The only safe bearded man in Gujarat
A profile of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi
During the communal riots, a joke doing the rounds was that the only bearded man who was safe in Gujarat was Narendra Modi. Since then, Modi has created a cult of personality around himself and his Gaurav Yatra. The 52-year-old chief minister has fashioned himself as a Hindutva hero, a saviour. Hardline Hindutva is now in vogue. And its all thanks to the bearded ex-RSS pracharak.
He may project a larger-than-life personality, but Modi started from humble beginnings in Vadnagar town, Mehsana, north Gujarat. He left Vadnagar to study political science in Gujarat University, Ahmedabad. While a student, Modi worked at his brother’s canteen at the city’s ST bus stop. He also got involved in student politics and was an active member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Sangh Parivar. At some point, he got married to Jashodaben. But they separated soon after the wedding. Jashodaben is now a primary school teacher in a village near Vadnagar.
Modi left the ABVP to join the RSS. Here, he rose high and became a pracharak. He lived and worked for several years at the RSS headquarters in Maninagar, Ahmedabad, which is now his constituency. As part of the RSS, he was also a leader of the Gujarat Lok Sangharsh Samiti in 1972, which was initiated by Jaiprakash Narayan and was part of the anti-corruption Navnirman Andolan. Modi also took part in the anti-Emergency movement in 1975.
Later, his RSS mentors sent him to the BJP. Ironically, in 1985, Modi worked with Shankarsinh Vaghela in the party. While Vaghela was the president of the Gujarat BJP, Modi was the general secretary. Never a mass leader, Modi was involved with strategy and campaign planning, while Vaghela built the BJP’s grassroot cadre.
After Keshubhai was made chief minister in 1995, he ensured Modi’s swift transfer out of Gujarat, sensing that the ambitious Modi could create trouble. Modi left for New Delhi to work in the all-India BJP. He was given responsibility of the state units of Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. “Whichever state he has gone to, he has created dissidence within the party and within the coalition government. Wherever he has gone, state units have asked for his removal,” says a BJP insider.
A bolt out of the blue, Modi was sent back to Gujarat as chief minister in October 2001. This came as a rude shock to Keshubhai Patel, who is still sulking. Patel was seen as a non-performer. The BJP had lost all elections after the 1998 assembly elections. In 2000, the BJP was totally routed, losing 21 of 23 seats in the Panchayat elections. Later, it lost two assembly by-elections, including the Sabarmati seat, which fell in L.K.Advani’s parliamentary constituency, Gandhinagar. Fearing a similar disaster in the assembly elections, the national command decided to send Advani’s man to Gujarat. A known hardliner and RSS pracharak, Modi had never contested a single election before. He was elected from Rajkot-II constituency, but with a reduced margin of 14,000 seats, much less than the BJP’s previous 28,000 lead.
Known for being rude, arrogant and egoistic, in the short while that he was chief minister, Modi has upset several MLAs in Gujarat. He even insisted on the resignation of former home minister Haren Pandya, known to be close to Keshubhai Patel. During the election campaign, he threatened not to file his nomination papers if Pandya was allotted a ticket to contest elections.
Says an insider, “So far he has had it easy. He hasn’t had to deal much with MLAs. Even in that short span of time, he has rubbed up many the wrong way. Of his one year term, he had to deal with MLAs for only six months, of which three months were during the riots. After that, he dissolved the assembly. Now, will be the true test of how he manages to keep MLAs happy. Knowing his autocratic style of functioning, Vaghela may not need to engineer defections. Modi may drive them away himself.”
Frontline, December 21, 2002 – January 3, 2003 Also available here