The systematic demonisation of Narendra Modi in the media began with Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan. Though Patkar has played a historic role in raising awareness about the plight of villagers whose lands are arbitrarily taken away for mega dams and “development projects”, she did an incalculable harm to her own cause by overstating her case, especially with regard to resettlement operations of dam oustees in Gujarat. It projected Modi government in particular and all Gujaratis in general as intrinsically demonic forces that were out to decimate the “poor tribals”.
But when I went to Gujarat to do a small reality check first hand, I was appalled at the wide gap between the NBA propaganda and the reality on the ground. There was serious mismatch between the NBA critique of Modi and the reality of resettlement in Gujarat. That gave me the first glimpse of the power of Modi the doer, an able administrator capable of delivering what he promised. He took up the challenge posed by NBA in all seriousness and provided the first of its kind rehabilitation anywhere in India. That is why dam oustees voted with their feet and abandoned the NBA plank. I hope to tell that story another time. But from then on, Modi became the most favoured hate object of leftists, liberals, feminists, radicals, environmentalists et al.
However, the Gujarat riots of 2002 converted Modi bashing into an extremely rewarding career advancement strategy for media persons, NGO activists, academics and sundry intellectuals. Conversely, you are condemned to lifelong perdition, treated as a political and intellectual outcast subject to unending vilification campaigns starting with being labelled a fascist if you dare say one word either in defence of Modi or suggest a bit of caution to Modi bashers.
As the Congress party seems on decline there is increasing desperation in the air for all those who have survived on the Party’s patronage. The possibility of Modi emerging as a winner has put them in panic. That is why the media in general and TV anchors in particular have gone so overboard in demonizing Modi that even people like me who have been consistent critics of BJP feel revolted enough to say: “This has gone too far. Please don’t manipulate us beyond our tolerance limit.”
We would be guilty of the worst form of intellectual cowardice if we kept quiet now. Let me illustrate why I say this from examining some of the key charges against Modi.
Riot After Riot
The most unforgivable crime attributed to Modi is that he orchestrated the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in 2002. He is alleged to be a man with a fascist mindset with Muslims of Gujarat supposedly living as an endangered minority in perpetual fear and insecurity. Interestingly this charge is most loudly and aggressively levelled by NGO activists who have received massive support—financial material and political form the Congress party and its governments as well as powerful international donor agencies.
As far as riots, communal massacres and divisive politics is concerned, no party in India dares match the track record of Congress party in post independence years. It starts with gross mishandling of Kashmir through rigged elections, installing puppet regimes and then misusing the army to deal with the resulting popular discontent and disaffection. The result is for all to see—tens of thousands of killings and 'disappearance' of Kashmiri Muslims, near total cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, and permanent regional and communal polarisation in the state.
The Khalistan wave in Punjab was also a creation of the Congress party through propping up Bhindranwale with a view to wresting control of resource rich gurudwaras and Punjab Assembly from the Akali Dal. The same foolish formula was applied in Sri Lanka by propping up the murderous LTTE which exacerbated ethnic strife leading to endless massacres total brutalisation and marginalisation of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Even with regard to Muslims, the riots politically orchestrated by the Congress in Jamshedpur, Bhiwandi, Bhagalpur, Hyderabad, Bokaro, Meerut, Malliana, Mumbai, Nellie and a host of other towns and cities as well as the most recent riots in Assam—all under Congress rule are not forgotten by the Muslim community which has stopped being a captive vote bank of the Congress.
Media collaborates with the Congress party in trying to make the country forget that the guilty of all these massacres have not been punished.
Gujarat itself was a tinderbox since the 1960s ever exploding into communal and caste riots after Indira Gandhi assumed power at the centre and Gujarat was ruled by her hand-picked chief ministers. Congress not only sowed the seeds of communal discord but also harvested several bloody crops from those poisonous seeds. The killings in 1969 and 1985 were on much larger scale and the violence lasted far longer than in 2002. By contrast BJP tried harvesting only one crop—that too in collaboration with the Congress party. The difference is the Congress party has not learnt any lessons whereas Modi became far wiser from the blunder of 2002.
Those pillorying Modi for 2002, display total amnesia over the fact that Congressmen and women had gleefully joined VHP/BJP goons in the 2002 massacre as well. It has consistently projected 2002 riots as a one way massacre of Muslims by Hindus. But as per figures given by the Congress party’s minister of state for home Shri Prakash Jaiswal on 11 May 2005 in Parliament, those killed included 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus while 223 persons were reported missing. But anti- Modi brigade routinely overstates the case by talking of “thousands of Muslims” being butchered without every acknowledging Hindu casualties. Nor is the death of 59 Hindus burnt to death at Godhra railway station ever treated with the same seriousness. In fact, many among the Modi-bashers brazenly allege that the Godhra train massacre was a VHP/BJP conspiracy, even though several known Congressmen have been convicted by the courts for that mass murder.
