As the date for India’s tryst with destiny (that has remained unfulfilled from that fateful day in 1947) draws closer, the voices of the status-quoists are getting shriller and shriller, prophetically promising doom and destruction if Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister. There is a whole phalanx of these political past-masters in deceit, religious pontiffs, public-school-educated historians and columnists, leftist jholawalas surviving on government grants, media moguls who have mortgaged their souls to Mammon, and a whole battalion of bloggers, whose sole aim is to put the fear of imminent disaster in the minds of the people should such a catastrophe (?) come about.
When the departing British handed over the reins of government to Nehru and the Congress party, the mood within the country was full of buoyancy and optimism, notwithstanding the trauma of partition. Nehru’s good intentions alone were not sufficient to ensure that each and every citizen of India would transit from Raj to Swaraj that had been so wonderfully articulated by Tilak when he said that “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.” The first casualty of Nehru’s wishy-washy utopianism was Kashmir that went up in flames almost immediately after that historic speech at the Red Fort. Nehru’s effete response and disconnect from realpolitik led him to an equally effete organization, the United Nations, to resolve the crisis. Kashmir continues to burn even now and the waters of the melting Himalayan glaciers every spring, instead of dousing the flames, bring in their wake hordes of armed insurgents to spread mayhem within the valley, killing innocents who get caught in the crossfire. Even the promise of Panchsheel touted with great fanfare by Nehru and Zhou Enlai was betrayed in 1962, when the Chinese army strolled into India, inflicting the most humiliating defeat on us. The Henderson Brookes report that has recently been leaked by an Australian journalist, Neville Maxwell, while damning Nehru’s favourites V.K. Krishna Menon and Lt. Gen. B. M. Kaul, is also a pointer to the corruption and incompetence that had been inherited by the country from the rulers of the Raj; the ICS that would later morph into the all-powerful IAS.
At the same time, Nehru’s strategy of putting military boots on the grounds of the North-East, suppressing the demands of the native Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, and the other original inhabitants of this area, has further fractured the Indian state and the fault lines keep getting wider and wider. Like Kashmir, the North-East continues to remain in conflict and a large part of the Indian security forces continue to be engaged in a meaningless war with their own people.
The first decisive answer to a conflict imposed upon the country came, not from Nehru, but from his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, whose diminutive stature was misunderstood by the aggressive Ayub who launched a war against India in 1965. The reply this time was not wishy-washy, but swift and definite, and the Pakistani Army was roundly defeated. India was unfortunate to lose this Prime Minister so soon thereafter, and the conspiracy theories surrounding his death in Tashkent refuse to go away. Patwant Singh in his book, “The Second Partition” writes that “Dynamism is associated with energy and movement, not passive acceptance of every assault on the country’s self-esteem and pride.” Nehru was a passive acceptor and that has become the default position of the Congress party, from the time it became the private monopoly of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Indira Gandhi’s intervention in East Pakistan was an opportunistic movement, created by the mishandling of the Bengali question by Yahya and Bhutto, and cannot be compared to Shastri’s decisive response to Ayub’s aggression. Manmohan Singh has continued this tradition of “passive acceptance” to the eternal sharm of the country.
The anti-Modi rhetoric that occupies space in the print and electronic media, traverses from the crude “chaiwala” comment of Mani Shankar Aiyer, an alumnus of St. Stephens College, via the sophisticated chant of public-school historians like Ramchandra Guha’s “Fear of Fascism”; to the final solution promised by a Congress Lok Sabha candidate who would “chop Narendra Modi into pieces.” Of the three, I find Imran Masood’s hostility to Modi understandable, as he belongs to a community that suffered largely during the Gujarat riots in 2002. I don’t know what qualities Rahul Gandhi found in him that resulted in him getting the Congress nomination from Saharanpur, but one cannot accuse him of being dishonest. As per the CD that has gone viral in social media, Masood is reported to have said: “I am a man of the street, ready to give my life for my people. I am neither afraid of death or of killing.” In 2007 the matriarch of the party had set the tone for this rhetoric when she made the infamous “maut ka sudagar” comment while canvassing in the Gujarat Assembly elections that practically obliterated the presence of her party from that state.
