Upclose with the NaMo chronicler

04 Jun,2013

 

This month Kingshuk Nag completes 20 years with The Times of India. Many of these have been rather eventful, albeit in a sad way. As Editor of the Hyderabad edition he’s seen the current Telangana crisis and the Satyam fraud unfold and earlier as Editor of the Gujarat editions having been based in Ahmedabad from 2000-05, he witnessed the earthquake and communal tensions after the Godhra carnage. His book ‘The NaMo Story – A Political Life’ has been receiving rave reviews for a balanced account on the the politics and persona of Narendra Modi.

 

Mr Nag’s book – his third, the first two being on Satyam and Telengana – was launched in Mumbai at the NCPA on Monday along with a panel discussion hosted by publishers Lotus Roli, the NCPA and Literature Live.

 

In this exchange with MxMIndia, Mr Nag is candid about why it took so long for him to write the book, his views on the Gujarat strongman and whether he thinks the CM can be PM

 

It’s been a while since you moved on from Gujarat, and Narendra Modi has been in the news all these years. Of course now the stakes are higher given his being a Prime Minister-in-waiting. What took you so long to write the book?

My first attempt to publish a book on Modi was in 2002 right after the riots. I met a publisher, a leading one, with a chapter that I had written.  The publisher, the lead man who was also the owner read the chapter and said it was great.  But he said he wanted a pro-Modi book written because Modi was being bashed too much. Disgusted I left. I had no experience in book writing so I did not persist.  Three years later I was introduced to the chief editor of one of the top publishing firms. We started talking. I gave him a concept note and chapterization. After a while the guy got back to me and said no this book will make a hero out of Modi. I don’t want it. It was in my third attempt in 2011 did I find a publisher. That’s the reason for the book taking so long.

 

What reviewers say
Definitive must-read book: Ranjona Banerji in Sunday Mid-DayShort and balanced account: Rohit Bansal in Gulf Today

 

You’ve watched him up-close when you were in Ahmedabad, editing The Times of India. Do you see a difference in Mr Modi from then to now?

The basic character of the man has not changed. But after having said that today he is a far more confident man than what he was ten years ago. His body language shows that. His lean mean frame has undergone a metamorphosis. He looks visibly more prosperous. He is today more authoritarian than before. However, it is a fact that he is less inviting of the press than he was a decade ago. That’s because of the riots and Modi is ill at ease answering questions about 2002. So he is apprehensive of media interviews especially meeting national mediapersons.

 

So did you interview him again for the book?

No, I did not interview Modi again.

 

In an attempt to be neutral, have you gone a little soft on Mr Modi? Given that your personal views on the CM (especially when you were editing TOI in A’bad) were reportedly dramatically different.

I don’t think I have gone soft on him. It’s that the context has changed. If I had written the book in 2002 it would have been on the riots.  Since it is written now in 2013 it focuses on the national politics and politics of Modi rather than the riots.  A lot of people are finding fault with me for not writing more on the riots. They are accusing me of diluting my stand but I don’t agree with them.

 

Having watched NaMo from close quarters and now from a distance and ditto with the media, do you think the media has changed its stance towards Mr Modi.

Over the years, the media has become less strident about Modi though the opposition remains. That is because with the passage of time, priorities change. Also, due to efforts of NGOs and the action of higher courts, justice has been done in many riot cases.  Many people are happy with the justice done though Modi may not have been instrumental, for this they are satisfied. Also, with stories of rampant corruption emanating from the centre, Modi is seen in a less negative light . Further, the stories of rapid development of Gujarat have gone a long way in enthralling that section of the media that represents the dream of aspiring India.

 

After Gujarat you’ve also seen a leader like YSR in Andhra Pradesh (as Editor of TOI, Hyderabad). YSR’s reign was cut short, but how would you compare the two regional leaders?

Modi’s strategy in Gujarat has been to create a vote bank or rather to coalesce the votes using Hindutva as the glue. The strategy of YSR was different. He created a vote bank by giving out doles and everything free to the poor and not so poor by classifying them as poor. He gave free power to farmers. Rice at Rs 2 a kg, free scholarship to poor students, free houses to the poor, free medical facilities to the poor… even for operations. 85 per cent of the population got the benefits because of the manipulation of government statistics.

 

Your view on all the hype and PR around Mr Modi… Vibrant Gujarat, hiring of a public affairs firm like APCO? Has it helped change perceptions about him.

Modi realised that the riots had dented his image started wooing industry by giving unparalleled incentives. An essential part of the strategy is to create a hype about investment prospects in Gujarat and the guy who leads the state. Sometimes the hype is so unreal as if Modi is some superman. The hype has changed public perception because a lot of people believe that Modi is a great administrator. Also, remember, that the people are fed up with corruption and are looking for change. Modi is offering himself as the change like Anna Hazare two years ago. Whether the country will accept him as the change is a moot point but right now many find him acceptable

 

Have you had a launch event in Ahmedabad?

No launch event in Ahmedabad.

 

Why not? Mr Modi is said to have this army of damn-the-critics brigade. How have they been with you post the book?

No particular reasons. Actually the book was never launched officially.  Only yesterday in Mumbai, although the book has been in the market for a month and a half.  Modi’s men have not been in touch with me. But I heard that the book was spotted on his table.

 

Three rapid-fire questions:

1. Narendra Modi v/s Rahul Gandhi. Your choice:

a. Can’t say.

 

2. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, your view on whether Narendra Modi will apologise for Godhra and its aftermath?

No

 

3. Do you see Modi as Prime Minister?

As PM: No

 

The Namo Story – A Political Life

by Kingshuk Nag

Publisher : Lotus Roli

Paperback, 200 + 8 page insert pages

Price: Rs 295

 

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