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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 50, November 30, 2013

A Democratic Exercise, not Holy War

Sunday 1 December 2013

by Arun Srivastava

The elections to the five State Assemblies have put the real face of Narendra Modi before the people of India, specially the burgeoning middle class which aspires to control the fulcrum of the state machinery and governance, as well as before the marginalised Indians who constitute 60 per cent of the population. So far Modi was confined to his home State, people did not have the correct input about his political, administrative and intellectual capabilities and as such could not form their opinion about him, the person. Modi came into prominence in 2002 and that too for the wrong reason: for his involvement in 2002 Gujarat pogrom. On his part, he did not endeavour to rectify his image and put in the right perspective as suggested by Atal Behari Vajpayee by performing Rajdharma. His arrogance and unwillingness to water down his image of the hardcore Hindutvaprotagonist always came between him and Rajdharma.Even while campaigning for his party candidates in Jaipur he lied by telling the people that Atalji never pulled him up for not abiding by Rajdharma. What he said was utterly untrue that Vajpayee tutored him in Rajdharma and he adhered to it. Unfortunate for Modi, the niece of Vajpayee, Karuna Shukla, was quick to refute his version and put the entire development in the right perspective. One is surprised how Modi could distort a fact that was extensively reported by the media!

Nevertheless, the BJP leadership, particularly its President Rajnath Singh, deserves kudos for making available the opportunity to the people to know and judge Modi. If he had not projected Modi as the prospective prime ministerial candidate, probably the people would not have got the opportunity to focus on him and know him. While these elections have exposed this aspect of his personality—of speaking blatant lies—these have also put a big question-mark on his basic political acumen and capabilities. In fact the abusive and abrasive language he used during the campaigning simply provided an insight into his mind and psyche. He tried to rewrite the history of the country in his own way and style and in the process demolished the traditional concept of decency in public life. He has been a true disciple of Michael Jackson who wrote: “Every day create your history; every page you turn you are writing your legacy.”

The people of this developing economy have been quite intrigued as to why the foreign media is calling Narendra Modi a ‘divisive Hindu’ leader. Probably they saw traits of divisiveness in his personality. What are those symbols which made the foreign media skeptical and project this image of him? The attribute, predictably, is based on the Gujarat riots. The global media still associates Modi with the Gujarat riots which were ironically patronised by his administration.

While the Indian media companies, especially some English TV news channels, have been quite generous to forget the past and his involvement in the 2002 pogrom in which nearly 1200 innocent Muslims were brutally killed, some journalists even try to juxtapose Gujarat 2002 with the 1984 Delhi riots and charge Rajiv Gandhi with committing the same crime for which Modi is held responsible. Incidentally, the foreign media cannot reconcile to the idea and wonders how a tainted person could become the Prime Minister of a secular country. The mediapersons even argue that 2002 would not have happened if justice was done to the 1984 victims. Sorry to say, only a mediaperson with the sole purpose of playing up Modi can come out with this ridiculous argument. How can anyone forget that instant violence in protest against Indira Gandhi’s assassination had erupted all over the country? Some political leaders might have used that public anger in Delhi for their personal gains. But unlike the Gujarat 2002 pogrom it was not planned and executed clinically.

The situation might have changed had Modi apologised for his misdeeds. But he did not do so and this has reinforced the belief of the foreign media that Modi has been maintaining the façade of being Centrist and progressive which he is actually not. The United States has till now refused to budge on their stand against Modi and hasn’t offered him a US visa yet. It is probably understandable why the US media chooses to side with the popular sentiments around Modi in their home country.

The India media enterprises, owned by the corporate houses, have taken upon themselves the responsibility to project and promote Modi as the “changer, challenger and future of India” and precisely for this reason refrain from using the word “divisive Hindu leader” while describing him. For them, Modi is indispensable. The manner in which the anchors of some of the news channels behave simply strengthens the belief that they hold the brief for Modi or why else should they tear their vocal chords to silence the dissenting guest voices? By now it is an open secret that 80 odd corporate and business houses have been promoting Modi. They want Modi as the next Prime Minister. In fact this section has been raising the bogey of the Manmohan Singh Government suffering from policy paralysis. The reasons for their anger against the UPA Government are quite obvious. It is a known fact that this section desired to control the policy-making set-up of the government, but that was not possible. The government did not succumb to their pressure. In turn, they became angry with the government. The chasm between the business groups and UPA Government is quite wide. One thing is noticeable. The UPA leaders are careful enough in the matter of their public appearances with businessmen. Significantly, these days it is tough to find national leaders at private-sector functions. In scam-hit India, leaders are careful about the company they keep. Being seen with business-men was quite the norm for leaders in the pre-liberalisation era.

Look at what is happening. ArcelorMittal has abandoned its plans to invest Rs 60,000 crores (almost $10 billion) in a steel factory in India, citing problems of land acquisition and allotment of iron ore. POSCO’s proposed $ 12-billion investment in Odisha still hangs fire, eight years after the Korean steelmaker signed the agreement with the State. While POSCO is still pursuing the project, many Indian businessmen have decided to move their investments to other countries simply because it’s easier to do business there.

