The spontaneous reaction of the chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi on the recent Supreme Court directive in Ehsan Jafri murder case, that “God is great!”, aroused hopes that his heart had beeped on the unexpected divine mercy and that he is changing inside. Then, his immediate declaration of a three day fast on 17-19 September as an act of atonement for some past mistakes and generation of Sadbhavana (communal harmony) further strengthened the optimism that he has chosen a different path for now. However, the mega event had apparently failed to inculcate any real hope among people and ended up in the persistence of the prevailing doldrums. Neither the aggrieved communities nor Modi’s mentors in the RSS were content enough when he broke his ‘political’ fast Monday afternoon. In his 30-minute speech at the end of 55-hour long glorified drama, he did not offer any regret or apology over the worst ever state-supported violence in the country that befell on the Muslims of Gujarat in early 2002, which left around 3000 people killed and over 1.6 million people displaced. He only affirmed that his fast for communal harmony ended up by then, but his mission for the same would continue.
The tragic moment of the three-day long high drama came in when Narendra Modi refused to put on the skullcap offered by a Muslim cleric who reached out to him on the stage on the second of the fast. That generated a debate regarding the real intent of the ‘harmony’ mission. It was seen as an insult to the candid offer and a precaution not to give ‘wrong’ signal to the Hindu vote bank. Moreover, arrest of over 50 demonstrators comprising riot victims of Naroda Patia when they tried to march from the locality towards the ‘fast site’ at the Gujarat University Convention Centre has been taken by many as the manifestation of the ongoing political repressions in the state. It should be noted that officially 105 Muslims were killed by Bajarang Dal activists in the locality on the grisly day of 28 February 2002, cases against whom are still lingering on in different courts. According to a Tehlaka story an accused Suresh Richard stated on record that “Modi had also visited Chharanagar (an area near Naroda Patiya from where many rioters came) on the evening of the massacre and garlanded the rioters. Babu Bajrangi (the prime accused in the case) said after the Naroda killings, Modi kept him in hiding for more than four months and then stage-managed his arrest. If that was not enough, he also brought in a favorable judge, Justice Akshay Mehta to hear Bajrangi’s bail petition and got him out of jail”. Therefore, the aggrieved people opted to counter the harmony fast by raising the point that even after 10 years they did not receive justice. But, they were arrested by the police in the name of law and order. Not only all prominent Muslim organizations and leaders got hardly impressed of the Sadbhavana-bait, even Maulana Ghulam Vastanvi, who had to relinquish the high office of vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband for his pro-Modi remarks, also disapproved propriety of the fast.
A well known internet site describes Narendra Modi as an incendiary, dramatic, sardonic and churlish politician. However, the concluded fast illustrated his some different qualities in one episode showing his statesmanship, sagacity and smartness in hiding the guarded purport of his birthday celebration in the form of an unusual drama. The Supreme Court of India called him a Nero on his inaptness after post-Godhra riots in the state. For quite some time, Narendra Modi has been feeling the heat of his experiments of the ‘Hindutva lab’. The high court judgment on Hiren Pandya murder case, the SIT depositions on post-Godhra riots, proceeding of the Soharabuddin and Tulsi Prapati encounter cases, the outcome of the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, Nanavati Commission’s intent to call Modi for witness and more recently the Supreme Court’s directive to the appellant to knock lower court for implication of Narendra Modi in Ehsan Jafri murder case has immensely perturbed this RSS hardliner. He has chosen to rebuild his image by frequent chanting of the Gandhian song “Vashnav jan….” meaning “God-fearing people can be only those who feel pain for the pain of others” from the podium of the fast site. It seems that the spirit of this famous song did not went down the heart of this veteran Hindu leader who is trying hard to escape his past and seek for himself makeover as a development-oriented secular leader. His party’s acceptance of Gandhian socialism as core ideology some years back did not click on the hustings and the BJP has to revert back to the philosophy of Hindutva as the beckon light once again. Perhaps Modi may also have the same fate.
