Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times is a definitive biography of a man who may have challenged the basic principles of a sovereign secular nation but emerged as an undisputed and larger-than-life leader.
Written by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who is the author of The Demolition: India at the Crossroads, and has written for several newspapers and magazines including The Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Outlook and The Statesman. He currently also presents a weekly show - Page From History - on Lok Sabha TV which showcases historical debates.
Here's an extract from his latest book 'Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times'.
THE MODI KURTA
He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
- From the "Muhammad Ali" Theme Song
I entered the showroom to buy a "Modi kurta". At one level, it was a ploy to understand the style quotient of one of the trendiest male politicians of India. But to be honest, at another level the decision to walk into Jade Blue on Ahmedabad's C G Road also pandered to my desire - though not so rampant - to find something nice to wear for the feel good factor. Half an hour later, I left the sprawling multi-storied showroom of one of western India's leading men's costumes brands with a kurta in hand and an understanding in my mind: there are indeed several levels of narcissism. While many would be satisfied with an occasional indulgence, there are others who make "dressing up" a part of routine even when their profession or vocation was not solely dependent on how they looked or appeared. From what I had learnt while researching this book, Modi belonged to the latter category. I also left the showroom with the hope of being able to meet two men who matter in Jade Blue and through them understand the extent of Narendra Modi's preoccupation with his sartorial exterior.
What is a kurta and why does the kind of kurta I went shopping for, have the name of the subject of this book as its prefix? I had quoted an RSS source earlier about Modi's penchant for what were considered to be the "good things in life" despite having lived in a regimented order. His uncle, Jayantibhai told me in Vadnagar that even as a child Modi was always careful about what he wore and took great care to maintain his clothes. In the early 1990s when gizmos were beginning to permeate our personal lives than ever before, Modi was among the first ones to possess the latest model of a digital diary. Later, when mobiles made their advent, he kept track of the latest handsets and whenever possible acquired one. In the 1990s, this was not frowned upon by the leadership because L K Advani was himself a great advocate of the use of technology. Then there was Pramod Mahajan whose seemingly unlimited access to resources - and his love for the latest gadgetry - was often spoken about in churlish tones within the party apparatchiks. Modi's fondness for good clothes was thereby perfectly understandable.
In India political leaders and statesmen have always had their distinctive dressing styles although they weren't always carefully "cultivated". Mahatma Gandhi's loincloth was demonstrative of what millions in the country wore, he had told a western journalist. A jacket is named after Jawaharlal Nehru. Further back in history, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, one of the leading figures of Bengal renaissance still has a chappal (slip-on footwear) named after him. Indira Gandhi had a thin streak of white hair whose breadth remained constant for years. A P J Abdul Kalam was famous for the "naughty-boy tousled-hair" look which gave him the image of being an outsider in the world of politics even when he became a political president. They were all fashion icons in one way or the other and therefore Modi having a distinctive style was neither a new phenomenon nor a habit that could be frowned upon.
What however raised eyebrows was that the political stable where he learnt to cut his teeth did not appreciate the tradition of leaders being particular about physical appearances. By and large, Pracharaks and full time Communists wore commonplace clothes and on clotheslines in bhawans or communes it is still difficult to identify which one is whose. Moreover, since its formation, the RSS was targeted mainly to attract the lower middle classes and among them, matters of appearance and attire were unimportant simply because of economic compulsions. From the days of the national movement, khadi kurta and pyjamas virtually became the uniform of politicians. After the ban was lifted on the RSS in July 1949, the organization continued to engage with its previous social base as a result of which demonstrative austerity remained an important element of the outfit. This led to contradictions between sections of the RSS and Modi. Uday Mahurkar, a senior journalist with the India Today group who tracked Modi since his earliest days in politics said, '...because Modi was well groomed and wore good clothes from the early days, a large number of people in the RSS shunned him.'
