With Narendra Modi increasingly taking centre stage as BJPs possible Prime Ministerial candidate, the voice of Modi baiters is becoming shriller. Most critics have two sticks to beat him with - 2002 riots and malnourishment. Let's take a few recent articles in this genre:
India, as dreamt up by Modi by Salil Tripathi in Mint
All the perfumes of Arabia by Markandey Katju in Outlook
What makes Modi unacceptable by Rohit Pradhan in Outlook
Salil Tripathi says that Modi had no big idea for India when he spoke at the Shri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi. Modi spoke of exports, education, teachers training, agricultural growth, industrial development, employment generation and Tripathi could see no big ideas. Modi's biggest idea is to spur people on to realise their dreams and aspirations. Tripathi completely missed it and he may have done well to read Sandipan Deb's "Modi's motivational message" in the same paper. Of course, it is true that Gujarat existed before Modi, and Modi has never claimed that before him Gujarat was a barren land of illiterate, poor people whom he has shown the light. He has never claimed to be the Moses that his critics say that he claims to be.
What he has rightfully laid claims to is that under the BJPs rule Gujarat has performed better than before and governance is much improved. Time and again various central ministries have lauded the state of Gujarat for its implementation of various central schemes and held it up as a model to follow. Modi has achieved all this without pandering to the lowest common denominator of electoral politics - free distribution of TVs, mixers and grinders, power, reservations based on religion etc. If only in this, then Modi stands alone and head and shoulders above his contemporaries. What are Tripathi's big ideas or the ones that he would have loved to hear?
Tripathi goes on to accuse that the youth wing members of the BJP heckled the few hundred protesters outside SRCC. He conveniently forgets to mention that a couple of thousand students were cheering him inside the auditorium and that the protesters outside also belonged to different political parties. And for a person who can see nothing right with Modi, he goes on to say that some of the women protesters who were arrested have said that they were groped at the police station. Tripathi sitting in London probably doesn't know that Delhi is ruled by the Congress and the Delhi police is under the control of the central government, also run by a Congress led alliance.
He goes on to write, "And is that the shape of things to come, of a leader addressing the cult, while some women protesters got molested...". So the SRCC students are now part of an imaginary cult and women protesters were molested! Where did Tripathi source his information from? His allegation sounds more and more like Rahul Gandhi's discovery of graves in Bhatta-Parsaul ahead of the elections in Uttar Pradesh. In Rahul Gandhi's favour at least is the fact that he travelled to Bhatta-Parsaul, which is more than what can be said of Tripathi. Today this passes off for journalism. India, as dreamt of by Modi, was very well articulated by Modi in his speech at SRCC, if only Tripathi had listened to it. It is an India which is prosperous, and without vote bank politics, whether that is based on caste, creed, religion, gender or age.
Markandey Katju in his piece writes, "To those who talk of development of Gujarat under Modi I ask this question: Should the malnourished children of Gujarat eat the roads, electricity and factories which Modi has created?"
And in the survey conducted by Katju (what else can it be since he has so emphatically written about it), "The truth today is that Muslims in Gujarat are terrorized and afraid that if they speak out against the horrors of 2002 they may be attacked and victimized. In the whole of India Muslims (who are over 200 million of the people of India) are solidly against Modi (though there are a handful of Muslims who for some reason disagree)." So Katju has surveyed over 200 million Muslims. But then what explains BJPs victory in Muslim dominated constituencies in recent Gujarat elections as well as the recent municipal elections? Probably in Justice Katju's views, a silly question by an Indian idiot.
How many Muslims in Gujarat has Katju spoken to? During my visit to Gujarat in November, I spoke to two for considerable length of time. They certainly did not look terrorised and discussed politics quite freely. While Katju may not know the reason why some Muslims disagree, these two Muslims very clearly said that communalism has been a scourge of Gujarat, like the rest of India, for long and this is the first time that ten years of tranquillity and peace has been enjoyed in Gujarat. Both these individuals run businesses - one is Nadeem Jaffri who runs Hearty Mart enterprises, a retail venture and the other is Talha Sareshwala, CEO & MD, of Parsoli Motors. Of course, there are Muslims who would not discuss politics and would shy away from it. But even in the lanes of Juhapura, during an earlier visit, small entrepreneurs like tentwallahs happily said that business was booming since Gujarat was growing.
Since Justice Katju is extremely knowledgeable about most things from the percentage of Indians who are idiots to what 200 million plus Muslims want, maybe he should speak to those very few Muslims and try and understand why they are ok with Modi. I am sure if Modi were to lose power tomorrow many of these same people will come out and criticise because they did lose property and businesses when the 2002 riots happened. While at it, Justice Katju has one final mystery to solve "as to what exactly happened in Godhra, and who was responsible for the killings." Didn't the kar sevaks burn themselves, as per a committee appointed by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav?
Katju has criticised the human development indicators of the people of Gujarat and has rightly asked should they eat electricity, roads and factories. Like all of Gujarat's development has not happened in the last ten years, similarly Gujarat's human development indicators are not necessary a reflection of what has happened only in the last ten years. It's a legacy of the last sixty years of "development". Gujarat's human development indicators (HDI) in most cases is better than the all India average. While it is not the best in India, it is nowhere close to being the worst and its improvement in the last ten years is in most cases among the best. That is why it features among the top performing states in India Today's annual rankings consistently. However, there is no gain saying that the HDI indicators of India and Gujarat as well are appalling. When starvation deaths happen in Thane district, what can be more shameful than that for India.
