More on Narendra Modi

For over 10 years I have believed Narendra Modi to be responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat – without ever trying to research the facts in any significant detail. Modi’s culpability has been an easy-to-believe narrative. He is a self-professed Hindu Nationalist (I have contempt for both elements of that combination). He belongs to a political party that has never hesitated to exploit religious insecurities for political gains. He was the Chief Minister when the riots occurred. Nothing could be easier to believe.

I have always regarded his culpability to be an indelible blot. A man responsible for the murder of thousands is not fit to live, let alone serve in any public office, no matter what his other accomplishments may be. And so, I have never bothered to research those accomplishments either. They seemed irrelevant, even dangerous. If this country is to be governed by *<insert non-genteel word of your choice here>*, I would rather have them be incompetent.

This blog is dedicated to the pursuit of truth – truth that has an impact on my life and is therefore worth discovering. Narendra Modi has succeeded in capturing the imagination of almost all my peers. Given the alternatives, he might well become the next Prime Minister. If he is the man I have suspected him to be – an efficient, ruthless fascist with a very dubious association with deeply illiberal political parties and no concern for such “niceties” as freedom of speech or justice – that is the worst thing that could happen to this country – far worse than the institutionalized socialist scams perpetrated by all the major political parties – chiefly Congress but not excluding the BJP.

The big question is: Is that the truth?

Modi, in a couple of speeches I have listened to, has been talking of a vision of empowering business and setting it free from the clutches of the government and the bureaucracy. Not by any fundamental reforms. Merely by using the existing government machinery effectively. That is clearly not sustainable in the long run. But it would still be an improvement over what we have today. Even if Modi’s vision is incomplete and short-sighted, it is refreshingly different from the socialist rhetoric that everyone else keeps spouting. To any socialist who has not deluded himself completely, Modi’s vision is extremely dangerous.

Is it possible that Modi is actually innocent and has been vilified in a targeted campaign by populists who would otherwise have no answers to the achievements he claims?

I chanced upon this post by Sanjeev Sabhlok: India should support Modi from the outside – conditionally. It surprised me and following links in that post, I reached this long article by Madhu Kishwar. In light of its contents, that is a question I am now forced to consider.


4 Responses

  1. 1.

    “Is that the truth?”

    For the time being, I will let others (say, Madhu Kishwar, Chetan Bhagat, your peers, et al.) address that question. I have my answer more or less ready, but I want to see if people (“thinkers”) like them show at least some evidence of having at least sometimes traced that thought-train which you have delineated just before coming to raise this question.


    “Is it possible that Modi is actually innocent and has been vilified in a targeted campaign by populists who would otherwise have no answers to the achievements he claims?”

    The question formulation is (cognitively) too complex—so complex that it would be easy to take it as a loaded question. You obviously don’t mean it that way. So, let me break it down into a series of separate questions.

    Is it possible that Modi is innocent? Innocent, of what charge(s) in particular? “Murder of thousands,” as a charge against a CM (even in today’s India), is just too unsharp, even blundersome a charge to be of any real efficacy (except, perhaps, for humour). That’s precisely the reason why those who level such charges against Modi have been, predictably, simply frustrated. And that precisely is the reason Modi and his supporters choose to deal with this matter (Gujarat riots etc.) in a rhetoric couched in such terms.

    He is a CM. And a darling of a national-level party of the world’s largest democracy. You have to frame the charges more smartly, before beginning to think if he is innocent in those respects or not. Here, I am sure, a good social/political scientist/expert would be able to frame those charges precisely. Common-sense wise, one good list (in my limited reading) comes from Aakaar Patel: . Let me add to his list: The fact that the riot case had to be transferred to Maharashtra.

    Is it possible that he has been vilified? Possible. Is it possible that he and his cronies have been vilifying other people? Not just possible, that actually has come to be. If so, why be so mushy with Modi, dear?

