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Prepare a way for Modi


The Indian rightwing is in a tizzy of anticipation. The savior of the haves is here. His name is Narendra Modi.

Unlike any previous regional satrap of the Bhartiya Janata Party, he has won three state elections in a row, a record that the President of the party was thrilled to flaunt at the recent party convention. Such success has been alien to the BJP, which historically holds the embarrassing distinction of losing states it may have won the quickest at the hustings the next time around.

It is another matter that chief ministers of parties other than the Hindu rightwing BJP  have consistently outdone this touted achievement by Modi. Indeed, not many on the right may wish to be reminded that the communist, Manik Sarkar, has just won a fourth term (50 out of a total of 60 seats)  in what used to be an ungovernable, militancy-infected state of Tripura where his new government will be the fifth consecutive one led by the Left Front. More than one chief minister of the ruling Congress party has also ofcourse done better than Modi, Tarun Gogoi in the difficult state of Assam and Sheila Dixit in the equally difficult state of Delhi being two instances.

Just as several states of India have outdone Gujarat in the matter of  development indices (Himachal Pradesh,Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala),  not to speak of indices related to “human development” (malnutrition among children, percentage of Gujaratis below the official poverty line, anaemia among lactating mothers, gender ratio as percentage of population, accessibility of education and health care to the common mass, suicides by farmers for want of irrigation and remunerative price for lands grabbed from them for the benefit of select capitalist cronies, to name just a few)  in which Gujarat remains a back bencher.

In the face of all that, nonetheless, corporate India have recognized in Modi—an authoritarian bonapartist who remains above his own party, with a proven ruthlessness when it comes to weeding out dissenters—their man; a circumstance that a straight-talking, erstwhile judge of the Supreme Court of India was recently to compare with the not-to-be-forgotten events of 1933 in Germany. Among Modi’s virtues from a corporate point of view are his ability to give short-shrift to political opposition, his propensity to run democracy by diktat rather than by argument or debate, and his canny use of “Hindu nationalist” rhetoric to keep leftwing disrupters at bay, chiefly by galvanizing neo-liberal middle class opinion around the threat to national security from a, what else, molly coddled Muslim minority. (Molly coddled to a point where infact, as the Sachar Committee Report was to show, their overall situation in India, more than six decades after Independence, remains in some areas worse than that of India’s Dalits.) His unique selling point here being his success at having silenced the Gujarati Muslim for well over a decade now on the crest of a no-nonsense pogrom, yielding a peace, even if of the graveyard, entirely suited to the purposes of profit maximization.

To the extent that this amalgam of unbridled aspiration and targeted identification of “enemies”  of the nation is at the heart of  neo-liberal middle class sensibility now in India, Modi seems the fittest political figure to lead its forward march to further assertion and prosperity, without  letting such assertion and prosperity be stymied by considerations of social or legal equity. And, when other things fail, by invoking two kinds of “pride”—that of sixty million Gujaratis, half of whom have consistently voted against him, and of the legacy of Hindu warriors who in medieval times fought the Muslim invaders.

Thus, the snub just delivered to Modi, who incidentally shares with his German prototype this unshkeable faith in the value of his abysmal intellectual mediocrity, by the Wharton school of management in Pennsylvania (in denying him a forum to deliver a keynote address) has come to be seen by this new Indian middle class and the corporate TV channels that most of the time speak for their view of  life and work as a snub not just to Modi but to India herself. Wharton is sought to be shamed in having failed to live upto the universal claims of free speech that after all are supposed to define the American way of life. How far that way of life may be in consonance with life in Modi-led Gujarat is of course another matter.

It is the hope of the Hindutva camp that, after the many corruption scandals that have come to light during the second term of the Manmohan Singh- led UPA government, and the fall of India’s GDP growth rate to about 5% from a uniform average of about 8% over the last eight years or so—unprecedented by any global reckoning, and far in advance of anything that happened during the preceding BJP-led rule of the National Democratic Alliance (1998-2004)—the Indian voter is now ready to embrace Modi who is all set to bring the “vibrancy” of his achievements in Gujarat to permeate the entire nation.

Easier said than done. Fortunately, the bulk of India’s sanity still resides outside its myopic and monochromatic new middle class, and among the vast masses in the hinterlands whose devotion to diverse and secular ways of being remains strong. Their distaste of authoritarian ways was demonstrated with conclusive force in 1977 when they chose without a tear to throw out Indira Gandhi for having imposed Emergency rule even if for less than two years, and even if in accordance with provisions of the Constitution and in the face of visible assaults on India’s systemic political and constitutional arrangements. 