And for those who want to quote Modi's remarks to Wall Street Journal on malnourishment of figure conscious women, please go and listen to the audio recording available on the Journal's website. Modi said that the dietary habits of Gujarati's has lacked proteins and then half in jest his comment as about middle class and upper middle class women. His comment was not on all malnourished children. Further it may be worthwhile for the critics to see what the BJP government has proposed in his year's budget and the amount of resources allocated to improve healthcare and nourishment.
As far as eating factories, roads and electricity is concerned, people in Gujarat do not need to do that. People in Gujarat will have enough jobs if there are proper roads, electricity and factories so as to earn decent and respectable livelihoods to afford balanced and healthy diet and have access to other facilities like education and healthcare. Gujarat's growth is not all about big industries, even though headlines would suggest as such. Read this excellent piece from Mint - "The Surat Fashion Matrix". While Tirupur and Coimbatore are losing out, thanks to very poor power availability and environmental challenges, Surat and Gujarat are winning.
While criticising the HDI of Gujarat, the same people fail to ask similar questions of other governments, both at the states and the Centre. Often it is written that Modi's treatment of minorities has been unfair without providing any basis for the same except that in 2002 riots took place. See what Sachar Committee has to say about Muslims in West Bengal, where BJP has virtually no presence and only secularists like the Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress dominate the political firmament.
Twice senior policemen have been assassinated in broad daylight in Kidderpore, and 48% of prisoners in jails are Muslims (when their share of population is 27%). The HDI of Muslims in the state? The less said, the better. Read Sunanda K Datta Ray's "Bengal's rough and tough underbelly". Without economic growth, there can be no upliftment and improved HDI - whether for any community or for the entire population of a state or of a country. And Modi talks about that growth and not about reservations, financial and other hand outs. No noblesse oblige for him. The fruits of growth and better infrastructure are available to everyone irrespective of gender, caste, creed or religion.
As much as critics would like to allege that the Gujarat or Modi model is based on just marginalisation of Muslims, the Gujarat model is about good and efficient governance. During my visit in November we had appointments with two bureaucrats. An hour before each of the meetings, I received calls from their office reconfirming the appointments and also a SMS on my cell on the time and venue of the meeting. Which other state have you experienced this efficiency? I have no idea whether such efficiency will continue after Modi ceases to be the CM of Gujarat one day, but this in itself is phenomenal. Corruption is less. A Cato Institute study recently rated Gujarat as the No 1 state in economic freedom. Ask any of your friends who have had any kind of business dealings, small or large, in Gujarat and they will tell you that corruption is significantly less in Gujarat than in any other state in India.
Rohit Pradhan writes, "India can survive poor governance for the next few years but what it cannot survive is the further estrangement of its Muslim minority." Indeed after the loot of the last five years, as evident from the daily scams that are being unearthed, I am not too sure that India can "survive" another five or ten years of such loot. I fervently pray that whoever comes to power next believes in better governance and less loot. And is the Muslim community feeling estranged just because of Modi? I have no doubt that India is much polarised today along religious lines. While most Indians have moved beyond 1992 an 2002, there is a segment which derives its sustenance from dividing India and they will not allow the fault lines to heal.
Last November when I was in Gujarat for few days, one person (representing one of the leading industry associations) was reluctant to meet me since I had written a few pieces in praise of Gujarat's development story. Sensing that finally I had found someone who will give me the other side of the story (beyond the clichés of 2002 riots), I convinced this person to meet me. And now I quote him, "There is a lot of hype and exaggeration (in the Gujarat story) even as Gujarat has done a lot of very good things." There you have it. Of course, there is hype and PR, but then that is the job of PR. The other thing he mentioned was that enough jobs were not getting created and SMEs were not growing as fast as they could. Note that the adjective is enough, when India has enjoyed jobless growth for the last five years and more thank to the UPAs policies.
A final word on what even some Modi supporters feel is a valid criticism against him - he has not expressed regret for what happened in 2002 when he was the chief minister. I have felt that he probably didn't apologise because that wouldn't suit his constituency in the state and also he didn't want an apology to be used as an admission of guilt by his numerous critics. But a recent article by William Dalrymple - Apologising for Amritsar is pointless. Better redress is to never forget - has me rethinking. If Modi is proven guilty in the court of law, let him get the severest of punishment under whatever provisions of the penal code he is convicted. That will be the best lesson to ensure that something like what happened in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 (both Godhra and post-Godhra) is not repeated. But this charade of apologizing 20, 30 and 200 years later for electoral and/ or trade gains is something that can be stopped. The Congress apologised for 1984 and at the same time gave tickets to the accused for elections even in 2009 till a Sikh journalist threw a shoe at Chidambaram. What are such apologies worth and why demand them? Meanwhile judge the Gujarat model for what it has achieved and for it has not and not on the imagined views of 200 million Indians across India or molestation of women protesters in a Delhi police station.
Anirudha Dutta is the former head of research at CLSA. Now spending his time with his family and pursuing his interests in writing while wondering what else to do.