For some time now our politicians have been tearing around the country, spewing fire and brimstone in an attempt to demolish their political opponents well before the elections begin. That is still many months away, next year. Yet our politicians are in high gear, in campaign mode. But what we hear day in day out is political abuse and in some cases history lessons. For some months now, Narendra Modi has kept us riveted by his feisty demeanour, his biting bards, his high-decibel charge on the Congress first family, his earthy oratory skills, his understanding of our history and his take on what ails our foreign and domestic policy. He has attracted enormous attention. The crowds that come to see him are impressive. Even in Tamil Nadu, where the BJP is noticeable largely for its absence, Modi has his audiences’ ears. But Ghulam Nabi Azad is categorical that there is no Modi wave sweeping the country. We do not know what he bases this on, but the curiosity surrounding Modi is certainly palpable.
More so because of his curious claims on history. He thinks that Taxila was in Bihar whereas it is in Pakistan. He thinks that the Greeks advanced all the way to Bihar. He placed Chandragupta in the wrong dynasty. His utterances on Shyama Prasad Mookerjee have been found to be a bit dodgy. He thinks that China spends as much as 20 per cent of its GDP on education. He may make more claims in the coming weeks that will keep the chattering classes busy, but does imperfect knowledge of history place Modi at a disadvantage in the political arena, in the theatre of politics where the gallery he is playing to is probably less alive to the nuances of history than Modi himself is? So what if he got the name of the father of the nation wrong?
The larger question remains: what is the relevance of these historical details, even that of Sardar Patel, to the voter as the election looms upon us? Voters will likely look for clues as to how Modi will fix the things that the voter wants fixed. It does not matter to the voter where Porus stopped Alexander, or whether Patel would have done this or that better. The voter wants to know how the BJP will do things better than the Congress. He is still in the dark on that one, but the good news is the elections are still some way away and perhaps Modi will shine a light on these further down the road.
The Shehzada moniker will probably stick, though. Not least because Rahul Gandhi himself is supposed to have claimed that he could have become Prime Minister when he was 25. Really? Recently, even an ally such as Sharad Pawar has riposted that to become PM he needs to get experience first, a sign that all is not well in the UPA so far as handover is concerned. If after so many years of political apprenticeship—more than a decade—the Shehzada has so far left us comprehensively underwhelmed, will even more experience make him look better for the electorate? His throwaway remarks after the Muzaffarnagar riots of the ISI being in touch with the victims is as simplistic as it is troubling for someone who can so easily claim premiership within the Congress. Will we be dead of boredom when elections finally come around?
(Sudarshan is most recently author of Adrift. firstname.lastname@example.org)