I have been getting more and more worried over the last year or so at the direction( or lack of it) in which our country is headed. It is like a runaway plane falling from the skies and we are plummeting past one alarming indicator after another-- inflation,economic slowdown, falling rupee,complete break-down of law and order, ever emboldened Naxalites, total internalisation of corruption, an administration that answers to no one,complete lack of governance, cronyism on a scale never seen before, a brazen lack of accountability, public intimidation of constitutional authorities, a judicial system that has all but collapsed,environmental disasters that no one knows how to cope with, complete paraplegia of decision-making at all levels in government,appeasement of " minorities" and other sections that is reaching ridiculous and dangerous levels, dynastic politics at the Centre and the states reminiscent of the Mughal era.......I could go on and on but after some time the mind becomes numb and registers only one emotion-------IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE. Another five years of this and we would be well on our way to becoming a failed state and joining the ranks of Pakistan, Haiti and Somalia.
The general elections of 2014 offers us one last chance to redeem ourselves. I have been on this mortal coil for 62 years and have never voted for the BJP but have, after much thought, decided to support MODI in 2014. This is considered a heresy in most neo-liberal circles in India today but we have to go beyond mere labelling and stereo typing to understand my decision. But before I go on to Mr. Modi himself, let us review the context in which this decision has been taken. The state of the country is self evident in para one above. The next question then is: What are the alternatives or choices that we as voters have? The Congress will only perpetuate the present mess-even more worrying and dangerous is the fact that, were the Congress to return to power, it would consider it had a renewed mandate to carry on as before. In any case, who in the country would lead the Congress- a reluctant dynast,or an ageing economist who has discovered his true skills lie in politics, or a backroom puppeteer? Or, God forbid, all three? ( Seriously, this is a possibility- after all not one of these three want to shoulder sole accountability, and they may reason that if a dual power centre can ensure two terms, a triple may be good for even more!) No, to my mind the Congress is not an option. Who else, then? Well, if we scrape the bottom of the barrel assiduously we will come up with Mamta Banerjee[ TMC], Mulayam Yadav[ SP], Nitish Kumar[JDU], Naveen Patnaik[ BJD], Jayalalitha[ AIADMK], Sharad Pawar[ NCP] and Mayawati( BSP). There is no need to discuss their achievements or ideologies at a national level ( incidentally, not even one of them has a remotely national outlook or ideology since they cannot see beyond pandering shamelessly to the vote banks in their respective states) because they are state( not even regional) leaders and none of them can hope to be Prime Minister on the strength of their own parties. They all realise this, of course, hence the idea which periodically emerges like a skin rash, of a Third or Federal Front. This didn't work even when a Third Front could agree on a leader( as in the case of I.K. Gujral or Deve Gowda). How on earth will it work when every one of the state leaders mentioned above feels that he or she has been reincarnated precisely to become the Prime Minister of India? The negotiations for choosing a PM( if the Front comes up with the numbers, that is) will resemble one of those WWF fights where about six hunks are put into the ring to beat the daylights out of each other till one of them is left standing to claim the crown. I cannot see all of them agreeing on even one policy issue, whether it is reservations, industrial stimulus,foreign policy, disinvestment, environmental protection, centre-state relations etc. If they come to power at the Center, the paraplegia of today will become quadriplegia tomorrow. Fortunately, in any case, they can never muster the 274 seats required-it will be difficult for them to reach even hundred even if they do very well in their states. So a Third Front is a non-starter, and voting for any of these parties will only help the Congress by dividing the anti-congress vote. [ You will have noticed that I have not mentioned Mr. Karat of the CPM. That's because he's become like a flat bottle of Coca-Cola- earlier he was all fizz and no substance: now even the fizz has gone].
That leaves only the BJP, with its historical baggage of the RSS, Hindutva, Ramjanmbhoomi ( by the way, this baggage also includes five years of exemplary governance under Vajpayee from 1999 to 2004)-perhaps enough baggage to dissuade me from voting for the party. Except that this time the BJP has an add-on: Narender Modi. And that, to my mind, adds value to the party and makes the crucial difference.
