Publisher: Random House India
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In a country like India, it is practically impossible to be neutral. If you are neutral, then your opinions probably aren’t worth listening to.
If you search for online reviews of Uday Mahurkar’s Centrestage: Inside the Narendra Modi Model of Governance, chances are that you will come across words like “dispassionate” and “balanced”. Given the fact that Mahurkar has spent the greater part of his life in Gujarat, you would not be wrong in expecting that this just might be THE book which might unravel the substance behind the Modi hype that has enveloped the nation for the last six months.
I started reading the book with similar expectations and I ended it with an extreme sense of disappointment, regret and anguish. Centrestage is nothing more than a glorified hagiography and probably one of the many instruments in Modi’s PR machinery designed to give a final thrust to his campaign. The timing of the launch – the 2nd of May, bang in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections – should have been a forewarning.
The only scope of redemption Mahurkar had was probably in the way he presented his content. Instead what we get is a Rahul Gandhi interview on repeat. You will be reminded multiple times in the narrative as to how Modi coined the slogan for marketing the Rann of Kutch, brought 24 hour power supply to Gujarat’s villages and eradicated vote bank politics in the state – I can recollect at least three instances of each. Mahurkar seems to be an over-eager history teacher in the way he goes about stuffing the brains of his readers with the same rhetoric over and over again lest they forget. I literally had to drag myself through the book which is less than 200 pages thick.
Which now brings me to the question of neutrality. At one point in the book, Mahurkar raises the topic of low fixed monthly salaries for entry-level Government employees in Gujarat as a supposed lacuna in the Modi administration. He devotes all of a half paragraph to this (after writing more than 3 pages on the sound fiscal policy of the state) before reverting to a stand that this system is due to the financial constraints the State is suffering from, and that at least a lot of unemployed youths are getting a job this way. The way this change of narrative has been done is very tactful though tasteless – Mahurkar says that these are the words of those close to Modi and who have a strong conviction in him.
This is but one instance of the farce that plays out throughout the book. Humpty Dumpty sitting on the Great Wall of China would be a better example of “balanced” than this book. Share this line on twitter!
The people who speak about the book in glowing terms on the back cover are given even more glowing references in the middle pages. All the great ideas implemented in Gujarat in the last decade seem to have germinated in Modi’s mind – be it energy or irrigation or sports or technology or finance. Mahurkar’s Modi is India’s answer to Professor Xavier – he literally seeds ideas into “young and talented” minds. The book covers the greater part of Modi’s political career – right from his RSS Pracharak days to the current era – but glosses over the 2002 riots almost as if it were an afterthought. It is almost as if it had never happened and was a mere footnote in Gujarat’s illustrious modern history.
As if all this is not enough, you are provided with a photo album to furnish a visual supplement to Modi’s great deeds in print. We see him doing what he does best – being the centre of attention.
Even in the times of paid media, Centrestage is an abomination of a book. In fact it is not even a book; it is merely a collection of pamphlets containing Narendra Modi’s political propaganda. If you value your time and money and are really interested in a neutral perspective of Narendra Modi, try looking elsewhere.
P.S. – None of my statements in this article are meant to give any indication of my personal opinions about Narendra Modi as an administrator and a political figure. I reserve that for a different forum as this is not the right platform for doing so.
Curious about this neutral-yet-not-so-neutral book? Random Reads has you covered with a detailed piece on the book launch, and moneylife offers a review that is a bit different from what we have to say! Also, Uday Mahurkar’s Twitter page should provide you with the latest updates on this topic.