A day after my first visit to Jade Blue, I return but this time am escorted to the office of the Chauhan brothers - Bipin and Jitendra who like Modi had extremely humble beginnings but have gone on to build a small empire and are regarded as one of Modi's stylists. The first thing I learn while chatting with the two is that the most widely mentioned physical attribute of Modi - his chest size - is not correct. Fifty-six inches is actually a very cleverly crafted tool to develop Modi's alpha male image - the first male among the Hindus. I learn of Modi's actual chest size, but this like his blood group, is of little relevance to a biography. What however is important is what Bipin Chauhan tells me: Modi put on a few kilograms through the summer of 2012 but '...he will be back to where he was by fasting during Navratras.'
The Modi kurta is actually a minor modification of the traditional long kurta designed by the man himself some time before he became chief minister. 'He wanted us to make a half-sleeved kurta for him and we were initially not sure how it would turn out,' Jitendra said before the other brother joined us. The other brother was entering the room while this information was being given and he informed me after the introductions were over that Modi always liked the length of his sleeve to be a shade longer that his upper arm - 'it should turn or fold a bit.' When I asked if Modi was so particular, the brothers nodded in the affirmative.
As far as Modi is concerned, he offers an explanation that appears incredulous. He is on record saying that he devised the half-sleeved kurta to "save space in his jhola" in the years when he was a political nomad. 'I had trouble washing my clothes so thought I would have to wash less if I cut the sleeves by half. I also thought that they would occupy less space in my small bag. So that is now the Modi kurta was originally made - I just took a pair of scissors and cut the sleeves.'
Does this explanation, which is obviously not corroborated by other accounts, demonstrate that in some nook of his mind, Modi feels diffident about his emphasis on style? Does Modi feel that he is losing political credibility by not projecting the sarvahara (proletarian) look of his RSS brethren? Above all, by projecting a carefully cultivated public profile, is Modi trying to address himself more to the urbane while simultaneously projecting an unattainable persona among the not so well-heeled? There cannot be any definite answers to any of these and many similar questions except in the inner recesses of Modi's mind. A possible explanation for Modi not projecting a proletarian look is reflected in the emphasis on glossy development programmes in his tenure. Mega projects like the tallest statue of Sardar Patel on the Sardar Sarovar and Gujarat's Shanghai - the GIFT City project, are aimed at projecting the state as more assertive and masculine, the same image that Modi has projected through his sartorial and theatrical style. Macho leader of an aggressive people who are far distanced from the Gujarati of yore!
But where do women fit in the projection of public persona in Modi's Gujarat? Essentially they remain mothers, sisters and wives of the men, playing a secondary role or at best a valued prop. On that count, Modi like most Indian political leaders across the political spectrum remains in the traditional patriarchal mode and the women who have fared well in Modi's tenure as chief minister, for instance Anandiben Patel and Smriti Irani have been little beyond add-ons on the political platform. Gujarat has had strong women, capable of even leading most heinous crime operations - Santokben Jadeja and Maya Kodnani being prominent, but they have been exceptions and suggestive that the only way out of patriarchal control was by breaking the social and legal boundaries of society.
However by 2004, the Modi kurta became a brand - barely three years after he took oath wearing a grey, half-sleeved kurta in a public stadium in Gandhinagar. Modi's sartorial style became a subject of interest to the media and in one rare non-controversial report related to Modi, The Times of India reported in October 2004 that the half-sleeved long shirt had actually been first donned by a Jana Sangh leader from Patan in north Gujarat in the 1950s but it later had fallen out of favour of politicians. Initially there were few takers but from Navratri celebrations in 2004 people began asking for it in shops and responding to the growing demand, entrepreneurs with a keen eye on making a quick buck soon began selling these kurtas. Jade Blue apparently sells upward of 10,000 Modi kurtas every year. Jitendra said that they had taken 'permission from Narendrabhai' for giving the half-sleeved long kurtas the name of Modi kurta. Why has Modi allowed commercial use of his name? Obviously because the kurta no longer remains a merchandise but becomes a symbol of the man. The decision was a clever retake of the famous ad-line of paint maker, Jenson and Nicholson: Whenever you see colour, think of us. In the context of the subject of this book the catch line is simple: see a half-sleeved kurta and Modi comes to your mind.
