Lies, Damn Lies and NaMo : Why I do not support Modi and why you shouldn't either

Listen to the flourish. The stage is set, the side-kicks are in place and the sycophants are scampering tirelessly to welcome their emperor. Narendra Modi has started his journey to the high seat of Indraprastha.

Curiously enough, his current ride is being celebrated as a victory lap by his ardent supporters. A bit too quick, don't you think? Especially for a man who was only a few years ago, in terrible danger of being convicted for one of the most gruesome state-sponsored genocides in the history of independent India. Of course, he hasn't been convicted yet, but many of his ministers and close aides have been. Babu Bajrangi's confessions on record must be more than enough proof for Modi's culpability. 1 Alas! Facts get twisted in the most unimaginable ways as they threaten to blow away an edifice carefully built by a dominant plutocracy with immense help from the 'State-Temple-Corporate Complex'. 2 Here, I shall attempt to bust the Modi bubble which is being ridiculously pumped up by the holy nexus, even as you are reading this. After all, the BJP is possibly the party with the highest following among Indian netizens and the online publicity team of the current supremo is meticulous. An alternative view will be stark, but hopefully it will serve as food for thought for those among us getting nauseated by the dominant narrative.

While Gujarat is not ranked among the top five states even in economic indicators, its performance in most social and human development indicators is simply abysmal. Yet, Modi aficionados claim Gujarat to be a free-market capitalist haven even for the poor and the oppressed, much different from the rest of India.

In a recent article, Mr. Avay Shukla, 3 a former IAS officer from Himachal Pradesh, has argued why he shall support Modi in 2014. Leaving aside all queries of personal affiliation, it is worthwile to look at his arguments seriously. The author starts off with worries about the current state of the nation at near-apocalyptic proportions. The economic slowdown, the falling rupee, the Naxalite (Maoist) threat and the appeasement of minorities by the state are among his top concerns. The people of India cannot possibly agree more with the reality of these problems. But, he goes on to say ”it is time for a change”. Of course, he is within his rights to borrow Obama's famous slogan for change in the United States, even if it is for Modi. But let's think, what change is he hoping for? It's not the case that the BJP is a party of young turks, about to revolutionize governance, once they get power. The NDA government at the Centre from 1999 to 2004 could be unfamiliar to relatively recent political observers, but it is well-remembered by others. That too as a painful experience at best. Nothing exemplifies the failure of that regime as neatly as the failed 'India Shining!' campaign. At a time when the common people were tormented by pretty much the same catastrophe as it faces now, the NDA decided to project India as an 'emerging global force'. The backfiring of that shameless campaign is well-documented in the media as well as in popular imagination. The Left parties offered outside support to UPA I, led by Congress (a major political opponent of the Left in all the three major states under its influence) just to put an end to the crippling NDA rule at the national level. This is because under NDA, India witnessed the worst anti-people, neoliberal policies till date. For instance, it was the NDA which first moved towards 100% FDI in retail sector in 2002, 4 its anti-labour policies invited critcism even from the then BMS general secretary Mr.Hasmukhbhai Dave, 5 it kick-started 6 the policy of disinvestment of major PSUs which is still being blindly followed by the UPA and so on. These are in addition to the various embarrassing scandals such as the erstwhile BJP president Bangaru Lakshman's acceptance of a Rs.100,000 (US$1,700) bribe for supply of fake weapons and the Kargil coffin scam. If this is the change that you wish us to embrace, Mr. Shukla, then – no, thank you. You have argued that the “crucial add-on” that you speak of, Narendra Modi, makes all the difference. Sorry to disappoint you sir, but he is analogous to a cancerous growth on an already frail body, which I shall explain.

Narendra Modi is not the kind of organic nationalist that at least some among the secular sections of the society found in A.B.Vajpayee, the first and only PM from the NDA so far. Modi started his career as a pracharak of the RSS and as recent events prove, still enjoys the full support and blessings of the Sangh. His image as a hardcore follower of Hindutva (sometimes even Hindu fundamentalism 7) falls in sharp contrast with many ordinary members of the BJP itself, let alone the rest of the country. Also, his brand of nationalism is the fake kind, in the sense that he has been fairly outspoken in his support for global capital and has relied on the U.S.' comments on him whenever it was favourable. 8 These are crucial factors in understanding the hollowness of the argument that Modi is going to be the winning factor for NDA in the 2014 general election. It might be true that Modi has not yet been convicted for the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, but he remains a deeply polarising figure in Indian politics. Proof of this came instantly when JD(U), a long-standing NDA partner which even had its president as the convener of the Alliance, left the coalition after explicitly pointing out the divisive character of Narendra Modi. If anything, Mr.Modi is only going to pull the NDA away from power and down with him. So, unless you are an orthodox Hindutva purist, there is hardly any reason for you to support him, which is the case for an overwhelming majority in India.