Modi has been reviled ad-nauseam by the "secular" parties and sections of the elite media for many years for the 2002 riots in Gujarat, by the former not because of any love for the Muslims( as I hope to show later) but simply in order to appropriate the Muslim vote, and by the latter because they have to keep whipping somebody in order to get their TRPs- in India only extremes succeed. Modi has been tried and condemned by them not on the basis of facts but by an opportunistic mixture of innuendo, presumption, speculation, half-truths, hear say. Look at the facts. There was a horrendous orgy of killing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 where about 2000 of them were massacred. Some of Modi's ministers and many BJP/ VHP workers were involved: quite a few of them have also been convicted, the trials of many still go on. The Supreme Court set up at least three SITs and is itself monitoring the investigations. Many PILs have been filed in the SC and the High Court accusing Modi of master-minding these massacres. In not a single case has either the Supreme Court, the High Court or the SITs found any evidence of Modi's personal complicity. Yes, they have held that he could have controlled the situation better- but nothing beyond that inspite of ten years of frenetic drum beating and sustained vilification.
Now look at the other set of facts. Under Modi's current watch, perhaps for the first time in India, people have been actually convicted for communal rioting and murder- more than 200 convictions, with about 130 of them sentenced to life imprisonment. All the communal massacres in India since Independence have not resulted in even one tenth of these convictions. Modi's government has to be given some credit for this: yes, the investigations were carried out by the SIT and not by Modi's police; yet Modi could, if he was so inclined, have interfered covertly in the whole process by asking his officials not to cooperate, by intimidating witnesses, influencing judges, conveying hints to prosecutors- something which, as we all know too well, governments of all political hues in India have mastered. Modi could have done what the Congress has done so successfully in Delhi in three other high-profile cases being monitored by the Supreme Court- the Commonwealth Games Scam, the 2G case, and Coalgate ( not to mention also the Sikh massacres of 1984): have these cases made any headway? has wrong-doing been proved in a single instance? has anyone been convicted? No,sir, these investigations will drag on and on till they are lost in the mists of time. Supreme Court monitoring cannot ensure justice unless the govt. of the day allows its agencies to function- it is to Modi's credit that he did so allow them. Compare this with the manner in which the police in Delhi have been emasculated to protect some senior Congress leaders in the 1984 Sikh carnage- everyone in Delhi knows, even after 27 long years, that their hands are dipped in blood, but the evidence will never reach the courts; the recent acquittal of Sajjan Kumar only confirms this.
The biggest stigmata on Modi is the charge that he is " communal" and not " secular". All ( non-NDA) political parties never tire of tom-tomming this from the roof-tops and consider this their trump card to ensure that he will never achieve his Grand-slam at the centre. But after eleven years this is beginning to wear thin and people are beginning to question the assumptions behind this charge and even the definition of what constitutes " communal" and "secular." Nirad Choudhry had long ago given his opinion that India is the continent of Circe where humans are turned into beasts-it is also the graveyard of the Oxford Dictionary where the meanings of words are turned on their heads to suit political exigencies! So " communal" today means a Hindu who is not ashamed of saying he is a Hindu, and " secular" means a Hindu who panders to other religions in order to get their votes at the next elections! By this inverse definition Modi is considered communal- notwithstanding that not a single Hindu- Muslim riot has taken place in Gujarat under his watch since 2002, notwithstanding that the BJP got 17% of the Muslim vote in the Assembly elections in the state earlier this year, notwithstanding that the party won five of the eight seats which had a dominant Muslim voter base, notwithstanding that the average Muslim in Gujarat is much better off economically than his counterpart in Assam, UP or Bihar( headed by " secular" parties). Compare this with the record of the Samajwadi party in UP where more than a hundred communal riots have taken place in less than two years, with the Congress in Assam where hundreds of Muslims were butchered last year and at least three hundred thousand of them are still languishing in relief camps with no hope of ever returning to their villages, with the Congress ruled Maharashtra where hundreds of Muslims were killed with the active help of the police after the Bombay blasts. ( Needless to say there do not appear to have been any convictions in any of these pogromes). And MODI is communal?