At Modi's Google Plus Hangout with film actor Ajay Devgn in tow in August 2012 and almost eight years after the launch of a kurta line named after him, Modi was asked a question (which was chosen by him and his team from among the thousands that had been received in advance) on how he felt about lending his name to a popular garment (indicating that he obviously wanted to talk about the kurta named after him). What he said was indicative of his implicit joy at the transformation of a small-town boy into a fashion icon: 'I really do not know why this became such a fashionable thing - I had designed it myself. It is now available in the market...even in Europe and America it is known as the Modi kurta...I was told someone wanted to organize a programme in New Delhi and he managed to get a Modi kurta there. I really do not know - it was part of my simplicity and has become a fashion for the outside world today.'
But why did Modi come to the Chauhan brothers to get a half-sleeved kurta stitched after he decided to experiment? The reason is simple: Modi had been getting his clothes stitched by the duo from the late 1980s. At that time Jade Blue was yet to be established and the brothers functioned from a small 250 square feet retail store named Supremo Menswear in the Ellis Bridge area of Ahmedabad. The brothers also ran a showroom of ready-to-wear shirts and trousers that they sold under the brand name of D'Peak Point. When Modi first walked into the Chauhans' showroom, they had no celebrity clients and Modi was also just an emerging leader moving around town on a scooter. He wore white trousers and half-sleeved short kurtas at that time. These have over the years metamorphosed into the long version he now wears. Even when Modi lived in banishment in the mid-1990s whenever he came visiting Ahmedabad, a visit to the Chauhans (or the other way often) was always a part of his itinerary and Modi would hand over interesting fabric he had picked up from different places. Over the years, the relationship between Modi and the Chauhans has developed into one of trust and perhaps one of the few abiding ones in the former's life. Jitendra says that in Indian culture a man is traditionally said to be close to his tailor and barber, just the way a woman is to the midwife who delivers her children. I ask jocularly if he was privy to Modi's secrets, in response to which he burst out laughing while gesturing me to drink the tea that was offered.
Narendra Modi is known to be extremely finicky about his preferences and has a fantastic eye for detail. There was an occasion when he had to go to London and wanted several outfits delivered virtually overnight. 'He was always very particular about buttonholes of kurtas and jackets. He never wanted them machine stitched and instead preferred the hand-tailored buttonholes. I asked him if we could do them for a change by machine but he put his foot down!' What about the fitting? The question assumes importance because the bulk of Modi's political draw comes from his performances on the stage. So the fitting is also to buttress the image of the macho "protector of the prosecuted majority": it is body hugging. But in the packed schedule which political leaders like Modi keep, when does he find time to attend to trivia like spending considerable time giving measurements? Bipin showed me a picture on his mobile phone of Modi giving his measurements and said that whenever asked, they go to his house late at night. I requested for the photograph, but he smiled and politely told to leave that - 'it's too personal.' But the exchange underscored Modi's faith in his designers and a conviction that a fine sartorial taste needn't clash with the hecticity of the job on hand. It also demonstrated how Modi had evolved with the times and become less insecure: from the time when he was upset with reporters who cheekily linked his acting in plays as a child to his theatrics in the political arena; he was now at ease with the fact that his personal style is discussed ad nauseum and cleverly uses it as yet another tool to further his image of an "unusual" politician. But there is no denying that Modi's political theatrics has origins in the make-shift stages in Vadnagar, his village, when he faced audiences as a young child and as readers will recall, mesmerized the audiences there.
