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Modi plays Development card

Narendra Modi’s switch from the politics of communalism to that of development is not the first instance in recent times of such a transformation from one political-ideological outlook to another, which is dramatically different. In Modi’s case, it followed the realisation that his erstwhile policies were no longer a paying proposition.

A similar change was seen in West Bengal, where Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, when he was chief minister, realised that his party’s dogmatic pursuit of Marxism was doing the state more harm than good. Hence, his decision to court the private sector even if it comprised ‘class enemies’ in the eyes of the comrades.

It is another matter that Bhattacharjee bungled in the matter of implementing his new policy by resorting to Stalinist tactics – the only method he knew – to provide land to industrialists by unleashing cadres on the peasants. Had he chosen to be patient in his ways of acquiring land, he might have succeeded although his party, the CPI(M), was unhappy about his turn towards capitalism.

The fact remains, however, that he understood what had gone wrong in the state because of the mistake which the Left made by encouraging militant trade unionism, which led to the flight of capital. Similarly, Modi understood after the 2002 riots that fomenting anti-Muslim sentiments may win him elections in Gujarat, but the state – and he himself – will become a pariah in the eyes of the nation and even the world.

There is little doubt that even today, he remains something of a misfit in polite society. He may be courted by industrial magnates and feted at seminars, but there is still a palpable uneasiness among his audience in his presence despite all his attempts to be nice. Behind the plastered hair and rimless glasses, the basic unpleasantness of his personality comes through, hinting that it is not safe to cross him.

It is not impossible that this character trait is partly responsible for the reason why he was kept at an arm’s length by the European diplomats for nearly a decade after the riots, and why the Americans still do so. The reason is probably related not only to his refusal to express any regret for the violence during the riots, which claimed 1,200 lives according to official figures and more than 2,000 in unofficial estimates, but also that he is congenitally incapable of feeling any remorse. As sociologist Ashis Nandy has said, Modi is a ‘textbook case of a fascist’.

Arguably, a sense of guilt is not the explanation for his metamorphosis from a RSS pracharak reared on Golwalkar’s thesis of regarding Muslims as ‘internal threats’ to a man committed to industrial development which benefit everyone. Had industries been his first priority, he would have indicated his preferences in that direction on becoming chief minister in October 2001.

But, there was no such sign. Nor was there any for nearly a year till well after the post-riots elections in 2002. Instead, his entire focus was on demonising not only the Muslims, but even Christians, as his sarcastic spelling out of the full name, James Michael Lyngdoh, of the chief election commissioner, at the time of the elections showed.

His objective was to suggest to his communal-minded supporters that a member of a minority community could not be trusted to ensure a free and fair election.

His narrow outlook was also evident from the prolonged battle he waged inside the party against a former fellow pracharak, Sanjay Joshi, to undermine his position in the saffron camp. To achieve this end, Modi peevishly kept away from the BJP’s national conclaves and its election campaigns in UP, Punjab and elsewhere.

It was only after he was able to exert sufficient pressure on the then BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, to oust Joshi that Modi relented and began attending the party’s meetings. However, the egregious display of pique is hardly becoming of a person who has prime
ministerial ambitions.

As for the reason that made him turn from playing the communal card to the development card, it is something of a mystery considering that the prevalence of anti-minority sentiments in Gujarat, which were manifested in the anti-Christian outbreaks in the Dangs area before Modi assumed office, would have ensured his election victories in the foreseeable future.

The widely accepted explanation, therefore, is his prime ministerial aspirations. But, there may be other reasons. One of them is the still continuing court cases against the failures of the government in 2002, which have already been noted by the Gujarat high court.

Then, the verdict of the Nanavati commission is still awaited. It may have given him a clean chit in its interim report. But, no one knows what its final findings will be. As is known, Modi escaped by the skin of his teeth from condemnation by the Special Investigating Team on the Naroda Patiya massacre.

With the Damocles sword hanging over his head, Modi has to turn to issues other than communalism to deflect attention from his sins of omission and commission. (IPA)
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