Dec 9, 2007, IBNLive
Having lived in Gujarat for 22 years of my life, I am probably more Gujarati than a South Indian. And outsiders’ reactions to this state post 2002 never seem to amaze me. For they range from curiosity to hostility to admiration; and never before had anyone bothered to question me about the little traders’ state I had lived in. A few days ago I had gone to purchase some groceries at a roadside shop in Aamchi Mumbai. The talkative grocer was showing off how he had special varieties of red chilli powder from all regions. So it was the spicy Malvani variety, the great for non-veg Andhra variety and so on until he said…”Aur yeh madam, Narendra Modi ke Gujarat ka.” It was amazing how a semi-literate Maharashtrian grocer thought of only Modi when it came to Gujarat. Therein probably lies Modi’s success in making himself synonymous with the state.
The riots in Gujarat did expose the underlying communalism in some areas of the state. And certain media reports on a whole state filled with hatred angered the few who had not given into the venom inside them. This was what Modi capitalised on. Telling the Gujaratis how they were being isolated by the so called secular country men. And so he became the martyr consolidating his position and wiping out any power that the former chief minister Keshubhai held. Modi was now Gujarat’s only hope.
And just like the Aryan pride, for the first time rose Gujarati Asmita. A state that had never bothered beyond the daily trade was now looking for an identity, an iconic status. Modi ensured that every act of his was geared towards it. For the first time, Gujarat had a CM who was known nationally, whose statements, plans and actions created national ripples. No one could ignore him. And for the first time was there a CM who was above regional politics, for the simple reason that he was too ambitious for these little games. This made the Gujarati sit up. Now wherever the Gujarati went, he was looked at with a certain reverential curiosity. And it was a heady feeling. Something that reinforced the whole Asmita theory and thereby made Modi the undisputed representative of Gujarat. It also helped that no opposition leader had enough charisma to challenge him.
In fact, faultlines across India have resurfaced after Modi’s unprecedented popularity or notoreity whatever you call it. In a TV SMS poll that I saw on a rival network on whether Modi should be sacked; most of the respondents who were for him were non-Gujaratis. The silent supporters of the RSS and ilk have now started openly acknowledging the ‘good work’ done by Modi and how it should be emulated in other states. Thanks to the glorious presentations Modi keeps making on the Vibrant state; everyone in the country knows how roads and electricity in Gujarat are so industry friendly, a fact some of my Maharashtrian and Tamilian friends vouch for.
Modi’s controversial status of part CEO, part dictator, created a certain notoreity for Gujarat, which until then, though amongst the richest, was just another state in India. It is this new found identity that the Gujarati wants to hold on to – that of the industrially progressive state. So the Gujarati might vote for Modi, after all, not for what happened in 2002; but surely for the image that this man seems to have built of himself and the state. And maybe the dazzle of this image will overshadow the harsh and bloody realities of 2002. Only the ballots will decide.