It has been guessed by many political analysts that the sought after makeover also tells something else. It is akin to posing Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in the 2014 general elections. There has been talk in air that he is a good administrator and able statesman, fit for the apex post of the Indian executive. Perhaps, it will be a troublesome thing for PM in waiting Lal Krishna Advani. The timing of the fast has diverted the political limelight from Advani’s proposed Rath Yatra against corruption to Narendra Modi as the future leader of the party. Tragedy is that Advani himself totally depends on Modi for winning from Gandhinagar parliamentary seat. It will be interesting to see how the stalwart BJP leader will react and act after this glorified fast. It is surely going to cause internal rifts in the BJP. Whatever be the outcome of the anticipated churning in the party, Narednra Modi seems to be the first choice of the USA and its allies as the next prime minister of the country as some recent overseas exoneration of his abilities tend to indicate. At home, many of the big business houses have identified in him an able politician who could boost up industrial growth in the country. Thus, the capitalist regime within and outside the country would favor his candidature if Dr Manmohan Singh drowns the UPA in the anti-incumbency wave in the next parliamentary election. By default, the capitalists always remain happy with a despotic ruler on their back rather than a democratic one. A hardliner who strongly commands bureaucracy and takes instate decisions is indeed the dear baby of any capitalist lobby. For instance, Modi has arranged a hassle free transfer of agricultural lands for industrial establishments in Gujarat within a short time which no other chief minister could do so far. Therefore, it is nothing strange that big business groups in and outside the country are making beeline in support of his candidature as the future prime minister.
Although the pat media and a host of analysts and intellectuals have been drawing a rosy picture of development and peace in the state; however, the stories of vibrant Gujarat and Narendra Modi’s charismatic leadership have many holes. At the outset, the image of Modi as the crowd puller and vote mobilizer may be examined. BJP came to power in Gujarat for the first time in 1995. It won 122 seats and 42% of votes that year. Again it repeated the same performance in 1998 with 117 seats and 44.8% votes. In December 2002 election the party fought assembly election in the state under the leadership of Narendra Modi who was sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001 after the removal of Keshubhai Patel on charges of corruption and inaction in the backdrop of earthquake relief work. By the time of the state assembly election, the local politics had become communally charged due to Godhra event and the riots that followed. Still, there was a rise of only 9 seats to the BJP in the assembly with an increase of 5% of the votes since the party was polled 49.8% of the votes and bagged 126 seats that time; primarily due to mobilization of tribal votes and displacement of Muslim voters in the central Gujarat. The obliged media dubbed it as a landslide victory once again while even ignoring the party’s miserable defeat in the south Gujarat where it once had a strong hold. In the last assembly election in 2007, the vote percentage and number of seats have actually come down to 49.12% votes and 117 seats but the tamed media hardly failed to sing the song of ‘landslide victory’ once again. The present BJP seats in the state assembly are lower than its position in 1995 but who cares to tell public the truth. The BJP is mainly thriving in the state due to weak leadership of the Congress party and that too is heavily based on BJP’s defected members who can hardly draw a clear line for a political mileage in the state. This has become further evident from the poor show of Congress state president Shankar Singh Vaghela’s parallel fast at Sabarmati Ashram. Strangely enough, the strong opposition to the BJP’s rule in the state is coming from social workers rather than the conventional political parties. That speaks a lot of the political situation in the state. If the opposition becomes visionary and assertive in the state then there is a promising scope for any political change in Gujarat. In that condition Narendra Modi may lose all his sheen as a charismatic leader.
