June 12, 2014

A Critical Analysis : Will Modi lead to a height or doom ?

A Critical Analysis  : Will Modi lead to a height or doom ?

Modi claims his Gujarat development model is “Inclusive” while his critics reject it as “pro-corporate and anti- poor”, “pro-elite and anti farmer” as well as “majoritarian and anti minorities”, I will be looking closely at how the hitherto excluded or marginalized populations – small farmers, tribals, Dalits, Muslims, Christians – view it.  Has it facilitated inclusion and upward mobility for them or are they being further marginalized?

The man leading polls to become India's next prime minister may finally be outrunning his past.
When thousands of terrified Muslims fled their homes during religious riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, the state's Hindu-nationalist chief minister opposed setting up relief camps, saying these would be "child-making factories."

Mr. Modi has sought to distance himself from religious politics. Facing off against Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi political clan, whose Congress party has governed India since 2004, Mr. Modi has positioned himself as a champion of economic development and no-nonsense government. He cites growth and industrialization under his leadership in Gujarat and says all of India will enjoy the same if he becomes premier.

Opinion polls show the BJP well ahead of Congress, its main rival. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 63% of respondents want a BJP-led government, while just 19% favor Congress.

Mr. Modi's critics say his hard-line affiliations make him unfit to lead a large, profoundly diverse country such as India. Hindus make up 80% of India's population and Muslims 13%.

India's 815 million eligible voters are going to the polls at a time of growing national dissatisfaction. To many, corruption seems to have penetrated public life at all levels. The economy, rocket-powered not long ago, has slowed. The rupee tumbled more than 20% last summer, and inflation is now 8%. Since a fatal gang rape in 2012, India has become known around the world as a dangerous place for women. Indians worry about an assertive China next door, and many feel their country has lost influence on the world stage.

Today, angling for India's highest elected office, Mr. Modi is focusing firmly on good governance and economic revival while avoiding sectarian rhetoric. A line he repeats often is, "India's government has only one religion: nation first, India first. And only one holy book: the constitution."

Mr. Modi's campaign, however, seems to be more about the man himself. In speeches, he says that because he is single and childless, he has no reason to be corrupt. Alluding to his boyhood chores at his father's snack stand, Mr. Modi frames the contest against the Congress party's Mr. Gandhi—the son, grandson and great-grandson of past prime ministers—as one between a tea seller and a prince.

Mr. Modi's admirers speak of him as a larger-than-life figure, and he hasn't tried hard to deter them. At a January rally, he said it would take a man with a "56-inch chest" to turn another Indian state into a success like Gujarat.

In 2003, Pramod Mahajan was appointed chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central campaign committee for the next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Mahajan—known for his organisational skills and his fondness for the company of wealthy industrialists—was appointed against the backdrop of an Indian economy that was growing at a rate of close to 8 percent. Buoyed by the upbeat economic mood, Mahajan, with the approval of his party leadership, assembled an expensive marketing campaign, “India Shining”, which celebrated the Indian growth story in a series of high-gloss television and newspaper advertisements. In the months before the election, the government spent more than Rs 100 crore selling the idea of an economically vibrant India to its own people, even as, according to the World Bank, close to 75 percent of the country lived on less than Rs 100 per day.

After the election, which the BJP had been widely favoured to win, Mahajan’s campaign bore the brunt of the blame for the party’s defeat. The BJP’s upbeat narrative of inclusive growth, it was said, conflicted too starkly with the below-subsistence reality of the majority of Indians. While the country was witnessing unprecedented growth, as has been the case during other periods of economic expansion—under both the Congress and the BJP—the most significant beneficiaries of that growth were a small proportion of upper- and middle-class Indians, with the overwhelming gains accumulating to the super-rich. While Mahajan might have mistakenly seen the signs of broad prosperity in the gains of a small minority, what was more surprising was that the senior leadership of the BJP had gone along with extravagant notions of a “shining” Indian economy. Given the exuberance of the campaign, it is plausible that they, too, might have gotten carried away by the seductive shimmer of growth visible amongst the select few who populate the party’s inner circle and its social periphery.

There is no doubt that, over the past few years, Modi has come to be seen as a poster boy for development-oriented governance. Gujarat, which he has run for the last 11 years, is one of India’s fastest-growing states, and Modi has been immensely successful in building a narrative that establishes his no-nonsense attitude toward governance and policy as the main reason for Gujarat’s consistent growth. To the dismay of his critics, a section of voters now hails him as a strongman with the will and wisdom to reduce corruption and deliver growth. The man once viewed only as a communal polariser has found his biggest support among major industrialists, who cherish his decisiveness even if it carries authoritarian undertones. His second rung of supporters is made up of smaller businessmen, petty traders and shopkeepers, long the BJP’s traditional constituency. In addition to these two groups, there are the increasing number of young corporate professionals from the middle classes, who aspire to move up the income ladder and see Modi as a promoter of business and efficiency. This last group has been particularly vocal in their support of Modi, and the intensity of their cries for his ascension often presents the impression that the BJP has vastly expanded its voter base. But for all their energy, this group too represents a very small proportion of India’s population; these young aspirants often come from the same upper castes that have long been the BJP’s base.