What makes Modi so untouchable to historians and scholars like Ramchandra Guha? After all, the events of 2002 in Gujarat are not a unique episode in the history of the subcontinent that would bring instant revulsion into the minds of cultured men and women. Why don’t the events of 1983 in Nellie, followed by Delhi in 1984, Meerut in 1987, Kashmir valley in 1989, Mumbai in 1992, Muzaffarnagar last year, and countless other riots evoke a similar revulsion? How many political heads have rolled after these heinous and dastardly acts? Why is the spotlight so constantly focused on Modi? It is as if a policy of “hot pursuit” that should have been put in place against Pakistani terrorists has instead been implemented against Modi. No doubt he shares vicarious responsibility for the violence that engulfed south Gujarat in 2002, but why are the others not called to share similar responsibility for the violence that happened under their watch? No public person in this country has been hounded so single-mindedly by the state, the judiciary, the media, and the so-called guardians of “secularism”. The “Gujarat model” of development is derided and questioned without any reference to the development in other states.
Does this hostility stem from the assiduous cultivation of the Indian mind by the introduction of Macaulay’s insidious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of it by the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system? Is it because Narendra Modi does not belong to that elite group of public-school products who have occupied privileged space in post-colonial India? Is he seen as an interloper who dares to challenge their monopoly on national discourse? Is his vocabulary not as sophisticated and erudite as that of the children of Lord Macaulay?
Two months ago I made my first trip to Ahmedabad. I did not find it a different city to the many other non-metropolitan cities in India. Ahmedabad is like a village becoming a city. What struck me immediately was an absence of the large, expensive motor cars that choke the roads of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. The big Audis, the BMWs, the Mercs, and the ubiquitous SUVs, that are the new status symbol of the nouveau riche, were hardly to be seen. Perhaps one can ascribe it to the frugal nature of the Gujaratis. Ahmedabad has very few malls that have submerged metropolitan India and very few modern glass-and-steel commercial structures. However, I was astonished at how much lower were the prices of common vegetables and other essential commodities when compared to other cities; even lower than the prices in our sleepy little town of Coonoor. Also noticeable was the absence of armed police and paramilitary forces beyond the periphery of the airport. A fascist state would have paramilitary boots resounding on the tarmac at every corner. But, perhaps what surprised me most was a conspicuous absence of Narendra Modi from public spaces. No hoardings, no posters, no self-promotion. I have seen hundreds of huge and medium cut-outs of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi in Chennai, and thousands of various sizes, elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. Other leaders across the country do not fall behind in similar self-promotion. But in Ahmedabad, the streets do not proclaim that Modi is the “supreme leader” of the people, as do the two worthies of Tamil Nadu. These, I am afraid, are not the traits of a fascist leader.
I am an ordinary member of the Aam Aadmi Party, and despite the recent events in Delhi, I still have faith in Arvind Kejriwal and his dream of a corruption-free India. With the Congress headed for political oblivion, Narendra Modi and the BJP are in pole position to form the government in Delhi, and I can understand why Kejriwal has gone on the offensive against Modi. He wants AAP to appropriate the principal role of the party in opposition. As averred before, I believe AAP will be a great opposition party that will keep the NDA in check and provide the kind of constructive opposition that the NDA under Advani failed to do. But, at this time, AAP is not yet ready to rule a nation as diverse and complex as ours. In our resolve to rid the country of the many monsters that confront it, Modi is perhaps the least dangerous. The manner in which he has sidelined a number of the old fuddy-duddies in the BJP indicates that he means business and that the old culture of Congress-style governance of the BJP will no longer prevail. Over the next few years I see him getting rid of some more deadwood as also some of the turncoats who may have been accommodated for political expediency. Eventually, the BJP and AAP should emerge as the two national faces of parliamentary democracy in India. That will complete India’s journey from Raj to Purna Swaraj.
In conclusion, I am reminded of a line from the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who in his autobiographical book, “Report to Greco” wrote: “the man who either hopes for heaven or fears hell cannot be free. Shame on us if we continue to become intoxicated in the taverns of hope or the cellars of fear.”
By Vijaya Dar