By Nikhil Vaish
At the outset I want to be very clear that I hold no love for the Congress Party. Under Sonia Gandhi, it has raped and looted India like no other party or single-entity since our Independence; of that there is no question. I for one cannot wait to see the back of the UPA and am also desperately looking for an alternative to lead India.
Today, the Congress party comes across as apathetic, complacent, autocratic and blind to the day-to-day hardships and realities of the majority of our country. I will give the Congress credit for liberalising the Indian economy and ushering in a hitherto unseen era of wealth and prosperity. But it now feels like the only beneficiaries of this economic largesse have been the politicians themselves and the politically connected classes.
The majority of Indians have not seen any returns from the economic boom other than vote buying sop’s and poorly distributed government handouts that appear around election time. Meanwhile, all the ruling politicians have become shameless in their own pursuit of ill-gotten gains, behave like they are all above the law and have also deluded themselves into believing that we are deaf, dumb and blind to their looting and selling of our country. This government has also routinely used their reach and powers to protect their own while persecuting anyone who disagrees with them.
Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister and father of the original economic reforms, has been totally ineffective and, frankly, more compliant than a well-trained lapdog. Now Sonia Gandhi and her Congress cronies are threatening to replace Dr. Singh with a man who not only makes wallpaper look sexy, but also has the ability to make watching paint dry feel like an invigorating experience. Rahul Gandhi may be many things but he is no leader. He lacks charisma, vision, gumption, and a capacity for original thinking. What India needs is a leader who has balls, one who offers a vision for India’s future and is not deaf to the needs of the majority. So far the Congress party has failed to put forward such a candidate.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, offers the only other alternative at this time. They are the political arm of the Rashtriya Sang Samaj (RSS) which was started in 1925 as a Hindu Nationalist movement that gained fame when one of its members, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948; after which it was declared a terrorist group by the Indian government and banned for two years. Since then the RSS has expanded vastly and grown more powerful, even though the BJP has only been in power at the center for eight of India’s sixty-six years since independence.
One reason for the BJP’s lack of national following and political clout has been their ties to the RSS and their extreme right-wing philosophies and fundamentalist views, that includes combat training camps across the country for Hindu youth (Source: “RSS combat training camps to woo youth” – Indian Express article). The BJP last came to power a decade ago, after working hard to soften their image and champion leaders within the party with moderate views.
However, now they sense a real opportunity based on the Congress’s inability to govern and rampant corruption. They see that the vast majority of the country is beyond sick and tired of the never ending scams, the endless vote buying handouts and institutional bullying tactics. So confident is a resurgent BJP (and RSS) that they were willing to put forth an extremely polarizing figure for their Prime Ministerial candidate. Narendra Modi is a man with a chequered past including his ties to the RSS and the 2002 communal riots that happened under his watch in Gujarat, where many Muslims were massacred by retaliating Hindus as the police and state apparatus turned a blind eye. So polarizing is Modi that even within his own party, there was a lack of consensus on his elevation. The announcement caused much consternation within the leadership and rank and file. The BJP also lost some close political allies in the process of elevating Mr. Modi, but given the sheer hatred for the Congress that prevails, they believed it worth the gamble. So far they seem to be right, judging by the recent walloping the Congress took in mid-terms Polls in four different states.
Unlike Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Modi comes from humble beginnings. He was the son of a tea seller who grew up poor and had a very hard life by his own admission: “I had a lot of pain because I grew up in a village where there was no electricity and in my childhood we used to face a lot of hardships because of this.”(*). Mr. Modi was drawn to the RSS at an early age and it was at their camps that his ideas about the world were formed (*). His brother says, “[Modi] was always greatly impressed by the fact that only one person gave all the orders in the [RSS camp] and everyone followed the command.” (*Source: “The Man Who Doesn’t Wear Dark Green” – Boston Review article).
