Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Modi cannot be my leader



The recent decision of the student organisers at the Wharton Business School to disinvite Gujrat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to its India Economic Forum meeting has revived the debate on the desirability of having Modi as India’s next Prime Minister. It does not, of course, surprise me when rabid right-wingers or members of the BJP hail Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister of India. What does surprise me, and indeed disappoints me, is when liberal, secular Indians who swear by modern liberal values are willing to take a relook at Narendra Modi arguing that “come on, the past is past, let’s give the man a chance”. Increasing number of retired Civil servants, accomplished academics, distinguished journalists and members of the think tank community in Delhi, who once wore Gandhian values and Nehruvian secularism on their sleeves, are now rethinking their attitude to Narendra Modi. 

Modi’s new apostles One of the reasons why there is a newfound sympathy and admiration for Narendra Modi and his brand of politics is because New Delhi’s elites who matter in the country’s opinion formation (members of the strategic, business, think tank and retired elites) have started smelling power! Whenever a new leader or a political ideology is on the ascendance, there are opportunistic elites who necessarily jump on the bandwagon. When the NDA/BJP came to power in New Delhi under the Prime Ministership of A. B. Vajpayee in 1996 for thirteen days, one could see the same overnight ideological transformation of this opportunistic elite in New Delhi. It is interesting to watch the process of transformation of these elites: they coin new phrases to in support of the new leader, sit in fierce criticism of the arguments they were holding dear for years together knowing that a change is inevitable, create sophisticated and rational arguments to tailor the ideological needs of the new regime/leader, create arguments which could potentially align with the supposed stances of the rising leader and start defending the emergent leader in full public view. 

I keep meeting such neo-converts to Moditva from time to time. These yet-to-be-christened apostles of Modi have already started showing an extraordinary amount of zeal and excitement in promoting the ‘gospel according to modi’ to take India towards a new future. This discursive strategy, adopted by the elites is, indeed, an old game practiced by bureaucrats and hangers-on in the corridors of power everywhere. 

The conversions themselves may not be much of a concern, but the discursive effect that it would have on the public sphere is something one must watch very carefully. The well-oiled and extremely effective propaganda campaign run by the traditional supporters of Hindutva and Modi’s new apostles have the ideational power to dominate the this country’s debates and discussions on a wide range of issues from governance to security. 

He is a changed man! So what?
The neo-converts to ‘moditva’ argue that Modi is a changed man today and he is actually ashamed of what happened in 2002. He has made up for his failings in 2002 by forging alliances with Muslim communities in Gujrat and economically developing the state. This, to my mind, is a deeply dangerous line of argument. If this argument is acceptable, then any violator of human rights can be exonerated and be elected to be the Prime Minister of the country provided he is willing to make amends in other fields. That is surely not good enough. Anyone who violates the rights of others or even supports/justifies mass murder should be shunned, and no amount of repentance or ‘making up’ for the misdeeds should make him/her eligible for the country’s top job. Justice should not be measured on the basis of one’s repentance post-facto, but on the basis of whether the doer of the crime has been adequately punished. 

I don’t think Modi regrets the Gujrat riots and his role in it and even if he does, I will continue to maintain that he is not fit enough to the leader of this country. He may be a changed man today. So what? Those perpetrated the mass murder of muslims in Gujrat are yet to be broguth to justice.  If Mr. Modi, even if one goes by the argument that he ‘did not directly participate in the riots’, has not been able to bring justice to the families of those perished in the carnage of 2002, how can anyone expect him to deliver justice and welfare to the whole of India? Consider the fact that a number of cases relating to the Gujrat riots were tried outside the state due to the lack of cooperation from the state administration!  

The ‘larger good’ argument 
The other argument in support of Modi is that while he may have wronged a certain community, he has ever since been working for the welfare of the state in a committed manner. In other words, the majority has benefitted from Modi’s administration. First of all, I don’t buy the argument that Modi has delivered good governance in Gujrat. To give an example, people in Gandhinagar say that the city has good roads, adequate water supply and no electricity shortage. However, interior Gujrat gives you a completely different picture. In any case, even if the ‘larger good’ argument is correct, the fact remains that caring for the welfare of the majority after having sacrificed the rights of the minority is no noble deed. 

Authoritarians are not good for democracy From what we know of Mr. Modi, he is an authoritarian ruler. He dislikes dissent, has overseen a police force that has carried out a number of extra-judicial killings, uses official machinery for self-image promotion, undemocratic in the manner he runs the administration and equates his political survival with the pride of Gujrat. When a leader starts equating himself with the nation, we must be very careful. More importantly, Modi is a deeply polarizing figure. As it is we have enough polarizing figures in our national politics and the general experience that we have of such figures and their politics is that they are rarely good for democracy in a multi-national country such as India. Messiahs, spiritual or political, have a tendency to turn themselves into tyrants in the course of time. Thanks to the restless efforts of the Sangh propaganda machine, business tycoons with profit motives and New Delhi’s neo-converts to moditva, Modi could emerge as the leader of this country. Even as one hopes that it does not happen, one must be cautious about the spread of moditva and the increasing number of conversions to his ideology and cause.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, March 10, 2013. Url: )

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