Implication of the Emergence of Narendra Modi - III
Continued from “Tasks Confronting Narendra Modi”
I don’t have to be a certified soothsayer to predict with certainty that the BJP will plunge into electoral foray in 2014 under Generalissimo Modi. Pitted against him will be the well-oiled Congress publicity-cum-propaganda juggernaut backed by very deep pockets. The party may emerge with a simple majority in Lok Sabha or with the single largest tally of seats or with almost the same number, or even less, than as of today. Here, your guess is as good as mine. Should the first of the above possibilities materialize, Modi will carve out a permanent place for himself in our history. Even the second possibility would be a creditable achievement. In case the party position remains more or less the same, he may have to make room for someone with better ideas for its future.
The Congress propaganda machine makes out Modi a veritable monster who is stalking India’s political landscape to destroy the grand idea of India, assiduously built over the years and decades by secular forces, spearheaded by the Indian National Congress. On the other hand, his supporters and admirers see in him as the harbinger of a new political philosophy where promises are delivered and new orientation of politics is on offer.
That public opinion is either passionately for him or vehemently against him, is I think a fatuous oversimplification. There, indeed, are incalculably large amount of fence-sitters, deeply disillusioned with the Congress and its most lackluster performance under dark clouds of scandals. They yet have to accept Modi. They and the voters-to-be for the first time will be playing a decisive role in 2014.
Sum of All Our Fears
Do you remember how on January 1, 2000, it was claimed – and that’s not too long ago - computer glitches would have airplanes fall out of the sky and elevators, freeze in their cages. It was the closest the world was to have a glimpse of Bob Dylan’s dark forebodings summed up in Time out of Mind. Ultimately, however, nothing happened. The earth went on rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun as it has done for millennia.
Similarly, in 2013, a year before the general election, Modi has spawned passions and fears reminiscent of the countdown to the end of 1999. Modi’s supporters believe his charisma can sweep aside class, caste, regional, linguistic, even religious, divides to bring the BJP to power. His opponents, however, perceive in his rise a veritable Frankenstein bent on pulverizing the Idea of India.
These contradictory responses betray the latest incarnation of Y2K syndrome, which stemmed from a seemingly sound assumption: since digital memory was designed to store years in double-digits — 1999 as 99, 1998 as 98, and so on — it was feared the computer would recognize the year 2000 as 00 or 1900 and, therefore, go haywire. Similarly, Modi’s supporters hope his charisma would neutralize the pull of identity politics and inspire the voter to behave in unforeseen ways, just as computers afflicted with the Y2K bug were supposed to have.
No doubt, BJP cadres and the middle class find Modi mesmerizing. But they are just a subset of the Indian electorate. The BJP hasn’t even acquired a critical mass in, say, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, or Andhra Pradesh, for it to gain from the advantage of a Modi-led election campaign. In the recent Karnataka assembly election, he articulated the Hindutva ideology during his campaign in Mangalore, yet the city elected Congress candidates, two Muslims and a Christian.
More significantly, every social group perceives its own leader as the most charismatic. For instance, Mayawati is to the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh what Modi is to a section of the middle class. It’s unlikely he can wean away the Dalits from her. Further, charisma is just one of the many factors the voter takes into account at the time of casting his or her ballot, just as most computer systems weren’t dependent on the change of century, from 1999 to 2000, to function efficiently.
Modi’s supporters say his appeal is based on his proven, unsoiled record of governance. It is the reason, they say, the corporate world believes he can rescue the economy. Not to support Modi is depicted as voting for economic stagnation. Don’t forget, in 1999 too, software experts fanned the Y2K fear to bag lucrative contracts. In Modi, the middle class sees a leader who can preserve and promote their interests.
Again, the Y2K fear was fuelled because of our propensity to want a predictable, smooth life. Similarly, Modi’s supporters know his appointment as the BJP’s campaign chief will have his opponents harp on the dangers he poses to secularism. This could polarize the voters, and help him garner the ‘Hindu vote’, in much the same way as our fear of a chaotic world helped inflate the profits of software firms in 1999.
The BJP believes Modi has in him the potential to win seats close to majority mark, thereby rendering redundant the support of several allies. This was why the objection of Nitish Kumar to Modi’s appointment was swept aside. The veracity of its belief can be checked only through the 2014 election. You can’t but sit out the next 12 months to get proof of Modi’s vote-catching ability countrywide, as we did through 1999 to know what awaited us on January 1, 2000. It gives time to Modi’s opponents to bolster their forces, just as those computer systems, deemed absolutely vulnerable, were rectified of time-error in 1999.
I’m sure in 2014 our world won’t go topsy-turvy, just as it didn’t in 2000. There was no dearth of panic-mongers then. The same throng is around, today.
