New Delhi: In the last six years that Narendra Modi has been in power, a handful of India’s finest political commentators and close BJP watchers have tried decoding the man that the world is watching, using strands from his speeches, his silences and his mannerisms. They have endeavoured to find out what his vision, or lack of it, holds for the future of the country and the 125 crore people he often refers to in his public addresses.
How different is he as a prime minister when one places him alongside the other man to occupy the chair from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee?
In conversations with The Wire between July 2018 and February, 2020, three of India’s top political commentators – Arun Shourie, Ramachandra Guha and Tavleen Singh – have engaged in detail with Modi’s persona, personal and political.
Speaking at The Wire Dialogue in New Delhi in July 2018, Guha had called Modi “a study in self-love”.
“To get to the top of any profession, you have to have some strong self-belief. But what is extraordinary is…referring to himself in third person, the suit which had his full name, Narendra Damodar Modi, so I think it is all of this (self-love) that makes him. There was Lord Ram and there is Narendra Modi.”
He pointed to a crucial difference between Modi and Vajpayee, stating, “…Vajpayee ran a more collegial cabinet, consulted his colleagues, he had to do, partly also because he was in a coalition. But I think the real difference between Narendra Modi and any other prime minister that we have had, ever, is that for successes, real or imagined, he is not willing to share the credit with anyone else. Not even with Lord Rama.”
In September 2018, a few weeks after Vajpayee died, Arun Shourie, taking part in the second The Wire Dialogue, commented, “Everything (for the Modi government) is an event, and the vulgarity of it – that you will compare a mere tax reform (GST) to Independence Day, to the independence of India. This is amazing. Even poor Atalji’s passing away had become yet another event for appropriation.”
Shourie, who worked closely with Vajpayee and was a minister in his government, added, “Everybody who worked with Atal ji will tell you that…just read what is being written about him (Vajpayee) in the last 10-15 days since he passed away and any of those ideals or any of those virtues he stood for or he personified can be detected in this (Modi) government.”
Shourie, in the conversation with Karan Thapar, saw Modi in terms of a ‘dark triad’, which he said was a combination of “insecurity”, Machiavellianism and ‘sociopathy’. Shourie said that insecurity is a personality trait he didn’t notice in Vajpayee, also describing Modi as a “Casanova” and a “narcissist who needs to keep looking at the pool to reassure himself that he is beautiful”.
Nearly a year and a half after Shourie’s analysis of Modi’s personality, Indian Express columnist Tavleen Singh, once an admirer of Modi, said he has “a hint of megalomania”.
On February 17, in an exclusive interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, the senior journalist who had recently published her book, Messiah Modi? A Take of Great Expectations, said what she fears is that Modi has absorbed the RSS’s dislike of Muslims. She fears it’s in his “DNA”.
She said, “Megalomania is a dangerous quality in a man and I saw in it (the decision to go ahead with demonetisation), more than a hint of it.”
On one occasion when she met Modi and asked why he was not speaking up, he told her that if he did he would have to do so on every occasion. She felt it meant he was failing to show moral leadership, particularly when India needed it. She said this was because “he did not want to”.
Singh also referred to his personalised suit worn in 2015, saying that till then she believed he had a spiritual dimension and was free of acquisitiveness and attachment to possessions. The suit showed that he was vain and even hypocritical.