Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing a joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages) 
Snapshot
  • This book tries to do justice to its subject. It presents a relatively objective assessment of the Modi story, the Gujarat model and the popular leader’s initiatives since 2002.

Marino, Andy. Narendra Modi: A Political Biography. HarperCollins Publishers India. 2014. 299 pp.

A very thought provoking observation that British Author Andy Marino makes very early in his discourse is that Indians have a very short-lived memory. He then proceeds to prove it systematically. First example he gives is Indira Gandhi's re-election in 1980 despite imposition of Emergency in 1977. Inexplicable now that you think about it, but it happened nonetheless. The second example – and one which is more harmful that we've forgotten (one which millennials and my own generation have very little idea about) is the KHAM formula and how the Congress used Gujarat as a laboratory to create vote banks in the 80s. The KHAM strategy (giving reservations and freebies to Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) led to large-scale riots in Gujarat. But politically, it yielded rich dividends for Congress. Their vote share jumped up dramatically from 1980 to 1985. Once the Congress and Madhav Singh Solanki saw that the KHAM formula was successful in winning elections, vote banks were created all across the country. The rest, as they say; is history. The KHAM formula slowly evolved into what is so popularly called "secularism" and is anything but. We (some of us at least) now understand it to be appeasement politics.

People are an amalgamation of their circumstances and I'm beginning to see how it was inevitable that a man like Narendra Modi would be moulded in Gujarat and nowhere else. Gujarat's history of communal violence, it's troubles with drought, the earthquakes, its long-standing history of political uncertainty fuelled by the disastrous KHAM formula, its entrepreneurial spirit and desire for prosperity; were all ingredients in making Modi what he is today. For want of a better word, it was destined that Modi be a Gujarati. Makes one wonder; maybe even now, there is a future national leader being cultivated in West Bengal, where similar troublesome circumstances abound. It is also very interesting to note Modi's "gurus" and the effect they had on him as a person.

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In Narendra Modi: A Political Biography, Marino charts out Modi's psyche in comprehensive fashion. It is very easy to follow the story and get an idea of what made Modi the person he is today. Marino also makes the story engaging enough using anecdotes culled from Modi's contemporaries. As a comparison, unfortunately; Madhu Kishwar's background about Modi in her book Modi, Muslims and Media is a bit sketchy and tends towards fulsome praise (no doubt backed by her exhaustive research but fulsome nonetheless).

Another important thing that Marino has done well is chart out the reality behind the Gujarat model. He makes it clear that culture changes would take time, but things that could be fixed were fixed. For example, Marino outlines the way in which Modi fixed the two critical challenges Gujarat faced in the early 2000s – electricity and water. It is of course an impressive achievement, but its electoral significance is that it turned the tide against traditional politics of caste and convinced Gujaratis that it was in their economic benefit to vote for Modi. And we see now that the same model is being repeated in national politics as well. Roads are being built, power grids being laid, waterways and airports created, impetus is being given to small and medium enterprises, investment being done in skill-building initiatives and foreign investment being pulled in through indigenous manufacturing. Hopefully, just like Gujaratis; the rest of India too will see that it makes economic sense to vote for Modi.

The cover of Andy Marino’s <i>Narendra Modi: A Political Biography</i>. The cover of Andy Marino’s Narendra Modi: A Political Biography.

Overall, Marino's book tries to do justice to its subject. It presents a relatively objective assessment of the Modi story, the Gujarat model and Modi's initiatives since 2002. At the same time, it also delves into Modi's personality without becoming a bhakt. With objective facts and testimonials like that of K P S Gill, Asifa Khan and Zafar Sareshwala, Marino absolves Modi of 2002. Going further, using statistics; Marino also highlights that economic development in Gujarat was inclusive. Modi is no enemy to Muslims or Christians or people of whatever faith. This is something even Madhu Kishwar does in her book. But again, she comes across as less than objective despite saying the same things. Irrefutable evidence that both Marino and Kishwar give is the number of cars sold to Muslims in urban areas and the amount of zakat paid to madrassas by Muslims. Both trends show steady increase.

In Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway says that one often meets his destiny on the very path one takes to avoid it. The antagonist in Harry Potter series Lord Voldemort created his own nemesis by thinking the prophecy of his doom referred to Harry Potter instead of Neville Longbottom. Perhaps, this is the most important point that Marino makes in this book. The Congress created the very personality instrumental for their own downfall. Maybe if they hadn't demonised Modi so much in Gujarat, voters wouldn't have been incensed by the obviously one-sided and unjust narrative and wouldn't have voted for him in droves. Even today, Congress and company fail to realise that the more hatred they incite about Modi, the more attractive he will become as an option for 2019. And this is not taking into account his track record since 2014. Congress is repeating the same strategy in the rest of India that they did in Gujarat. Honestly speaking, Madhu Kishwar has outlined this strategy much more clearly in Modi, Muslims and Media . The script in Gujarat during the period preceding 2002, immediately before the second round of assembly elections and subsequently thereafter ran something like this –

  1. Use vote banks to incite hatred and fear (KHAM formula in 2002 | Patel/Maratha/Jat/Lingayat agitations in 2014)
  2. Use "intellectuals" to increase the fear psychosis (Teesta Setalwad and Arundhati Roy in 2002 | The award-wapsi gang in 2014 and thereafter)
  3. Use the media in a skewed and biased manner to generate more hatred and fear (Interestingly enough, the players are the same)
  4. Hamper development work in the legislature (consistent ruckus in the legislative assembly | consistent ruckus in the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha)
  5. Use the judiciary to hinder development work further (pressure on the SIT in 2002 | CJI impeachment antics in 2018)
  6. Alliance of a united front against Modi. (We are at this stage now where the unified front argument is seen to be partially successful).
  7. Question and raise doubts about policy initiatives (protests against increasing height of the Narmada dam, farmer protests against Jyotigram Yojana in the 2000s | protests against demonetisation, goods and service tax, Aadhar since 2014 and thereafter).

Marino ends on an optimistic note. He uses a beautiful metaphor when he says that "India is a caged tiger, prowling back and forth and snarling at its warders". How aptly described! Today, in the midst of loud rhetoric and mud-slinging, it is up to us to determine whether to unleash this caged tiger, unlock our true potential and claim our rightful place at the global table with the universal message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The world is one big family)" or to turn our back on our destiny and sink into the morass of petty vested interests threatening to tear our country apart.

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