speak of “dreaming big and achieving big”, of jobs for all, of good roads and overall efficiency and deliverability.
The ambience of optimism — reflected in frequent and fanatical cries of “Modi, Modi” — seemed to be powered by the leader’s boyhood anecdotes. Like most people with an RSS background, Modi was reticent to speak of his growing-up years until now. Few in the BJP outside Gujarat were aware of the hard-luck stories of childhood and adolescence that have lately become the staple of his speeches.
Modi now tells the crowds he sold tea on a railway platform and that he dreamt of joining a Sainik school in Jamnagar and eventually joining the army but his father could not afford it.
The amalgam of hard work, of aspiring big without a famous surname and of selling a “country first, self last” sentiment has clicked with the youths.
“To us, he represents a world that is far removed from the Congress’s sphere of babalogs. Men who slide in and out of politics because they come from pedigreed families and don’t have to prove anything,” said a college student at Modi’s rally in Delhi’s “Japani Park”.
After every meeting, Modi dutifully assures his audience that he will serve them as a “sevak” (servant) and a “das” (slave).
Perhaps a big plus for Modi is that he is single. “Who will he stash ill-gotten money for? A greedy ‘damaad’ (son-in-law)?” asked an ex-soldier in Rewari.
The BJP’s biggest concerns now are sustaining the unexpected momentum Modi has generated and converting it into votes to accomplish its “Mission 272” — reaching the majority mark in Parliament.