A few gems of “Prime Minister Material” Modi
- The Gujarat chief minister’s response on widespread malnutrition being the result of a predominantly vegetarian middle class that is “more beauty conscious than health conscious” is a classic of the foot-in-mouth genre. (About 52 per cent of children under five in his state are victims; 70 per cent of children between six and 59 months are anaemic; so are 55 per cent of Gujarati women.)
- He made the claim, some time back, that under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, India had achieved eight per cent economic growth. It was pointed out that the correct figure was six per cent. But Mr Modi did not have the courtesy to admit his error.
- His most recent clutch of incorrect statements is enough to make any educated Indian blush. In a valiant attempt to whip up popular support among the people of Bihar, Mr Modi declared that Taxila was located in Bihar.
- Alexander had been defeated by the people of Bihar on the banks of the Ganges. These howlers have now been in the public domain for five days but there is no sign that Mr Modi is ashamed of them. This only reveals his lack of intellectual honesty just as his persistently shrill attacks on his rivals exhibit his lack of dignity.
- Narendra Modi courted controversy when he alleged at a rally in Jesar that the UPA-II government had spent Rs 1,180 crore on the personal foreign tours of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
- In comparing his feelings to the occupant of a car involved in an accident, Modi thus contributed to political folklore his controversial “puppy” analogy: “Even If I am in the back seat of a car and a puppy comes under the wheels, isn’t it painful? It is. Whether I am a chief minister or not, I am a human being I will be sad if something bad happens anywhere.”
- To leave the misogyny aside for a moment, there was also something rather comical about Narendra Modi ‘s ” Rs.50 crore girlfriend” jibe at Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor and the war of words it sparked. Firstly there is the sight of the seemingly invincible Gujarat chief minister, who regressed from quoting Vivekananda to spouting such rubbish barely a week into the heat and dust of the election campaign.
- Sardar Patel who opposed RSS as the assassins of Gandhiji, is now Modi’s hero.
- After his “puppy” metaphor in the context of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 in an interview to a foreign news agency ‘Reuters’, he has now lambasted the Congress party saying that “whenever they are faced with a crisis they wear the burqa of secularism and hide in a bunker”; this was at a public rally in Pune on July 14th.
Narendra Modi without doubt has become a sensation in many sections of society. A phenomenon fuelled by a section of news media. After nine years of Manmohan Singh’s meek rule, Modi’s impassioned speeches, skillful use of rhetoric, assertiveness and showmanship make him look like a rock star. To some extent, his style and language can be compared to that of Raj Thackeray’s. But Modi is more than that. His promises on the development front have led a sizeable population of our country to believe he can get us out of the mess we are in – and must therefore become Prime Minister of India. Does Modi have the ability and intent of taking India forward, away from the many crises we face today? I think not.
Modi has been selling the idea that attracting investment to a state amounts to “development”. By providing low interest rates, cheap rentals and waiving stamp duty, his government claims to persuade big corporates to invest in Gujarat. For instance, to lure the Tatas to set up their Nano plant in Sanand, the Gujarat government waived stamp duty on the land sale and gave other concessions to the tune of over Rs 30,000 crore.
Why did the government give these sops to Tata? Some say it was for “employment generation”. However, the state government policy of ensuring 85 per cent recruitment for locals was waived for this project. There was no gain in terms of revenue and very little employment generation. The tax waivers mean that the people of Gujarat are directly or indirectly subsidising each Nano sold by the Tatas – this is a criminal misuse of authority by the government. The people of Sanand voted the Bharatiya Janata Party out in the 2012 Assembly elections – perhaps a sign of disenchantment with Modi’s policies? The corporates get a sweet deal and, in return, endorse Modi for the Prime Minister’s job. You scratch my back, I scratch yours? Something like the model Manmohan Singh followed in the early years of UPA 1.