Today, he has grown to have a cult-like status as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is known for his take no prisoners attitude and for being an autocratic head of state. He is also known to trust just a handful of people and insists on making every decision himself. He has also shown scant loyalty to his own people and party and a great savvy for self-promotion, even ahead of his party. You could not have two more polar opposite choices in party and candidates. The Congress is old, slow, incompetent, corrupt, turning a deaf ear to the needs of India’s basic infrastructure development and willing to sacrifice our pride for their own corrupt means.
The BJP is resurgent and confident; riding on the wings on Mr. Modi’s growing popularity. Even though is he is known to have an authoritarian style, he is seen as incorruptible, and has effectively championed the economic development of this state; building infrastructure, creating tax incentives and favorable business conditions to successfully woo the biggest and best companies from across India. There is no doubt he has India Inc.’s vote, all of whom are tired with the Congress indecision, constant changes in policy and graft without any results.
I can understand why Mr. Modi makes an attractive candidate for many Indians; especially among the youth and in the corporate sector. The current frustration and open hatred for the Congress over the past decade have almost started to make Mr. Modi’s status messianic, because people are so desperate for change, for some semblance of leadership that demonstrates courage on the world stage, once more. As Indians, we were all sold the story of India shining, told that it was the dawn of a new era as a world economic powerhouse, but our current government never delivered on any part of this promise. Indians are tired of being pushed around and mocked because our government only cares about filling their Swiss bank accounts, while our Prime Minister becomes the laughing stock of the world. Nobody wants another four years of the Congress led UPA.
Yet, there is something unsettling about Mr. Modi’s brand of nationalism and his seeming apathy towards the merciless slaughter of Muslims in his state in 2002. I have no problem with his autocratic style of leadership. God knows we can use a little decision-making right now. Nor am I concerned with the fact that the BJP, as a party, is also corrupt (as they have shown in the past and in states they currently govern). What troubles me greatly is Mr. Modi’s outright refusal to apologise for the 2002 riots in his state and under his leadership. In fact, he has been known to refuse to answer any questions relating to the riots and at times even removed his microphone and walked off camera when asked about his role. Just this week a local court upheld an earlier report by a special investigation team, clearing Mr. Modi of any criminal wrongdoing. Yet, a “number of leaders and senior state officials have already been convicted and sentenced for inciting mobs and committing mass murder during the riots.” (Source: “Court Clears Narendra Modi in Riots Case” – Wall Street Journal article). Nobody denies that state officials and senior policemen were complicit in inciting mobs and in some cases even leading them to kill Muslims. A landmark Human Rights Watch report published in 2002 said that the RSS that was responsible for passing out lists of Muslim-owned business and homes to mobs at the start of the violence.” (Source: “We Have No Orders to Save You” – Human Rights Watch).
Mr. Modi was the leader of the state when the riots occurred. Even if he did not personally direct officials to incite or seek revenge and there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on his part, it is hard to believe he was unaware of what his senior state apparatus was doing. Especially for a leader who takes pride in making every decision and without whose authority we are told nothing can happen in his state. The issue to me is less about criminal culpability and more about moral responsibility. As the Chief Minister, if he can take full responsibility for the growth and economic development of Gujarat, then he must also do the same for any tragic event that occurs under his leadership. He did issue a statement on his blog, after the court verdict was announced in late December, which the BJP claims is a personal and heartfelt apology from Mr. Modi. To me it reads more like a PR release written by a man hoping to soon hold the highest office in the land, and clear the one great blemish on his otherwise seemingly perfect record. There is also the question of why a man who felt so much guilt and anguish (as Mr. Modi states he does) waited more than a decade to speak from the heart, and apologise to families of the thousands of innocent victims, most of whom were Muslims. And why does he never once use the word Muslim in his entire apology?
I too want to believe in Mr. Modi and his vision for a corruption-free and super developed India. But his roots are from deep within the RSS; it was in their Hindu nationalist brainwashing camps that he formed his world-view at an early age — in the context of this fact alone, his seeming lack of remorse, his refusal to wear green and his lack of genuine outward warmth towards Muslims scare me in a country that is more than two-thirds Hindu, and looking for someone to blame for their current woes. Satyameva Jayate!