I am a Hindu but I stopped going into any temple twenty years ago because I was sickened by the rapacious behaviour of their pundits. I am no longer a practicing Hindu in a public, ritualistic sense and frankly I don't know how many of the religious beliefs I retain, but I still consider myself a Hindu because Hinduism is more than just a religion- it is a culture, a civilisation, a way of life. But in the Kafkaesque India of today if you were to proclaim that you are a Hindu ( even though you have equal respect and regard for all other religions) you would be branded " communal"- this is what political discourse has been reduced to by our politicians. And being " secular" no longer means treating all religions equally: it means splintering society into a myriad " minorities" ( another perversion of the Oxford Dictionary) and then pandering to such of them as suit you in your naked pursuit of power. In the process India has been converted into a complex jigsaw of minorities, castes, tribes, classes, sections and what have you. The British could have learnt plenty from us about Divide and Rule! But more and more right thinking people are beginning to question this recipe for disaster, and I am one of them. India is 80% Hindu- why should one then have to be apologetic about proclaiming that one is a Hindu ? We have been ruled and exploited and vandalised for eight hundred years by Muslims and for another two hundred years by Christians, and yet we have accorded these two religions a special status as " minorities" with privileges that the Hindus don't have. Has any other country in the world ever displayed such a spirit of accommodation and egalitarianism? Is there a more secular civilisation in the world?And yet, a Hindu who says he is a Hindu is considered communal! Does a Hindu have to prove his secular credentials time and again by greater levels( or depths) of appeasement of other religions simply so that they can continue to be vote bank fodder for political parties?
Modi has had the courage to raise these questions and is therefore being reviled by those political parties whose apple carts he is threatening to upset. But people are beginning to pay attention. Modi is not considered secular because he is proud to be a Hindu and refuses to give doles or concessions to any religious group( including Hindus, but that is conveniently glossed over) beyond what is provided in the constitution and the laws of the land. He believes this weakens the social fabric of the country and that even handed development is the best guarantee for equitable prosperity for all. He is not considered secular ( and instead is branded as communal) because he says publicly that he is proud to be a Hindu. And has he done anything blatantly or provocatively pro-Hindu in the last ten years? There is not a single instance of this and yet he is vilified as communal and anti-minorities by the same party that presided over more than two hundred anti-Muslim riots in the seventies and eighties in Gujarat, that massacred 6000 Sikhs in 1984, that lit the fuse in Ayodhya by installing an icon of Ram in the mosque there, that failed to take any action when the Babri masjid was being razed to the ground! Modi has carefully distanced himself from any public support of Hindutva, has kept the VHP and the Bajrang Dal on a tight leash in Gujarat ever since he came to power there, and has even incurred the wrath of the RSS for not toeing the line on their purely religious agenda. It takes time, and some mistakes, to attain maturity; the Modi of today is not the Modi of 2002: then he was still in the pracharak mould of the RSS, inexperienced in the exercise of power, lacking administrative experience. He has now developed into a politician with a vision, an administrator who has delivered to his people and caught the fancy of the entire corporate world in India and abroad. Rahul Gandhi has been around in politics for almost the same length of time but has still not progressed beyond his epiphanic perception that India is a bee-hive.
