Saturday 31 May 2014

Narendra Modi’s test begins now (Pakistan Observer)

Friday, May 30, 2014 - In 1984, Rajiv Ratan Birjees Gandhi secured for the Congress Party a huge majority of nearly four-fifths in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. Voters saw in the youthful PM the promise of change, but Rajiv continued with the policies of his mother Indira Gandhi, and formed a Union Cabinet dominated by those who had been a prominent part of previous cabinets.

In 1985, a frail Muslim divorcee named Shah Bano won a case in the Supreme Court of India that ensured alimony at the same level as that given to women of other faiths. The BJP, which has never concealed the fact that it represents mainly the perceived interests of the Hindu population in India, had just two seats in the Lok Sabha, and was widely seen as a spent force. While the overwhelming majority of India’s Muslims - who are as moderate as their Hindu brothers and sisters - welcomed the Supreme Court verdict ensuring equal alimony to the 62-year old divorcee, a small group of Wahabbi clerics were livid at what they said was “judicial interference in Muslim personal law”. They demanded that Muslims in India should be governed in matters such as marriage and divorce (initially) not by laws applicable to the entire population, but by laws specific to the Muslim community. These laws would be decided by the Wahabbis, who claimed to represent “true” Muslims and who considered all other groups of Believers as either heretic or at best, misinformed and misled in their beliefs.

Arif Mohammad Khan, who was at the time a close friend of Rajiv Gandhi and a Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet, took the lead in welcoming the Supreme Court verdict, pointing out that Muslim men were also “fathers of daughters, sons of mothers and brothers of sisters”, and hence should ensure that Muslim women should be given the same protection as afforded to those of other faiths. However, Rajiv Gandhi was of a different view. He saw the fundamentalists as representative of the Muslim Ummah, an error that has repeatedly been made across the world, thereby failing to appreciate that the Muslim community is exactly the same as Hindus, Buddhists, Christians or those of other faiths. While being devout followers of the Word of God, they are as concerned about matters such as housing, education, health and employment as those from other religions.

Had Rajiv Gandhi chosen to ignore the vociferous protests of a few Wahabbis, and instead stood by the Moderate Majority in the Muslim community, the history of India would have been different. Instead, he bowed to Wahabbi dictates and got passed a law in 1986 that placed Muslim women at the mercy of a personal law decided for them by the Wahabbi element in the clerical establishment. From the time that Muslim Womens Law got passed, the goodwill for Rajiv Gandhi began to disappear, and as a consequence of the perception that he had pandered to Wahabbi interests, the BJP began to rise rapidly in public esteem. By the time General Elections rolled by in 1989,Rajiv Gandhi was a vilified and discredited figure, whose policies were responsible for the sharp polarisation between different communities that has been a feature of political life in India since that year.

While Narendra Damodardas Modi has indeed won big in 2014,the fact remains that those who in their hundreds of millions supported him expect the new Prime Minister to fulfil the promises made in his campaign, of clean and transparent governance. The UPA under Sonia Gandhi was the “dukaan” (shop) of Big Business, and it is expected that Team Modi will be different, placing the Aam Aadmi over the Amir (rich) Aadmi. On May 26th,the day he was sworn in, several of his ministers were seen waiting in the anteroom of a pair of suites in one of Delhi’s 5-star hotels, waiting to be summoned in for a chat by a top businessman. Others were seen having dinner with other Big Business figures. All this was recorded by citizens who were in the vicinity when such meetings took place.

This columnist is an admirer of Narendra Modi and would like him to enjoy ten to fifteen years of uninterrupted rule. He is hopeful that Modi will ensure the kind of governance he has assured the people of India will be theirs, once they elect him. In such a context, seeing so many ministers waiting on Big Business figures was a trifle disconcerting, as is the fact that hardly a single individual among the handful who challenged Sonia Gandhi during the entire decade of her rule has been included in Team Modi at any level. Instead, the ranks of the new “power people” have got filled with those who believed in compromise with Sonia Gandhi, or in the “live and let live” philosophy which permeates Delhi and which has made the city a cesspool of corruption.

The goodwill for Narendra Modi grew exponentially and can decline equally rapidly, unless the new Prime Minister makes good on his promise to (a) enforce accountability for the misdeeds of the top figures in the previous government and (b) ensures that each of his ministers follow his example of working on behalf of the Aam Aadmi rather than the Amir Aadmi. Should any of them resume the old habit of seeing their ministries as milch cows waiting to get milked for cash, very soon Team Modi will come under scrutiny and attack. Both the Congress Party as well as the Aam Aadmi Party can be expected to launch an attack on the Prime Minister at the earliest. They are both aware that he is a man of formidable skills, and that if he settles down in Delhi the way he did in Gandhinagar after a few setbacks, then it will be Narendra Modi in 2019 and even 2024.

Modi’s admirers expect that the Prime Minister will in the weeks ahead ensure a better balance in his team, and will unveil policies and processes which bring India into the fast track of economic growth. Those who have for long years supported Narendra Damodardas Modi trust and pray that he will avoid going the way of Rajiv Gandhi in making compromises that will destroy his support among the people. Should Modi remain firm to the principles that have guided his life for nearly fifty years, he will emerge as the greatest PM that India has had.

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