Why we love to hate Modi: We can hang our guilt on him

The announcement of another round of convictions in Gujarat’s communal carnage of 2002 – this time at Ode – and the so-called “clean chit” to Narendra Modi in the Gulbarg Society case - has led to another feeding frenzy in the media.

Since the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) failed to find prosecutable evidence against Modi, cheated secularists are vowing revenge, saying they will not rest till the victims of Gulbarg – which included former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri – are delivered justice.

That’s the problem: “justice” in Gujarat’s 2002 communal conflagration has come to mean putting Modi in jail. Nobody, except Modi and probably a few top cops, know the real truth: we can’t know whether he actually told policemen to let Hindus vent their anger in retaliation for the Godhra train burning, or was merely unsuccessful in containing the communal rioting and killings that followed.

Reuters

Nevertheless, we have now worked ourselves up to the point where only the incarceration of Modi will seem like justice – even if it kangaroo justice.

This article is not about Modi’s guilt or innocence. We can leave that to the legal system. However, this is as good a time as any to ask ourselves what is it about Modi that gets all of us to either mindlessly condemn him (or back him, for that matter).

I believe that this is really a war within two groups of Hindus – both attempting to battle with their own internal demons. Modi is merely a convenient peg on which to hang our hopes or our guilty consciences on.

Most thinking Hindus have been battling their past on caste prejudices and bigotry. The vast majority in the middle may merely be getting on with their lives, but that still leaves out two extremes that take the matter seriously.

These two extremes were created by centuries of colonial rule where Hindu society was either painted as evil, or in glorious terms by colonial historians and evangelists for their own purposes.

The first lot – usually the Marxists and card-carrying secularists – have internalised the criticism of Hinduism so deeply that they associate it with a sense of self-loathing. They are seeking to atone for their alleged past sins by taking on aggressive positions on caste or communalism. For this group, which includes the Indian Left, and which believes it has the sole right to classify people as secular or communal, it is not enough to be secular, but be seen as publicly secular, as aggressively anti-Hindu.

The secular group believes (or at least professes to believe) that Hindus are more communal than the rest even though the evidence is just the opposite. In the whole of south Asia, secularism survives only in India, thanks in part to Hindu pluralism. The Pakistanis have more or less cleansed themselves of Hindus, the Bangladeshis have managed to reduce Hindus to a third of their 1947 population (from 31 percent to less than 10 percent), the Kashmiris have ridden themselves of the Pandits, and in Sri Lanka a Tamil separatist movement has been wrongly labelled as “Hindu terrorism” – when V Prabhakaran was a lapsed Methodist, his son was Charles Anthony, and his best supporters in Tamil Nadu (Vaiko) have Christian roots.

A lot of the money that flowed into Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka has come from Church groups in the west that thought they were fighting for human rights, when most of the money went into buying armaments for the LTTE. In India, support to the Tamil cause is lowest among Hindus, and highest among parties that claim themselves to be Dravidian (and, hence, supposedly, non-Hindu). In fact, the whole Tamil-Sinhala rivalry in Sri Lanka is sometimes painted as a fight between Dravidian Tamils and Aryan Sinhalese.

None of this bothers our secularists, since they are fighting an internal battle to rid themselves of the demons of caste or bigotry – real or imagined – having internalised degrading colonial criticism of Hinduism.

To make matters worse, our secularists make matters worse by presuming that non-Hindus have a right to assert their identities, but not Hindus. Sudhir Kakar, one of India’s best known psychologists, notes that privileging minorityism cannot really be secular nor is communalism peculiarly Hindu. In his book on communalism, The Colours Of Violence, he demolishes the idea that communalism means only Hindu communalism and concludes: “…the solution is to build a state which protects the equal rights of Hindus and Muslims to be different.”