The fact that Modi’s policies bring investment into Gujarat cannot be denied. The important question that needs to be asked is – who are the beneficiaries of this investment? A state that has seen high growth rates for the last 20 years is expected to have generated revenue to work for the human development of the people of that state. According to the Planning Commission, Gujarat’s rank in poverty alleviation is extremely poor. In fact, the tribal population (17 per cent of the total) in the state has actually seen an increase in poverty over the last decade and malnutrition is very severe among Gujarat’s children and women. It is no surprise that in a recent study by United Nation’s Development Programme, Gujarat ranked 8th among major Indian states in human development. This suggests that the economic growth that Gujarat has seen is concentrated within a small percentage of the state’s population. Edward Abbey had once said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell”.
If the growth is not reaching the poor majority, what good is the growth? India is a country suffering from widespread poverty, hunger and malnourishment. A widening economic chasm is hardly an achievement in such an environment. With such a backdrop, is this the kind of development model we need today?
Modi is often described as a non-corrupt and incorruptible leader. In this limited definition of honesty one can draw parallels with Dr Manmohan Singh. So he may be clean himself, but he turns a blind eye to his Ministers’ plundering resources. Sitting at the top, overseeing, even if not participating in corrupt practices. Babu Bokhariya, a Cabinet minister of the Gujarat government, was convicted in an illegal mining case earlier this year and has been on trial since 2006, but Modi refused to act against his Minister. Then in 2011, while the nation stood up and demanded a strong Lokpal bill, Modi was occupied in delaying a Lokayukta in his own state. Finally, in 2013, we find his government has enacted a law which is more toothless than the UPA government’s Lokpal.
After a CAG report indicting the Modi government for corruption was leaked recently, Times of India reported the following (April 3, 2013):
With all but four Congress MLAs suspended from the House, there could be no debate on the damning CAG reports. As soon as the house began functioning on Friday, MLAs Rajendrasinh Parmar, Paranjayadityasinhji Parmar, Jodhaji Thakore and Amit Chavda sought discussion on CAG report, which the speaker Ganpar Vasava disallowed.
The quartet rushed to the well carrying banners on CAG. They were suspended, quite predictably, and escorted out by the security staff.
A clear sign that opposition is not tolerated in Modi’s Gujarat. In many ways, he reminds one of the Emergency-period Indira Gandhi. It is interesting to note that Modi rarely attends the Gujarat Assembly proceedings, let alone make statements on the floor. On the one hand, he can address massive rallies with great charisma. On the other, he has a habit of walking away from interviews when cornered with tough questions.
A Prime Minister is the voice of the nation. He must engage the people of his country in a dialogue. How can Modi not be accountable to the media or the legislative body, and still flash his “democratic” credentials? Does democracy have no meaning beyond elections? In this day and age, it is impossible to overturn democracy as brazenly as Indira Gandhi did in the 1970s, but does Modi have those tendencies? Absolutely.
Modi is trapped in an environment in which he cannot make a difference even if he wants to, owing to the kind of politics he represents. If he does become Prime Minister, the MPs who will support Modi for the job will in all likelihood have won the Lok Sabha elections after investing crores of rupees of black money (as Gopinath Munde recently admitted). If he becomes Prime Minister, will he stop his MPs from seeking returns on those investments? And will they continue to support him if he does? The current political system of “money through power and power through money” is such that neither Modi nor Rahul Gandhi (his closest competitor) can possibly make our lives better. If corruption funds these political parties, who will be their priority: the aam aadmi or the donors?
When Modi addresses a rally at Hyderabad, giving the clarion call for a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, he shares the stage with former President of the BJP, Bangaru Laxman, who has been convicted in a corruption case. By identifying the Congress party as the “problem”, Modi is misleading voters. There is no difference today, between the Congress and the BJP. Modi had the opportunity to show that he does not represent the “mai-baap” culture of the political class of this country in the Vitthal Radadiya drama. He failed. Radadiya, a Congress MP from Porbandar was caught last year on camera, pointing a gun at a tollbooth attendant because he was asked to pay toll. However, instead of taking action against Radadiya, Modi offered him protection and lured him into the BJP – welcoming him with a grand ceremony.
Great orators have often swayed India’s electorate. We need to understand that oratory and machismo can never work when the politics is criminal.
And I haven’t even mentioned 2002.