Time for Muslims to deal with the Modi phenomenon

Indian PM Narendra ModiWhichever way you look at it, there’s only one story — one man has overshadowed every thing and everyone in Uttar Pradesh.

Laptops, pension for women, metro, expressway, free uniforms and much more, nothing mattered to the voter of UP. Akhilesh, Mayawati or Rahul, no one mattered to the voters.

They wanted only one thing. They want to strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister.

They want him in spite of Notebandi, they want him in spite of LPG and petrol price hikes, they want him in spite of expensive banking and rail travel. They want him even in the absence of tangible benefits his three-year government could have delivered but failed. But that doesn’t matter anymore. They want him more and more. His failures simply don’t matter.

He is so big that he can win any election, beat anyone, even Lord Ram himself! In just three years, he has delivered bigger victories than the name of Ram did for the BJP in the past.

To the voters, he is no less than an avatar, an invincible man who, in his admirers’ eyes, is now a bigger brand than Nehru, Indira, Patel, Rajiv and even Vajpayee. For his admirers, or let’s call them worshippers, whether he delivers on governance or not, he is now and will remain the tallest Indian leader in the years to come. Not just because the opposition parties don’t have a leader to match Modi’s stature, but also due to a cult following that he commands in North, West, Central and even in the Eastern India.

His popularity cuts across socio-economic groups: poor, very poor, middle class, rich and the very rich. His popularity cuts across castes and sub-castes and to an extent even among a small number of minorities. Visuals of some Muslims celebrating his victory in UP today are hard to miss.

It would be childish to give too much credit to Amit Shah for his so-called strategies. These strategies are meaningless if you delink the charisma and popularity of the Prime Minister from this election. Shah, without the charisma of Modi, would be just a backroom executioner with limited success.

This election in Uttar Pradesh was all about one personality and not about issues. Call it ‘andh bhakti’, infatuation or a love affair of monumental proportions. People of India, or a significant chunk of the population, are madly in love with this man. Like it or not, he is going to stay on the top for a very long time. Just look around on Facebook and twitter, you will find doctors, engineers, army personnel, police officers, private sector employees and many more among his followers.

To Modi’s critics, I would say, learn to deal with him and his success. I have been his critic and will remain so for many reasons. I have closely followed his rise since 2002 and met him once in 2016.

Many people would do anything just for a handshake with him. We have seen how top journalists behave in his presence, eager for a selfie and a smile. We have seen how top Indian businessmen and industrialists desperately seek his company.

During my meeting with the Prime Minister on August 15, 2016, at his official residence at Race Course Road, I saw how top officials behaved in his presence. On the edge of a sofa in his office, senior officers sat nervously with their hands between their thighs. A very senior official stood like an office boy in one corner of the room. Their body language was hard to ignore. His powerful presence was hard to miss.

When I look back at that meeting, I feel happy that I didn’t allow his powerful presence to influence my thought process and body language. I remained in control that day, partly due to the fact that his past always disturbed me as a Muslim. I remember thanking my colleague Pankaj for taking this candid shot of my first and perhaps the last meeting with the Prime Minister. Personally, for me, this picture with Modi will always be a reminder of the opportunity I got to observe him from close quarters.

There’s a lot to learn from UP results. His opponents will have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant in politics or else he will make sure they are decimated and forgotten very, very soon.

Politically, today, he has become more powerful than Nehru and Indira combined. With over 300 MPs in Lok Sabha and over 300 MLAs in UP Assembly, today he has perhaps more legislative power than any other Indian leader in the past.

There are lessons for the centre-left liberals who are deeply disappointed by the election results. It is hard for them to accept his eminence because of his right-wing ideology. Since his victory in 2014, the liberals have mounted a bitter campaign against Modi with little success. Their campaign has made zero impact on his dominance on the political landscape. In fact, his popularity has grown in the last three years because — yes, I sincerely believe now — of this campaign on social media. Against every liberal, there are ten bhakts on social media. Against every Facebook post or a tweet, there are several hashtags to prove his popular presence. His victory today is simply stunning for his admirers and mind-numbing for critics who have to now look for alternative ways to effectively reach out to people.

As they say, what goes up must come down one day. At this moment, however, Modi is the undisputed king.


—Bobby Naqvi is a Political Editor at Gulf News and is based in the UAE.

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