Pause a while to honestly compare Modi's qualities with his peers in the political firmament. His integrity is impeccable, both personal and vicarious. Even Mr. Manish Tewari has not been able to charge him on this score, and that's saying something! I am not aware of a single major scam unearthed during his term( compare this with the Congress either in Maharashtra or at the Centre: the Congress has more skeletons in its cupboard than a graveyard does). Modi has no family to promote or to insure against inflation for the next hundred years( compare this with any other party leader, all of whom have given an entirely new meaning to the term " joint family"- brothers, uncles, wives, sons, sons-in-law, nephews-all happily and jointly looting the nation's resources). Modi has a vision and a road map for the future and he has demonstrated in Gujarat that he can implement his vision. No other major leader of the parties that are vilifying him comes even close to comparing with him in this respect- Manmohan Singh once had a vision but his unique concept of " coalition dharma" has ensured that he now cannot see, or hear, or talk; Rahul Gandhi cannot see beyond bee-hives and boats that rise with the tide, Sharad Powar cannot see the woods for the sugar-cane stalks, Mulayam Singh has been fixated on the Prime Minister's chair for so long that he has now started hallucinating; Nitish Kumar's vision is a peculiar bi-focal which enables him to see only Muslims and OBCs; Navin Patnaik, being erudite and sophisticated must be having a vision but he has not deigned to share it with anyone yet; Mayawati cannot see beyond statues of herself and of elephants; and as for Mamta Banerjee, she is colour blind-she can only see red. Modi's track record as an administrator inspires confidence in his ability to play a role at the national level. He sets specific goals, provides the resources and then gives his bureaucrats a free hand to operate. He has ensured water availability to towns and to greater number of farmers, Gujarat now has 24X7 power and has even offered to sell power to other states. Modi has realised long before his peers that future growth can only come from the manufacturing sector since the past stimulus provided by the service sector is now bottoming out, and has prepared his state to attract capital: perennial roadblocks which have bedevilled other states- land acquisition, labour issues, law and order, lack of decision making, cronyism- have all been sorted out. It is no surprise then that Gujarat has been receiving the second highest amount of investment funds after Maharashtra. His opponents, looking for anything to denigrate his achievements, cavil that Gujarat has always been a progressive state and no credit goes to Modi for all this. True, Gujarat ( and Gujaratis) have always been entrepreneurial and progressive, but any economist can tell them that the higher you are on the performance scale, the more difficult it is to make incremental gains- and these gains Modi has been making year after year. Gujarat has consistently been among the top five states in just about all economic, social and human development indicators, and far above the national figures. Here are some figures I picked up in the Hindustan Times of June 12, 2013:
[a] Infant Mortality Rate
Gujarat 54 44
Haryana 60 48
Orissa 75 60
INDIA 58 47
[b] Access to Safe Drinking Water( in %)
Gujarat 84.1 90.3
Maharashtra 79.8 83.4
Andhra 80.1 90.5
INDIA 77.9 85.5
[c] Poverty Reduction ( in %)
Gujarat 31.6 23
Karnataka 33.3 23.6
MP 48.6 36.7
Orissa 57.2 37
INDIA 37.2 29.8
[d] Annual GDP increase( in %) from 2005-6 to 2012-13
Modi is no paragon of virtue. He is arrogant, does not allow a second rung of leadership to emerge, brooks no opposition, is impatient and authoritative, is not a consensus builder. But then we are not seeking to canonise a saint but looking for a political leader who can get this country out of the morass that its present stock of politicians has got us into. We are looking for someone who can be decisive rather than justify inaction under the garb of seeking an elusive " consensus". We are looking for someone who has the courage to have a vision and the skills to translate it into reality. We are looking for someone who will work for the country and not for his " joint family". We are looking for someone who can restore our identities as INDIANS and not merely as Brahmins or Scheduled castes or Muslims or Backward castes. We are looking for someone who will not pander to religions and be truly secular. And we are looking for someone who will not be ashamed to say that he is a Hindu in the land that gave birth to the most tolerant and enlightened religion this world has seen. Modi may fail- in fact, there are good chances that he will. But he at least promises change, whereas the others promise only more of the same. He offers us Hope. Shouldn't he be given a chance?