SPEAKING FREELY A 'Modi'-fication' of Indian politics
By Samir Nazareth
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The first time the world heard of Narendra Modi was following a 2002 religious pogrom in Gujarat - he was then, as now, the chief minister of the state. It is alleged that he fanned the flames of hatred by permitting the bodies of brutally slain members of a fundamentalist Hindu group to be paraded, and that he told the police to "let the Hindus vent their anger" on Muslims.
Modi had of course taken an oath to uphold the Indian constitution, which includes the principles of protecting life and property.
The next time Indians heard of Modi was in 2010 when he was
called in front of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) looking into the riots. He hummed and hawed for some time before presenting himself to the SIT. His mien was that of someone going on a Sunday picnic, the only people who looked a bit uncomfortable were his highly trained security.
Then there were the annual investors summits which drew in investors promising millions of dollars in investments to the state of Gujarat. The scene at such summits was reminiscent of those in Mumbai dance bars where men throw money on their favorite dance girl. Newspapers would announce the many deals swung in by the Gujarat government while Modi would look on benevolently like an omnipresent god.
In the last few years, Modi gained prominence for the much touted economic performance of Gujarat, and for unhinged attacks on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the ruling Congress party.
As the man has grown from strength to strength his fan following has followed the same trajectory. Everyone from the top echelons of business to youth are in a state of awe, all hypnotized by his oratory skills which promise a better tomorrow - but make no mention of how. There is no doubt that as an orator he is in a class of his own.
Tall tales and untruths
But that aside, there is a new aspect to Modi - his ability to tell tall tales. The Pinocchio side to Modi is slowly revealing itself both in the case of his economic policies and also the yarns that he has been spinning. The web of deceit spans the current to the past ie from Gujarat's socio-economic health to India's history.
For a state given as a glowing example of good governance, economic growth and openness to industry a recent Comptroller and Auditor General report stating that one out of every three children in Gujarat is underweight leaves one wondering what lies beneath good governance and economic growth. Even Gujarat's Women and Development Minister has stated that at least 600,000 children in 14 districts are malnourished, while data for the remaining districts were "not available".
Christophe Jaffrelot, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King's India Institute, London, recently wrote in an article titled "No Model State" that Gujarat's progress is because of the freebies handed to industry at the cost of the state exchequer. It adds the state's progress is fueled by huge debt which has grown from 45 billion rupees (US$8.39 billion) in 2002 to 1.3 trillion rupees today.
Then there is the case of the recent Modi fib that India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not attend the funeral of India's first home minister, Sardar Patel funeral. This was made at a public speech - and there was nary an apology when he was caught out nor was there any public outrage that a prime ministerial candidate could lie so barefacedly.
The man of the hour moved on nonchalantly to his next move. Modi's penchant to emulate Pinocchio does not seem to have affected his credibility because there have been no consequences - the affliction of a longer nose for every lie.
Maybe people know Modi lives in La La land but they don't seem to mind. The fact that he comes up with tales involving living people too which are actually figments of his imagination seems to indicate this - he recently said that he, the chief minister of Bihar - Nitish Kumar and the prime minister were at a meal together where Nitish refused to eat. Nitish clarified that such an event never occurred.
The business of Modi love
This does not seem to bother even the CEOs. One does not quite understand the love the business world has for Modi given the fact that if there was a scandal of the malevolent and Machiavellian proportions of the 2002 riots it is the CEO who would have to step down - because the buck stops at his desk.
There may be an iota of truth when one says that these scions of business wish that this "Modification" in politics trickles into the business world so that they are absolved of the irregularities and scams which form part of their business repertoire. However, it would be highly presumptuous to think that this is potent enough to sully their clear thinking. There must be something deeper that makes them align themselves to Modi.
Maybe they believe that with him in power there will be ease of doing business. However, this ease of business makes other people in his state uneasy. Though compensation for acquisition of agricultural land for industry is high in the state, farmers not willing to sell of their land are forced to sell at a lower price for not accepting the 'Consent Award' which is first offered. This form of land acquisition by the Gujarat government has got certain sections of farmers up in arms - most recently in the case of Maruti.
The CEOs could be besotted with another fact in Gujarat: the average pay is lower than the rest of India. According to the National Sample Survey Organization average daily wages for men and women in Gujarat are 276.48 rupees and 213.10 rupees respectively. The national average is 332.37 rupees for men and 253.02 rupees for women.
This is why business loves Modi - no demands for better compensation and higher wages. There is not a peep for higher wages - one wonders why? Is this what one means by creating a sound business environment which our business leaders hanker for?
One is not even going into the current spate of bloopers that are emanating from Modi - he recently got the name of Mahatma Gandhi wrong; earlier he got the names of past right-wing ideologues mixed up with those of respected and well known thinkers of a more liberal bent. This goes to show that Modi does not do his home work which seems to be a habit and could have major ramifications if he comes to power.
The common Indian's love for the man
Therein lies the issue - we humans are willing to sidestep issues of social morality to safeguard our future and herald a new personal dawn. Business is one side, there is then the individuals who seem to have made up their minds.
Modi symbolizes the freedom from and irrelevance of morality and personal accountability. This is the philosophy that draws the crowds - you may be a bigot and culpable of various crimes but if you are able to keep a section of people happy then nothing else matters.
This is an attractive proposition because it allows people to be two-faced or be a modern version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They may be vicious rapists or murders or unscrupulous financiers, but if they seemingly maintain a socially accepted facade or observe the law on other small matters, then everything else becomes a non-issue.
Such a social concept is very Bollywoodian in nature - the hero may harass the heroine and even browbeat her but he still remains the hero and she still falls in love with him.
So taken in are the common people by Modi's oratorical skills and bikinied statistics that they transform into frogs of a tiny pond who know nothing of the wider world. Their belief in him does not stem from "there is still good in the man". This fact is easily recognizable because these people don't hold him guilty or even culpable for the Gujarat riots.
They are not concerned about basic socio-economic fundamentals of Gujarat that point to Modi's lies. To them these and the Gujarat pogrom are a non-issue, what is important is what he represents - standing up to authority and thumbing a nose at it; not being accountable even when facts demand otherwise and being able to strip those in positions of authority of all dignity with aplomb.
Worse still, the supporters of this man come up with the specious and wholly indefensible argument that members of other political parties have taken part in riots too; inadvertently giving the game away and pointing to his culpability.
Modi is a personification of what most Indians aspire to - being able to climb out of fetid waters smelling of roses; and having the gumption to mock those in power knowing that they can't reply in kind because of the position they hold.
This is the kind of freedom Indians seem to yearn for after being in servitude of monarchies and colonial powers. Modi represents a kind of freedom that is not guaranteed in the Indian constitution but what some Indians fantasize about - power without responsibility and accountability.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Samir Nazareth is a commentator based in India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org