Remember that song from Karan Johar's movie, Kal Ho Na Ho? It showed Satish Shah, the quintessential Gujarati, dancing with his family and proudly de
claring his regional roots. Narendra Modi might well make it his personal anthem. Navratri is over, and Modi has received the best Dusshera gift ever! 'The God of small things' (Ratan Tata) blessed Gujarat with the Nano.
Suddenly, everybody is looking at Modi-land through a new filter. And being a Gujju is no longer what it has been for a while. Envious chief ministers of other states are wondering where they fell short in wooing Tata, who became the runaway bride eloping with a dashing, dynamic new suitor. Business circles in Mumbai were agog and impressed with Modi's swift action plan. Theories galore flew around as to how the deal got sealed, and who brokered the marriage. But the interesting offshoot of the Nano coup was the national debate it triggered on regional characteristics. Modi's gameplan was credited to his Gujarati cunning. Maharashtra's loss was laid at Vilasrao Deshmukh's door with a resigned sigh, suggesting Maharashtrians just don't possess the all-important killer instinct. Sounds absurd to generalise, but there is something there.
Take cricket. The hotheaded Bong in Sourav, say experts, has cost him his rightful place in the team. Whereas, Sachin's coolheaded, steady approach to the game and his career are linked to his thanda Maharashtrian genes. If the Jat Kapil Dev is pitted against the Ghat Sunil Gavaskar (yes... even after all those many years), fans will attribute Kapil's flamboyance (and those tears!), to his roots. Gavaskar, ever the cool customer, will be given top marks, especially by co-Maharashtrians. Regionalism is staging a quiet comeback, going by recent utterances of public figures (UP walli Jaya upsetting the fiery Raj Thackeray), and Zubin Mehta proudly reasserting his Parsi self between concerts. Bollywood filmmakers (predominantly Punjabi) have almost given up the pretence of making Hindi films, by heavily incorporating their mother tongue into dialogues. 'Panju' culture first... and now language dominance, too. That leaves English, India's unofficial national language. We have so many wonderful versions of it that soon each state will lay claim to its specialised editions.
Do 'Gujju-ness', 'Bong-ness' and other 'nesses' weaken the nation... or are we getting paranoid over a non-issue? I certainly believe we are placing an exaggerated amount of importance on language... and politicising it to serve narrow regional interests. Most Indians effortlessly speak between four to five languages from a very young age. That is our strength. Forcing people to choose one over the other is short-sightedness. A confident leader speaks in many tongues! Forked one, too. For, who knows which enemy one may have to sleep with.
Modi's masterplan is likely to pay rich dividends that extend beyond 'bijness'. The Nano has given him the much needed booster shot... that single handshake with the man (Ratan Tata ), who is frequently referred to as India's most respected business leader, will effectively neutralise the terrible image problem Gujarat has been battling with, post-Godhra. Tata's vote-of-confidence in Modi is the single-most important move made by any industrialist in the past 20 years. As for the canny Modi, it represents yet another step forward on the road to the prime minister's residence. His worst critics are reassessing the man... and saying (soto voce, of course), "If he can do for India what he has done for Gujarat, then he can't be all that terrible." This sort of a comment would have been unthinkable pre-Nano. It was not just fashionable to trash Modi, it was mandatory to do so. Strange, how swiftly we forget. Perhaps, the economic meltdown is affecting everybody's brains. Ratan Tata may have bought time for the Nano by moving the project to Gujurat. But in doing so, he has gifted Modi something far more valuable than a mere car - he has made Modi acceptable. Respectable. Soon 'G U J J U' may get the rest of India grooving to its catchy beat
6 months ago