The rise of Narendra Modi has also led to excessive intellectualizing of his emergence by many scholarly commentators. Although many of these commentaries make a compelling case, they seem to use Modi as a host to embed a variety of socio-political projections and fantasies taking birth in the minds of the commentators themselves. As simultaneously India’s most reviled and most revered politician, Modi sure makes a tempting target for the commentariat. However, what is written about him is done with such knowing certitude that I wonder whether the commentators are merely treating his person as a socio-political laboratory.
If there is a common underlying theme to many of these commentaries, it is that Narendra Modi had had his life meticulously charted and calculated to the smallest detail before he took to politics. In their telling, Modi has been working to a brilliantly laid out plan, right down to his sartorial evolution and hair transplant. The only problem with this approach is that it almost deliberately discounts and disregards the vagaries and unpredictability of a politician’s life. A demagogue, which Modi clearly is, can influence and shape his constituency to a certain extent but demagoguery goes only so far. I would argue that chance plays as much role, if not a greater role, as a calibrated plan.
In the process of offering incisive analyses many commentators end up attributing to Modi qualities that simply do not exist. Political evolution of any public figure is always attended by many variables that demand that the public figure has to make up strategies and tactics as they go along. There are no behavioral certainties that a politician, even an astute one like Modi, can anticipate and control. In these narratives, the electorate is treated as a highly malleable lump of clay that a crafty politician like Modi can model according to his personal predilections and prejudices.
While it is possible to affect broad trends through repeated and forceful assertions of partially ideological and partially self-centered convictions, I seriously doubt if the electorate of India’s size, 814.5 million in this election, and diversity so easily lends itself to the fiendishly manipulative impulses of one man, even if that one man happens to be Narendra Modi. In saying this I may also run the risk of perhaps overstating the innate intelligence and sense of right and wrong of the average voter. But I would rather err on the side of the collective intelligence of the electorate than the power of a single individual to mesmerize the masses. A day after the 125th anniversary of precisely one such individual this may be a bold claim to make but I will go there anyway.
Attached to this excessive intellectualizing of someone who is essentially a garden variety demagogue is the dire forecast of what might come to pass were India to hand Narendra Modi a decisive verdict. Apocalyptic visions are being offered as a consequence of his rise as prime minister. I am dubious about such forecasts not even remotely because I have any faith in a politician like Modi’s ability to find light but because of my understanding of the profound complexities of governing India from Delhi. That coupled with Modi’s own selfishly expedient politics should act as a powerful inhibitor against him inflicting the kind of socio-cultural and economic damage his rise is feared by many to herald. Before Narendra Modi, there was Indira Gandhi who too had massive delusions of grandeur about herself. She might have been able to grab a lot of power by imposing an emergency rule but in the end the more powerful countervailing force that the complex Indian electorate is did sober her up. Modi is smart enough to remember what can happen to a despot drunk on power.
It might be foolish to bank upon the complexities of governing India as a strategy to keep in check someone as driven as Narendra Modi. However, in the event that a substantial part of the country’s electorate hands him a reasonable amount of parliamentary strength, one can only depend on the complexities of governing India as a possible counter along with the naturally rebellious instincts of those who could get steamrolled by his administration.