It was May 2009 and the venue was Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad. An ocean of humanity had converged there, perhaps the largest I had seen in a while. Not having seen the heyday of NTR, this looked like the largest political event in Hyderabad for a long long time. The occasion was the swearing in of YS Rajashekhara Reddy as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
As ND Tiwari administered the oath of office to the doctor from Kadapa, the crowds went berserk. It was like a carnival. Months later, in September 2009 the same number of people converged at the Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium only that this time the occasion was somber- they were marking the death of the same YSR who they had voted into office on two occasions. It seemed as if Hyderabad would never witness such fervour as it did on those two occasions for a while.
However, I was proven wrong on the evening of 11th August 2013 when Narendra Modi descended on Hyderabad to address a youth convention. Modi's visit is significant as this is his first major rally in the south after taking over as the campaign committee chief of the BJP. As Narendra Modi wrapped up his speech with an aspiration filled "Yes We Can, Yes We Will, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Mataram" it was clear that he had won the hearts of Hyderabad and their youth.
Modi's speech in Hyderabad will stand as a watershed moment in the build up to the 2014 (or 2013) Lok Sabha elections, where he is all but officially declared the PM candidate of the BJP. It stands out for various reasons:
'We' not 'I'
Speaking only as a Chief Minister of one of India's 29 states, a dominant theme of many of Modi's earlier speeches was how he transformed Gujarat into a land of equal and sustainable development. His admirers saw it as a mark of his genius while the critics saw it as overt narcissism. Yes, as Chief Minister Modi's primary aim was to hard-sell his state and its achievement, something that every CM does but the Modi speaking in Hyderabad was Modi the campaign committee chief, who spoke as if he was presenting a vision of an entire party that is prepared to come to power in 2014 and provide an alternative to the dismal governance of the UPA.
Modi's speech showed the people what the BJP states had to offer- be it PDS reforms in Raman Singh's Chhattisgarh or the Ladli Lakshmi so vociferously championed by Shivraj Chouhan. He was also judicious in praising Jayalalithaa's work in skill development, this despite the fact that the AIADMK is neither in the NDA nor will it enter into any pre-poll alliance with the BJP.
For all those who were ready with criticism that Modi only speaks about Gujarat, they had to change their script and confine those elaborate editorials into the dustbin. Having institutionalized teamwork in Gujarat, he is all set to do the same for the BJP and in national politics. Expect to know more of the work of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Manohar Parrikar, Vasundhara Raje and PK Dhumal in future Modi rallies.
It is not often that I find myself on the same page as Rajdeep Sardesai but 11th August was different. In his Tweet that evening, Rajdeep commented that Narendra Modi was very statesmanlike on Andhra and Telangana issue. I could not find a better word to describe Modi's words on the issue. He made it very clear that the BJP is in favour of Telangana but not at the cost of the development and aspirations of the rest of Andhra Pradesh.
He chided the Congress for their open double speak on Telangana and asked then why did they not bother to invest in a new capital for Seemandhra when the promise for Telangana was made ten years ago. Concluding his speech with "Jai Telangana" and "Jai Seemandhra" in the same breath was noting short of a masterstroke.
On Telangana, he showed the nation that he was here to heal. It reminded many of Vajpayee in 2000, who presided over the creation of small states with ease and dignity. When Uttaranchal was born, nobody remembered the bitter struggle undertaken by the locals or the infamous Rampur Tiraha incident of 1994 but both the states were celebrating. The same was the case in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. And now, compare it with what the Congress has done with Telangana.
What Modi showed was that the Vajpayee legacy of consensus, harmony and development of all was intact. Being a strong advocate of state's rights himself, Modi gave a sneak peak into his policy on small states an interstate cooperation.