For secularists, Modi-bashing is no different from Hindu-bashing. They will attack a Bajrang Dal for vandalising a Husain, but not speak out on the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits or the abduction of Hindu girls in Pakistan, or the attacks on Taslima Nasrin.It is the way they have chosen to combat their own sense of self-loathing and guilt.

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The other Hindu group- also singed by this same colonial process – has taken the opposite route: of believing that everything Hindu is great. This group has internalised another myth – that Hindu society is weak, and secretly envies what it believes is the stronger faith of the Muslims and Christians – and seeks to reinvent Hinduism in a more monolithic, Abrahamic mould. Hence the battles over Ayodhya (our one holy place) or Ram (our main god) or other Hindu symbols. Hence the fight over AK Ramanujam’s 300  Ramayanas. In a monolithic faith, 300 Ramayanas cannot coexist. Constantine and early Christianity could not live with many versions of the Bible after the First Council of Nicae, or the Prophet with many versions of god.

Hinduism's diversity will not allow Hindutva to head in this direction, but that does not stop some people from attempting to do so.

For this group, which is very touchy about real or imagined slights to Hindus (MF Husain, 300 Ramayanas, etc), Modi is the imagined messiah.

Clearly, Modi is important to both Hindu groups – the glorifiers and the self-flagellists. He is the strong Hindu leader that many Hindus wanted. He is also the “embodiment of evil” that the secularists have been trying to create to hang their own guilty consciences on.

The truth is he is neither. He is just a smart politician who used 2002 to build his power base and then tried to do some good with that power and reinvent himself as a development man. He will not make either group happy. Soon after he consolidated power, he sent the VHP and Bajrang Dal packing. The fact that Gujarat, which was crawling with these types in 2002, has not had a communal riot in the last 10 years is not just the result of good luck. It is also partly Modi’s work. But try acknowledging that.

The reason you can’t acknowledge this truth is that he has been anointed as Evil Incarnate. And this Hindu group has been successful in this portrayal for several reasons.

One is, of course, the rise of 24x7 television and an activist media. Two, Modi serves as a useful demon to advertise in the west for the neo-cons and evangelists. They can now raise funds to fight this scourge in India and do some aggressive proselytisation. For the neocons, India is virgin territory to accumulate converts for the next big crusade against Islam. Three, for our own politicians, Modi serves as a good scare story to bring in the Muslim vote. From Rahul Gandhi to Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, the Modi name serves as a drumbeat to herd the minorities into the voting booth.

A small example of how the unconscious attempt to designate Modi as the torchbearer of evil works with all people lies in this Shekhar Gupta article.

Last December, he asked in his Indian Express column:

“Is there a caste or communal link to corruption and crime? Or, are your chances of being involved (and getting caught) in corruption cases higher as you go down the caste ladder?”

He then proceeds to answer with a yes by asking.

Why is there a preponderance of this underclass among those charged with corruption, or even targeted in media sting operations? Here is a roll call: A Raja and Mayawati (Dalit), Madhu Koda and Shibu Soren (tribal), Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav (OBC), are all caught in corruption or disproportionate assets cases. Faggan Singh Kulaste, Ashok Argal and Mahavir Singh Bhagora, caught in the cash-for-votes sting, are all SC/ST; among the BSP MPs in the cash-for-queries sting, Narendra Kushwaha and Raja Ram Pal (who is now in the Congress) are OBC, and Lalchandra Kol a Dalit.”

Conspicuous by his absence in Gupta’s listing is the man designated in many "secular" minds as the most "criminal" of them all: Modi. A most backward caste leader, whose detractors are largely from the upper castes – Sanjiv Bhatt, RB Sreekumar, Mukul Sharma, Haren Pandya (now killed) and many of the Gujarat activists.

Clearly, even for Gupta a defence of Modi is impossible.

I am not saying that Modi is being targeted for his caste. But about Gupta’s exclusion. It is true that Modi is the outcaste who can’t be defended.

Whatever his sins of omission and commission in 2002, he is a victim of this intra-Hindu fight.