Listen to Narendra Modi begin his rally in Deesa in Gujarat on Saturday:
Listen to the first word, for it is the one word in Gujarati that we all know:
And just listen to the roar from the audience that followed. The spontaneous roar that came from a gathered crowd of over two lakh people the moment they heard their beloved Prime Minister’s voice.
That is Modi’s Fortress Gujarat. Impregnable.
Incidentally, the Prime Minister mostly spoke in Hindi thereafter, obviously speaking to a national audience. It didn’t matter. With one joyous roar, the people of Gujarat confirmed another BJP sweep in the 2017 Assembly polls.
What is happening here? What explains this magic? For the people of Gujarat he is the ultimate rockstar. They identify with him. Here, let me take you back to the moment in history when Sachin Tendulkar completed 17000 runs.
Listen to Sunil Gavaskar’s quaking voice as he explains the moment:
“That’s it… 17000 runs for the little master. Amazing. Amazing player. And look at the crowd. …They were sure he would get it here … They had gathered in anticipation and now they are all unfurling those banners…. It’s not just Sachin Tendulkar’s runs. These are all runs that the crowd feel are their own“.
Even now, I cannot listen to that audio without feeling a lump in my throat. I dare you to listen to it without feeling like you have tears in your eyes. You were right, Sunny Gavaskar. Growing up, we always thought that Sachin Tendulkar’s runs were our own.
We identified with Sachin Tendulkar. And that’s also the relationship between Modi and Gujarat. The people of Gujarat see Modi’s successes and his failures as their own.
In the 2017 elections, what we will really see is whether Narendra Modi has been able to establish a similar connect with the people of Uttar Pradesh. It’s a sentiment that goes beyond merely evaluating the Prime Minister, it is about identifying with his fortunes. As Praveen Patil tweeted on Saturday:
There is something happening in Uttar Pradesh that goes beyond the normal framework of politics. Look at this survey from Dec 2 about people’s sentiments regarding demonetization in 5 different states.
Okay, the ratings are spectacularly high. But we already knew that. Forget that.
Notice anything else?
Yes. The urban rural approval divide in Bihar is 15%, in Madhya Pradesh it is 12%. Not only are the ratings highest in Uttar Pradesh, but something new and amazing has happened there: the urban-rural divide vanished!
Just look in the same chart and observe the urban rural gap in Delhi which stands at 8%. Obviously, “rural” in Delhi means something vastly more privileged than “rural” in Uttar Pradesh. And yet, rural UP is in lock step with urban UP. What does that tell you?
Something is happening in Uttar Pradesh. Something out of the ordinary. Is the voter beginning to identify with Modi? Do they see Narendra Modi as a UP-wallah? I wonder.
The PM is popular in Bihar, almost like he is popular anywhere. But, that’s not the point. He was beloved but at the end of the day he was not a Bihari. Nitish played “Bihari vs Bahari” to the hilt. Did you see Akhilesh try that even once?
Because UP is different. Perhaps for cultural reasons, perhaps for being such a large state or whatever, the people of Uttar Pradesh are tremendously secure about their importance in India’s politics. As a corollary of this confidence, UP does not feel the need to assert the pride of being an “authentic UP wallah”, unlike Biharis, Bengalis, Tamils, Maharashtrians, Gujaratis…almost anyone else. With the exception of UP and perhaps MP, every other state has a clear tinge of regional identity in its politics.
As another corollary of this confidence, the people of Uttar Pradesh do not have a problem accepting Modi as one of them. He’s from Gujarat. But so what?
The Opposition is placed very precariously in UP at this moment. Obviously, their campaign will be built on hardships due to demonetization. I have a sense that people of UP are beginning to identify with the PM. This nullifies the entire opposition strategy on harping on the failures of demonetization. Because, when people identify with the PM and you attack his most audacious project, you end up looking like you are attacking the people themselves.
So, as on date, there are three UP-wallahs in the Assembly election battle: Modi, Maya and Akhilesh. And one of these three towers like a skyscraper over the other two pygmies. Turning it into a referendum on Modi will be a disaster for his opponents. Especially when the anti-Modi vote is divided into two equal parts and the pro-Modi vote is rock solid behind one party.