A few weeks ago, i wrote on Gujarat and Narendra Modi. It attracted more comments than any of my columns in two years. In the thousand-odd comments , there was a high degree of misconception, exaggeration and misunderstanding. I have no reason to keep writing on Modi. But considering he is such a touchy issue in Indian politics, i’d like to bust the six Modi myths floating around.
The anti-Modi myth number one is that he is akin to Hitler. Comparing the CM to possibly one of the most evil leaders on earth makes sensational copy, but is not factually correct. Yes, the post-Godhra riots targeted a particular religion . However, the scale, its organized and unprovoked nature, the extent and time period of the holocaust were at an entirely different level. Most importantly, Hitler was dictator of Germany at that point. He had dissolved democracy and controlled the army. Not obeying his orders could mean execution.
The ugly reality of the riots is that there were more people complicit in the riots than one dictator . CM Modi may have been a political opportunist , and that is wrong in itself, but he wasn’t , and isn’t , a dictator.
The second anti-Modi myth is that he is deeply communal, and given half a chance he would destroy the country’s secular fabric. But the fact is, no politician is ever deeply anything. Politicians react to opportunities. Whatever people want, is the way the politicians behave. The same government that was silent on corruption now speaks about the cleanup required in politics , after the scare of the Anna movement. In 2002, the mood of the nation was completely different . Imagine late 2001. The 9/11 attacks, followed by a major Kashmir bomb attack in October , the Parliament attack in December, and the burning of kar sevaks in Gujarat in February 2002 — all of these were linked to Islamist groups. There was fear in the minds of people and opportunistic politicians exploited it. Today, things are different. Non-secular politicians cannot survive, at least at the national level. Smart politicians understand this. With such intense scrutiny on Modi it is unlikely he will make even so much as a communal comment anytime soon.
Coming to the pro-Modi myths, the first is that he did no wrong. While criminal charges are for the courts to provide and decide upon, morally , wrongs did occur. The head of the state should have attempted to contain the damage and heal the wounds in the aftermath. If done right, it could be a political career-plus for the CM to accept the moral wrongs that occurred, and come clean on what he could have done better.
The second pro-Modi myth is that he needs to do nothing about the criticism, or for the Muslims. Far from it, Modi needs to take active steps to help the Muslim community, and give them a feeling of security under his regime. Muslims in Gujarat have been largely safe ever since. However, the CM has not actively come out and affirmed his commitment to protect everyone in his state. Many Muslims are upset with the seeming smugness of Modi and his supporters. Modi needs a strategy, to bring back to neutral, if not win, Muslim trust again. It isn’t easy, but not impossible. The third pro-Modi myth is that Gujarat is India’s development heaven. Yes, Gujarat is doing well, but others are doing well too. The southern states are ahead in many parameters, such as literacy and mortality. Also, a lot of Gujarat’s wealth creation comes from the Gujarati community’s entrepreneurial culture.
All of the above myths can never be fully dispelled . A section of people will never change their opinion about Modi. But, the more openminded amongst us will probably see the full picture and make an informed judgment on whether he has a place in India’s future. Modi himself will need his own strategy if he wishes to become a real player on the national stage, which many think he has the potential for. Or, he could be happy with what he has and remain the most controversial politician in India’s history.