Compare 2002 Ahmedabad to 1984 anti Sikh riots in Delhi. Over 3000 Sikhs were butchered in Delhi alone, with thousands more in different towns and cities of north India. The anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 saw Congressmen lead killer-mobs who gang raped Sikh women, looted and burnt innumerable Sikh homes and properties, and roasted alive thousands of Sikh men in broad day light with the police merrily assisting the gangsters. Not a single Hindu rioter died at the hands of Sikhs or in police firing. The massacre was not confined to Delhi. Similar mode of butchery took place in several north Indian cities and towns. Uncounted Sikhs were pulled out of trains and set on fire. For three long days and nights the police either stood and watched the fun or actively assisted hired assassins. No Hindu homes were burnt in retaliatory violence by Sikhs. No Hindu had to go and live in refugee camps. But in Ahmedabad, thousands of Hindus, a large number of them Dalits, had to take shelter in refugee camps. There were several instances of Muslim attacks on Hindu homes and shops. 34 Muslims have been sentenced by courts in Gujarat. But this is never mentioned even in passing in media discussion on 2002.
Numerous Congressmen have been indicted by courts and sent to jail, not only for their role in the Godhra train massacre but also in subsequent riots in Ahmedabad and other cities. However, there is studied silence in the media when Congressmen are indicted for the violence. But indictment of BJP leaders is gloated over for days on end.
I seriously believe that the dubious role of the Congress party in Gujarat riots needs to be thoroughly investigated by an independent credible agency. There is far more to it than has come out thus far because of media complicity.
Is Gujarat Development Not Inclusive?
Another charge repeated over and over again is that Modi’s model of development is not “inclusive”. Firstly, this implies that development in Congress ruled states is “inclusive” when we are witnessing daily exposes of the Congress party —promoting crony capitalism and indulging in unashamed loot of public money and natural resources.
During the run up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, national TV channels vied with each other to convince us that rural Gujarat is reeling under water scarcity, crop failures, droughts anti-farmer policies of the Modi government, especially with regard to tribal areas. Compare this to the information provided to me by Chairman of the National Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices — Dr Ashok Gulati — among the most knowledgeable and respected farm policy experts in India, appointed to this post by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
I quote from an interview he gave me in January 2012.
“While in large parts of India agriculture is in deep crisis and growing at 2% per annum, the rate of growth in Gujarat has been over 10%. A major factor for this consistent growth is the efficiency and speed with which Gujarat government has worked to spread irrigation. The check dam movement started by a religious leader in Gujarat has been carried forward in a determined manner by Modi’s government. He got all manners of civil society organisations as well as village and caste panchayats involved in building 120,000 check dams. He also started the Khet Talawadi programme for creating a pond in every field. He told the farmers, I will give you funds under NREGA to build a pond on your farm if you earmark 5% of your land for this purpose. As a result of this mass participation in recharging groundwater, Gujarat is the only state in the country where water table is rising while it is fast depleting in most other states of India.”
While in other states, NREGA has created major distortions in the farm sector, made farm labour scarce and farming non-viable, in Gujarat it has given major boost to farm sector through careful targeted use of NREGA funds for improving productivity of individual farms instead of siphoning off funds through corrupt means.
Moreover, Gujarat government is providing 90% subsidy for drip irrigation in order to being about efficient water utilisation. This too has spread fast because of proactive approach of Gujarat government. As a result even in water scarce tribal areas farmers are harvesting three crops a year.
Modi has invested Rs 1200 crores for reforming the power sector under the Jyoti Gram program. No more free power with strong measures in place against power theft. But every household, rural and urban, is provided 24x7 power supply. The farmers are assured 8 hour supply for irrigation at pre announced timings. He has separated domestic lines from those going to farms and invested in technology to stop power thefts. Power subsidy is actually going down in Gujarat while its availability has increased manifold. Gujarat is actually selling surplus power to other states. No other state of India has succeeded in such far reaching power sector reforms. If this is not inclusive development, what is? Does one hear one good word in the media on this account?
Modi’s government has built the best roads in the country—not just Expressways but even rural roads are far better than in most other states. This enhances connectivity of farmers with marketing and purchase of inputs. Any acknowledgement from compulsive Modi bashers that this is a hallmark of inclusive development? I haven’t heard any yet.
