By B. Raman
Two issues will be in focus during the elections to the Gujarat State Assembly later this week— the advisability of the BJP led by Shri Narendra Modi continuing for a third term in the government of the State and the expected attempts of the NaMo Brigade to use a new endorsement at the state level as a stepping stone for his gravitating to New Delhi as a Prime Ministerial aspirant during the 2014 elections.
None can question the record of NaMo during the decade he has been in office. I have myself seen the progress made by Gujarat under his stewardship during a visit to the State in 2008 as a guest of the RSS. I had also seen the high regard in which he was held by large sections of the Hindus, not only thanks to his achievements, but also his perceived honesty as compared to the normal run of our political class. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a “can do” leader and administrator who managed to take the State steadily forward.
I had also visited the State independently in 2003 without being beholden to the RSS for the visit to assess for myself the likely impact of the communal riots of 2002 on the terrorism situation in Gujarat and the rest of India. As part of my study of the growth and evolution of the Indian Mujahideen post-2007, I have been regularly monitoring the feelings and sentiments of our Muslim fellow-citizens with the help of local observers in whose judgement and veracity I have confidence and my interlocutors in the intelligence community.
It is my assessment that Muslim anger and resentment against NaMo continues to be strong and hurting, particularly among the youth. This is so not only in Gujarat, but also in the rest of India. Public memory in the majority community might have forgotten the atrocities committed against our Muslim fellow-citizens of Gujarat in 2002 in retaliation for the massacre of some Hindu pilgrims in Godhra, but the Muslim public memory has not forgotten it. The feelings of alienation of the Muslims continue to be as strong as ever though they may not openly express it any longer.
It may be true that the Muslims of Gujarat too have economically prospered under the NaMo stewardship. But the grievous hurt suffered by their feelings of dignity and self-respect will not diminish so long as NaMo remains the Chief Minister. Has not the time come for the voters of the State to show foresight in looking for an alternate political leader who would enjoy the confidence of the non-Hindu minorities?
Muslims cannot live by bread alone. They also need to have their feelings of self-respect, dignity and honour restored. NaMo, despite his huge administrative skills, will not be able to do it. NaMo is part asset, part liability. We should not look only at the asset half of his personality and political leadership. We should also look at the liability half. If the voters assess the totality of the picture, they will realize that the time has come for an alternate leadership in the State which will carry conviction with our Muslim fellow-citizens. We must avoid unwise demonization or lionization of NaMo during the polls. Inter-communal harmony should be an important criterion before deciding to vote.
It will be premature to judge the suitability of NaMo to be the next PM of India. He has been an effective State administrator, but he does not have the potential of a pan-Indian leader in the mould of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee. He has not yet given signs of being a likely statesman or leader of vision and wisdom. We must avoid a judgement on his suitability till we have seen more of him as a leader outside Gujarat.