There can be no denying that Election 2014 was in a class of its own; paralleling 1952, India’s maiden experiment with democracy; paralleling 1977, the year that saw Indians vote with their feet; and paralleling 1984, when the Congress won a crushing majority. 2014 was a witness to the rise of Narendra Modi, to the decimation of the Congress and to the discrediting of Rahul Gandhi.
Rajdeep Sardesai is perhaps amongst India’s finest journalists; adept both at speaking (he was the original aggressive TV journalist) and at writing (his pieces in the Sunday magazine were worthy reads). In his book, 2014: The Election that changed India, he packs a punch as he chronicles the brilliant strategies of Team Modi and the fumbling of Team Gandhi in the run up to the biggest mandate in 30 years. In hindsight at-least, the strategies appear so!
Good working relationship with Modi
Contrary to what Modi bhakts on Internet claim, Sardesai comes across as someone who is on a good working relationship with Modi. That he calls him up frequently and on Sundays, that he speaks to him late in the night and Modi responds to almost his every call, are an indication of this. His treatment of Modi in the book is balanced; neither is there a rant nor a chamchagiri. Actually, he has portrayed Modi more favorably than what he has done Rahul, for whom he has more brickbats than bouquets. “Rahul”, says Sardesai, “did not realize the power of symbolism and so lost the perception war.”
Musclemen replaced by machinemen...
In his well-written book, Sardesai captures the mood of the nation. There is the reference to how big data had been immaculately used, thanks to technology. “One of the young men I met had each caste voting in a booth mapped out on an excel sheet with precise detailing on which household voted for whom in the previous election.” Of-course, you could also say that it had taken caste equations to new heights! To use a phrase from the book, “the musclemen have been replaced by machine men.”
In the age of marketing, while Modi scored, Rahul faltered. Many perceived Modi as “the right man at the right time with the right rhetoric,” while Rahul came across as “well intentioned but that is never enough for an India living on Dil Mange More,” is how the television journalist looks at.
Then there are the vignettes. As in Modi telling Rajdeep, “if a reporter like you can become an editor, why can’t a chief minister become prime minister!”
And of the author’s reference to Modi spending at least half an hour a day before the mirror. Of, how his smile would embrace you, while the eyes would intimidate.The anecdotes keep flowing. Of, how Modi gamely rushed to the television studios as a last minute replacement for a panelist, shouting “Rajdeep, I have come’ and of how Modi, again gamely, waited for over two-hours with an umbrella through the rain before he was finally put on air, following a snag in the equipment.
There is the personal reference to the Gujarat riots. Of how Sardesai was just a few kilometres away from the chief minister’s house when an unruly mob almost lynched him. Of how the CM’s office issued orders banning the telecast of the channel; of Modi’s use of the words, “a chain of action and reaction is going on. We want neither action nor reaction.”
Overall, Modi comes across in many places as a gentleman who means business. Yet there is the inevitable other side: of a politician who doesn’t appreciate criticism, of a man who is ready to go to any lengths, constitutional or otherwise, if he feels rubbed; of a man who is not wanting in decibel pitch and of an ordinary soul who is delightfully happy when the Tatas move to Gujarat. There is the story of Rajdeep doing an interview seated on the footsteps of a van even as Modi sat beside the driver while the crew had set up the rear of the vehicle for the shooting.
It’s a racily told story that does not offer you any great insights. Perhaps the idea was not to offer any, lest it be dismissed as sermonising. There is the odd factual error as in, “Rahul had seen his grandmother and father assassinated while still in his teens.”
Verdict: An interesting read.