What about his choice of colours? When I asked this question I was reminded of the incident when Modi made a snide remark at a journalist saying that green would have suited him better than the saffron shirt he was wearing. In December 2002, when riding high after the electoral sweep, he had hosted a lunch for scribes and gently chided journalist Darshan Desai because he had written reports critical of Modi and green is the culturally identified colour of Muslims in contrast to saffron which though used by Hindu priests has been incorporated into the aggressive Hindutva kit. Bipin Chauhan said that Modi actually does not ever wear green and is very careful about the blacks also. He avoids anything that is "jet-black" but is comfortable wearing black stripes in the evenings. This may sound as the most predictable answer for an oft-repeated question but saffron is indeed Modi's favourite colour but he does not wear it in loud or bright hues anymore and has instead shifted to "silent or more-earthy shades" of the colour. People who have tracked Modi closely over the years have also noticed his penchant for changing clothes during the day when going from one function to another. In May 2012, one of Gujarat's most prosperous business tycoons, Gautam Adani's son Karan got engaged to a Mumbai girl - Paridhi Shroff, daughter of the owner of one of the top legal firms in India. Modi was in attendance at this big fat engagement-bash in Ahmedabad. He had gone there from the inaugural function of the Ahmedabad Golf Club and people who were either at both places or saw pictures of Modi at the two functions noticed that he returned to his residence in Gandhinagar and changed to a different outfit - something that matched the celebratory mood at the Adani-Shroff engagement ceremony.
Besides the kurta and pyjama, Modi deftly mixes and matches for casual social occasions and his collection of scarves or stoles that he drapes on his shoulders are often in contrasting colours to his kurtas. He follows the same pattern when wearing jackets or high neck coats also called Jodhpuris. For his travels abroad, Modi is careful never to repeat his old wardrobe. For his visit to Japan in July 2012, Modi got an entire new range stitched by Jade Blue. Modi is equally comfortable in western attire and does not ever look like a fish out of water like several Indian political leaders who look distinctly uncomfortable when they don suits while travelling to cooler climes or when interacting with international communities. Even at home, Modi has been sighted wearing stylish Texan hats along with jeans and Ts - and this even in Kutch during the Rann festival. The winter festival in the Great Rann of Kutch has been successfully packaged as a tourist mega-event in Modi's tenure. Its success is central to Modi's concerns because - as readers would recall, the destruction and poor rehabilitation in Gujarat's largest district after the 2001 earthquake enabled Modi to become chief minister. The choice of Amitabh Bachchan to promote Gujarat - specially Kutch and Modi's conscious decision to turn out differently for the winter festival can be understood if one recalls the punchline of the Bachchan advertisement: If you have not seen Kutch, you have not seen anything. If you have not noticed Modi's stylish coats hanging cheek by jowl to his more regularly worn clothes, then you have noted the other dimension of his style.
While Modi has experimented with the texture of his fabrics, his prime fondness for uneven and coarse material remains. He has often in the past worn clothes made from poly khadi and still wears pure khadi a lot but his favourite fabric is linen - the new craze among the well-heeled in India for its better capacity to absorb moisture. As Bipin Chauhan says 'Narendrabhai likes the fabric rough.'
Although Jade Blue do the bulk of Modi's costuming - including stitching large quantities of cloth that Modi gets as gifts through the year, he isn't the only celebrity client they have. Industrialists, corporate honchos and politicians of all shades also pick up their outfits from the showroom. The day I met former Gujarat Congress Pradesh Committee President, Arjun Modhwadia to interview him for this book, he was also wearing a kurta made in this shop (of course not a Modi kurta!) Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi, is also a diehard Jade Blue customer and gets his supplies flown into the Indian capital by a human courier - mostly one of the two brothers who arrive at night and return in the morning after delivering the order and taking measurements for fresh orders.
The BJP leader from Mumbai, Shaina N C, also well known as a designer in her own right has reportedly also turned out outfits for Modi. But despite such a vast repertoire of clothes, Modi who has a photographic memory and as mentioned earlier a keen eye for detail, remembers each and every outfit in his closet. It is not that Modi discards clothes after wearing them only a few times, but he ensures that no kurta, shirt, jacket or coat is repeated in quick succession. When he travels away from Ahmedabad, he picks out his wardrobe himself - though he may delegate the job of packing them into suitcases to one of his personal retainers. An associate who has known Modi for several decades says that Modi's effort is to 'always look distinct and stand out in a crowd.'
