Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Narendra Modi: The colours of a potential Indian prime minister

Nikita Sud
April 9, 2014.

Transparency and accountability are hardly Mr Modi’s forte. Modi’s record in decentralised governance also fails to impress. Voters have no idea who will be in his ministerial team, and what their views are likely to be.

Narendra Modi gestures toward crowds of supporters 
gathered in Satna. (Demotix: Akshat Mongia)
India’s Hindu Right is associated with the colour saffron. The saffron flag, or bhagwa dhwaj adorns the offices of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or Sangh for short), which is at the core of the Hindu nationalist movement. The Sangh stands for an India of ‘one nation, one culture, one people’. Under this philosophy, the Muslims and Christians of multi-religious, multi-cultural India must either depart the country’s shores, or live as second-class citizens under Hindu supremacy.

Now, India is a large country. Its billion-plus citizens harbour all manner of beliefs. Under normal circumstances, the extreme positions of the RSS would be as unremarkable as those of fringe Muslim or Christian organisations that vociferously oppose homosexuality, or women working outside the home. However, today, the RSS finds itself in the spotlight. Narendra Modi, the man projected as India’s future Prime Minister by opinion polls and analysts, learnt the political ropes as an RSS pracharak or preacher-organiser.

As campaigning for the national elections, to be held this summer, reaches fever pitch, everyone in politics-mad India has an opinion on Modi. As they say, you can love him, you can hate him, but you cannot ignore him. For critics, Modi, the current Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat, presided over one of India’s worst massacres of Muslims in 2002. But according to his supporters, 2002 is well in the past. The Modi of today stands for governance and development.

So are Modi Version 2002 and Modi Version 2014 any different? In 2002, few had heard of Narendrabhai, as he is popularly known. On the directives of the RSS, he had been deputed to Hindu nationalism’s political arm: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, or Indian People’s Party). In 2001, when that party suffered a crisis of leadership in Gujarat, the RSS catapulted Modi to the post of Chief Minister. Being a hierarchical, authoritarian organisation, it did not see the irony of democratically elected BJP legislators and councillors being led by a man who had never fought a democratic election in his life.

One of Mr Modi’s early tasks as Chief Minister was to condemn the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims, who he alleges were torched by a mob of Muslims at Godhra train station in February 2002. He then went on to condone the massacre of up to 2000 Muslims that followed the Godhra incident. Cadres of the Hindu Right led from the front in this violence. Ironically, Modi’s Minister of Women and Child Welfare, Maya Kodnani was convicted by the courts, and jailed, for leading the mob in one such attack. As for the Chief Minister, in an interview, he controversially cited Newton’s Third Law, indicating that every action has an equal and opposite reaction (kriya pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai). By this logic, Muslims deserved to die, whether or not they had been involved in the train burning.

Undoubtedly, the period around 2002 is Modi’s saffron phase. A saffron outfit had put him in power and he needed to show his commitment to their pet causes. Sartorially, he was regularly seen wearing kurtas (a long shirt worn by Indian men) and turbans of that colour, and was often photographed with Hindu preachers, godmen and Hindu nationalist leaders, who wear saffron as a form of identity.

But people do move on. By the time of his second term as Gujarat Chief Minister in 2007, Modi was keen to be known as a vikas purush, a man of development. His reputation was sealed in 2008 when Tata Motors, India’s largest automobile manufacturer, moved its Nano car factory from West Bengal to Gujarat, rejecting the bids of several other competing States in the process. Under Modi, the Government of Gujarat provided the Tatas land and other infrastructure almost overnight, making the Company’s chairman declare publicly: ‘It is stupid if you are not in Gujarat.’

Today, on the gleaming highways of Gujarat, billboards claiming that Modi’s State is the ‘Number One’ in India are common. Modi touts himself as the Number One Chief Minister, the leader of a State where investors can, in quotes, ‘sow a rupee and reap a dollar’. This then is green Gujarat, not in its friendliness towards the environment, but in its welcoming of private investment, Indian and foreign.
Read the rest here.

(Please note that the original headline for this article reads "The colours of a potential Indian prime minister".)

 Nikita Sud is Associate Professor of Development Studies at University of Oxford.
Comment: Tomorrow Delhi votes and I will check in with friends and colleagues on their experiences at the various polling stations.

Like many folks outside of India I am fascinated by this election and its frenzied pace as more than 800 million voters make their way to the polls over five weeks.

Somewhere in Udaipur two weeks ago I asked an Indian professor of African Studies what he thought about Narendra Modi.

He said very forthrightly:
"Some people describe him as a Hitler character.  He has a very good chance of winning and the West knows this, especially the US.  They don't worry about his human rights record or his extreme right wing Hinduism.  They like Modi because he talks the business of neo-liberalism.  And they don't care about the 2000 Muslims who died because of him."
I think he is spot-on in his analysis.

Modi used to be the villain in the West until folks like Obama figured out that he was too lucrative a figure to despise.  So they warmed up and now he is their new best friend.

Under Modi India will open its doors to increased Western investment and trade.  Who among the West's human rights advocates will ignore a market of 1.2 billion people?

Like with China the US will turn a blind eye to the excesses of Modi and company.  Instead Obama will push a concern for human rights where he has little interests in matters of money and trade. Ukraine and Crimea being the recent exception but not for genuine concern for human rights, of course.

I am thinking of Cuba, for example, where the decades long US embargo is supposedly a matter of concern for human rights.   If Cuba had tons of oil human rights would be of little concern.

Nonetheless, I am struck how neo-liberalism and fascism often seam together in political interests.

Modi the fascist likes investment and the role of the neo-liberal West and its focus on all things money.  A brutal match-up made in hell some might say.


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