The claim that Modi has shown amazing acumen in putting Gujarat on the path of economic development too has many ifs and buts, which is his most highlighted qualification for his taking reign in the national politics. The saga of vibrant Gujarat bewitches common men as if something extraordinary is emerging there. However, a close look at the situation and various frontiers of development it would become evident that there is nothing unusual which is not happening elsewhere in the country or in his own state during the preceding time. In his write up ‘The Myth of Vibrant Gujarat’, Dr Ram Puniyani comments, “As per the report of Pratham, an NGO devoted to the issues of education, Gujarat is worse than Bihar when it comes to educational standards. Gujarat has been doing miserably in social development indices and its budgetary allotment in this sector is low compared to other large states, being 17th amongst the 18 large states”. He further notes, “Two decades back, the growth rate of Gujarat was something between 12 and 13 per cent. The national average was six to seven per cent then. Today, Gujarat has the growth rate of 11 per cent while National growth rate is 10 per cent”. Actually, in terms of industrial growth Maharashtra is the leading state in the country but media hardly sings the song of ‘vibrant Maharashtra’ under the Congress+NCP government. The blog ‘Modi’s growth story a shame..’ underlines that during the Modi’s stint as the chief minister, Gujarat has shown a growth rate of 16.25% but by the same time Maharashtra has also registered a growth rate of 15%. Haryana has recently recorded a growth of 18% which Gujarat is yet to dream of. Another Congress ruled state Andhra Pradesh has shown a growth rate of 16% since 2004. The state was preceded in both GDP and NSDP rankings by Maharashtra (1st), Uttar Pradesh (2nd), Andhra Pradesh (3rd), West Bengal (4th) and Tamil Nadu (5th) in 2010. Therefore, the state net product of Gujarat is nothing special as compared to other industrially leading states of the country.
Contrarily, Gujarat has not outshined during the past few years than some backward states in the country in terms of human development index. Gujarat is second to Uttar Pradesh on the count of atrocities against Dalits. As many as 1,23,808 cases of cognizable crimes were registered in Gujarat in 2008. On this count Gujarat stands fifth state in the country. Over 16000 farmers have committed suicide during the tenure of Narendra Modi. Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in Gujarat was 69 per 1,000 in 1991 compared to 80 of India. While the national IMR became 58 per 1,000 in 2005, that of Gujarat became 54. So, while India on the whole really did much better to cut down its IMR, Gujarat’s performance was not actually impressive. The gap between Gujarat and India reduced because states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand fared much better than Gujarat. Experts stress IMR is a sensitive indicator of women’s status in general besides being a mirror of healthcare facilities for pregnant women. One of the indices of poverty, prevalence of anemia, is very revealing on this count. According to the third round of National Family Health Survey Report 2006, the percentage of women suffering from anemia has risen from 46.3% in 1999 to 55.5% in 2004 among women. Amongst children it rose from 74.5% to 80.1%. According to ‘India State Hunger Index 2008’, Gujarat is shockingly ranked worse than Orissa. The malnutrition level for children below 5 years (45%) is reported to be higher than the national average (43%). According to the 2007-08 figures of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD), the dropout rate in Gujarat in classes I to X is 57.5 per cent for boys (against the national average of 56.4) and 61.2 for girls (against the national average of 57.3). The state is trailing behind other states on other parameters also. If some commentators call the Gujarat growth story a myth it appears reasonable in the light of given indices.
Coming back to the extravaganza of three-day fast, Modi must realize that God has given him a chance for a real penance. The Supreme Court’s decision in Ehsan Jafri murder case does not sound as whistle of a game over. A number of other cases are also steadily making his role in some capital crimes more and more suspicious. The noose may be tightening day by day. It is really a time for him to sit in seclusion and ponder over on his recent past rather than making penance a public celebration. May be God will pardon him and make him prime minister of the country some day. But it needs a lot of courage to face one’s own self and to set a corrective inside. Although the RSS has criticized his expression of the ‘pain’ which he felt as regards riots of 2002 but he should keep on chanting the song “God-fearing people are only those who feel pain on the pain of others.” If Modi becomes a God-fearing man he has every right to lead the country but as a dump Nero who forgets to fulfill the obligations ofRajdharma there is no place for him in the history.