Delhi Far From Ahmedabad

With its myriad competing identities, India deserves a leader who can carry everyone along, not a divisive figure like Modi

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

Map_India_AhmedabadIt’s almost funny. The more desperate and impatient Narendra Modi and his friends in high places become for his leap to Delhi, the more complicated it seems to become. As the year of reckoning 2014 approaches, the cacophonous media-middle class chorus for the messiah is touching ear-bursting decibel levels. Their frothing-at-mouth fawning is only matched by the depth of the gulf that separates Ahmedabad from Delhi.

The stunning snub delivered by the Wharton Business School last week, withdrawing an invitation to address its India Forum following angry protests by faculty members and students, once again turns the spotlight on Modi’s eventful past and the obstacles in his path to Delhi.

As the city’s patron saint Hazrat Nizamuddin famously told a vengeful sultan, Delhi remains far off (‘Hanooz Dilli dur ast’) for the Gujarat satrap who increasingly acts as if he earned the throne from his father. Even more overbearing than Modi’s sense of entitlement is the endless panting and pining of the mob around him.

But despite all the sanitizing and whitewashing done over the past 11 years to restitute and reinvent him by spinmeisters and a groveling media, Modi’s past continues to eclipse his present and future. There has been an endless deluge of feel-good features and articles idolizing him and the miraculous development that Gujarat has apparently seen in his glorious raj.

Every time there’s a mention of 2002, it’s instantly drowned out in the development din. Modi drove home the message once again this week in his address to the diaspora, hastily put together by the powerful overseas friends of the BJP to recompense for the Wharton rebuke. “When we get a mandate of five years, we must work on that and serve people selflessly. If we do that, then people will forgive our mistakes as well,” said the chief minister in his unusual definition of development and democracy. By the way, this is the closest he has come to acknowledging the 2002 genocide, let alone apologizing for it.

Can development be a substitute for justice though and somehow compensate for crimes against humanity? Is it enough to wash one’s sins as serious as killing of more than 2000 people? Even if Modi’s Gujarat has indeed witnessed unprecedented growth and development, a seriously questionable claim given the state’s long history of commerce and a robust economy, what does it prove?
Germany saw a more rapid economic and industrial growth after Hitler came to power riding on the wave of the post War hysteria and look where it in the end got the European nation. If development and economic growth are the sole criterion for the leadership of the great republic, then many South Indian states in recent years have registered an even faster growth rate.
Why even Bihar chief minister and BJP’s ally Nitish Kumar, who has repeatedly warned the party against fielding Modi and called for a leader with “secular credentials and absolute faith in democratic values”, would make a better PM. Under Kumar, Bihar has recorded a staggering 11.95pc annual growth rate, the highest among all Indian states including Gujarat. He hasn’t just turned around the infamous state, he has won the trust of all communities.

For all his recent talk of ‘sadbhavna’ (reconciliation), Muslims remain locked out of Modi’s development juggernaut, as the Jews were in Nazi Germany. Not a single Muslim, not even the likes of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain, was fielded by the BJP in the recent Assembly elections. In the words of Toorjo Ghose, who with two other faculty members of Pennsylvania University, spoiled Modi’s Wharton party, there are serious holes in his development story.

The condition of Dalits and minorities, especially Muslims, according to hunger and health indices, is one of the worst, says Ghose. The Gujarat government has even blocked the paltry funds and scholarships earmarked by the Central government for the marginalized groups because it sees them as “minority appeasement.”

In his address to Indian Americans, Modi also put forth an interesting definition of secularism: “I have a very simple definition of secularism: India First. In whatever we do or decide India must get priority.” This is awfully touching, of course. One who has relentlessly gone after an entire community and terrorized it for the past 11 years will now lecture India and the world in secularism.
Be that as it may, according to his own definition, all Indians, regardless of their religious and communal identities, are Indians first in the eyes of the state. But in reality what happened in Modi’s Gujarat in 2002? The state led by its ruler for months hunted a community in full view of the world.

Yet his supporters are outraged every time references to his past inevitably crop up. Indeed, if the past continues to live and breathe and like a stubborn ghost refuses to go away, credit goes to the man himself. It’s his continuing witch hunt of Muslims and whistleblowers like Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt who dared to confront him that has kept the 2002 legacy alive.

For all his claims about his innocence being proven in courts, Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuked and censured him besides shifting more than 2,000 riot cases outside Gujarat. Last year, the top court again pulled up the chief minister for “harassing activists fighting for justice with trumped up charges.” More important, Modi’s top lieutenants like Babu Bajrangi and senior minister Maya Kodnani are serving long prison terms for their role in the massacre of Muslims.

The only reason Modi hasn’t ended up with them is because of the protection that power provides in India, not to mention the methodic destruction of all evidence that the administration has presided over during the past decade or so. And this man who belongs in the world court is not only repeatedly elected, he is now the pretender for the top job in the largest democracy on the planet.
So will the unthinkable really happen? The very thought is scary as 2014 is not too far off. Given the royal mess that the Congress has made of the UPA2 and the increasing aversion of the heir apparent for the battle ahead, not to mention the lack of a third alternative, the voters are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. One is reminded of the evocative lines from Yeats’ Second Coming:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
He concludes on a stark note:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

But being a hopeless idealist I would like to believe that India and its people will not allow this to happen. This great, diverse land of Gandhi and Buddha knows it deserves better. Its collective wisdom and common sense will prevail in the end. If India remains a secular, democratic polity, it’s because of its peace-loving, reasonable majority.

With its mind-boggling diversity and myriad competing identities, India needs a leader who carries everyone along and, above all, protects and unites them. Not someone who hasn’t just deeply polarized the nation even before stepping into the saddle but has divided his own party and the alliance it leads. So Delhi is still far off from Ahmedabad. Hanooz Dilli door ast.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based analyst.


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