Force Magazine

The Man Behind the Mask
The strength of Nilanjan Mukhopadyay’s book on Modi lies in its intensive research

By Ghazala Wahab

Whether Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi succeeds in moving from his CMO (he is the only CM in India to call his office ‘chief minister’s office’ in an obvious allusion to the top job) into the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office), only the 2014 General Elections will tell; however, his place in history is certain. Indian politics has rarely seen such a protracted campaign, across mediums, for prime ministership in 66 years since Independence. Sure, there have been several ambitious politicians, but none so relentless, so determined and so focussed.

Given how much public space (physical and cyber) Modi occupies, it is a miracle that he has managed to fiercely guard what he considers his personal space. No biographer, no matter how persuasive or with what credentials, has been able to breach the fortress within which Modi, the man, resides. The maximum that anyone has been able to do is get the man’s views on various issues in his own words, which in any case are now in public domain, courtesy his innumerable speeches, addresses and publicity campaigns.

Narendra Modi The Man. The Times Despite these known limitations, the fact that Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay ventured to write an unauthorised biography of Modi, calls for a bravery award for the effort alone. Wittingly or unwittingly, Modi has become such a divisive figure in India (or maybe outside India too) that today the world is divided into two kinds of people: those who worship him and those who hate him. There is barely any space for the middling here or those who are yet to make up their mind about NaMo (as he is adoringly called).

Mukhopadhyay is that rarity who has pushed himself with sheer will-power from being a ‘hater’ to a detached observer once he made up his mind to chronicle the life and times of a man who has not been able to live down an episode of his career — the 2002 riots. Such was Mukhopadhyay’s determination to pin Modi down on paper that he made up his mind that ‘I would write his biography irrespective of whether Modi granted me time or not… I was determined that I would continue to write against the idea of communalism — as I understood the word.’ This clearly put Mukhopadhyay in the category of ‘pseudo-secular’ and out of pale for Modi.

Yet Mukhopadhyay tried and succeeded in meeting Modi, at least more than once. For the rest, Mukhopadhyay had the CMO’s machinery at his disposal to assist, facilitate and even warn (whenever he appeared to have crossed the invisible line or got too close to his personal space). The result is ‘Narendra Modi: The Man. The Times’, a biography which Mukhopadhyay insists is not a hagiography but an honest examination of a man who may become India’s Prime Minister, sooner than later.

Now the crucial question, is it an important book? Interestingly, the panel discussion that followed the book launch in Delhi held the answer. While Swapan Dasgupta (a Modi camper) rued the fact that Mukhopadhyay didn’t meet Modi enough to really understand him and his philosophy, Hartosh Singh Bal (a Modi baiter) wondered aloud whether India is ready for Modi or rather, ‘should India be ready for Modi.’

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