Already, the current allies of the BJP are beginning to cavil at this frenzy around Modi, and to redefine their own political options for the days that might confront them. India’s Dalits, and Tribals, who have received brutal short-shrift in Modi’s Gujarat, will in all likelihood consolidate forces elsewhere should Modi indeed be foregrounded as the BJP’s candidate for the country’s top executive post, come the general elections of 2014. And India’s biggest minority, her Muslims, who comprise about 14% of the population, may likewise think better than dispersing their electoral might if that means weakening the prospects of forces ranged against a majoritarian putsch. Most of all, a Modi candidature could well lead to a decisive polarization of hard core Hindutva voters and the overwhelming majority of India’s Hindus who do not fancy communal politics, and some 70% of whom have never voted for the Bhartiya Janta party even at the best of times. A Modi candidature may well shift the bulk of that vote to a political force most in position to defeat the BJP, just like the Dalits, the Tribals, the religious Minorities. Hardly surprising then that the prospect of a Modi-led BJP is being received with reassuring equanimity among policy-makers in the Congress party and the Left Front.

Then there are the legal proceedings still underway in Gujarat  courts, and in the Supreme Court of India, some of which impact Modi directly in the context of the killings of 2002. The Supreme Court having only recently held that the lower court  in Gujarat cannot close the Gulbarg Society case, but must give full opportunity to the petitioners to file their Protest Petition againt the controversial and internally contradictory findings of the Special Investigation Team (which underscored a long list of questionable moves by Modi in 2002 while the killings were on, but concluded at the end, in the face of its own findings, that no case may be made out against Modi—a position sharply rebutted by the Supreme Court –appointed amicus who opined that Modi could be charged on the basis of the SIT’s own findings), Modi can as yet claim no exoneration of a legal kind. A fact that seems to have influenced the decision of the American state department to continue with its sanctions against Modi for now, as well as the Wharton School’s decision to deny Modi the legitimation of a prestigious forum.

All of which of course is rubbished by the rightwing Modi campaign as only the continuing tirade against Modi by a concerted riff raff on the Left, Indian and foreign, who at bottom do not wish India (read: her billionaires and millionaires) to grow but to squander her wealth on the dregs of the Indian polity under the sinister diktat of the Minority-loving socialism of the Gandhi family. 

Thus, this concerted frenzy around Modi may be seen to be all set (come the results of the 2014 elections) to do more than declare winners or losers; it bids fair to show us whether India’s heart is still in the right place, or whether the character of the Indian state and polity, with all that follows therefrom, are fated to be transformed in ways that may make of India a country that neither Gandhi nor her Constitution-makers might have wanted her to be.

In the meanwhile, India’s canny satta market (gambling prognosticators of events) who have often been found to be more reliable than the pre-election pollsters among the media will tell you that the Bhartiya Janata Party is unlikely to cross the 120 figure mark, come the parliamentary elections of 2014, with or without Modi, which would leave the party some 153 short of a simple majority,  as well as pretty badly placed to draw many allies into a coalition. A scenario that duly informs the rather farcical nature of the hype that the party seems now busy fomenting. Those that have studied the Bhartiya Janata Party and Hindu rightwing politics generally also know that such hype is often also calculated to camouflage the many unlovely internecine fueds within its leadership, more so now than ever before, since many voices that may now seem to be joining the chorus are known to be at heart deeply apprehensive of the personal and collective consequences of a Modi takeover of the party.

Clearly, many applecarts may settle or overturn within the Bhartiya Janata Party in the coming year before India can have any idea of where the party means to go. The call to the Superman seems one muscular ploy on behalf of a cadre that feels left out of political power at the centre seemingly forever, thanks, as they think, to the wishy-washy and copy-cat liberalism of a segment of the party leadership who rule the concerns of the party within parliament but remain disengaged from the hard core.

The India of the aam aadmi (common man), on the other hand, remains temperamentally inimical to any sort of hard core taking over her destiny in contradistinction to her neo-liberal middle class whose patience with democracy and the plurality of claims on national entitlements has run out, and who seem now ready for the  great dictator. 

There is the rub that may be tested out in decisive ways in India’s parliamentary elections of 2014.

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