Ashok Gulati also provided a vivid description of how every year in the lean months of May-June, Modi, with his entire official team, plus leading scientists of agricultural institutes of Gujarat, along with private companies involved in farm technologies, tours each of the 18000 plus villages of the state. This brings the highest echelons of the government as well as latest agricultural scientists with their latest quality seeds and technologies to the farmers' doorstep. This too is an important reason why agriculture is prospering in Gujarat but languishing in most other states of India.
Dairy farming in Gujarat has always been a strong point. This is witnessing further growth thanks to better road connectivity, water availability and spread of economic prosperity. Gulati also explains that Bt Cotton has produced an economic miracle in Gujarat. Cotton yields have gone up by 80% in Gujarat while pesticide consumption has come down dramatically. Gujarat government made it easy for its farmers to access high yielding sturdy seeds whereas the UPA government under pressure from ill-informed NGOs is putting all manners of hurdles in farmers acquiring better seeds. As per Gulati’s estimates, Bt cotton has created a Rs 10,000 cr export potential per year. However, in Maharashtra Bt cotton is comparatively less successful; it has even led to farmer suicides and economic distress. This is because over 50% of the cotton crop area in Gujarat is irrigated while Vidarbha is growing cotton with less than 5% area under irrigation. Bt cotton can’t grow without assured irrigation. If this is not inclusive development, what is?
Are Gujarati Muslims Endangered Minority?
Even the Prime Minister of India joins the unholy chorus and tells Muslims in Gujarat that they are unsafe in this state, unless they vote Congress back to power. Such irresponsible statements are expected from NGOs playing to international galleries who fund and support them but coming from national media or the PM of India, it is a shocker. Apart from other considerations, does he realize how much legitimacy such falsehoods lend to jihadi terrorists of Pakistan?
How safe Muslims are in Congress ruled states became evident during the recent communal massacres in Assam when lakhs were uprooted from their villages and forced to take shelter in make shift refugee camps. Muslims of Kashmir don’t think that Congress-NC rule has brought safety and security to them. The kid glove treatment and patronage Shiv Sainiks and MNS get in Congress ruled Maharashtra is not the surest recipe for Muslim wellbeing. That Bal Thackeray himself was propped up by Congressmen to finish the communists and trade-unions in Bombay or that Raj Thackeray gets soft-treatment because his MNS is seen as a spoiler that divides the ant-Congress vote in Maharashtra, thus helping Congress electorally, is of course never mentioned in media discourse. One can list endless such examples. Have Sonia Gandhi or Rahul ever been taken to task on this account?
Even the highly partisan Sachar committee report provides concrete evidence that Muslims of Gujarat are doing far better than Muslims of Congress or Left ruled states in matters of education, jobs, business opportunities as well as crime-free environment. Recently, the Times of India reported that Gujarat with a 9 % Muslim population has 10% Muslim personnel in its police stations. No other state matches this figure. If this is not proof of inclusive governance, what is? Not a single TV channel thought this vital piece of information worth 5 minutes discussion even though it belies the myth of systematic discrimination against Muslims.
The demonisation of Modi is so compulsive and thorough that no matter what he does, the media throws muck at him. If he undertakes Sadbhavna Yatra to reach out to Muslims, he is berated for tokenism. If he is flocked by Muslims, if prominent Muslims join BJP or endorse his politics, he is accused of empty tokenism while those Muslims are attacked as traitors. I did not see one newspaper or TV channel give the slightest bit of importance to 120 Muslims winning zilla parishad elections as BJP candidates in the recent most elections to local bodies. But if Modi does not field any Muslim candidates for Assembly elections he is castigated, ridiculed for days on end by secular intellectuals and TV anchors
Modi’s biggest contribution is the marginalisation of VHP and the RSS and their divisive agendas. He consistently addresses six crore Gujaratis, this includes all minorities. In fact, in this election VHP lumpen and RSS have provided foot soldiers for Congress candidates. The open alliance of VHP, RSS with the Congress party against Modi itself testifies that Modi has risen above divisive agendas and come to occupy centre stage. It is for “secularists” to say what implications it has for the Congress party.
Apart from the fact that Gujarat has had no riot, no retaliatory violence since 2002, not even when jihadi bombs exploded in Surat in 2008, Gujarat has far lower crime rate than most other states of India. Industry is flourishing because of social peace and stability.
Today Muslims of Gujarat are clearly scripting a new role for themselves and a new equation not just with Modi but also those who want to keep scratching their wounds and encashing their real and imaginary vulnerabilities. They are letting the world know that they can speak for themselves and manage their affairs without the help of manipulative mediators.
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print