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Is he the ideal leader? Time for Modi to convince us

Does Narendra Modi have a liberal frame of mind?

Is he inclusive in his approach?

Is he a politician-statesman in the Vajpayee mould?

Are there too many rough edges to his personality?

Is he tolerant to other communities?

The questions have been around for long but there have been no convincing answers yet. Any debate around the Gujarat strongman invariably turns too polarised and the import of the questions gets lost in the resultant heat. It leaves the Modi mystique under-explained and mostly misunderstood. The media overdrive either demonising him or lionising him has not helped clarify anything.

It was rather inevitable that the same questions would come up in the public domain at some point with greater intensity, particularly after he made his prime ministerial ambitions more than obvious. It is in a way good for him that Nitish Kumar raised the issue well in advance. It is possible that the questions come from a section of the BJP unhappy with his ascent to prominence too. Modi gets sufficient time both to respond to the questions and better, be the answer himself.

Modi has not tried hard enough to change the negative perception around him. PTI
The Modi phenomenon is a bit complicated. He is the only top hard line Hindutva leader (should we say former?) to be under persistent scrutiny while the public perception of the likes of LK Advani and even Uma Bharti have gone softer. While Hindutva has lost its emotive pull and political gravitas, he is still considered its brand ambassador — this, despite him trying hard to disentangle himself from the image. Probably he would be much better placed today had the 2002 riots not happened.

He is acknowledged as a tough, no-nonsense administrator but still invites a lot of suspicion. He has carried on the good work of his predecessors and kept the growth momentum of Gujarat going, yet he is not considered inclusive enough in his approach. The media loyal to him has only helped sharpening the divide over him, not made him a pan-India figure. In fact, the media has done more damage to his image than good by trying to turn his perceived weaknesses into his strong points. The suspicion around him is a handiwork of the loyal media.

It appears Modi has not tried hard enough to change the negative perception around him. His gradual shift from Hindutva to Gujarat Asmita to development has not done much to change his image. The simple act of refusing to accept a head gear from a Muslim supporter at a public function only reinforces the impression that he remains a leader with strong communal convictions and that he is not broad-hearted enough to embrace other communities.

It also bolsters the allegation in certain circles that he is too timid to let go of his core Hindu vote bank. It is true that he has done good for other non-Hindu communities but the trouble with him is he has failed to acknowledge the healing prowess of small gestures. A good leader should be able to recognise it.

Nitish’s remarks on Modi seek to raise broader questions on the qualities of a leader. Yes, India’s prime minister can never be illiberal, unstatesmanlike, inflexible and a person with rough edges. Such a leader is a big threat to the synthetic culture of the country, which is a mosaic of diverse, sometimes contradictory, elements. In the age of coalition politics, the leader has to be democratic enough to tolerate and respond to all views. Does Modi fit into the description of an ideal leader?

The onus is on Modi to clarify this — to Nitish, to the BJP and to the countrymen. He is a good leader and a good organiser but poor at perception management. It would probably help if he shifted out of Gujarat and groomed himself as a leader of national stature. With rivals upping the ante, he does not have too much time on hand. He has to move fast.

by Akshaya Mishra

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