The drumbeats are all around us, proclaiming the triumphal arrival of Narendra Modi as our next prime minister. They are already reaching deafening proportions among urban middle classes, NRIs and the corporate sector-owned media. For the last few months, a rising crescendo of clamour about a ‘Modi wave’ has, through clever PR and slick advertisements along with his gruff eloquence and prodigious energy, indeed created in a self-reinforcing way a wave about the ‘unstoppability’ of a supreme leader. The myths building around him are now almost impenetrable. Yet a close scrutiny of them is worthwhile even if he is to become the next PM.
Modi has made governance the major plank of his platform, and through constant repetition, his excellent record in this respect is now taken as a given fact in many quarters. There is no doubt that much that is wrong in Indian politics has to do with governance issues at all levels. Modi has pointed to his record of strong and quick decisions in his state of Gujarat and its superb performance in economic growth, which he now promises to replicate for the rest of India.
Governance has both political and economic dimensions, let us discuss both. The 2002 massacres in Gujarat that happened under Modi’s watch suggest a disastrous governance failure. Even if his personal complicity is not legally established (partly because of destroyed evidence), there is no question that horrendous things happened under his watch in an administration he firmly controlled (he was not just a backseat passenger in the car when, sadly, a “puppy got run over”). Some of his close associates have either been indicted or are currently under investigation. The then prime minister of his own party, Atal Behari Vajpayee, rebuked Modi at the time for deviating from his ‘rajdharma’ (the Sanskrit word for good governance).
His supporters say that Muslims are better-off in Gujarat than in poorer states like Bihar. This is like white Afrikaners in the Apartheid regime saying that Blacks were economically better-off in South Africa than in Nigeria. Robbed of their dignity and security, Muslims who used to live across different parts of Ahmedabad are now huddled in squalid ghettos on the fringes of the city.
Modi’s well-funded and efficient campaign machine has successfully deflected public attention away from all this to his Gujarat model of economic governance. Occasionally his mask slips, and he talks about the rise in ‘meat exports’ under Congress rule from the slaughterhouses mainly run by you know who, or about a ‘conspiracy’ to kill rhinos in Assam in order to give space for Bangladeshis to settle in, about his political opponents being ‘Pakistani agents’, and so on. But, in general, he keeps to the theme of economy and strong India, while delegating the job of hate and fear-mongering to his minions, particularly in the all-important states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The BJP politicians implicated in the Muzaffarnagar riots have been given tickets in this election and Amit Shah has reportedly called for “revenge” against “those who have been ill-treating our mothers and sisters”.
The Indian corporate sector is tirelessly promoting this glittering image of Modi. The reasons have much to do with the reputation he has of giving generous business subsidies—capital subsidies and corporate tax concessions given by his government amount to several times the subsidies for food and agriculture—and the way he ‘decisively’ rides roughshod over business hindrances like clearances on environment and land acquisition. Modi is eloquent against the Congress government’s programmes of ‘dole’ for the poor, but his reformist friends among economists ignore that his corporate welfare payments suggest that he is business-friendly, but not necessarily market-friendly. Many critics who refer to Modi’s crony capitalism point to the disproportionately sharp rise over recent weeks in the stock prices (unwarranted by the fundamentals) of particular business groups close to him.
Along with the hype, there is also a bit of naivety in the public enthusiasm for him. It is not clear that if he takes over the leadership in Delhi, he’ll be able to ram through his economic programmes in the face of the formidable structural (political, bureaucratic, institutional) problems that face any reform-minded government in India. The country as a whole is far too complex and poor compared to Gujarat, which has been business-friendly and advanced in both governance and physical infrastructure (like roads, ports, etc.) over many decades now. On top of this, Modi’s rather high-handed autocratic personal style (which is resented by many even within his own party) does not augur well for the intricate negotiations with diverse groups, state leaders and coalition partners he will necessarily have to work with at the all-India level. His polarising personality is not conducive to the tasks of compromise and consensus-building a leader inevitably faces in a highly fragmented polity like India’s.
