Ever since Narendra Modi’s rallies started drawing huge crowds, I have had the dubious honour of participating in many debates about the ‘danger’ he poses to India. At literary festivals, political occasions and on prime time television, I have found myself pitted against ‘secularists’, whose case is that Modi will divide the country. So last week when The Economist had him on the cover of its Asia edition with the insinuation that Modi could ‘wreck’ India, I was not surprised. Foreign correspondents in Delhi meet only a small group of Indians who have one thing in common: they speak an Indian language only when they speak to their servants. From conversations with ‘the driver’ in broken Hindi, they glean the mood in the country and nearly always get it wrong.
So The Economist piece is filled with lavish praise for Modi’s economic achievements. ‘Gujarat’s economy has nearly tripled in size during his time in office; its GDP has grown by 10% a year, faster than India as a whole and roughly on a par with China. With 5% of India’s population, Gujarat now accounts for 16% of its manufacturing and about a quarter of total exports.’ There is praise for the infrastructure built in Modi’s time and acknowledgement that under him Muslims have fared well and only 11 per cent of them are poor compared to a national average of 25 per cent. But, he could still wreck India because of the violence he ‘allowed’ in 2002 and because he is the ‘strongest voice for Hindu nationalists on the national stage’.
What this highly respected newspaper misses, like most of Modi’s Indian opponents, is that the support he is getting nationally has nothing to do with Hindu nationalism. Casual conversations with ordinary Indians (non-English speaking ones) usually reveal that they are impressed with what he has done in Gujarat and support him in the hope that he can do the same for India. Not even in Uttar Pradesh these days is it easy to meet people who support him because they want him to build a temple to Ram in Ayodhya.