It is alleged that Corporate India has been at the receiving end of the ‘policy paralysis’. A report says CEOs have voted for a strong leadership, intent, decision and action, which Modi has demonstrated in Gujarat. A few months back at a closed-door meeting with 120 CEOs in Mumbai Modi actually told them what they wanted to hear. He said that what India needs is empowered States, flexible labour laws and a development agenda. It is worth mentioning that the business sector has been pressurising the government to bring about major changes in the labour laws so that the working forces could be chained. But the UPA Government has been non-responsive. Denying the workers their fundamental rights has been a long-pending demand of the businessmen.

Summing up the mood of the market, Manish Sonthalia, the VP Fund Manager of the Motilal Oswal Asset Management, in a TV interview some time ago said that the markets want Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister. Though neither Modi nor the BJP has come out with an alternate economic policy, the corporate sector has already been highlighting the future prospect of ‘Modinomics’, another version of economic populism.

The UPA, and the Congress in particular, has to accept some of the charges and allegations for the alienation of the business groups. The recent absurd price hike and inflation is attributed to this tug of war. Denial of a patient hearing from the UPA Government simply pushed them to the BJP and particularly Modi. Little doubt the BJP succeeded in putting the Congress in a tight situation. But ironically the Congress could not use the situation to its advantage and refurbish its pro-people image simply for the reason that the UPA Government was a divided house on this issue.

Significantly, the business bosses know the fact well that Modi has got no alternative economic policy. But even then they are supporting him. Modi, in order to reach out to the business houses, has written a letter to the Prime Minister questioning the wisdom of the Food Security Bill. Modi’s letter suggests the Bill doesn’t go far enough in providing food security to the poor. The letter argues that the Bill will reduce the amount of foodgrains that an average family of five living below the poverty line (BPL) would receive, from 35 kg to 25 kg. Modi’s letter hardly represents any kind of shift from the BJP’s recent policy positions. Not surprisingly, nearly 70 per cent of Indian business leaders believe the government has mismanaged the economy and want Modi to lead the country. In fact this has gone into the head of Modi and he has already started thinking himself as the Prime Minister. His abusive and abrasive mannerism is the manifestation of this development. Modi caught their imagination by criticising the Food Security Bill as they opposed this move of the government. In fact the business houses never endorsed the UPA’s, and especially the Congress’, pro-poor programmes and perceived these as an attack on their interests. This section cannot achieve its goal unless they project Modi as a strong leader and a visionary irrespective of the fact that he has no clear concept of an alternate economic policy.

Enjoying the support and trust of the media Modi has now embarked upon the path to distort history and trample social and ethical norms. No leader in the past used the language and phrases which Modi is using. Modi has been systematically distorting historical facts in his election speeches. Maybe he has been doing so out of ignorance. But how can one affirm that he was not resorting to wilful distortion by design? The media, barring a section, did not caution him that distorting historical facts with the sole intention of drawing the common people towards him was a national crime. Even in his lies some of them have been trying to find wisdom and see a future perspective for the country.

A closer watch on his election meetings would reveal that Modi’s attacks on the government do not reflect the seriousness of the prevailing situation and also gives the impression that the BJP leadership does not recognise the depths of the crisis the country is facing. Addressing a gathering of supporters in Rewari in the northern State of Haryana, Modi spoke mainly on foreign policy, calling for a strong Indian leadership, praising the armed forces for demonstrating “true secularism” and advising Pakistan to concentrate on fighting poverty. He did not lay out a positive blueprint for development rather than just criticise the Congress and UPA Government. His attacks do not focus on the alternatives. He does not spell out a BJP plan for reviving the economy.

Modi has been trying to grab the attention of the middle class by projecting himself as the aspiration of new India. But what is this new India and what are its new aspirations? These are not clear in his campaign. Ironically his party has also not tried to speak on this issue. The reason probably is the inability of the party and also of Modi to analyse the problems and evolve an alternate paradigm of development. The party has been adopting a vague posture on the issues confronting the nation, except for launching personal attacks on Dr Manmohan Singh. The author of this strategy is none else than L.K. Advani who, after his defeat in 2009, had realised that the party can aspire to come to power only by smearing the face of Dr Singh. Look at the manner in which he has been targeting the Prime Minister personally. This strategy of the party also underlines the ideological constraints of the party. The leader-ship is aware of the fact that any attempt to put forward an alternative would boomerang. The party has been assiduously avoiding to mention the alternative economic roadmap. This is also the reason why the leadership has not projected the new breed of second-rank leadership.

The strategy pursued by Modi, we can call it the Modi phenomenon, underlines no connect with the common man. A question is often being asked: whether Modi would succeed in bringing about a change in democratic politics. It appears to me: yes, of course, but it would be for the worse. It would further devalue the political institutions of the country. We ought not forget that the Indian democratic system has its inherent strength and ability to overcome and reverse even an adverse situation. But the politics practised by Modi will obliterate the basics of democratic functioning. Modi’s penchant for aggressive politics will not augur well for the democratic system and sensibilities.

The author, a Kolkata-based senior journalist, can be contacted at sriv52[at]

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