A small step for Gujarat, a giant leap for India?

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: Narendra Modi‘s stunning blitzkrieg will have all the usual pundits taking up all their usual well-advertised positions.

Those who subscribe to his brand of politics will say that the verdict is proof that good governance can win votes, that development is the only permanent band-aid, that Indians are sick and tired of minority appeasement, etc.

Those who don’t buy into Moditva will say the exact opposite. That Moditva, a cocktail of thigh-slapping cultural nationalism and communalism will spell finis to India as we know it if taken outside the State’s borders.

But for those outside Gujarat, and it is easy to forget in the hype that 29 out of India’s 30 States are, the point to ponder is if, in Modi’s victory, the country has taken the first, most strident step, towards a presidential style of politics.

Presidential style, mind you, not presidential form.

Hear me out.

By all accounts, this election has been like none we have seen before. An individual towered over the party, even its senior leaders getting the short shrift. The masks of Modi that fans of the chief minister wore, the chappan ki chaati (56-inch chest) that Modi thumped, left no doubt as to who the people were being asked to vote.

The person more than the party.

Even otherwise, in the five years preceding the poll, the focus and fulcrum of Gujarat politics had been one man.

As one commentator wrote, he was answerable to none and accountable only to himself. He was known to be inaccessible not just to voters but even his legislators. He showed the door to old apparatchiks like Keshubhbhai Patel and Suresh Mehta.

He eliminated the middlemen. He refused to entertain the satraps of the sangh parivar looking for a few loaves of power. He took tough, uncomfortable decisions unmindful of the votebanks that had been assiduously built and nurtured.

All power was concentrated in his office and all decisions were his.

The actions may have been authoritarian and dictatorial, positive or negative, but Modi left no one in doubt as to who was in charge. At the end of years, Modi also left no one in any doubt as to who was seeking the vote. In plumping for him, four-square, out of their own wisdom, the Gujarati voters have sent a clear message that they backed this kind of governance by the leader in charge.

Question is: is this what voters outside Gujarat want too? A jump from the safe, consensual, but eventually ineffectual politics of the past to a more direct, hands-on, individual decision-making process that produces results?

Photograph: courtesy prudentindian