When it comes to Narendra Modi, one finds an alarming duplicity of views. Broadly speaking, if you like the man, you tend to praise everything about him; if you don’t, you quibble on everything he claims as his achievement. Even if you are somewhere in the middle – neither a Modi-baiter nor a backer – you have to make mandatory comments about the 2002 riots to balance the nice things you may have said about him.
Thus, if you don’t like Modi, even his economic successes must be painted like failures. If you like him, everything about him smells of perfume.
This writer got a ringside view of this yesterday when one Modi-hater suddenly got angry with a panelist on a CNN-IBN show who seemed to suggest that Modi’s reign wasn’t all anti-Muslim. Zafar Sareshwala, a Gujarati Muslim businessman, said that Muslims in Gujarat were beginning to benefit from Modi’s development. They had also noted that Modi had managed to control the more lumpen elements of the Sangh Parivar and some peace was at hand. But this assessment apparently got the secularist’s goat, who just rejected this view and claimed Sareshwala did not represent the views of real Muslims.
Sure, Sareshwala may represent one kind of Muslim reassessment, that of a businessman, but does this mean his views are irrelevant?
Today’s newspapers carry a huge number of articles on Modi’s thumping win in Gujarat. They broadly follow the trend above, with some notable exceptions.
The first exception, and someone who truly seeks to rise above it all, is Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express. Mehta makes the telling point that all the charges Modi’s critics level against him may be equally true of them – the cult of personality, uneven development, marginalisation of minorities, etc.
He contrasts Modi’s grasp of the fact that “Indian politics is deeply aspirational” and rewards governance with Rahul Gandhi’s rhetoric. “His (Rahul’s) is a vision of India as permanently dependent upon and confined to welfare. He does not display a trace of self-belief in India’s possibilities. Modi may be presumptuous in the other direction, but for his constituents, he speaks to the future.”
Similarly, on Modi’s marginalisation of minorities, Mehta acknowledges that the Gujarat CM has to overcome this perception and political hurdle before he can be seen as truly inclusive. But he points out that the Congress and the Samajwadi Parties are not exemplars of secularism either. He writes: “The social and political isolation of Muslims is a large, complex phenomenon, in part a product of the tyranny of the compulsory identities the Congress has produced. It is also exacerbated by the fact that friends of minorities like the Samajwadi Party are running no more than protection rackets for them, depending on a permanent tutelage.”
Yogendra Yadav, appearing on various TV channels, went on to claim at various TV channels yesterday that the victory brought up “the dark side of democracy” and was a challenge to the “idea of India.” Yadav, now a member of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, wrote as much in an article in The Economic Times today. “Modi's inevitable and now unstoppable rise to national leadership of his party invites us to think if what is popular is always democratic. Is Moditva compatible with the idea of a democratic and diverse India?”
Two questions arise: if the people in a democracy should only elect those whom the pundits consider “democratic”, doesn’t it change the meaning of democracy itself? Second, the point of Modi negating the “idea of India” needs expansion.
Sure, nobody can or should believe that what happened in 2002 is compatible with the “idea of India.” But it is easier to define what ought not to be the idea of India than what should be. For example, one can ask: were the 1975 internal emergency, the Nandigram massacres by CP(M) cadres, the 1984 anti-Sikh, Congress-organised pogrom, the recent Delhi gangrape, or the more recent nine or 10 communal violence incidents in UP, which killed more than 30 people, and which happened under the watch of the “secular” Samajwadi Party, compatible with the “idea of India.”
There is also a larger point to be made “the idea of India”. Though there has been a lot of talk about it by intellectuals, it is not something only the elite can lay a claim to. There can be several ideas of India, and the idea that there can be only one idea of India militates against the very idea of pluralism and diversity – which must really be the core idea about India.
An interesting piece comes from Santosh Desai, also in The Economic Times, who muses that Brand Modi may be too strong for his own good. His sees Brand Modi as having three core values: his Hindutva ideology, his development story and his strong persona which embodies the qualities of clarity and authority.