The Story of the 'Gujarat Model' and Modi's Personalisation of Political Power

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The Story of the ‘Gujarat Model’ and Modi’s Personalisation of Political Power

| Updated: July 11, 2024 12:59

Over the past decade it has been frequently stated that Narendra Modi’s years as Gujarat Chief Minister were essentially a dress (sic) rehearsal for his tenure as prime minister. The working style, legislative changes, stranglehold on the governance system, marginalising the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates where he was politically reared and replacing it with a structure that was loyal solely to him, which he perfected in Gujarat, were transposed at a national level.

This was greatly facilitated by absolute majority in the state Vidhan Sabha, almost touching the two-third mark if not going well beyond as it did in 2002, being seamlessly altered to a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha in 2014 and bettered by more than ten per cent in 2019. In the decade before the 2024 elections, Mr Modi weakened Indian Parliament just as he marginalised the legislature in Gujarat.

Gujarat Under Modi: The Blueprint for Today’s India, Christophe Jaffrelot, Context, 2024.

Likewise, the Chief Minister’s Office in Gandhinagar appeared to have been effortlessly transplanted to New Delhi with a name change – the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The working style in the new office remained the same – a group of bureaucrats, all bound by an unspoken oath of loyalty and secrecy, micro-managed the behemoth of the government. They mostly left individual ministries with little to do but implement decisions already taken and conveyed to them.

Christophe Jaffrelot is no stranger to India and to the study of the rise and growth of the Hindu right wing. His books and occasional interventions in the media have for the past three decades provided extremely valuable perspective to view the sequence of events and also added information on a subject that set up today’s polity.

Jaffrelot worked on his book Gujarat Under Modi: The Blueprint for Today’s India (Westland, 2024) more than a decade ago, over the course of his engagement and regular visits to Gujarat from early 2001 – significantly when Mr Modi was yet to become chief minister – and the manuscript was submitted in the closing months of 2013 by when he had been declared the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Unsurprisingly, the book did not secure the approval of legal assessors and it went into cold storage till 2020, when the author felt, after possibly anticipating that the enhanced margin in the 2019 elections would presage a more authoritarian turn, that this book had become more important than ever. The updates, which draw in developments since 2014, only make it more insightful.

After concerns over the book’s release in India, of the kind that preceded Dr Jaffrelot’s previous work, ‘Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy’, this book finally hit the stores in India during the election campaign and the verdict ensures that it will continue being available.

To use the author’s words, the book was aimed as a “political biography of an Indian state through the personality and actions of its most resilient ruler.” The book is coherently divided into five parts bookended by an Introduction and Conclusion. Each of these five parts has two sub-sections or chapters. Mr Modi was made Gujarat chief minister to stall the BJP’s electoral slide down.

Modi failed to halt this and in a bunch of bye-elections in February 2002, only he was victorious. Within days the Godhra carnage triggered mass communal violence across the state and the events over the next few months provided Mr Modi with the “first pillar” of his politics in the state. The book’s first part narrates and analyses how, with the Gujarat riots, Mr Modi raised communal polarisation as his primary weapon to reverse the BJP’s electoral decline and secure a two-third majority in elections held in December 2002.

The second part of the book is devoted to how Mr Modi “de-institutionalised” the rule of law in the state and how this became a “strategy for strengthening his political control over the state.” This part traces the swift saffronisation of the police, bureaucracy and the judiciary and how vigilante groups linked to the Sangh Parivar were given a carte blanche to indulge in a wide range of extra-legal activities from moral policing to running kangaroo courts and punishing minorities and dissenters.

Promotion of cronyism and pursuit of economic policies contributed to the state’s growth but not development and did not reduce economic inequalities either, and this comprises the third part of the book. It underscores what the Gujarat Model was: One in which the state frees space for the private sector and creates an enabling environment for it.

The fourth section is extremely significant; it details how Mr Modi personalised political power and promoted what is now an omnipresent cult. Significantly, in this process he also destroyed his own party’s collegial character which enabled it to underscore its distinctiveness.

The fifth and final part of book examines how Mr Modi widened the party’s primary social base from the narrow upper-caste urban middle class while also drawing critics into an imaginary arc of conspirators that destabilised the nation by aligning with opposition parties, a strategy pursued nationally with success before some chinks appeared in the 2024 polls.

This is one of the most important recent books to understand how Mr Modi has controlled and governed India from 2014 by extending the template created in Gujarat from 2002 onward. The twist in the tale has come with last month’s verdict which does not provide Mr Modi with an untrammeled parliamentary majority, making his use of the various tools and pillars raised in Gujarat more difficult to deploy.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is an author and journalist based in Delhi-NCR. His latest book is The Demolition, The Verdict and The Temple: The Definitive Book on the Ram Mandir Project, and he’s also the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. His X handle is @NilanjanUdwin.

(This story was first published in The Wire)

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