    “…Answers to the achievements he claims.” You have to place his record in context. Countless articles including those on the edit pages of leading newspapers have done that, complete with hard statistics and all (and not just the “human development indices” etc.). When placed in the context of the earlier Gujarat governments and the contemporary other governments (both Congress+ and BJP+ ones), his so called achievements either pale into insignificance, or tell a story of an authoratarian statist adeptly shifting the priorities of his government policies and expenditures, to preferentially suit one group of people (urban, “businessmen”, IT/software/twitterati folks) over others (rural, poor). An article in today’s IE shows some of such shifts:

    3. Sanjeev Sabhlok’s suggestion is impractical. A PM has far too many powers; Modi (and his party) is (are) far too smart to be outmaneouvered once he occupies the top job. So, all that Sabhlok’s arrangement will end up achieving is: surreptitiously adding power to fascism for a while in an unstable coalition, and this additional power would, in turn, give a comprehensive win to Modi after mid-term polls. Remember Rand’s principle: “In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.” (

    More, later.


  2. “what charge(s) in particular?”
    Since Modi obviously didn’t go out with a knife or a gun and engage in physical violence directly, the charges would be something on these lines:
    Did he handle the Godhra incident in a way that was sure to incite violence?
    Did he organize the riots?
    Did he know that riots were being organized?
    Did he instruct the police to let the violence go uncontrolled?
    Did he obstruct the investigative process from operating properly?

    All of these questions (except perhaps the first) have simple yes/no answers. Finding out those answers is a different matter altogether.

    “complete with hard statistics”
    Firstly, I don’t have a statistical bent of mind. In any case, statistics can usually be constructed to support any position whatsoever. All it takes is to selectively ignore inconvenient data. I would like to see some principled analysis of what his policies are and why they are right/wrong from a liberal reform perspective. I haven’t done any serious first hand research myself – not even reading – but I don’t remember seeing anything like that anywhere (including in the article you linked to).

    Even if he is simply ensuring that clearances are provided without bribes (as he claims in his speeches), it is easy to see that (in principle, without the use of statistics) as good.

    I don’t buy this uneven development and preferential treatment stuff at all. As long as government is involved in economic policy, preferential treatment is inevitable. Even the act of cleaning up the mess will involve prioritizing which areas to clean up first. And prioritizing will mean preferential treatment. Talk about whether changes in policy increase freedom or decrease it. Not about whether they benefit one section of the population more than another or not. Of course they benefit some more than others, so what?

    About Sanjeev Sabhlok: He recently changed his position on Baba Ramdev as well – he now calls him Swami Ramdev. I am very uncomfortable with his direction.

  3. 1.

    “Finding out those answers is a different matter altogether.”

    Yes. And, if you notice, your last yes/no question, inter alia, has a bearing on this comment of yours.


    “but I don’t remember seeing anything like that anywhere (including in the article you linked to).”

    I will type it for you:

    “There [in the rural areas], the number of families below the poverty line has jumped from 23.39 lakh in 2000 to 30.49 lakh in July 2012. Unsurprisingly, 9 lakh of the 11 lakh houses without electricity … are in rural areas.”

    [Factor in the fact of the increasing trends in India of migration to the cities in the recent times, esp. after the early-1990s reforms (and I don’t necessarily consider such migration bad)—and notice that it makes these statistics pertaining to Gujarat even worse.]

    Now, locate and read this: “The percentage of tribal … through (22.67 percent).”

    3. Do these particular statistics look like the ones “constructed to support any position whatsoever” to you? Do these particular statistics seem to “selectively ignore inconvenient data” to you? What other data, here inconvenient to me, would you seek concerning whether more people have become poor (instead of rich) (presuming of course things such as that the datum of the poverty line itself wasn’t shifted)? whether Gujarat gloriously led or shamefully lagged behind the national average when it came to malnourishment of tribal children? Are the tribals humans? Indian citizens? Is the fact that their children are sometimes forced to eat grass, only to be noted in order to attack the Gandhi family/Mahatma Gandhi (as Prof. Atanu Dey has often done), but never to examine the performance—nay “achievements”—of someone—anyone—from the “sangh parivaar”?

    … If you say that these (BPL %age and malnutrition %age) are just two parameters out of tens or hundreds of such possible parameters, fine by me. Do go through the rest of those parameters and come to your own conclusions—but desist from arguing in the absence of such facts. I have (informally) gone through the (usual) newspaper reports regarding at least 5–10 important parameters being compared for the various states, and am convinced both (i) that the reported parameters were important/telling enough (e.g. they were such parameters as # of people below poverty line, the GDP/per capita income and the time it began its upswing/downswing, its “momentum” through various regimes, etc.), and (ii) that these data, taken as a whole, tear a massive hole through the bright but thin veil that the Modi/BJP’s PR/image-making machinery has so effectively erected.