Bharghav Parekh, the journalist who has been referred to elsewhere in the book made an insightful observation: 'Modi is greatly influenced by Rajesh Khanna's style and that is why he buttons up his kurtas tight till his neck. He stands erect - almost like Fidel Castro - to ensure that the chest comes out - the concept of chauri chhati wala insaan (man with a broad chest) - and his stance is wide open.' There are the other oddities aimed at drawing the attention of the audience: he claps with his left hand - the right hand is at the bottom. Like any other vocal performer, Modi takes great care of his voice and never drinks cold water. Even the glass of water that was served in the course of the interview to me was tepid.
Yet another associate who requested anonymity said there were three things that Modi was very careful about : 'Dikhte kaise hain, dekhte kaise hain aur bolte kaise hain' (How he appears, how he sees and how he speaks) - meaning that he pays special attention to how he looks, takes adequate care of his eyes and his spectacles and maintains the health of his vocal chords so that it can withstand the demands for speaking long hours in a theatrical style.
As far as his looks are concerned, besides the stated fondness for stylish clothes - there is no "compromise" on this front - Modi is also particular about perfect and timely trimming of his facial hair and locks. Ajay Umat of The Times of India reported in May 2012 that as long as 'his oldest aides can remember, chief minister Narendra Modi has always carried a comb in his pocket. He also carries a special shaving comb, which he brushes lightly on his beard to trim overgrowth.' There was a time before the 2007 assembly elections when worried that unless he took remedial steps, he would soon have little use for the pocket comb, Modi decided to undergo a hair transplant. This enabled him to 'reclaim part of his receding hairline and appear less bald for the December (2007) election campaign.' Journalists who have reported on Modi's public meetings and rallies for long, recall that he has frequently been seen caressing or stroking his hair while either listening to another speaker or waiting for his turn. In the summer of 2012 he decided to grow his hair for some months leading to speculations in the media if Modi was chiselling a new image. Was it due to any religious belief or to project a more saint-like image and may be even prepare for another transplant?
Modi also has a weakness for designer fountain pens - Montblanc in particular. The Pracharak-turned-chief minister also likes to wear premium designer watches and an Ahmedabad-based journalist told me that one of Modi's favourite brand is Movado, the Swiss luxury watch company established in 1881 whose watches are available from select outlets in India at prices upwards of fifty thousand rupees. When the close associate said that Modi was also careful about his sight, he meant that he was choosy about his spectacle frames - designer, mainly Bvlgari.
For all his flashy exteriors, Modi has very simple gastronomical habits and is clearly not a foodie: 'Main unme se naheen hoon jo jeeb ke shaukeen hote hain' (I am not among those who have a fondness for anything particular). In August 2012 during his Google Plus Hangout, Modi described himself as a parivrajak - a homeless wanderer that he actually was till he bought residential land measuring 326.22 square metres and built a house on Plot No 411, Sector 1, in Gandhinagar. While this gave him a permanent address probably for the first time after he left home, his status still remained somewhat like a wandering minstrel - giving him the ability to make do with whatever was made available.
Dileep Sanghani, one of Narendra Modi's close confidantes and a former minister in his cabinet, remembers that as far as food was concerned, Modi - a frequent visitor to his house from his days in New Delhi - never made a request for anything particular - 'he always ate whatever was offered to him.' The statement was made to me several days before Modi's Google Plus Hangout so he did not know what was said after the bit about him being a homeless wanderer: that he had to almost beg for food for four decades, 'Whenever I used to visit a house, I ate whatever they could offer.'
