New Delhi: Perhaps Narendra Modi is the only front-ranking politician to headbutt the liberal establishment (including the mainstream media) time after time, and get away. He has done it again by clinching the post of general secretary in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for his controversial aide, Amit Shah, which has played down his own elevation to the party’s all-important Parliamentary Board. Going by the past, there is method in Modi’s extravagance.

It should be clear to anyone but the most obtuse that the Gujarat chief minister believes in setting his own agenda. In the era of coalition politics, it is not a small feat to win three assembly elections in a row, convincingly and decisively. But his victory is all the greater because it came by his own individual efforts. Like the Congress, the BJP central leaders make extortionate demands on their chief ministers. They have to be gratified in an extraordinary number of ways, as the estranged former BJP chief minister of Karnataka, B.S.Yeddyruppa, will tell you. (Some of the recent stories emerging from Bihar concerning central and state BJP leaders would shock only the very naive.) But the same obliged central leaders will throw state leaders to the wolves without compunction when their utility is deemed over, or to propitiate the false deities of the liberal establishment.

But Narendra Modi is not Yeddyruppa. He kept central BJP leaders in their place, with the onus lying on them to keep to the right side of the Gujarat chief minister. Hence the loathing in the central BJP for Modi. He did not permit them to scam and bleed Gujarat. There were no suitcases of cash to be brought on return trips from Gandhinagar. And not just BJP leaders. Narendra Modi put a stop to the skullduggery of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) big shots in Gujarat. Which is why all the three organizations, the BJP, RSS and VHP, have turned against him. Modi’s trump card, however, is the electorate. So confident is he of the electorate that he knew the exact scale of victory in the last assembly election.

It is this intense self-belief that propels him to the Centre on his own terms. Conventional thinking dictates that Modi makes the national entry softly and without controversy. But Modi has lived with controversy -- and bitter attacks -- for so long that contestation and disputation have become second nature to him. Amit Shah has been his close aide. Modi is bound to believe that Amit Shah did nothing to deserve the present persecution. He doubtless sees in Shah’s personal history a repetition of his demonization after the riots, and has gone far out to back him. Modi has not been so indulgent to anyone else.

The more the liberal establishment attacks Modi on Amit Shah and other matters, the more he consolidates himself. The liberals have made Narendra Modi a national figure. The liberals aren’t assisted in their battle by generally being perceived to have no values. Dishonest for the most part, they corrupt easily, as the Radia Tapes prove. Putting a liberal mask, they will loot you and me, as the Manmohan Singh government has done every single day in the last nine years of power. Liberals believe in nothing. If Modi becomes the prime minister tomorrow, they will drop their objections and fall at his feet. Compromisers and liberals are different sides of the same coin. Narendra Modi has well understood this. The liberal establishment has dared him time and again, and lost.

Unlike his opponents, however, Narendra Modi does not represent an establishment. In Delhi, there are all manner of establishments. There is the establishment establishment of the government and the ruling party led by Sonia Gandhi and her family. In the feudal system of Delhi’s politics, everyone wants to be on friendly terms with this establishment, including Lal Krishna Advani and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP. Only Narendra Modi among the national leaders scorns the Nehru-Gandhis and does so openly. Then there are the opposition and the media establishments living in dread of and in the shadow of the first establishment and the networkers who operate among all of them. Modi is not a member of any of these clubs. Nitish Kumar may need his perfumed fixers in Delhi and still talk about the socialistic Bihar model, but Modi is enough by himself.

If you don’t understand any of this, you are unlikely to be able to map Narendra Modi’s mind. He is a man who has overcome fear and is beyond conventional thinking. He enjoys the freedom of one who has nothing to lose. He lives by his lights and there are masses of people who believe in his capacity to transform their lives. What puts him apart from the crowd is his obsessive vision of India’s greatness. The prime-ministership to him is the means to achieving his vision and not the end. He will become prime minister as his own man or never. The liberal establishment has come to believe it is the arbiter of fates and destinies. Not in Modi’s case. The people will have to decide if they want him or the ragtag and bobtail.