This article aims to unravel the rise of Gujarat’s current Chief Minister Narendra Modi . and his brand of personality politics that has dominated Gujarati politics in the past decade. It uses the legal battle between the eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy and the Government of Gujarat, that unfolded in 2008, as a case study to illustrate the dominant impulses of what has been termed ‘Moditva’ or the Modi model and its implications. The state-sanctioned prosecution of Ashis Nandy over a newspaper article that criticized the Gujarati middle classes was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court of India but the legal battle, and the public discourse around it, serves as a useful prism to understand the deeper processes at work within Moditva and the particular brand of authoritarian developmentalism it offers, with little scope for dissent. The legal battle erupted just a few months before a galaxy of India’s top industrialists publicly backed Modi as a future prime minister, hailing his excellent developmental record post-2002 and the creation of an investment-friendly climate in Gujarat. At one level, the Nandy case can be read as a straight narrative of an iconic battle for freedom of speech, one in which Gujarat and its politics were once again at the centre of the debate. But the debate about Moditva is also a metaphor for alternative visions for India. Its future trajectory will be decisive not only for the future of Gujarat but equally for the future of the BJP and for the idea of India itself.
Sometime during the height of the Ayodhya movement, a trained psychologist enquiring into the wellsprings of the phenomenon interviewed an RSS pracharak, a man about town in Gujarat who was still making his way up in the state BJP’s hierarchy. The Babri Masjid had still not been demolished, L.K. Advani was still the charioteer of Ram and the Rath Yatra was leaving in its wake a sea of frenzy across North India. The interviewer, no stranger to supporters of the movement, came out of the interaction shaken, convinced that he had just met a ‘textbook case of a fascist’.