In fact, Modi told one of the questioners on the video chat session that anyone active in public life could not have a stomach for much because of constant travelling and being exposed to different foods and water. Modi however likes khichdi as it's light on the stomach and has a preference for non-spicy food. This would often create problems because before he became chief minister, he would drop in unannounced at homes of his acquaintances - like Sanghani - during meal times but would eat whatever was available. 'I never gave anyone an opportunity to cook something special for me,' Modi said. He added that since he never had a family and never lived in a proper home after his childhood, his food habits were very basic because he 'does not have any taste buds left.' Modi however finds the sweetish Gujarati cuisine more agreeable with his system and personally favours eating bottle gourd. But why such frugality, I wondered? The answer, in the course of his video chat, was typically pompous: 'I have never wanted that at any point my body, my health should become a burden on my country. I would not want anyone to spend any time or expend their energies on looking after me - that is the reason why I pledged to stay healthy.'
At the time of interviewing him, I asked Modi about his daily routine and he told me what I had heard previously - that he virtually does not sleep. 'I sleep very less - just three and a half or four hours. When I was in Sangh I had developed this habit of being a very early riser and that habit has stayed on,' he said by way of explanation. I had asked if there was a definite auto-alarm that woke him up and he said that he was up every morning by 'about 4.30-4.45 am. If it gets late then 5 am at the latest. After which I do some yoga - I try to give an hour or so to it but at times it is not possible. Then I personally access my mails, surf, check the Google Alerts. And finally, by 7.30, I am ready to start my day.' I asked him which Google Alerts had he activated? Narendra Modi and Gujarat, came the reply and predictably so. Modi's habit of rising early has been useful during elections - he often is through with essentials of the campaign while his opponents are asleep. Harinder Baweja reported in the Hindustan Times on 11 December 2012 that Modi's 'war room functions 24x7,' and that he 'holds the first review at 5 am with members of the team that is in charge of social media.'
There is no gainsaying the fact that the use of technology and particularly the social media networking sites have greatly impacted some of the recent political movements across the globe. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in December 2010 is one such example where public support and mobilization was activated solely through social media networking tools. Among the older lot, and excluding young politicians like Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, Narendra Modi is by far one of the few politicians who has learnt to use technology for furthering his political career. Gujarat was probably the first state and Modi the first chief minister in India to begin the use of social media. As someone with an astute business sense he understood early on in life that it costs little money and gives amazing gains with a great on-ground buzz and traction. On 1 February 2009, less than three years after the launch of Twitter, Modi began using the social networking platform using the @narendramodi handle. The first Tweet was a simple announcement of his visit next day to Dahod 'for Gujarat Swarnim Jayanti Yatra.' Less than a fortnight later, Modi launched the Gujarati version of his personal website - www.narendramodi.in. Initially the Tweets were not daily and did not have many followers but right from the beginning, the Tweets were not just announcements of his tours but made for engaging reading. Sample this: 'Women would play a crucial role in the development of Gujarat' - a Tweet would say and then give a link to the complete speech on the topic; 'Through water conservation movement, Kutch has an extraordinary ability to replicate Israel' - another speech of his. Early in his life as a Twitteratti, Modi also gave links to pure data which underscored development during his tenure - 'Gujarat posts 12.8% agriculture growth, highest in India.'
By the middle of 2012, Modi had a significant presence on cyberspace. Besides Twitter, Modi was also on Google Plus, Facebook and had a channel on YouTube. There are professionals in his team who manage the entire exercise with an OSD on Information Technology coordinating the entire operation. Political advise has come from colleagues during the election campaign in 2012 but otherwise, it has been his small team. Young professionals were also engaged to bolster the information department of the state government and they work under the direction and guidance of senior officers who personally supervised operations. Modi on his own does not leave everything to his associates, rather he is what is often said about many others - a "hands on CEO". In terms of Modi's dexterity with gizmos, those who knew him before he became chief minister find one of his practices rather odd: he practically never uses mobile phones after he became chief minister. A source close to Modi explained that 'in any case, he is never far from either a landline or from an aide who carried a mobile,' The issue became contentious in 2002 when it was alleged that during the riots he had used personal mobile phones of several members of his secretarial staff. The issue dogged him for long and in his deposition to the Special Investigation Team in March 2010 he denied doing so and said that a phone was allotted to him in 2002 but he rarely used it.
