More charismatic than Carter, Clinton, Bushes?

The Atlantic Monthly has a 5,625-word profile of the “brightest star in the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party”, Narendra Damodardas Modi, in its April issue.

Given how infrequently Modi meets the Indian English media, and how petulant he gets when he is asked about 2002, Robert D. Kaplan‘s article offers a rare window into the mind of the “economic dynamo” who “also presided over  India’s worst communal riots in decades.”

Kaplan writes that when he met Modi, he wore “traditional paijama pants and a long, elegant brown kurta—ironically, the traditional dress of India imported by the Mughals.”

# “Modi’s hypnotic oratory and theatrical flair have led some to compare him to Adolf Hitler. Certainly he is the most charismatic Indian political leader to emerge since Indira Gandhi in the 1970s…. I have met Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes. At close range, Modi beats them all in charisma. Whenever he opened his mouth, he suddenly had real, mesmerizing presence.”

# “Modi is neither Lee Kuan Yew nor Adolf Hitler. He is what he is, a new kind of hybrid politician—part CEO with prodigious management abilities, part rabble-rouser with a fierce ideological following—who is both impressive and disturbing in his own right. While Barack Obama may give hope to millions in the new century, a leader like Modi demonstrates how the century can also go very wrong when charismatic politicians use modern electoral tactics and technology to create and exploit social divisions, and then pursue their political and economic goals with cold bureaucratic efficiency.”

# “I asked him about the contribution of the Muslims, who make up 11 percent of the state’s population. “We are a spiritual, god-fearing people,” he answered. “We are by and large vegetarians. Jainism and Buddhism impacted us positively. We want to create a Buddhist temple here to honor Buddha’s remains.” “He then prompted me for my next question. He had nothing further to say. His terse responses spoke volumes: Muslims, of course, are meat-eaters.”…

# “There were so many ingenious ways Modi could have shown remorse for what happened in 2002 without directly admitting guilt, and he had expressed no interest in doing so. Perhaps it was a Machiavellian ploy: first, allow RSS forces to launch what most neutral observers said was a methodical killing spree in 2002, and then turn toward development after you have used violence to consolidate power and concentrate the minds of your enemies.

“But Machiavelli believed in using only the minimum amount of cruelty to attain a positive collective result, and thus any more cruelty than was absolutely necessary did not, as he put it, qualify as virtue. He is a very driven man, with no personal life, from what I gathered. He exuded power and control. How could he not have been implicated in the 2002 pogrom?, I asked myself.”

# “Is Modi a fascist? Although episodes in his political career and his role in the events of February 2002 suggest as much, the answer is, ultimately, no. “What makes Modi different from Hitler,” explained Prasad Chacko, who heads a local NGO, “is that while Hitler thought fascism the end result of political evolution, Modi knows that Hindutva is only a phase that cannot last, so now he focuses on development, not communal divides.”

Photograph: courtesy The Atlantic Monthly

Read the full article: India’s new face

Also read: Does BJP owe an apology for Gujarat genocide?

‘Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi’