The world as far as it exists for India is now divided between those who adore Narendra Modi and those who don’t. (The rest of the world is busy looking for flight MH370 and trying to decipher Vladimir Putin.)
Modi of course is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate all ready to be anointed to the throne, if all the opinion polls and his many fans are to be believed. This may well be true. If the BJP manages to get close to or above 200 seats and its current allies another 30 or 40, then their alliance is that much closer to the magical halfway mark of 272 seats out of 543. Friends, new and old, will then flock to them, for Cabinet berths and a few other privileges.
It is the BJP’s prerogative to put Modi before the rest of the party: this is not the first time nor is the BJP the only party to do so and will not be the last. Personality politics is far more attractive than issue politics as even Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party have discovered. The Congress has always known it and been successful with it.
Regional parties have long thrived on it: name anyone and try to disassociate the party from the one face. The Left is the only possible party which hasn’t and look what’s happened to it.
The problems are that criticism of Modi is not to be tolerated and that mention of the exaggeration about Modi’s achievements in Gujarat is met with enormous hostility. Unfortunately, though, criticism is part of life and continues even in countries that are not democracies committed to freedom of expression. The greater you say you are — no matter who you are — you will be criticised. No matter how many people respected or still respect Mahatma Gandhi and how many people he has inspired worldwide, he is still among the most criticised Indians today. The fact that Modi’s fans (and possibly Modi himself) are not broad-shouldered enough to take the good with the bad belies the claims that his 56-inch chest gives him the strength to save India’s problems.
As far as Gujarat is concerned, there is enough evidence that the “Gujarat model” is both flawed and inflated. There are other Indian states — most notably Maharashtra — which tops Gujarat when it comes to attracting investments.
When it comes to human development indicators then states which do not top the investment or money lists also do better than Gujarat. Some of Gujarat’s greatest success stories predate Modi’s arrival on the scene. What is clear is that Modi is business and investment-friendly and drastically cut down bureaucratic muddles for investors. The question is, is that the one achievement India needs to replicate above all others?
You cannot say all this and not expect to get roasted. Even God or various gods and goddesses can be taken down a peg or two but absolutely not Modi. He is above and beyond all of us — or so his diehard devotees would have us believe as they appear on television or troll social media or write gushing newspaper columns, conduct gushing video interviews or just meet you socially. It seems like a frightening prospect but it should be most frightening for Modi.
Because it builds him up to such an impossible height that the only way for him after that is down.
And if Modi becomes prime minister, the criticism will only get worse. Human experience shows that those who prop you up can just as easily pull you down. High expectations are a recipe for disaster as most eastern religions will tell you. Which only means that Modi’s devotees need to get used to a lot worse if he gets to where they want him to.
Look at Manmohan Singh: even in 2009, his economic acumen was discussed in hushed tones. And see what they say about him now.
And what about those who are not devotees? Well, all that you need to bring down a hot air balloon is a little pin.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona