India’s remarkable run as a peaceful and fear-free
If we are not to repeat our mistake of 2014 in 2019, we must understand how the carefully constructed narrative of a Vikaas Purush bamboozled our nation and how its electoral success has created an atmosphere of fear, hatred and favoritism over the last four years.
The first part of this essay is about the falsehoods that were spread about the UPA II and Modi and misled India. The second part presents Modi’s misrule, in both intent and substance, and examines how it poses a danger to the very idea of India. Finally, it points a way forward to reclaim India.
2014 Election: A Tale of Misrepresentations
Modi came to power in 2014 because of two factors: one a push and the other a pull.
Dr Manmohan Singh, the then PM, provided the push factor. He had “allowed” the 2G scam, that was “estimated” by the CAG to have resulted in a colossal loss of Rs 1.72 lakh crores. Besides, it was claimed that Dr Singh had done nothing to bring back “lakhs of crores of Rupees” of Black Money that were allegedly “stashed abroad” illegally.
The pull for Modi came from his promoted image of a so-called Vikaas Purush, the man behind the reportedly successful “Gujarat Model”.
Both the factors were false and misleading.
No 2G “Scam” Nor Lakhs Siphoned Abroad
On December 21, 2017, the Special CBI Court, after due process concluded that no 2G scam had occurred and dismissed the case, acquitting all the accused.
Modi has not only not been able to get back a single Rupee of the massive amount of more than Rs 80 lakh crores Black Money that was broadcast to be illegally stashed abroad by him and his lackeys from every roof-top in the country during the election campaign. Rather, his government now officially estimates that amount to be no more than a few thousand crores.
Is there a Gujarat Model?
In 2014, the Gujarat Model was advertised across India as an achievement of Vikaas Purush Modi. It was, ab initio, an outright misrepresentation.
Right from its inception in 1960, except for a couple of years of non-BJP coalition governments, Congress ruled the State for 35 years till March 1995, when the BJP won. Ever since then the BJP has ruled the State. Modi was its Chief Minister from late 2001 till May 2014 when he became the PM of India. So, Modi ruled the State for only12 out of the 54 years of its existence.
Gujarat has never followed any one unique “model” of development. Rather, its development has largely owed to several factors and circumstances peculiar to that State and its people. Gujaratis have always been a strong business community. It is not surprising that when Gujarat became a State, it already had some of the largest textile and pharmaceutical industries in the country and a strong presence of small and medium industries.
To the good fortune of Gujarat, soon after its birth, two major developments helped it to develop at a faster pace than would otherwise have happened:
(i) the mid-1960s industrial decline of West Bengal, then one of the most advanced industrial states in the country; and
(ii) the July 1969 nationalization by Indira Gandhi of 14 largest commercial banks which constituted nearly 80% of total banking business in India then.
Gujarat soon attracted industries from various states, especially from West Bengal, by offering attractive benefits along with its already existing abundance of entrepreneurship, skilled labour and, most importantly, its atmosphere of industrial peace. The newly nationalized banks also jumped in on the development bandwagon of the State and granted loans to budding entrepreneurs under “need-based” rather than “security-based” and other liberalized lending norms.
Thus, already by 2006-07, Gujarat had 2.3 lakh registered MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) comprising 14.70 % of India’s registered MSMEs, second only to Tamil Nadu that had 2.34 lakh registered MSMEs.
Gujarat’s development was helped along in no small measure because the upper echelons of bureaucracy (IAS/IPS etc.) and banks (Regional Managers and above) in Gujarat, have since long been manned mostly by non-locals (although the scenario is now changing). As they lack local moorings, prejudices or preferences, they hardly have any vested interests to promote or protect, allowing them to make objective policy and development decisions and implement them efficiently.
Gujaratis have been NRIs since a long time. They have had a tradition of remitting large amounts back home and investing in, and developing, their ancestral villages and hometowns, thus contributing significantly to the state’s development.
Gujarat pioneered India’s milk revolution in the 1940s. In 1949, Dr Kurien took charge of the Amul Dairy in Anand and consolidated the co-operative milk movement and by the time he retired after nearly half a century, in 1998, he had taken the White Revolution (via Operation Flood) to every village of the State forever changing the landscape of rural Gujarat and bringing relief and even prosperity to those who had long been exploited by middle-men.
