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.

Narendra Modi – Visionary or Demagogue?

The last time I watched a speech by a political leader was 15 years ago – because my parents used to ask me to listen to the Prime Minister’s or President’s addresses to the nation on Independence Day or Republic Day. Presumably they wanted me to take an interest in politics. It would be difficult to imagine a more effective way to ensure the opposite! That, the stench from the sewer that is Indian politics, and my conviction that politics is fundamentally unimportant (I believe that culture drives politics rather than the other way round), has meant that I have never bothered to follow politics. All the hype around Modi’s SRCC speech however interested me enough to watch his speech.

In his speech, Modi talks of enabling development, condemns vote-bank politics and even has the courage to say “the government has no business to do business”. Had this speech been delivered by a man without a history or a well-established image, it would have impressed me enough to register for a voter identity card. As things stand, it has merely succeeded in confusing me.

Some facts:

  • Modi is part of a political party (the BJP) that established itself by creating and exploiting the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue.
  • Modi swept the Gujarat elections after the 2002 violence during which he was the Chief Minister.
  • BJP itself is the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, an organization that is best known for using hooliganism as its primary weapon in a mission to safeguard “Hindutva” and “Indian culture”. Many (if not most) of Modi’s ardent supporters seem to be part of the Sangh Parivar.
  • Modi himself has an image of being a Hindutva hardliner, presumably the same obnoxious conception of Hindutva held by the Sangh Parivar.

In his speech, Modi does not make a single allusion to religion, let alone Hindutva, and focuses solely on development. In fact, he openly mocks India’s reputation for being a land of snake charmers and proudly claims that India is now a land of mouse charmers – whose youth transforms the world by the click of a mouse. This, even as the Maha Kumbh mela – a festival of snake charmers – is being celebrated by the Hindutva-vaadis. If what he claims about Gujarat is true – and anecdotal evidence indicates that it is – he has delivered on his vision in his own state.

In his speech, Modi declares that vote-bank politics has destroyed the nation and development politics is needed instead. But his party has always played the same vote-bank politics and continues to do so (witness FDI and fuel price decontrol).

The question remains: What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?

And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?

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