A firm knock, an authoritative cracking of the door, followed by a booming voice: "My name is Narendra Modi. Can I come in?"
My ears perk up. I beckon the man to enter my office. My political reporters had occasionally talked animatedly about this rising star of the Gujarat BJP. I was curious to meet him.
That was in 1989. I was editor at the Times of India (Ahmedabad) and India was in the midst of a national poll. In fact, Mr. Modi had come back from a campaign tour the previous night. For next forty-five minutes, he regaled me with stories of how in election meeting after meeting he could cast a mesmerising spell on his audience.
This first encounter left me with an impression of a self-centered, self-obsessed and a cheerfully narcissistic personality. That impression got further confirmed over the years. It became the man. That persona got consecrated after the massive anti-Muslim riots in March 2002 under his watch. After that horrible lapse, Modi also began plotting his march to Delhi.
When in 2013 Modi sought to storm his way on to the national centre stage, I was fairly certain that moderate forces and reasonable men and women would be able to stand up to him; and, when that did not happen and he managed to frogmarch the Bharatiya Janata Party to his will, I began to watch with alarm as a determined and well-financed Modi sneered his way to national victory.
This book, How Modi Won It: Notes From the 2014 Election, is an attempt to decode this democratic putsch.
The most crucial part of the book is a first person diary entry that I began to maintain, almost in the style of a Norman Mailer. These jottings convey the small print details as available in the public domain but which were being missed or ignored by the mainstream media.
The book acknowledges that Modi ran a brilliant campaign. How innovatively he imitated American political techniques to convert a parliamentary contest into a presidential stand-off. How he pitched a perfect game. How Modi was able to sense the nation's pique with the Gandhis and how he cleverly plugged into that mood.
How Modi Won It highlights that Modi successfully wooed the professional middle class Indians, who were sullenly cross with the Gandhis for protecting the 'corrupt'. It also underlines the crucial support from two other segments--the big businesses and the Hindu religious right.
For the first time since the 1971 national poll, the big corporate Indian leaders were openly one-sided in their support for one candidate and political party.
The business class in India and abroad want to believe desperately that Modi won a clean victory on a 'development' and 'growth' platform. And, the national and international media has bought into that explanation.
But How Modi Won It also notes the extremely critical numbers provided by an unprecedented Hindu mobilisation. Bulk of Modi's parliamentary majority has come precisely from those areas--Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Gujarat--where the Hindu sentiments and anxieties were systematically stoked.
The book draws an uncomfortable comparison between Modi's victory and Rajiv Gandhi's grand sweep in 1984. I contend that both the victories were anchored in an unwholesome pandering to religious majority. Rajiv's flawed victory produced its own unhappy consequences. The nature of the Modi victory too will demand its own denouement.