By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Man is wise in hindsight. This is certainly true for journalists. Harish Khare, editor and commentator who was also media adviser to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, comes up with his own analysis of what went wrong with the Congress and how Narendra Modi simply crushed the Grand Old Party to lead the BJP to a historic Lok Sabha win.
The first part of the book covers the March-May period – date-wise – as Khare takes note of the Modi blitzkrieg. Barring vignettes, there is nothing really unique here – considering Khare’s stature. Much of what he reports is fairly well known. His sources seem to be either “senior journalists” from various cities giving him tips about the popular mood (as they see it) as the election campaign unfolds or, at times, unnamed politicians or officials.
While Rahul Gandhi has been rightly blamed for not giving Modi a fight, some criticism of the Congress leader seems unfair. According to Khare, in the middle of the Lok Sabha battle, Gandhi was spotted at a Chinese restaurant in Vasant Kunj in south Delhi with four or five people, “none of them was a politician; there was one woman wearing a short dress… The talk was totally non-political, the usual inane talk of upper-class young Indians”.
I am no admirer of Rahul Gandhi but what’s wrong if he did enjoy Chinese cuisine with “non-political” friends? Incidentally, during the campaign, I myself saw Gandhi at an outdoor coffee shop near my house in Saket, again with three young people including a woman. So what?
But this book is about Modi, who “seems mesmerized by his own persona”, and who placed “total, complete and deliberate accent on himself – to the total exclusion of the BJP”. He was able to sell dreams, he produced a strange alchemy, his sleight of hand worked, “and his conjurer’s tricks are bewitching the audience”.
Khare, who takes over as editor of The Tribune on June 1, refers to Modi’s “touch of madness, megalomania and machismo” as he bracketed Hindus, nationalism and national interest on the one hand and Pakistan, Muslims and non-BJP parties on the other. It produced a devastating effect on a mass of voters sick and tired of a decade of corruption-laced, Congress-led UPA rule.
Khare admits that an overwhelming numbers of media players and personnel simply abandoned the virtues of neutrality, objectivity and even-handedness as they covered the 2014 “Mahabharata”. Khare admits he has serious reservations about Modi and his democratic commitments. “I believe the country has made a choice it will regret, but it will have to wait for five years before any corrective measures can be taken within the democratic matrix.”
But if India made a mistake, how come so many voted for Modi? Khare has the answer: because Modi was in sync with the taste, temper and temptations of the times. “He was crude, vulgar, cheap and coarse during his campaign – and he was in tune with coarsened Indian social manners and cultural tastes.” No wonder, a businessman told the author midway through the election that Modi and his Man Friday Amit Shah are clear about their goals and they don’t care about the costs, have no moral qualms, nor do they ever forget slights.