Another common position popular among some Indian journalists is that Indian democracy will ultimately ‘tame’ Modi, the checks and balances in our system will smooth his rough edges over time. First of all, our democratic institutions are not all that strong. Our elections are vigorous, but other essential parts of a democracy, like some basic human rights and certain regular procedures of accountability are fragile, even after all these years. One should not welcome further pressures on these institutions and procedures just for trying out a firebrand leader; in any case the hankering for a strong leader that our middle classes display, while it may be understandable after a decade of ineffective, inarticulate and jaded Congress leadership, is not exactly healthy. Middle classes in south Europe and South America have often gone through such phases of hankering, with disastrous consequences. Our democracy is also decidedly weak at the local level (districts and below) in most parts of India, and most political parties have no inner-party democracy, with major decisions mainly taken from above. In such a situation, a leader given to propensities for aggregation and concentration of power is potentially harmful to democratic processes. After the chaotic ’90s Russian hankering for a strong leader has given them, through landslide elections, Vladimir Putin, who has turned Russia into a cesspool of oligarchic corruption and human rights abuse.
Of course, Modi has cultivated an image of a fighter against corruption, and this is welcomed by people tired of one scam after another during the Congress regime (revealed ironically with the help of one of that regime’s landmark legislations, the Right to Information Act). But at the same time nothing has stopped him from trying to reabsorb into the party some of the leaders in Karnataka associated with the egregious cases of corruption in real estate and mining. It is also well-known that some of the NDA chief ministers were complicit in the decisions around the coal scam. A couple of years back, the CAG had complained about serious financial mismanagement in the Gujarat public sector. Also, the crony capitalism that Modi indulges in is a form of corruption under the broad definition of corruption as abuse of public office, which need not always be illegal.
Above all, with a history of inter-community relations as fraught as in India and the discovery by Modi and his party over the years that, if necessary, mobilising fear and hatred among the majority community can pay good electoral dividends, it is not always clear how merely the periodic electoral check of democracy can tame a leader who is equally adept at playing the development and the communal cards. Facing roadblocks on his way, he can turn either way, the explosive consequences of which in our fractured society, where violence is often just below the surface, he may not be able to control. One, of course, hopes this will not happen, but Modi’s history and background do not comfort us.
This does not appear in print.
"This does not appear in print."
It would have if it had any substance.
@Buddhadev Nandi - "Then the BJP will perhaps find no other way but to sacrifice Modi to grasp the opportunity of forming the NDA government after a decade."
In such a case, I expect Modi to accept the party decision without a murmur.
Fear-mongering is in full flow in outlook.
It seems that Modi is the de-facto P M of India (Hear That Hollow In The Drumbeat, April 28, 2014). The balloon inflated with the gas of his Mr. Development (Vikashpurush) image may be pricked any time by the sharp pin of his riotous image. If the NDA is far short of the magic figure required to form the government in the centre, it may find it difficult to make post-poll alliance with major regional political parties that are very protective to their secular bastion to woo the minority vote bank in future. The West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already expressed her sheer antipathy particularly to Modi by indirectly referring him as "Dangar Mukh" (face of riot). Even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaraman is eloquent against Modi.
There is much possibility of all these regional parties to rise to the occasion of playing a decisive role to form government in the centre. L. K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj or such other comparatively less hardliners may be their choice as the Prime Minister. Then the BJP will perhaps find no other way but to sacrifice Modi to grasp the opportunity of forming the NDA government after a decade.
Again if Modi becomes the Prime Minister, there is much room of doubt whether he will be able to retain his Mr. Development image erasing his face of riot under the aegis of the RSS and the VHP who seem optimistic of resurrecting the Ayodhya issue.
I shall be highly obliged if my letter is adjudged to be published in the columns of your esteemed magazine.
>>>well well so much for that naming his wife in his affidavit.
According to sources in the Vishva Hindu Parishad, soon after Modi acknowledged Jashodaben as his wife, Hindu activists and security professionals dressed as pilgrims arrived on her doorsteps in three white SUVs. They told her that her long-standing wish for a Char Dham yatra had come true. Sources said the group took her to Ahmedabad, where she boarded a chartered flight to Aurangabad near the Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand border, and then to Ramdev's isolated mountain-top ashram at Rishikesh. Labourers in the ashram say a lady was seen arriving in a white vehicle on April 13.
“Jashodaben is protected by top-level security people with ties with the Gujarat security services. Perhaps, she does not even know that those with her are not pilgrims but people tasked with keeping her away from the public eye,” said a source close to Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth, who recently spoke out against Modi.
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