While several government departments have been strengthened during Modi's tenure, the Information department has undergone a near-complete overhaul because Modi realizes the power of information and the need for its dissemination more than any other politician in the country. The department has gone shopping for talent in management schools and picked up the best commensurate with competitive wages and is active on Twitter, Facebook, has revamped its website besides of course coming out with an English quarterly journal targeted at embassies. It also runs campaigns on social issues like "Save the Girl Child", "World Environment Day", and against "Trafficking of Women". To stress the fact that Modi took care to ensure that he was not charged on violation of the electoral code of conduct, the Twitter handle of the Information department, @InfoGujarat suspended Tweets on 3 October to resume operations only after the results were officially announced. For Modi, the internet is another platform to publicize his ideas - another theatre for him to demonstrate his skills as a performer. It is not just public meetings that has the audiences for his standout performances - the internet brings them to the computers and now on mobile handsets.
For all his travails and a grinding schedule, Narendra Modi also has a "sensitive" side to his personality. He listens to music - Gujarati ghazals but does not always find time for it. He spends a lot of his time reading on the internet, and keeps track of virtually every word that is written about him and Gujarat with assistance from the Alerts that he has activated. But besides that he is a voracious reader - 'reading virtually on any subject' as an associate informs. Modi may not be an ideologue of the Sangh Parivar and is more in the doer role. But the amount of information that he packs in his mind is impressive. His associates say that Modi keeps 'testing his mind' and still finds time to write.
Modi told me that although he liked being on his own, it did not mean he had no friends. What about now, I had asked him. There was no remorse in his voice as he said: 'Now my work has become my friend. I enjoy this and I do this work with complete dedication.' But in the past there were occasions when his proximity with colleagues had generated controversies. During the 1990s, Mafatbhai Patel, the husband of Modi's ministerial colleague Anandiben Patel had 'complained to the BJP leadership that Modi's proximity to his wife had taken a heavy toll on their family life.' The issue resurfaced during assembly elections in 2002 and 2007 and even national mainstream papers and magazines like the Hindustan Times and The Week wrote about the allegations of Anandiben's estranged husband who soon started appearing in public with the dissidents in the BJP and campaigned against Modi. On her part, whenever journalists asked Anandiben about her reaction, she maintained that she did not wish to talk about private matters.
A hallmark of Modi's character has been his brutish style of dealing with adversaries and rebels. However, several journalists and one-time political associates who interacted with Modi for decades asserted the brusqueness was essentially to hide a deep sense of insecurity. But quite unlike most Indian politicians, Modi has rarely been willing to forget the past and has never forgiven those who dared disagree with his views or voice criticism. Probably the only instance where he made a distinction was in the case of Smriti Irani who began her career in the BJP as a harsh critic of Modi but was later nominated by him to the Rajya Sabha. Modi has on no occasion spoken about this concession to a one-time critic, but Irani, who withdrew her offensive comments and told the media that 'More than anybody else, let the people of Gujarat speak for Narendra Modi and not you and me. They elected him as Chief Minister and he did a brilliant job.'
Modi's is not an easy life. He is always under scrutiny for the position he holds as well as for his political stance. The lifestyle he has chosen is an easy target for critics. This is because of Modi's firm belief that in his personal planetary space, he is the Sun around whom everybody else has to move in predetermined orbits. In the course of writing this book, I was once asked who Modi considered most important for his political development? I thought for a while before answering convincingly: himself. Unlike several other leaders, Modi is not an enigma any more - everything about him is either known or believed. There is no aspect of Modi's life on which people do not have an opinion - critical or adoring. From being a fashion icon and a frugal eater, to being a homeless wanderer even while being accused of being a home-breaker and destroyer of personal relationships, Modi no longer has any mystery surrounding his personality. He has been deciphered - driven by the ideological position of the assessor. It is nothing new for Narendra Modi. But whenever he has faced such a situation, he reinvented himself and added a spin or two.
Title: Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Author: Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay; Edition: Hardcover; Language: English; No.of Pages:432
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