In the sixties, ONGC discovered vast oil and gas reserves in the Cambay region of the State, making it one of the few states in the country to be blessed with that bounty. In 1969, IPCL, a company that remained India’s largest petro-chemical complex for a long time, was set up, launching a booming petro-chemical sector in Gujarat, giving great fillip to the State’s economy.
All this while Surat, the second largest city of Gujarat, was leapfrogging and had become the world’s largest diamond-cutting centre, processing 90% of the world’s diamonds long before Modi was the Chief Minister. At the same time, its man-made textiles had already accounted for nearly 40% of the nation’s total production.
Gujarat was already a well-developed state long before Modi became its Chief Minister. He made no difference to its economic growth as is shown in studies of Gujarat.
Sonali Ranade and Shaelja Sharma analyzed data from the Planning Commission way back in July 2012 and concluded:
“1. Gujarat was one of the better performing states in the ’80s, much before Modi came on the scene.
2. Gujarat’s economic performance went up because of economic reforms, almost doubling growth between 1991-98, again before Modi took over in October 2001.
3. Modi’s tenure over 10 years hasn’t done much to step up Gujarat’s growth, either in relation to its own past performance, or relative to the performance of other similar larger states.”
Professor Ghatak (London School of Economics) and Professor Roy (University of Warwick) reached the same conclusion in their 2014 study. After carrying “out a systematic…analysis of the growth performance of Gujarat relative to the whole country, as well as other major states” they concluded that they did “not find any evidence…that Modi’s economic leadership had any significant additional effect on its growth rate in the 2000s”. (http://econ.lse.ac.uk/staff/mghatak/EPWModi.pdf)
The real Modi and hisreal Gujarat Model
So, what exactly was the “Gujarat Model” that the self-proclaimed Vikaas Purush, Modi, was loudly proclaiming as his model that had “developed” Gujarat because development had started long before Modi had even set foot in politics and the state was already a well-developed one before he became its Chief Minister?
A small detour needs to be made here to understand the making of the actual Modi, a Hindutva, rather than a Vikaas Purush that he proclaimed himself to be in 2014.
The large-scale communal riots of 1969 marked a turning point in the socio-political history of Gujarat. At around that same time Modi was starting out on his Hindutva journey as a staunch RSS karyakarta and becoming active in and around Ahmedabad. But it was the tumultuous 1980s that really changed the socio-political picture of Gujarat forever. Laliwala recounts how “(after) a few measures to open up the economy to the private sector (that) were taken in the 1980s by the Rajiv Gandhi-led Union government, (resulted in) the de-industrialisation of the textile sector leading to the closure of nearly two dozen mills by 1985 (which) intensified the battles for government jobs and education in a command and control economy …(and)… riots occurred on the pretext of the anti-reservation movement by the Patels against the Congress party’s KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) alliance and …(t)he plank of Hindu unity was used by…the then recently formed BJP…to turn the working-class of Dalits against the Muslims” (https://thewire.in/urban/ahmedabad-shahernama-hindutva-capitalism-bjp)
Vinod K Jose who did an even more extensive study in 2012 on the rise of Modi wrote: “In 1978, one year after the end of the Emergency, Modi was appointed as the RSS pracharak in-charge for six districts in central Gujarat. Only three years later… he was promoted again to become the liaison between the Sangh and all its frontal organisations across the whole of Gujarat…but to gain real political power, he had to cross over from the purely ideological realm of the RSS into the BJP…The eight years that Modi spent as organisation secretary in Gujarat coincided with an era of rapid growth for the state BJP, which went from 11 seats in the state assembly in 1985 to 121 a decade later…During this period, there were three serious episodes of communal rioting in Gujarat, each with greater death toll than the last: 208 dead in 1985, 219 in 1990 and 441 in 1992 (post Babri Masjid)” (italics added) (https://caravanmagazine.in/reportage/emperor-uncrowned-narendra-modi-profile)
So, when Modi became its Chief Minister in October 2001 his Hindutva credentials were all too well-known locally, and as anti-Muslim Hindutva sentiments had already taken strong roots in Gujarat by then, he was welcome with open arms. But even more importantly, the installation of Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat was a watershed moment for the Hindutvas because, as Jose points out in the earlier-cited article, “for the first time in (the) history (of the RSS), a fulltime pracharak had become a chief minister (of any state of India)”
Unsurprisingly, within a few months of Modi’s taking charge, the communal carnage of 2002 followed.