While Modi’s admirers strongly believe that his appeal will spread across lines of caste and class, right now his most ardent support comes from this same small cross-section of upper-caste Hindus, who wield a disproportionate influence within the BJP and the RSS. The party is certain in 2004 that an aspirational message would expand its voter base, but in hindsight, they seem to have been carried away by the fervour within their own ranks. Ironically, this time they may do so behind a candidate whose own origins are not upper-caste, which might otherwise have heralded a shift away from the parochial outlook to which the party has often been prone.

During the last Lok shaba poll, 714 million Indians were eligible to vote, and 8,070 candidates stood for office. In principle, any one of those candidates, if elected, could have become prime minister. In the five years since, the number of eligible voters has increased by nearly a hundred million—roughly the entire population of Mexico. Given the overwhelming complexity of such a massive exercise, commentators naturally use certain filters to distil their analysis. Among the most popular is the direct comparison of individual leaders, which frames elections as a face-off between the declared or likely prime ministerial candidates of the major political parties.

This year’s contest features two lightning rods, and commentators are pitting them against each other with renewed vigour. Both prime ministerial hopefuls are seen to have serious and divergent flaws: Rahul Gandhi invites ridicule as the face of dynastic incompetence, while Narendra Modi invokes fear as the symbol of Hindu majoritarian intolerance. Last month, an NDTV poll of over 200,000 respondents found that the preeminent concern about Gandhi becoming the next prime minister was continued corruption; with Modi, it was increased Hindu–Muslim tensions. Analysts argue that the highly charged “Gandhi or Modi?” question—a central debate on dinnertime news shows—has polarised voters. The historian Ramachandra Guha even called 2014 “the first individual-driven election” since the heyday of Indira Gandhi.

The choice of a frontman also matters to the party rank and file, the workers who are the connective tissues between candidates and ordinary voters. Modi’s popularity with the BJP cadre at party conclaves, and also in assembly election campaigns in 2012 and 2013, was crucial in vaulting him over other successful BJP chief ministers. This implies that despite being wary of Modi’s limitations as a manager of coalitions, BJP leaders recognise the electoral value of a “presidential” candidate who inspires grassroots workers. While it is true that local political conditions are more important to election outcomes than a top candidate’s popularity, the two may be indirectly connected through the canvassing efforts of especially motivated party workers, especially since, as CSDS data has consistently shown, half of all Indian voters are visited by at least one party worker during Lok Sabha campaigns.

Modi’s campaign strategy has shown signs of a similar centralisation of control. He has invested effort and money into crafting an image of presidential authority, with a campaign that trumpets self-reliance (tea vendor to chief executive) and physical vigour (the vikas purush with a chhappan-inch chest). These ideas have been disseminated via elaborate campaign rallies orchestrated by expensive public relations firms. As part of his effort to build a cult of personality, Modi has also willingly incurred the anger of elites within the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar, as was recently illustrated when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat discouraged his cadre from chanting Modi’s name at rallies.
Modi’s ability to bypass his party may reflect broader shifts within the Indian electorate that could facilitate increasingly prime minister–oriented campaigns. Literacy has steadily increased, from 65 percent in 2001 to 74 percent in 2011. The percentage of Indians who never read the newspaper declined from 62 to 53 percent between 1999 and 2009, according to national election surveys by the CSDS. Mobile phone penetration is also expanding, providing new (if not always reliable) ways of communicating with voters.

Yet the pace of inclusive development has been slow, and levels of deprivation remain exceedingly high. Poverty and illiteracy hardly make voters unsophisticated, but they do render citizens less accessible to centralised, media-driven campaigns. They may also limit a voter’s political horizons. The political scientist Pradeep Chhibber found that in India, the poorer the voters are, the less likely they are to believe that the central government has an impact on their lives. By extension, poorer voters may pay less attention to a party’s choice of prime ministerial candidate than more privileged ones.

Over the long term, improvements in education and technological access will allow top-down campaigns to more easily reach the Indian electorate. This does not mean Indian elections will focus entirely on parties’ choices of prime ministerial candidates, but it could lead to the increased importance of those choices relative to other factors. However, given our sluggish record of human development, only equally incremental conclusions about shifts in the political landscape are defensible. For now, we must remain wary of constructing presidential yardsticks to measure the worth of prime ministerial aspirants.  

Modi, 63, is currrently the frontrunner, with surveys repeatedly placing him ahead of 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India's first political family and candidate for the incumbents, the venerable Congress party.