One of the reasons for the so-called Hindu secularists’ intense dislike of Modi and whatever the man stands for, does, I think, stem from the phenomenon of their low self-estimation. (Perhaps it is a very special type of self-loathing). Whatever the name experts may assign to this ethnic self-hatred among the upper strata of Hindus, this I reckon is most likely on account, first, the slavery of centuries. Time and again, marauders and invaders — Mahmoud Gazni, Timur, Abdalis – came and looted and plundered the land. Some stayed on to rule over them. It is largely on account of the Hindus’ inability to learn to fight back mercilessly to destroy, and certainly never forgive, the enemy. Instead, we have the spectacle of the politicians, media, self-styled secularists, half-baked intellectuals, human-rights activists who never tire condemning Hindus, are themselves Hindus. The greatest enemies of the Hindus today are the Hindus themselves. Product of an education system designed by imperialists like Thomas Macaulay - remember his 1835 Minute on Education - Hindus have been trained to believe that anything they have – the profoundest treasures of their heritage – are worthless compared to what others have.
When riots break out as an inevitable aftermath of Godhra, we condemn the rioters as communal fundamentalists. Who is on record to have condemned in unambiguously those who started it all by torching a train full of Hindus? Sonia Gandhi? Digvijaya Singh? Lalu Prasad Yadav as Railway Minister went out of his way to have an enquiry conducted to prove that the Hindus had themselves deliberately started the fire in order to build justified grounds to riot. He thereby gets the certificate as the high priest of secularism. We cannot perceive a threat to the country’s integrity from crores of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, we cannot acknowledge that the terrorism faced in India and throughout the world is Islamic terrorism, we cannot see the merits of teaching the real history of the atrocities of the Muslim invaders, we cannot change the British education system, we cannot regulate the madrasas which breed terrorism, we cannot ban the missionaries who defame our religion and convert our tribals by unethical means and methods, we cannot feel pride in rebuilding our demolished temples, we cannot call India what it truly is.
Nehruvian secularism has already left us with a legacy of complications and it would be sad if our successors were to inherit more. Playing the blind man’s bluff is leading us to disaster. It is high time we call a spade a spade, “fight” the real enemies or else it will be too late. It is time we pay heed to what Lord Krishna told Arjun:
“Klaibyam maa sma gamah Paarth naitatvayyupapadyatey
Kshudram hridaya daurbalyam tyaktovttishta Parantapa”
“O Arjun! Yield not to unmanliness for such an attitude is not worthy of you. Casting aside your weakness of mind, therefore arise, O scorcher of enemies, and get ready for the battle.
Gujarat Growth Story
After six decades of flirting with socialism, then a brief spell of romance with capitalism, and then again in bed with old friend socialism, this scandalous love story has eaten up many resources, dried up capital. Same people lamenting about Gujarat have never been held accountable for taking nation on a road to disaster, after six decades of independence. Have our secularists with their JNU degrees Oxford diplomas, having mastered Marx been able to make any dent on India’s real problems? The reason is simple. As Margaret Thatcher told us many years ago “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”
Another often misrepresented fact about Gujarat is its growth story, and the rhetoric that it is lagging behind, compared to other states, in certain key areas. R Jaganathan explained it well in Firstpost:
The real story of Gujarat’s relative under performance compared to its obvious peers – Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu – may be explained by the simple fact that Gujarat’s growth is based on manufacturing, not services. The IT boom is a southern phenomenon, with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka being the big boys, and Maharashtra is the country’s financial capital. So, the Gujarat story rides on manufacturing and agriculture, and possibly less on services. This may explain why Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu did better.
He also highlighted:
“In terms of per capita income Gujarat left the country far behind by simply tripling its per capital income growth between the turn of the century and 2010-11”
Indeed, Bihar has made commendable progress under Nitish Kumar. Its growth rate is 10%, perhaps the highest in India, yet both the states cannot be lumped together. Gujarat is still a much larger economy in comparison to Bihar. We must face the fact that a 10 per cent growth rate for a state GDP of Rs. 513,000 crore (Gujarat in 2010-11) and a 10 per cent growth rate for a state GDP of Rs. 218,000 crore (Bihar in 2010-11) are two different kettle of fish.
Perhaps the most exceptional feature of Gujarat's success has been the performance of manufacturing. Compared with the national average of 15%, manufacturing in Gujarat accounted for 27.4% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) in 2009-10. Surat, for instance, is emerging as the capital of Textile in India, accounting for nearly 40% of the total man-made fabric in India. Nineteen per cent of all textiles in the country come from Surat. The industry employs 1.3 million workers.