The other critical component of the real Modi is his trade-mark crony governance style. Modi became increasingly insecure during his tenure at Gujarat. He surrounded himself with cronies, injecting a culture of sycophancy into this once-formidable bureaucracy, irreparably damaging it. As is amply clear by now, Modi has carried this crony governance culture to Delhi.
The Peculiar Saga of “Vibrant Gujarat”
What Modi, however, did start was the biennial Vibrant Gujarat event in 2003 but this he launched as a desperate ploy to refurbish his image by diverting attention away from the bad press that the 2002 riots had brought him.
Vibrant Gujarat has never been anything more than an extravaganza and a public relations exercise where bombastic investment promises are made but which hardly fructify. Thus, Vibrant Gujarat has always been about sparkling optics rather than development.
But, nevertheless, Modi adroitly conflated the optics of Vibrant Gujarat with “development”, which it never was, and fobbed it off as the Gujarat Model. Over the next decade after the launch of Vibrant Gujarat, he systematically set about building a puffed-up narrative about himself as being a Vikaas Purush.
Vikaas Purush a Hindutva
Thus, it came to be that in 2014 a false and a shrill alarm was raised about the alleged corruption of UPA II and, even worse, a Trojan Horse, called the “Vikas Purush”, was presented to India from which, instead, the real Modi, a Hindutva, emerged.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, after winning the elections and becoming the PM in 2014, based these twin misrepresentations, Modi opened two fronts on the people of India. The first was an assault on its socio-political harmony and of suppressing free and truthful voices and instilling fear and the other was helping crony capitalists to the exclusion of all others.
Disrupting India’s Socio-Political Harmony and Instilling Fear
Modi, in tandem with his Man Friday, Amit Shah (who Modi personally chose and installed as the BJP President, and someone against whom allegations have recently been recorded in courts as having been the mastermind behind the murder of Haren Pandya, a dynamic but barely 40 years old BJP leader and a former Home Minister of Gujarat, in 2003, and the encounter-killing of Sohrabuddin in 2005), is systematically tearing apart the country’s socio-political climate of trust, tolerance and freedom of expression.
The RSS and its myriad off-springs, along with Godi-Media, have become the abode of today’s self-certified desh-bhakts. Theyhave tasked themselves with identifying and exposing “traitors” among us Indians. While Muslims, Christians, Dalits are almost automatically identified as “anti-nationals”, the same classification or worse (“Urban Naxals” etc.) awaits those who dare to question Modi.
Mobs have been let loose to stalk, haunt and, even, lynch at will and without fear of consequences. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Hindutvawadis who belong, or have once belonged, to the Sanatan Sanstha, an ultra-right Hindutva organization, are suspected to be behind the well-targeted eliminations that have occurred over the last few years of rationalists and free-thinkers.
Modi has maintained a stony silence on these happenings in spite of conducting a Man-ki-Baat every month over the national radio and giving innumerable election speeches. On the rare occasion that he has spoken on such matters he has voiced barely half-hearted or muted disapprovals, leaving little doubt on where he really stands.
Fake news is manufactured en-masse and, along with vicious and obscene abuses, spread over the internet and on the social media.
Most of the media, and many independent-minded journalists and reporters have been coerced into submission by pliant owners or through threats of punitive “actions” by various governmental agencies or, simply, by sacking reporters from service. This was shockingly demonstrated when Modi ruthlessly orchestrated the shunting out of an entire top team at ABP in August 2018 after that TV Channel had gone ahead and televised a programme that exposed a blatant Modi lie.
Many brave journalists are pushing back against this show of State power and the throttling of free-speech, but their space is constricted, and their situation is precarious as there is a concomitant and a systematic assault on the independence and autonomy of institutions that provide the checks and balances to our democracy and exercise restraint over the excesses or malfeasance of government.
A “Suit Boot Ki Sarkar”
At the biennial Vibrant Gujarat platform Modi came in close contact with many in Corporate India. As an easy way to get them in his good books, he started unilaterally giving them mostly unwarranted but substantial benefits at the cost of administrative transparency and by reduction of funds meant for the social-sector and the poor. This unfortunate fall-out of Vibrant Gujarat of crony capitalism has since been replicated on an even larger and a more brazen scale at the national level by Modi.
