The masked twins

The commonness between leaders like Modi and Togadia still remains

How earnest was Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi when he tweeted his disapproval at the incendiary statements of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Pravin Togadia and his party candidate from Nawada, Giriraj Singh? Was his tweet indicative that Mr Modi had indeed undergone a change of heart and had discarded his harsh extreme visage in the alleyways of Gujarat? Or was this another instance of Mr Modi hiding his real intent in an attempt to tap the liberal voter who is disillusioned with the performance of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government?

The answers to these questions lie in many ways in the story of the making of Narendra Modi. Without going into Mr Modi’s early days in politics and how he was initiated into politics by association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, let us go back to the night before the Godhra carnage. In February 2002, Mr Modi was just another struggling Chief Minister of the BJP barely coping with administrative responsibilities that he had no experience of handling. Mr Modi was elected just a couple of days before this to the state Assembly but this personal joy was marred by the defeat of BJP candidates in two other by-elections held simultaneously. Assembly polls were due in the state in February 2003 and a BJP victory appeared unlikely at that time.

It was not a very confident Chief Minister who received news about the Godhra carnage. The transformation of the man probably ocurred at Godhra as he went around the charred coach number S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. While at a personal level the carnage may have left a certain mark, even evoked a sense of anger, at a political level Mr Modi would have quickly realised that a issue which had the potential to grant him political immortality, had been delivered on to his lap. All he needed to do was to pick it up and make quick use of it. This he did in full measure in the 2002 Assembly polls. He launched Gaurav Yatras which polarised the electorate on the basis of religious identity and talked about elections being an opportunity to restore Gujarati Asmita. He did not examine the question whether the honour of the victims of the 2002 riots also needed to be restored and if their distinct identities had to be endorsed by the political leadership.

Later in the campaign, Mr Modi shut relief camps for riot victims and justified this by claiming that he was not running “baby producing factories”. He also made the infamous “we are five and we have twenty five” statement, mocking the alleged higher fertility rate among Muslims. The tactics helped and Mr Modi secured a massive mandate. Similar tactics were used by Mr Modi in the Assembly elections in 2007.

He would repeatedly refer to the Sohrabuddin incident over which there were charges that his government had staged the false encounter. In speech after speech, Mr Modi asked his audience what should he do with a man who makes bombs and plans terrorist strike. The audience would be prompted to yell: Kill him! The strategy was further helped by Sonia Gandhi’s inopportune statement that termed Mr Modi as a “merchant of death”.

In the past 12 years, the Modi government did not vigorously pursue cases against rioters. Instead, cases were routinely closed by courts because the state government failed to back up the initial FIRs. A large number of them were reopened only after the Supreme Court stepped in.

Recognising that euphoria over aggressive Hindutva alone would not be sufficient to ensure survival of his government, Mr Modi began aggressive rebra-nding of his persona and positioned his government as one oriented towards development of the state. But this change in emphasis of his government was not accompanied by a change in Mr Modi’s politics and his understanding of Indian society.

In the present campaign, while Mr Modi has not used blatantly instigative words, he has promoted prejudice-promoting politics by more subtle means. His choice of words when describing political adversaries suggest that he has very discreetly linked them with India’s adversaries. His supporters argue that Mr Modi has become more accommodative towards minorities and to buttress this claim, his recent interviews are cited in which he has said that we treat every Indian as equal.

There has been no change in Mr Modi’s views in the two years since I had spoken to him about this issue. He made the same argument then: that he says that he works for the interests of six crore Gujaratis. While this may work as an argument to establish that Mr Modi does not believe in discriminating against, it does not take into account that every separate group of people has different grievances and needs exclusive gestures to have a sense of belonging and feel part of the national mainstream.

The commonness between leaders like Mr Modi and Mr Togadia still remains. Both define Indian nationhood on the basis of cultural nationalism which in itself is argued to be rooted in Hinduness. The two, like many others from their political stable, contend that a Hindu way of life is the essence of this land and everyone living in India must adhere to these principles even while simultaneously saying that every citizen had the right to follow their own religion. This may appear to be self-contradictory to most people, but not to leaders from the stable of the Sangh Parivar.

In the course of the Ayodhya agitation both — Mr Togadia and Mr Modi are products of that era — it was argued that Lord Rama was not just a Hindu god but was revered as a national icon. Atal Behari Vajpayee in his most famous defence of the Ayodhya agitation had spoken in Parliament in December 2000 and contended that it had been symbolic of the struggle for national identity. Those leaders of the Sangh Parivar who are involved with parliamentary and electoral politics have faced moments of discomfort with those outside this realm. L.K. Advani scripted the Ayodhya agitation but failed to reign in those wanting to demolish the Babri Masjid when he did not wish.

Similarly, Mr Modi now wishes to alternately blow hot and blow cold on the issue of Hindutva, speaking with a forked tongue when speaking to masses, but adopting a more suave facade when addressing the liberal Indians. In such a situation, it does get difficult to manage the fringe elements within his political fraternity. There are dangers that exist when playing with fire. It is one matter to ride a tiger but it is much more difficult to tame it at will. Mr Modi has reached this position by adopting extreme positions. How he reigns in the fringe elements without losing support of his core constituency is the big challenge facing Mr Modi.

( Source : dc )
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