(March 15, 2013)
Narendra Modi, the 62-year old incumbent Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat hailed by many as an economic czar, aspires to be the Prime Minister of India in 2014 after the country’s 16th general elections. Does Narendra Modi have the credentials to lead one of the world’s largest secular democracies?
Narendra Modi recently addressed the Indian diaspora in America via video conferencing in which he condemned the central government over its ineffectiveness in managing the state of the economy. He boasted of his own leadership in Gujarat where economic growth today is above the national average and Gujarat is viewed as an international model for development. Modi has clearly chosen to ignore various scholarly works and economic analysis that are very critical of his economic model in Gujarat.
For an emerging India characterized by its diversity, a Prime Ministerial candidate requires not only an ability to sustain the country on a path of sustainable economic growth but also needs to be competent enough to maintain the cohesion of this diversity so that Indian society remains integrated. Mr. Modi in his attempt to rewrite his international “image” ironically attempts to define the concept of secularism, a tenet that he so blatantly disregarded during the 2002 Gujarat minority carnage. According to him, the “definition of secularism is simple: ‘India First’. Whatever you do, wherever you work, India should be the top priority for all its citizens.” However vaguely defined, his idea of secularism clearly brings a true picture of Modi—a bundle of contradictions working towards ‘Modi First’ principle. If ‘India First’ is his ideal he would have dealt with the 2002 Gujarat crisis in a much more rationale manner by bring the varying communities together and maintaining the social harmony that was so desperately lacking at that point. In failing to work towards this harmony, Mr. Modi has transformed his role from Chief Minister of Gujarat to Chief Mentor of Communal Anarchy. Moreover by these acts, Mr. Modi, the aspiring Prime Ministerial candidate, has fuelled insecurities among the various minorities in India but also severely dented India’s international normative image. Does India need Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister when his credentials as a Chief Minister are under the dark clouds?
The only way to gauge if Modi is of Prime Ministerial caliber is by scrutinizing his 12-year track record in Gujarat as the Chief Minister. While Modi’s curriculum vitae (CV), may speak exaggerated volumes about his economic accomplishments in Gujarat, his CV displays glaring contradictions and uncertainties when it comes to maintaining communal harmony. Gujarat under Modi emerged as a laboratory of ‘institutionalized riots’ through the State apparatus’s involvement in engineering and facilitating riots against the Muslim minority community. Modi had at his disposal the entire State machinery, which he failed to utilize in containing the riots. What was even more appalling was the manner in which his office facilitated the riots. Modi’s communal stance and parochial approach to “non-Hindu” communities has roots in his long association with the Sangh Parivar coupled with his tenure with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamesevak Sangh (RSS) movement as a young activist during his formative years. The most glaring example of his psyche, which is deeply embedded in the Hindutva ideology, is seen throughout the events of the Gujarat riots and the numerous human rights violations that he is guilty of facilitating in his State.
Modi explicitly vilified Muslims as “anti-social” and “anti- national” and that Muslims were virile “child making factories” and stood as impediments in the path of his package for the “development”. Therefore murders of Muslims in 2002 Gujarat had some “functional utility” since the “clearing of un-cleanliness” would facilitate further “national development, the key agenda of the Modi-led government”. There was also a meticulous attempt to extirpate symbols of Islam in Gujarat beyond simply extirpating Muslim men and women and this was carried by desecrating mosques and dargahs, including the tombs of Sufis and cultural icons such as Wali Gujarati and Ustad Faiyaz Ali Khan. After the Godhra attacks Modi remarked that “every action [the events at Godhra] has an equal and opposite reaction.” He reacted by literally handing over the State to various sections of the Sangh Parivar who than coordinated the riots and massacre, having a free hand in the affairs of the State as law and order failed in Gujarat. The entire State machinery was at the disposal of “Hindu militants” who arrived in truckloads into Muslim localities and begun the identification of targets with the help of “computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties” that comprised lists of registered voters from the municipal commission.
In an attempt to gain political mileage and to keep the Hindu-Muslim antagonism simmering a pan Hindu identity was also forged in Gujarat between Dalits (“untouchables”) and Adivasis (tribals) in 2002. It was an important political move by Modi’s government wherein: firstly, the solidarity that “existed between Dalits and Muslims” was broken through appropriating Dalits as “Hindus”; and secondly, Dalits and Adivasis were recruited into newly formed cells that were activated during the riots.
Modi’s role as key facilitator and sympathizer of murderers, looters, rapist and arsonists makes it hard for one to treat Modi as a reliable candidate for India’s Prime Ministership, one who truly believes in the concept of “India First”. The concept of “India First” was probably first envisioned when the leaders of post partition India such as Jawaharlal Nehru and leaders that followed after him saw secularism as being fundamental in keeping India integrated. Modi on the other hand is a divisive figure and a dangerous creation of Hindu nationalists/fundamentalists who view India as both “father land and holy land”. Political Scientist Ashutosh Varshney points out very aptly that, “Modi’s politics is against the idea of India,” because “the idea of India has a clear place for minorities as minorities, not minorities simply as individuals.” Modi has to first comprehend the meaning of his own words, “India First” and it should start by taking a cue from a fellow Gujarati and icon of tolerance and non violence Mahatma Gandhi who remarked, “I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another.” As Indians choose their next Prime Minister in the 2014 General Elections they will need to ask themselves a fundamental question; can a man who failed to protect 2000 Muslims from either rape, murder or both equally heinous crimes and nearly 100,000 from being displaced be given the responsibility of protecting the diversity in which the unity of India lies.
Vinay Kumar Pathak is an Associate Research Fellow with the Contemporary Islam Programme at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.