Thursday, May 07, 2015

Narendra Modi: No demigod, no demon; just a political leader, warts and all


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Narendra Modi-idolators among the right-wing middle class, had committed the enormous sin of exaggerating the virtues of the man who they sincerely and irrationally admire. They projected him as a Caesar, as a democrat pop star, as the man with an iron fist, and as the man with a heart. They saw in him the poor boy who became the big man, the big leader. They applauded in a frenzied manner that he had won a national election and secured a simple majority for his party, something which no party has been able to do after 1984.
They sang his glories at every silly turn. They said inviting the heads of the SAARC countries was a master-stroke. They thought that he had taken India-United States relations to unprecedented heights. They admired his overtly friendly gesture towards Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Then they praised him for raising the issue of latrines in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. They thought that Swachch Bharat was a capital idea.
The refrain of the admirers was unmistakable: Modi is the leader that India has been waiting for decades. They do not say so but they imply that he has left Atal Bihari Vajpayee far behind, and that he is really the man who would love to match his mettle with Indira Gandhi, the strong leader that the BJP admires unabashedly.
Modi too believed that he is doing better than anyone else and that he winning new laurels at every turn. He believed that he was taking the country on the path to glory. Modi is not a man given to doubts. He is not a dreamer but he thinks that every hurdle can be crossed. In plain words, he is cocky.
The BJP-wallahs admire their leader because he brought the party to power when it seemed all but impossible. So many of them are willing to forgive his self-centred politics because the power dividend he brought them.They dare not say that he is human and that he is fallible. They think that he is infallible and that he is invincible. Idolatry at its best.
Many of them know the truth. They know that reality is not as rosy as it is supposed to be. That the many things that this government is doing was something that began much before the BJP came to power. They know that the economy had improved and it was on the recovery curve before Modi assumed power. They know some of the good things like the fall in crude oil prices was not the handiwork of the Modi government, that FII flows into the country was following the market dynamic and it had less to do with the economic acumen of the government. They do not realise that it is no fault of Modi that oil prices are rising again, that the FIIs are taking away the money. They do not realise that Modi has not really been able to attract FDI into the country in a substantial way and that this is not really his fault.
Then we have the detractors of Modi, who take every opportunity to show up his ignorance, his unsophisticated ways, his garrulousness and his boastfulness. These are failings, these are faults. But these are no great vices. They are much too common among human beings. They can be used to rail him, and make fun of him. But they cannot be used to demonise him. It does not make sense. The criticism is not in proportionate. That is why, the criticism sounds churlish. It reminds one of the American liberals who carped at George W Bush for everything and for nothing and felt virtuous for doing what they did.
The problem is Modi is not a demon. Yes. Everyone will recall the 2002 Gujarat riots, that 2000 Muslims were killed, and that he did not utter a word of apology and that then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to remind him to follow "raj dharma" and he maintained stony silence. So, Modi still carries the albatross of the 2002 Gujarat riots. He cannot escape it. His moral guilt is beyond doubt. But his legal liability has not been established. Many cases relating to the riots have been decided and many of them have been punished. Every one has a right to continue to hate him for his moral responsibility in the 2002 riots. But they would be wrong to judge his other acts on the basis of his 2002 moral liability.
It has to be conceded that he has won a parliamentary election through an open contest. He has been trying ever since to do something, many of which are not as radical as he believes them to be. Mod-baiters have to judge the man they hate for his acts of omission and commission, separately.
Modi is an ordinary politician. He has his faults, too many of them. He has his strengths, which are quite a handful. But that does not make him the demigod that his idolators believe him to be. He is not the demon that his baiters think he is.

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