Narendra Modi moves towards ‘Indutva’ (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 29th Jul
ujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has surprised his friends and dismayed his enemies by agreeing to an interview with a well-regarded Urdu publication. For years, Modi has focused simply on economic growth and better administration, hoping that the two would suffice to take the sting out of the many political attacks on him by those who understand that Modi represents the opposite of India's post-1947 ideology, Nehruvism, a philosophy followed even by A.B. Vajpayee, albeit in a diluted form. Modi sees secularism as the removal of special privileges to selected faiths, and places the onus of progress on the private sector. Unsurprisingly, he has been the target of unceasing attack, especially by a Congress aware that he represents a threat to the continued charisma of the Nehru dynasty.
Although there has been significant (and by informed accounts grossly under-reported) carnage in Assam, neither the US nor the EU have seen fit to deny a visa to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who incidentally was in the former destination recently. Neither has there been the wave of anger from Nehruvian secularists (i.e. those who regard secularism as a one-way street, applicable only to the majority community) that still crests ten years after the post-Godhra riots. Narendra Modi has not been as fortunate as Rajiv Gandhi (or Arun Nehru), who escaped practically unscathed after the targeted murders of innocent Sikhs following the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. And what about ministers, and more than a few officials, with direct responsibility for the inability or unwillingness of segments of the state administration to snuff out the post-Godhra rioters before hundreds of lives were lost? Many of them have changed sides and are now with the Congress, in their assigned role of "approvers" or even "witnesses" against Narendra Modi, the single BJP politician who sends Congress strategists scurrying for their worry beads. Not surprisingly, Gordhan Zadaphia and others place the entire blame for the post-Godhra carnage on Modi, although they have not gone as far as Lalu Yadav and his chosen acolytes, who have implicitly blamed Modi even for the burning of the train that caused such fury within elements of the majority community in Gujarat.
The Chief Ministership of Gujarat was Narendra Modi's first real job. Till then, he had been a party worker and before that, an RSS activist, far removed from administration. Five months after his taking over as CM in the final quarter of 2001 came the Godhra train burning and its aftermath. That his subordinates, both political and official, mishandled the situation is clear. A close associate says that "the CM believed in his team and accepted their word that they could handle the situation", adding that "once it became clear that they had failed, he acted swiftly". Nothing can bring back the dead of 2002 Gujarat, just as no action on earth can resurrect those who lost their lives in 1984 Delhi or 2012 Assam. Within India, Gujarat has always been a communally sensitive state, with localities such as Kalupur in Amdavad suffering from low-grade communal fever for decades. However, since the unhappy first quarter of 2002, not a single Muslim has lost his or her life in Gujarat in a communal incident, a record not matched in many states. However, Modi has resisted calls to give the special treatment to minorities that is a commonplace in much of India, including states run by the Congress or its ally, the Samajwadi Party. There is a danger in separating the minorities from the majority, and this is that the two will grow more apart, thereby finally endangering the unity of the state. Interestingly, Narendra Modi is the hate object of not simply Muslim but Hindu fundamentalists as well. The pulling down of roadside shrines and his focus on economic development have angered those who seek a return to what they believe was a perfect past. In that sense, the VHP mirrors the mindset of the Wahhabis, who too believe that society needs to be forced back to the mores and methods of a bygone period, and who too abhor "modern" forms of cultural expression, such as celebrating Valentine's Day or having a late-night drink at a pub with a member of the opposite sex. Modi is a moderniser, embracing international business as well as ensuring the spread of the internet and its dominant language, English. However, even Modi has not been able to save Gujarat from followers of Morarji Desai, who are willing to spawn illicit liquor mafias rather than give up their obsession with making alcohol as illegal in Gujarat as it is in Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Over the past year, Modi has moved, in his usual silent and understated way, to signal that in his Gujarat, all citizens will be treated equally and fairly. Even a visiting Pakistani delegation was surprised with a longish encounter with the Gujarat CM while on a visit to his state. Modi is known to admire businesspersons such as Azim Premji of WIPRO and CIPLA founder K.A. Hamid, and was an early backer of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for both his first and a possible second presidential term. While majority community fundamentalists harp on "Hindutva", which they define as the adherence of all "genuine Indians" to a code of behaviour that they claim was universal in the past (and which presumably resulted in the subsequent conquest by Mughals and the British). The reality is that it is "Indutva" (the fusion of Vedic, Mughal and Western culture streams) that has become the chemistry of the people of a country hungry for an honoured space in the 21st century. By openly reaching out to minorities, especially Muslims, Narendra Modi has shown that he recognises that the mindset of the people of India is both modern and universal, and that the country's traditions are a welcome mix of many streams, local and foreign. Should the Muslims of Gujarat accept Modi at his word, and put aside the pain of 2002 as Sikhs have the torment of 1984, Modi would emerge as the BJP's front-runner for the PM's post within an energised NDA.