Normalising Narendra Modi

Nehru, Gandhi and the Neheru-Gandhis(N,G & N-Gs) are probably the most criticised leaders in India in the circle of the hindu nationalists. I am forced to use the word “hindu” nationalists” here in absence of a non-offensive and/or self-described word to mean someone who supports the ideals of the BJP, RSS and their sister organisations. Evidently, Narendra Modi has described himself as a hindu nationalist, but that seem to have been in more rue than glee. Notwithstanding the widely differing visions, works of the N, G and N-Gs, the HNs can hardly agree with them on anything. Pick any book of slightly right-wing ideals, and you are most like to have Nehru’s patriotism in suspect, his vision discredited. This makes sense though, since the politics of the HNs positions itself as an alternative to the N,G & N-Gs. However, the N,G & N-G do have a stellar stand in Indian politics, in terms of the sheer number of terms they have headed the govt. of this country but also the way they have shaped the country’s economic progress and global recognition. I admit both of these are interdependent and highly controversial, but both illustrate BJP’s quintessential conundrum – it is the fame of these N, G & NGs which Hindu nationalists defame they need to match.

It began with Atal Bihari Bajpayee. Around the time he trumped the then Iron man (IM-I) L. K. Advani for this un-vetted secularism, an anecdote circulated. That Nehru once remarked, “he has prime ministerial timber” after listening to Bajpayee in the parliament,  was something that caught the string of the unthinking middle class. I am not sure, if Nehru waxed poetry in his speeches, or found the especially slow-flow of words particularly prime ministerial, we even don’t know if the younger AB Bajpayee also spoke in slow-mow, but it was Nehru’s tacit and a rather prescient approval of AB Bajpayee to adorn “his(?)”  throne which placed him in public imagination. You could find out, it wouldn’t be a Hindu nationalist to circulate that anecdote.

Ram Chandra Guha does not claim to be a Hindu nationalist. It was he who would start the same normalization of another Iron man (IM-II), Modi. In his unashamed ogling published in “The Hindu” he says, “There is something of Indira Gandhi in Narendra Modi”. Perhaps that was not enough. Not perfect enough for an “Iron Man” to be compared to a female leader (although an Iron lady herself). So we get Tavleen Singh, famed for her gossip column in Indian express who says, “Modi is the first major political leader since Jawaharlal Nehru who has articulated a clear economic vision.” It would be interesting to dissect this heap of praise, but to do that to a line of a journalist who has deep respect and warmth for Advani despite her disliking of his politics and rath yatra, because he called her after reading her book and because she had travelled with him in 1977 would be a waste of time. (By the way, people were killed in massive numbers because of that yatra and politics.)

But notice here the insinuation of political legitimacy and competency of the BJP leaders by banking on the public memory of the long-serving former Prime ministers of India. It is a hollow assurance these columnists tender to the people of India based on completely hypothetical correlation. The nature of political expediency is such that a party that opposed political dynasty in democracy needs to prove its royal blood. 

However absolute Narendra Modi’s accomplishments in Gujrat’s economy be, it is a wonder how people who claim to be liberal and apololitical otherwise, notwithstanding the contradiction in terms, completely ignore Gujrat riot. With interactions of various actors in this extended Hindu Nationalist family, over past 10 years suggest me four ways they could rationalize Gujarat riot of 2002.

  1. Not True: They simply refuse to accept that Gujarat riot happened. In the next few years after the riot, this was a major stand of the expatiate Gujaratis, and a lot of them continue to hold major English dailies responsible for spreading the “misinformation” about Gujarat 2002. They position themselves as alternative news-source, claiming themselves more authentic than the rest since they hail from Gujarat, and eloquently brand every other voice “pseudo-secularists”, communists or congress conspirators. It is important to remember that, much of the vernacular media during the period did not report the large-scale loss of lives and properties of the muslims nor it did report the of the magnitude of the carnage. This probably had created a cognitive dissonance in the mind of this group of people, for which they could be initially forgiven. But after 13 years of the pogrom, it is simple blind faith, ignorance and prejudice.
  2. True, but not Modi: Some acknowledge the Gujarat riot, even the disproportionate loss to the Muslims. These people however squarely exonerate Modi of being responsible for it.  If Modi was the Chief Minister during the riot of 2002, he is also the Chief Minister during the next 10 years of peaceful growth, they argue. L.K.Advani is among the leading voices in this argument. However, this argument is very informative in itself because what it proves is that if a govt. is interested it could administer relative peace for as along as it wants. If CM Modi did it for 10 years in Gujarat now, CM Mayawati could do it in one of the most volatile states regarding communal riots. And if govt. does want not peace, Gujrat 2002 results. Fractions of this group of people like to see the riot as a consequence of Godhra train burning. Lets put the facts aside, and ask if the disproportionate loss of lives, properties, honor and home of only a particular community far from the site of burning can happen spontaneously?
  3. Can we move on?: Gujarat riot-2002 is not fiction; Narendra Modi is in the center of it. As facts emerged, documentaries, sting operations, court, CBI investigations vacillate between almost trying Modi and his ministers/officers and giving clean chits, it is increasingly difficult for some people deny all of it. Instead they ask can we move on now, focus instead on growth and development, clean governance for a change? Yes, we should, but there is a probable killer among us, in fact not among but above us, hoping to rule us tomorrow. How comfortable you would be to know that your boss had got few people killed for whatever reason? Or that, your spouse is a killer? How much of a development-freak you would be to move on, if your neighbours, members of your community, yourself were victims?
  4. We did it!!: There is a fourth category of Modi supporters. They acknowledge the massacre, the rapes, the loots with all its enormity, celebrate it and are grateful to Modi for it.

Most of us are not blind to deny any violence did occur, nor bigoted enough to celebrate such things. Even if we were, we cannot be publicly so. But it is the idea that we should move on, whoever be responsible, so empathetically argued by the extended family, does not, result in a new socio-economic reality. The fact about development is almost like the cliché, “all that glitters are not gold”. Multilane roads, flyovers, sky-scrappers and Memorials (lets keep Maya in loop too) are easier to build than a more equitable, pluralistic society. Infrastructural investment in a short time can give you a “vikash purush” (development man) but it takes years of societal investment to have vikashita janata (developed citizenry). Modi had 20 years to do that, still Gujrat carries some worst human development indices. But again, Jyoti Basu also had 27 years.

In a zerosum game of electoral politics, a thousand different reasons to support Modi do lead to coronation of an alleged mass murderer as Prime ministerial candidate of a major national party. The effect of which would be far-reaching.

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