Decoding Sadbhavana Mission - How the media (un)covered it

Written by: Yash Gandhi
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Narendra Modi
As the verdict on the petition filed by Zakia Jafri came out from the Supreme Court earlier this month, the fact that the electronic and print media were to have a field day became prominent in the way they unleashed a wave of coverage on Narendra Modi. The icing on the cake was when Modi himself announced that we will undertake a 3 day fast, christened as Sadbhavana Mission to promote values of peace and harmony among the people of Gujarat. In recent moments of Narendra Modi coverage, the events from 12th September 2011 have been a watershed moment both in terms of coverage time and content. In the past few weeks, sections of the media have dissected, trisected even 'quartersected" each and every aspect of the Sadbhavana Mission- what was it about politically, who came, who didn"t, the 'five star-ness" of it and so on. Sadly what the entire media missed out was a clear understanding of what Sadbhavana Mission was all about, both normatively and even politically, if there is a need to venture into that realm.

To begin with, what did come out over the past few days is the fact that there exists a certain fear of Narendra Modi that has resulted in an orchestrated vilification campaign by large sections of the media and quarters of the elitist intelligentsia, who have shut their eyes to the ground realities of the day and age they are living in. Sadbhavana Mission can be a classic case in point to illustrate the above.

For all that Sadbhavana Mission was about, the spin given to the Sadbhavana Mission was that it was an attempt by Narendra Modi to catapult himself to the politics of New Delhi. From the time he sought the blessings of his mother till the time he was offered juice by seers on the final day of his fast, TV channels and editorials were abuzz with questions such as 'Is Modi set for a long innings" or 'Has BJP decided its face for 2014?" in the process completely sidetracking what the Mission actually sought to achieve or begin. It must be placed on record that at no point in the last five years has Narendra Modi explicitly stated his move to national politics. Back in 2007, a reporter has asked him what he saw himself doing five years later to which Modi replied- he would be contesting elections in Gujarat! Come 2011-2012, we can safely conclude that he has kept his word. What needs to be understood is that there is a crucial difference between 'Prime Minister material" and a shot at realizing this ambition.

That Modi was PM material has been a known fact not now but since 2007 that prompted a wise reporter to as Narendra Modi the question back then. What also needs to be realized is that this 'material" has solid credentials to back it. Be it the Planning Commission, the USA Congress, captains of industry and the common men, women on the street, there is near unanimity in accepting that Gujarat has progressed leaps and bounds in the past few decades. Attributing this to the entrepreneurial spirit of Gujaratis historically is only one facet to explain the sea of transformation in the last decade. The very fact that Modi baiters in the media (and there are many) single him out for a larger national role among other Chief Minister is an implicit approval for his work for people in the state. Where the media also fails is in their inability to bring out 'national PM aspirations" of other leaders albeit with far more mediocre track record or ability. Thus, I seek to argue that if any sign of move to national politics must come from the man in question himself and now a handful of editors completely out of sync with ground realities. Let us take things at a certain degree of face value and not take to selective objectivity for some and constant vilification for the other.

The other issue that completely overshadowed the Sadbhavana Mission was the 'five star" nature of the fast- be it the venue or the arrangements. Here again, there are major errors and omissions mischievously hidden in order to create a perception that never was. Any commentator of Indian and Gujarati politics would know that 'five star politics" has never been a vice or virtue associated with Narendra Modi. His background was obscure, his upbringing far from five star and his rise in politics totally disassociated with any pedigree or lineage. Unlike the 'babalog" he did not have the privilege of attending posh institutions and he is far more comfortable in the vernacular languages as compared to many of his colleagues. Is it not more five star when families of the Delhi High Court blasts were denied access to their kith and kin simply because a man who by birth was 'born" to 'rule" this country was on one his parachute trips in the wake of another disaster? Yes, there were efficient arrangements made but perhaps they could be understood as arrangements to facilitate a stream of commoners who flocked the venue to catch a glimpse of their Chief Minister. Part II - Media missed the script of the mission

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