The battle between the two draws sharp lines across the Indian political landscape. Modi is proud to call himself a "Hindu nationalist" and appears to favour radical reform of the country's flagging economy. Gandhi holds true to the leftwing economics and belief in religious pluralism that is the legacy of his great grandfather, Jawarharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister.

The BJP believes Modi, one of the most polarising figures to walk the Indian political stage for many years, can lead it to a landslide victory, despite opposition claims that he is a demagogue and a "hatemonger". After a false start in 1996, the party won real power for the first time two years later, but lost the 2004 elections. Now BJP strategists believe they have an opportunity to end the long decades of Congress dominance for good – and with it the power of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Insider v outsider, dynast v working-class boy made good, suspected sectarian v secularist: this electoral battle has it all. Some analysts talk of the most significant contest since India won its independence from Britain in 1947.

But there are many criticisms too. Both Modi's claims of economic achievement and his cosiness with India's so-called "croney capitalists" are frequently questioned. Many say growth in Gujarat is no greater than that in several other states in India and is considerably less well-distributed. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, has said the state's social and economic progress is poor. Others claim that keeping growth at healthy levels in Gujarat, a mid-sized state with a strong tradition of trade and a better infrastructure than much of the country, is easier than elsewhere. The chief minister's executive ability is not a result of administrative skill, some argue , but of deep, aggressively authoritarian instincts. In Gujarat, journalists in Ahmedabad say, simple intimidation has reduced the press corps to cowed servility. Modi is not a man who patiently builds consensus. He does not, it appears, like to be challenged.

But it is not economics, nor even his alleged dictatorial tendencies, that makes Modi such a polarising figure. It is violence, and specifically an outbreak of rioting in Gujarat in 2002 triggered by the deaths of 59 Hindu pilgrims after their train was torched in a largely Muslim town. Of the thousand or more killed and hundreds of thousands forced out of their homes in the chaos that followed, most were Muslims.

There are many reasons for this. India has long been prone to periodic bouts of communal violence, and political opponents, cynically or otherwise, repeatedly cite the 2002 rioting to highlight the threat of sectarian conflict if Modi wins the coming elections. Though Modi has not been convicted, they point out, associates have been sent to prison for their role in the violence. There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India's Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India and who believe Modi would divide and damage their country.

Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist who specialises in extremism in south Asia, says Modi has effectively "emancipated himself" from the RSS high command, who traditionally outrank even senior BJP figures. Yet, he adds, Modi may well "do anyway what the RSS has wanted to do for decades because he is perfectly in tune with their ideology."
With the Congress Party-led coalition facing wide criticism for corruption and ineffectiveness, Modi’s chances look good. But he will also have to overcome opposition within his own party. During a decade as chief minister, he has earned quite a few enemies. “He believes that if you really want to do certain things, you cannot waste time in discussions and compromising,” says Ghanshyam Shah, a political scientist in Ahmedabad. Those who challenged him, including ministers in his own cabinet, were shut out, and Modi refused to allow them to stand for election on BJP tickets. One faction split off into a new party; another group defected to the opposition. By the end of 2006, Modi had effectively replaced the entire political leadership of the state with those loyal to him. “In Gujarat, the BJP became Modi – one voice,” says Shah. “Anyone who had a different voice had no place within the party.” That approach has left Modi alienated within his own party, but he’ll need the BJP machinery to actually run a national campaign. Even if he doesn’t become prime minister, Modi offers a glimpse of what India might be like if it became, as some of its critics wish, a little more like China. He represents a new kind of Indian politician — democratically elected but authoritarian in style and spirit. “The future belongs to that kind of politics,” voice of many.

Has India become so desperate for rapid economic growth, so blinded by the promise of prosperity? It seems that, in the race towards higher GDP, the majority of India is willing to inject itself with the steroids of bigotry or ruthlessness. Ethics be damned.

I am sure BJP is B team of Congress when it comes to corruption, looting, raping and cheating the people. Look at Modi. His minister Maya Kodani is in jail with life imprisonment. His right hand Amit Shah is out of jail on bail. Gun toting Congress goon Vittal Rathadia was given MP seat by Modi in the recent by-election. CAG indicted Modi with 15000 crore looting. BJP is extremely good in creating fake propaganda. They wanted to build Ram Temple. They could demolish the masjid when they were in opposition. But, they did not build the temple when they were in power both at center and state. When BJP was branded a rogue party, they projected Vajpayeeji as a 'good person in bad company'. Cheated the people and came to power. When they were failing, they created a hype called 'Efficient Vajpayee'. That did not work. They created 'India Shines'. That did not work. Now, they have come up with brand Modi. They have spent thousands of crores to build his image with the help of international PR agencies funded by corporate houses. But, what happened to the fake propaganda of 'Efficient Vajpayee' and 'India Shines' will surely happen to 'Brand Modi'. BJP will disintegrate after 2014 elections. Congress will loose its national relevance.People are desperate for an honest and clean politics. God save India !

Siddhartha Shankar Mishra,
Sambalpur, Odisha