The resurrection of anti-Congressism plank
Many of my friends saw Modi's reference to NTR as the real take home from the speech. At one level, yes Modi made a direct reference to Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP to unite with the BJP. It was overtly clear that when it came to expanding the NDA in Andhra Pradesh, Modi's first preference was the development-centered politics of Naidu as compared to the blatant populism of YSR and the opportunism of TRS.
But, at another level he spoke about anti-Congressism, whose political obituary has been written. Back in 1983, when the Congress power was at its peak, NTR organized a conclave of 14 opposition parties, which was also attended by two notable Cabinet Ministers today- Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Pawar. He became a glue for anti-Congress forces and in 1984 the TDP also won the most number of seats among opposition parties.
Those who expected Modi to indulge in Sonia and Rahul bashing were left disappointed. To be honest, Sonia and Rahul bashing would have been the easier way out. Considering they have not bothered to visit the state that sent the largest MPs in 2004 and 2009, the public sentiment was completely against them. Naturally, had Modi taken them to the cleaners the cheers would have been louder. But, instead he focused on the larger issue of anti-Congressism thus sounding more statesmanlike than like a politician. Without naming them, he has infused more damage on the Congress by exposing their hollow politics.
Today, anti-Congressism is a thought in decline courtesy the socialists' (notably of UP and Bihar) love for ‘secularism' that has ironically drawn many of them closer to the Congress. However, one cannot say it is over. We do have a lot of strong Chief Ministers across the country who resist the policies of the UPA better than the opposition in New Delhi.
In this list, the name of Narendra Modi figures prominently. In Hyderabad, by invoking NTR, a popular Chief Minister who enjoyed a cult status just like Modi, Modi showed is willingness to become a rallying point for strong Chief Ministers and Opposition leaders against the Congress. Whether he will succeed or not time will tell, but the effort shown is surely laudatory.
He's got mother power
When RS Bains, an NRI who has lived in Canada and Germany, wrote on Twitter that he sought two passes for his mother to hear Narendra Modi little did he know that the man who would reply to his request would be Narendra Modi himself. He asked Kishan Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh BJP head to facilitate the entry of Bains' octogenarian mother to the stadium.
At the rally, Mrs. Bains was no less than the star of the show. In a sign of humility and respect for values, Narendra Modi touched her feet and sought her blessings. Where else can a man sitting in a different continent fulfill the dream of his old mother in the manner Mr. Bains did?
As Shivnath Thukral put it- call it PR or any other name to soothe the ego, the fact is this gesture left the stadium and those who were watching absolutely touched. In a polity where pictures of eight year old elders prostrating before scions of political families, this comes as a welcome break!
Modified foreign policy
One could sense the pain and anguish in Modi's voice when we spoke about the Indian soldiers beheaded by Pakistan or the border incursions by the Chinese. His attack on the UPA on the BSF issue struck a chord with lakhs of Indians who are dismayed and concerned by the manner in which the UPA has compromised the strategic interests of the nation.
When Modi spoke, one could gauge that if elected, the foreign policy of India would be in safe hands. India's interests wont be compromised, the lives of the soldiers will not be at stake and the nation can walk with its head high at the world table.
In a polity where the disease of lip service secularism and tokenism has overshadowed everything else, Narendra Modi made passionate remarks on secularism and governance that can set the tone on the political discourse in 2014.
Modi made it explicitly clear that he is not going to compromise basic principles and patriotism just to win a handful of votes. He yet again failed the Tilak and Topi test when he said that the only religion of governments was India first and its only holy book the constitution of India.
He thundered that the only Bhakti and Shakti of a government is India and its people. Nothing else matters! These are strong points that will surely swing the tide in favour of Modi come 2014.
It may be noted that this was the first rally where people enthusiastically contributed a token amount that went towards Uttarakhand floor relief, a far cry from the rallies where people are paid to attend.
From businessmen, actors to retired bureaucrats, Modi met them all! It indicates on one hand the rock start status Modi enjoys and the massive expectations people have from this man from Gujarat who seems all set to change Indian politics forever.