Modi Plays Sugar Daddy

Modi spoke to students at SRCC, an elite commerce college in national capital New Delhi. Given the fierce competition for admissions in good education institutions in India, the audience was informed, intelligent and ambitious.

They clapped and cheered, not because Modi’s was a spectacular speech, though crafted well to promote and buttress his brand image. They did so because Indians in general are fed up of politicians.

If a political leader sounds even remotely sensible, positive and rational, in Hindi or English or any language, it is reason enough to be upbeat in India today. It’s a bit like the present predicament of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

A couple of years back everybody expected Sachin to score a century every innings. Today, one is relieved if he gets off the mark and not clean bowled. If a political leader in India today talks sense, forget about a vision, it is a relief.

Only Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believes in being totally silent, so nobody is sure whether he is positive, negative, indifferent or already retired.

The students of SRCC were willing to hear Modi though he has not been able to shed the blot of the 2002 Gujarat communal riots. They wanted to know a bit about the man who has delivered on growth as chief minister winning successive elections. They were eager to listen to the lion of Gujarat, who has turned man eater, overseeing one of India’s worst communal riots, in the past. Man eaters don’t change their colors. That is why they are shot dead or caged in a zoo.

However, such is the sense of despondency about India’s corrupt, narrow minded, populist political class that Modi, despite the apparent risk, given his success in pushing Gujarat economic performance, is seen as potential PM material.

Modi, of course, also has to deal with his own party leaders. There are too many right now, who have mastered the art of eloquence in TV debates without much grass root roles, who dream of being future PM. They fancy themselves as compromise candidates. Their non-defined status is their strength. Not me then not even Modi is their political motto and survival slogan.

With national TV channels present in full force at SRCC, Modi, like Rahul recently, knew his was a country wide address that will set the tone for elections 2014 or earlier. He took center stage with strategy firmed — to enthuse and appeal to the youth of the country. It could be a winner, if played right.

India’s tech savvy young population is the biggest vote bank, cutting across social and economic barriers. They think big, dream big and are highly aspirational.

They want the leaders of the country to take India forward, into a high adrenalin and GDP-driven bungee spiral, without the rope of political morality and growth snapping. Statistically, 60% of the country’s population is under 40.

The theme of Modi’s address thus centered around, growth, development, branding governance, wealth, technology, optimizing resources, ideas that have been spoken about before. But, they sounded good and need re-iteration given the surfeit of parochial speeches that reek of identity politics, caste, minority, religious affiliations and not progress. One has to compare Modi’s and Rahul’s speech.

There was one crucial difference. Modi spoke about his achievement at the regional level — having delivered income, business, jobs, satisfaction, luxuries, travel, gizmos and cars in Gujarat, enough to turn any young person starry-eyed about sugar daddy Modi’s promises.

He conveyed his message smartly, peppered with humor, personal anecdotes, acronyms (such as 3S, for speed, scale and skill), loud cheering to the intelligent play of words — India is a nation of mouse charmers not snake charmers, what India needs is minimum government and maximum governance.

Rahul has no such performance to speak that reflected in the general tenor of his speech peppered with emotional appeals, clichéd reaching out to the poor and mummy Sonia Gandhi’s apparent tears of worry due to his rise to power, a decision taken by the mother-son duo, to begin with.

Rahul is seeking to debut at the national stage without having taken guard at the local level. His inspirations are father Rajiv Gandhi and grand-mother Indira Gandhi, who began their innings in similar fashion and did fairly well.

The conditions, however, are a little different today. He’s up against Modi’s Googlies. Family connections don’t matter here. Like Sonia, many other mummies are also worried about their sons and daughters future.

Modi has promised them a dream. He says he is capable of being Santa Claus who will deliver the goodies that will make everybody happy.

The worry, of course, is that Modi could show some of his past colors. Will India take the risk? Can Modi pull it off? Only time will tell.