Resultantly, in just over four years of his rule, the wealth of Modi’s cronies has grown by leaps and bounds causing a rapid and a massive rise in the inequality gap between the wealthy Indians that comprise the top 1% and the less well-off bottom 90% of Indians. According to an Oxfam survey, the richest 1% in India cornered 73% of the wealth generated in the country in 2017 while 67 crore Indians comprising the poorest 50% of the country saw their wealth rise by just 1%.
India added 17 new billionaires in 2017 alone, taking the total number to 101 and their wealth increased to over Rs 20.7 lakh crores, increasing during 2017 alone by Rs 4.89 lakh crore, an amount enough to finance 85% of all the state budgets on health and education of all the states combined. (see: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/indias-richest-1-corner-73-of-wealth-generation-survey/articleshow/62598222.cms)
The Rafale Scam is an apt example of how Modi has unilaterally gifted away benefits to a crony, Anil Ambani, who has zero experience in the field, while side-lining HAL that has an envious track record of more than seventy years in aviation.
Modi is the first Prime Minister ever to allow himself to be misused as a mascot in nation-wide full-page newspaper ads placed by private sector entities like Ambani’s Jio Mobile and the PayTM. He tried to wriggle out of the ensuing controversies by lamely claiming later that those ads had been placed without his consent, showing utter contempt for the intelligence of Indians to see through his obvious bluff.
But, worse, Modi has systematically weakened or destroyed long-revered institutions and practices.
Modi, against the advice of the former RBI Governor, Raghu Rajan and the then RBI Board, arbitrarily imposed demonetization overnight on the country. It wrecked the informal economy and inflicted untold misery to the common-man with more than a hundred people, who stood in queues trying to deposit or withdraw their own hard-earned money, dying. 99.3% of the demonetized notes were deposited back into banks, defeating the basic purpose of the exercise which was to wipe out Rs 2-3 lakh crores of black money claimed to be in cash circulation.
Au contraire, the economy lost nearly Rs 1.5 lakh crores as its GDP dipped nearly 2% as a result of this misadventure.
As if this shock was not enough, a half-baked GST was dramatically unveiled in a hastily summoned mid-night session of the Parliament. Neither the government agencies nor the businesses were adequately prepared for the GST, compounding the demonetization woes by traumatizing the formal sector of the economy.
Modi, besides having the dubious record of not having conducted even a single Press Conference so far, has also stopped the long-standing practice of taking journalists on AirIndiaOne when going abroad. Besides, Modi refuses to disclose the names of those who have accompanied him on those trips, adding to the suspicion that they are indeed his favored crony capitalists.
Image-Management: The Default Fallback of a Failed/Exposed Leader
Modi surely knows that he came to power on false pretense and Jumlas. He, therefore, remains in a permanent state of alert, necessarily worried and compulsively obsessed about his image; wearing different dresses four or five times a day, being only a minor giveaway.
He started his tenure by announcing many grand schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Swacch Bharat, Make-In-India etc. While the Fasal Bima Yojana is now being revealed as a large-scale exploitation of poor farmers, the other schemes, too, have gotten nowhere because they were poorly planned and executed. Yet, within just four years of his becoming the PM, by July 2018, Modi had already splurged nearly Rs.5,000 crores of public money congratulating himself on these moribund and failed schemes
Modi even latched on to a routine Surgical Strike conducted by the Army against Pakistan in late 2016, tom-tomming and claiming credit for it. Though India has been conducting such strikes against Pakistan under the radar since long, Modi chose to broadcast and politicise it just so that he could advertise himself as a “strong” leader.
So, what has Modi really “achieved” since May 2014?
Modi has been an abject failure on all fronts be it his hare-brained demonetization or the half-baked GST, both fittingly announced in the darkness of the night. He took personal lead in, and exclusive ownership of, foreign-policy but, there too has failed spectacularly; today our neighbors are more belligerent than they were in 2014 and wary of us. He has disrupted the economy, brought great unhappiness and misery to agriculture and wrecked social harmony.
Unprecedently, two CEAs and two RBI governors chose to resign their critical posts rather than compromise themselves with Modi’s unreasonable demands or directions.