    A few important reasons I call it PR/image making machinery: Go, ask any of Modi’s supporters whether he considers the politician a Capitalist or not. Then, ask the best of those who affirm that he is a capitalist: Do they have historical data on government expenditures (both absolute amounts as well as percentages, in both absolute and inflation-adjusted terms) for the various states in India? For India? For the BJP+ states/regimes vs. the Congress+ states/regimes? (Also for the Left states/regimes?) How about the percentage of public-sector enterprises in industry as a whole? Go, ask this question to Ratan Tata (Modi’s buddy)—whether Tata’s Statistical Outline ever had such data/will ever have it in the near future. Then come back to me and talk.

    “Even if he is simply ensuring that clearances are provided without bribes (as he claims in his speeches), it is easy to see that (in principle, without the use of statistics) as good.”

    Here is a simple question. Clearances may be provided without bribes, but one simple question would be: to whom? The absence of a bribe does not make “it” (i.e. his governance) good—only the complete absence of all government interference of economy would. For example, doing away with the licensing system itself in Gujarat would be a (small) part of it. What steps do you think/know he has taken about it (this small a part of it), in the decade+ that he has ruled over the state? Any idea? Or, does this matter, too, require some kind of a research or investigative journalism to be conducted, first?

    But anyway, coming back to hard statistics, only these would help us determine the extent to which the Laissez Faire freedom is being achieved.

    Different statistical data/measures would have different meanings and values in measuring the overall relative degree of freedom. Harry Binswanger, e.g., recommends one statistic over all others: not the percentage of taxation, but the extent of government expenditure. (He also defends it very well.) “What, government expenditure? Just yet another statistic!” You could dismiss the whole thing out of hand, couldn’t you?

    “I don’t buy this uneven development and preferential treatment stuff at all.”

    And if you read what I wrote, it was not on offer either.

    What I wrote was, in part, this: “…tell a story of an authoratarian statist adeptly shifting the priorities of his government policies and expenditures,…”

    Does this quote look like I was trying to sell “preferential treatment” here?

    Have your skills of “imagination” begun soaring too high? Or is it that your reading skills are dropping these days? And if either (but esp. the later), I wonder: Have you recently become a USA citizen or what? Or have you joined Berkeley/MIT/similar place? At least a TiE chapter? 🙂

    “Talk about whether changes in policy increase freedom or decrease it.”

    In a way, I did. I spoke about Modi’s government policies and expenditures. Did you note something crucially relevant to freedom, out of the inclusion of that bit, in what I said? Care to elaborate on what you noted/understood out of it? (On second thoughts, forget it.)

    “Of course they benefit some more than others, so what?” [emphasis mine]

    No comments!

    OK. One comment and one note.

    Comment: “Anti-egalitarianism” is not a synonymn for “justice.”

    Note: When you decide to write a more thoughtful post/reply on this topic (or others), do me a favor and drop me a line that you have done so. Until then, count me out as one of your regular readers. I will be signing out of the email updates for your blog as soon as I am done posting this comment of mine.

    However, also, I hope that you will maintain this blog as such for some time, say a week or so, because I would like to take a backup of the various spirituality-related and other comments which I have made here from time to time; I don’t have any backups for them (not even drafts of those writings of mine) as of now. I hope you will allow me do that, it won’t take more than a few days (at the most a week or so); thanks in advance.

    Bye and take care,


  4. It is too foolish to blame him,one reason is a man who has just become C.M. Will he jeapordise his position? I don’t think so.secondly to blame one man for all this is stupid.sometimes these incidents happen for a trivial things in a country like ours,a small fight bet two castes can roll into a volcano.there are always outside forces who are trying to do this in our country because we r not can happen anywhere,for his bad luck it happened there.we talk about Hindu fanatics ,why are there not there in other religions?well don’t point fingers remember the other fingers are pointing at natural disasters also blame the C.M. As they did not do their job.

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