One of the major driving force behind the Gujarat’s impressive rate of growth is its self-sufficiency in power sector while many Indians had a troubled sleep during the grid failure, Gujarat had a surplus of power. In fact, the state was selling it to the Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi. Gujarat now produces about 14,000 MW power of which about 2,000 MW is surplus.
In his recent study India's Tryst With Destiny: Debunking Myths that Undermine Progress and Addressing New Challenges: Jagdish Bhagwati writes
Gujarat inherited low levels of social indicators (at independence) and it is the change in these indicators where Gujarat shows impressive progress. The literacy rate has risen from 22 per cent in 1951 to 69 per cent in 2001 and 79 per cent in 2011. The infant mortality rate per thousand has fallen from 144 in 1971 to 60 in 2001 and 41 in 2011.
While it is true that Gujarat has traditionally been an entrepreneurial state but this fact cannot be (and should not be) used to negate the role of Narendra Modi as the catalyst of the growth story. He must get the credit for turning Gujarat into an automobile hub with companies like Mahindra,Tata, General Motors and Maruti investing in the State.
It is a known fact that Gujarat contributes 16 percent to India’s industrial output, state is responsible for 22%of nation’s exports, and 9.8% of India’s factories are in Gujarat.
All this doesn’t mean that Gujarat does not have drawbacks and dark areas. Certainly Gujarat is no “land of honey and milk” and Modi is no “modern Moses”, because the only place where these two could be found is La La Land. And Gujarat isn’t that.
Can Modi win in 2014?
With Modi admirers and Modi baiters sharply divided, much I think will depend on a large group of fence-sitters, particularly new voters, who still haven’t made up their mind about him and the issues at stake. Yet there’s no dearth of fence-sitters who have to be assiduously worked upon: not cajoled but convinced. An inspiring speech or the right slogan, or the timely PR gimmick, aren’t enough. They have to be persuaded on a one-on-one basis. An army of educated, not overtly political volunteers, say one lakh in total or 200 per constituency is required. They’d work one-on-one on no more than eight families, or about 20 votes a day. This would be the level of micro-campaigning required to convince people about the merits of electing someone like Modi. Trust needs one-on-one interaction, not mass media advertising. Since this process is time and labor intensive, fence-sitter voter data and the right message kit with the volunteers would be important. Modi is one of the rare leaders to pull this kind of support together given his popularity amongst the youth.
Most importantly, the BJP needs to back Modi fully and completely and be clear on the actual benefits India will have from having a leader like him, apart from just getting rid of the Congress. However, the party must ensure only the right amount of saffron-ness in the electioneering colors of display. The BJP and the RSS have the occasional tendency to slip into tilak, pagdi and sword photo-op mode. While there’s nothing wrong in such symbolisms, it further consolidates the Muslim vote supposedly against him. Any sign that Modi will bring back the tilak-sword era only exacerbates the fear some have of him.
However, this doesn’t mean there should be nothing Hindu about the campaign. The Congress will, inevitably, target Muslims: BJP may have little choice but to target Hindus. However, positive Hinduism will work better with the youth. Positive Hinduism is about making India modern, safe, scientific, free and liberal and a society with good values. Rather than attacking other religions and saying Hinduism is better, it should be about how we can be better Hindus.
One additional source of votes is consolidating the female vote. Safety of women is a concern valid enough today for a section of women to switch their votes. Modi’s tough, no-nonsense image makes him seem like the kind of guy who can deliver on it. He can win this vote, but his remedies for women’s safety should not be regressive. Any attack on the personal freedom of the youth will backfire badly. People need safety, but they also need personal freedom and choices.
Specter of 2002
Inevitably, Modi will have to deal with 2002. And not just once but several times till the specter loses its dread, and not in an awkward, avoid-at-all-possible-costs manner, but take it head-on. This will require some personal risk and introspection. The answers will have to come from within. Tough questions need to be answered.
The British historian E H Carr famously said facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. An observer will get the kind of facts he wants. History, all said, means interpretation.
Historians selectively choose which “facts of the past” get to become “historical facts”, or information that the historians have decided is important. As an example, Carr pointed out in What Is History? millions of humans have crossed the Rubicon river in Northeastern Italy, but that historians have only chosen to treat the crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 BCE as an important “historical fact”. Carr contends that historians arbitrarily determine which of the “facts of the past” to turn into “historical facts” according to their own biases and agendas.
As I brought out in the last installment of this essay Gujarat has had an unfortunate history of communal riots. Is it at all fair to highlight only the 2002 riots? What about Godhra that led to it and above all, how about the 1969 riots, one of the very worst in history when the State was under Congress rule?
Continued to “Challenging Minorityism and Pseudo-secularism”