Modi is also the first PM who openly despises and makes fun of opposition leaders, hardly, if ever, meeting them much less seeking their advice or concurrence on major national policy initiatives. In fact, Modi reportedly never even consults his own Cabinet colleagues.
Undermining the Constitution of India
In sum, Modi has proven to be a disaster to the majestic idea of India that was so proudly and so grandly conceived by our Founding Fathers and stirringly enunciated, enacted and adopted in the Preamble to our Constitution when we Indians resolved “ourselves into (becoming) a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC” for securing for all of us “JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among (us) all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.”
India has, indeed, been an extraordinary example of how a nation of multiple cultures and peoples and languages can live in social harmony and progress economically because of the laws and systems that have been framed under the marvelous framework and directions of the Constitution that grant freedoms to its peoples to do what they think are best for themselves as long as they do not intrude into, or curtail, one another’s rights, accepting and respecting mutual restraints.
But that India has been interrupted since 2014 and has slid into fear, hatred, distrust and acrimony. It is in grave danger of collapsing unless the forces that have been let loose by Modi, the Hindutvawadis on the one hand and Crony Capitalists on the other, are urgently stopped or stemmed.
The Choice in 2019 is Stark and Clear:
Modi’s true faith and allegiance are now out in the open for all to see: he was, and will always remain, a devout RSS Hindutva committed to an exclusive Hindu Raj. The choice facing our country is, therefore, clearly between preserving our democracy as guaranteed and laid down in our Constitution or sliding into the RSS-driven, Modi-led Hindutva majoritarian fascism.
Reclaiming India in 2019
When one happens to travel through an airport of any country one can quickly figure out whether that country is a dictatorship or a democracy. If the country’s “supreme leader’s” benevolent face hangs (pun not intended) from every wall of the airport and stares at you from its every nook and cranny, it is surely a dictatorship. If not, it is a democracy. Today, Modi’s “benevolent” face looks down at (upon?) Indians passing through petrol-pumps spread all across the country. Thankfully, so far, Indian airports are yet to be inundated by his face. And, therein, lies hope for India’s democracy.
The Modi “wave” of 2014 did survive for some time, and, surprisingly, even strengthened somewhat in the North East. But, except in UP Assembly elections, where it won a surprise victory in spite of the disastrous demonetisation, it has been weakening all across the country ever since mid-2018. Even in UP, once the opposition united and put up a joint candidate, the BJP was comprehensively defeated in the Kairana Lok Sabha election. But it was in the recent Assembly and Lok Sabha bye-elections in Karnataka that the electoral benefits of having pre-poll alliances in defeating the BJP were demonstrated. And the defeat of the BJP in all the five states in the just concluded Assembly elections has further dented the aura of Modi and resulted in a diminishing of the saffron cover over India.
But Modi is still not a spent force. A closer look at the election results show that the Modi “wave” may have ebbed, but he still continues to have a significant core base of committed followers.
So, for the Congress and the other Opposition Parties to really launch an all-out assault on the divisive and hateful Hindutva politics of Modi and to defeat the designs of BJP, they have to keep their ears firmly on the ground without getting side-tracked about who their Prime Ministerial candidate ought to be as we are, after all, a Parliamentary and not a Presidential form of republic.
Their electoral strategy, as would be obvious to even a casual observer, has to be two-pronged:
(i) Congress has to lead a largely solo charge in states where it is directly contesting the BJP; and
(ii) Congress and Opposition Parties have to shed their egos and moderate their vested interests to come together in states where there are strong multi-party races and put up joint candidates against the BJP; the Congress having the onerous responsibility of having to be even more understanding and accommodative, if so required, for achieving the larger and urgent objective of removing the fascist BJP and its divisive Hindutva agenda.
2019 brooks no complacency from the Congress or the other democratic Opposition Parties. If they fail to unite, future generations will neither forget nor forgive them and this searing rebuke will come to haunt us all for a long, long time to come:
First the Hindutvas came for the Muslims
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for the Dalits
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Dalit.
Then they came for the Beef-Eaters
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Beef-Eater.
Then they came for the Cow-Traders
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Cow-Trader.
Then they came for the “UrbanNaxals”
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an “UrbanNaxal”
Finally, they came for me
And then…there was no one left to speak up for me.
(With apologies to Martin Niemöller for adapting his quote.)
(All citations, photos, photo-quotes, illustrations are sourced from the internet.)