What made you do this book?
As a political journalist and writer I have always been drawn to successful political leaders who took decisions despite all opposition and not because of certain considerations. Without endorsing their position – even their seemingly authoritarian ways – there is need to understand the psyche and making of such personalities. Early in my career I was drawn to conflict reporting and when Hindu nationalistic politics came on the centre stage in the 1980s, I gravitated to its pursuit. Modi was a subject who fits the bill on both counts. It only helped that I had known him in his formative years.
Do you think Modi is one of the most charismatic/ controversial politicians in post-Babri India?
Without doubt, in post-Babri India, Modi is the most polarising political leader. Almost everyone has an opinion on him. His importance is more important because he does not have a political pedigree and no single patron like several of his peers. Modi is at the position where he is by sheer grit, astute positioning and remarkable leveraging of fault lines in his political fraternity. Modi’s preeminent position is also because of the ruthless manner in which he channelized the sentiment of hatred for his personal and political benefit.
Considering the subject alternated between hate and adulation, did you have to do the balancing act all through?
During the conceptualisation stage of the biography, I decided that the book would not be an essay or an opinion piece on Modi. Once I decided to distinguish between analysis of news, events and actions of Modi from my opinion on them, it became very easy to maintain the right balance between hatred and adulation – the two most important emotions that Modi generates. There are times when my opinion does reflect on my analysis, but this is rare and only when the situation makes it unavoidable.
What are the challenges in doing a book of this kind in terms of the lack of ‘enough’ history to back up a protagonist like Modi?
The biggest challenge was that this was a biography of a living leader who was still a participant in the making of future histories and that I did not want to write a hagiography, yet wanted access to him. The other challenge was to ensure that the research and writing did not get inundated in the post-2002 hatred that Modi generated while simultaneously making sure that I did not get swayed by sycophantic viewpoints that abound his personal terrain. I was also confronted by the fact that several facets of his persona are shrouded in matters that are sub judice and that most events pertaining to his life are too recent – even continuing – to take a reasoned historical look.
You are an expert on Right wing politics; do you think Modi has somewhere redefined the idioms considering he is seen more through the prism of development?
With the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Hindu nationalist forces played out their trump card. Its leaders argued that the Ayodhya agitation was not for a temple per se and instead to invert the prevailing understanding of the idea of secularism. But the BJP came to power only after compromising on key ideological issues and on its principal ideological mascot. Modi has revered this trend – albeit so far in a restricted sense, but also raising the spectre of doing so at a much wider, maybe even at an all-India scale. Modi revived the lost aggression of the Hindutva idea and has been steadfast in being unapologetic about it. Despite speculation he has made it evident that his availability is strictly on an ‘as-is-where-is basis’.
What was most riveting thing about Modi when you met him for the several interviews and what was that one thing that sets him apart from the others?
The most riveting characteristic of Modi is that he exudes power to hide certain obvious weaknesses. Like any emperor who owes his position to the awe he evokes and not the love that he generates, insecurity drives many of his actions – some of which he may later repent. But Modi is extremely methodical and disciplined. He is also a great seeker of information. He uses every tit-bit of information, so much so that many of his assertions after our meetings reflected some of what had been talked about. Unlike most political leaders, Modi is unabashed about everything. Be it his politics of hate, his fondness for a lavish wardrobe, fancy accessories or even his disdain for views that are contradictory to his. There is no wavering in his conviction that only his way is the correct one.
Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times will be released on May 1st 2013.