Demystifying Indian Elections - Part 2

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Prabhat Singh's picture

However, as is the wont of politicians, Mr. Modi allegedly hides some serious skeletons in his closet. He was the CM of Gujarat in 2002, when the most vicious communal riots witnessed by modern India broke out, and devoured over 1,000 members of the minority community. Though Mr. Modi has been declared innocent by none other than the Supreme Court of India, his critics have never stopped baying for his blood, accusing him of complete administrative failure at best, and direct complicity at worst. Besides, Mr. Modi has also earned the Hindi language sobriquet ‘pheku’, pointing to his undying endeavour to push the so-called ‘Gujarat Model’ a little too far. Critics accuse him of having contributed very little to the development of the state, especially evidenced by the largely stagnant social indicators since he’s been the CM. He’s also accused of crony capitalism, having allegedly gifted away massive tracts of land to corporate honchos at throwaway prices. Of course, Mr. Modi denies all these charges, and his supporters, some of them blind lovers, are only too happy to oblige.

Much greater than any of the other accusations is the one that labels Mr. Modi communal to the extent of being Islamophobic. Secularism has been of the great narratives of Indian polity ever since independence and most leaders are engaged in a perpetual rat race to become the minorities’ favourite by extending them political patronage in varying colours. Mr. Modi, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated that he views this veritable mass of 1.25 billion people as ‘Indians,’ refusing to view them through prisms of different religions. However, critics have labelled his calls for unity a mere facade, behind which hides his real face. Indeed, Mr. Modi has made little effort to allay the fears of minorities during his high voltage election campaign. Some of his closest aides have indulged in vitriolic rhetoric against minorities.

Fears of his overtures towards the majority Hindu community are compounded by the fact that he has taken up the cause of the politically untouchable Kashmiri Pandit community-a group of half a million Hindus displaced from their original home, Kashmir, since 1990-much to the consternation of other politicians who believe any efforts to restore the dignity of Kashmiri Pandits might compromise Muslim votes. Mr. Modi also has, in a rare display of spine for a politician, spoken out openly against the millions of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants living in India, who’ve frequently been blamed for instigating communal tension and terrorist attacks in the country. Such strongly nationalistic overtones have led his opponents to invoke Samuel Johnson’s golden words- “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” pointing to the possibility that Mr. Modi might be fanning underlying patriotic feelings for electoral gains. Also notable is the fact that Mr. Modi takes great pride in his rustic and humble (he was a tea-seller in his younger days) Indian origins, which renders him naturally at odds with the elitist, English-speaking ruling coterie of Delhi. So much has been the bitterness between him and the ruling Congress party that the latter has left absolutely no stone unturned to obliterate the former. From fudging every possible statistic and fact to unleashing every possible constitutional and extra-constitutional authority against him, Congress party has tried every dirty trick in the book, yet has failed, though its failure hasn’t been complete. Large sections of Indians fear, and sometimes loathe, Mr. Modi. Despite being proven innocent time and again, he has been slandered as the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’ and ‘Mass Murderer’ quite liberally. Nowhere is Congress’ success more visible than outside India, where Mr. Modi is perceived as Hitler-in-waiting. Though far from being spotless, Mr. Modi’s administrative record-including the fact that there have been no communal incidents in his state since 2002-makes him deserving of a less obnoxious attitude than the one adopted towards him by international institutions, especially in US and UK.

Only time will tell who wins these elections, however, the fears of what Mr. Modi might unleash seem to be at least partially unfounded, given the great strength India’s democratic institutions have acquired. Such institutions can be grouped under two heads- those under the control of the government (such as bureaucracy, intelligence and police) while those independent from the government (such as Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Supreme Court). While the former might well be tamed, the latter have shown the government its rightful place time and again. CAG has acquired such powers that any wanton favouritism to capitalists could be exposed swiftly, as has happened with the incumbent government. The SC has been the guardian of Indians’ fundamental rights, especially religious freedom, and any discrimination might well come back to bite the government in the face.

If he comes to power, Mr. Modi’s foremost priority should be to restore the confidence of minorities and protect their right to freedom and expression-clearly fundamental pillars of any democracy. Only then will he be able to carry the nation forward on the path to development, prosperity and dignity that has been the centrepiece of his campaign.