Narendra Modi follows his roadmap to Delhi
The Narendra Modi charm offensive showed up in full force in India’s capital on Wednesday. Modi, the main opposition party’s likely prime ministerial candidate gave a speech on progress and development at one of Delhi’s premier colleges, the youthful audience greeted the 62-year-old politician with gusto, news outlets called his speech a “roadmap for India,” protesters showed up en masse and Twitter went bananas.
If not a direct declaration of grand political ambition, the nearly one-hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce sounded like a pitch for a national role: here was the chief minister of Gujarat talking about development to more than a thousand students in New Delhi, staying away from the usual and divisive political overtones, repeatedly referring to the youth of the country (future voters), and outlining his vision for India.
“The whole world is looking at India as a big marketplace. Why? Because they (other countries) think they can sell here easily. It is the demand of our time to make India a leader in manufacturing and dump our goods in the world market,” Modi said, according to our report on the Reuters news wire.
In December he won a fourth consecutive term in office, and since then many in his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition group, have called for him to lead the party in national elections due by early 2014.
In contrast, outside the college gates a crowd of students protested against Modi. Police used water cannons and batons to disperse protesters, one of the protesters told us.
That’s what you get with Modi – love him or hate him, be it in the heart of Delhi’s higher education hub or on Twitter. Tweets ranged from: “@goonerRish: Just heard the Modi speech at #srcc..#inspired if there is one guy who understands the youth pov regarding the country” to ” @sachmore123: #Modi is a strong leader who cudn’t stop the riots 4 months & still can’t rehabilitate the victims.Some leadership, uh??”
Modi until now has not been a uniter. As our Reuters story said, corporate India and Gujarat voters love him for “fast growth and clean governance,” and in December elected him to a fourth term as chief minister. Still, deadly religious riots in Gujarat have tarnished his record after about 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.
Analysts say Modi’s talk about modernisation and development is a bid to enlist more support from a wider community, something that could help any prime ministerial ambitions that he might harbour, but that he continues to offer subtle hints at his own views on Gujarat’s Muslim minority. Sample this from speech: “Gujarat was never an agricultural state. Earlier it meant a desert. We have always had registan (desert) and next door Pakistan.”
While the debate on Modi’s suitability for prime minister will continue until the Bharatiya Janata Party names its candidate, Modi in one speech demonstrated how easily he connects with the public. Top Congress leaders such as Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are better known for keeping quiet. (Here’s a Twitter joke making the rounds today: @Roflindian: Rahul to [Manmohan Singh], on phone – “Sir, did you listen to Modi’s speech today?” MMS – *silence*. Rahul – “Oh ok. Just wanted to check.”)
“Modi’s performance at SRCC was impressive. There are no such speakers in the Congress party,” said political analyst Amulya Ganguli. But that in itself may not help Modi as he will need not only the wholehearted support of his own party but also that of their allied parties.
While Wednesday’s speech may be considered an important moment in the emergence of the Gujarat leader on the national front, the real work will be convincing his party that he has convinced the people that he is the right choice to lead India in 2014.
(Follow Shashank Chouhan on Twitter @shashankchouhan )