Another argument an ordinary middle-class Indian finds being thrown at her all the time is the claim that Modi is the most 'development-oriented' politician in India. Indeed, the author cites statistics from an article 9 which came in the Hindustan Times as proof of this. But merely a cursory look at this article itself will reveal the shamelessness of this claim. The article is a data-analysis of Gujarat's socio-economic and human development indicators which clearly show that the image of 'development-oriented NaMo' is nothing but a bubble. The contradiction between the claims of Modi-supporters and actual data has been unveiled quite authoritatively in the past. 10

[Sources : 1, 2, 3 - Planning Commission; 4 - Census 2011; 5 - Census 2011 and Planning Commission; 6 - Annual Administrative Report MoRD, 7 - Planning Commission; 8 - Census 2011]

While Gujarat is not ranked among the top five states even in economic indicators, its performance in most social and human development indicators is simply abysmal. Yet, Modi aficionados claim Gujarat to be a free-market capitalist haven even for the poor and the oppressed, much different from the rest of India. Mark Twain must be quite outraged at these damn lies.

The patriarchal overtones of the personal appreciation of Modi are unmistakable. The author cites the fact that Mr.Modi has no family as an important credential in his possible candidature (even though Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi, a woman hailing from Modi's native village has claimed to be married to him since she was 18; but she was apparently ignored later by the rising politician 11). Having no immediate family might erase some doubts about nepotism. Barring that, what does the author mean by mentioning it? It is here that we really sense the deeply male-centered and patriarchal sentiments behind the hero-worship of Narendra Modi. His apparent machismo and daring have been praised endlessly by his devotees. By this what they actually do is to elevate Modi to the status of a modern-day Sri Rama, while ignoring the obvious lack of redeeming qualities of Rama that one may find in the story of Ramayana. Blatant testosterone-fuelled hooliganism at its best!

At least 17 scams about the Gujarat government have been brought under public scrutiny in 2011 and the Krishna-Godavari gas deal scam of 2002 could be even bigger than the 2G scam.

Avay Shukla, in his article, goes on for several paragraphs about the 'virtues' of Narendra Modi. He says, “Modi has had the courage to raise these questions and is therefore being reviled by those political parties whose apple carts he is threatening to upset”. No one doubts that Mr.Modi has courage. The question is whether he has too much courage. To successfully lead a coalition one needs a little more than courage - the ability to arrive at a consensus. Even if Modi tries to transform himself into a unifying figure in the next year, this will only cause an erosion in his fundamentalist vote bank. Therefore, in all probability Modi will either remain as a Hindutva trumpeteer or harden his extremist credentials. The article also praises Modi's integrity with a claim, “I am not aware of a single major scam unearthed during his term.” Well, that is quite unfortunate. At least 17 scams about the Gujarat government have been brought under public scrutiny in 201112 and the Krishna-Godavari gas deal scam of 2002 could be even bigger than the 2G scam. 13 The author also says, “we are looking for someone who can restore our identities as INDIANS and not merely as Brahmins or Scheduled castes or Muslims or Backward castes”. But if the person you found for that is Narendra Modi, best of luck!

To be fair, Shukla does criticize the BJP- “That leaves only the BJP, with its historical baggage of the RSS, Hindutva, Ramjanmbhoomi (by the way, this baggage also includes five years of exemplary governance under Vajpayee from 1999 to 2004) -perhaps enough baggage to dissuade me from voting for the party.” But he goes on to say, “Except that this time the BJP has an add-on: Narender Modi.” I believe it must be clear now that far from being a saving factor, Narendra Modi exacerbates the possibility of supporting the NDA led by BJP. I agree with his comment, “In any case, who in the country would lead the Congress- a reluctant dynast, or an ageing economist who has discovered his true skills lie in politics, or a backroom puppeteer? Or, God forbid, all three? (Seriously, this is a possibility- after all not one of these three want to shoulder sole accountability, and they may reason that if a dual power centre can ensure two terms, a triple may be good for even more!) No, to my mind the Congress is not an option”[sentence in parentheses also by Mr.Shukla]. But it is too early to say that there is no third option, as he claims. Alliances are still being forged.

Mr. Shukla's article, however, conveniently fails to mention the recent adventure that Mr. Modi embarked upon in Uttarakhand. One must welcome any positive action in the face of such a calamity. But must we also welcome political profiteering that makes use of people affected by the disaster? Modi's PR firm, APCO Worldwide 14 staged a media stunt 15 making him the hero in the rescue of over 15,000 Gujaratis from disaster-affected areas. This quickly earned him the title 'Rambo Modi' among his critics as well as supporters. Unfortunately for him, neither the number nor the mesmerizing manner in which he supposedly saved the distraught pilgrims (claims of Modi-sponsored choppers air-dropping rescue personnel were abundant in the immediate aftermath of the disaster) turned out to be accurate. How myths fill up the blanks in a popular hero's story even when he is alive!

To sum up, I will never support Narendra Modi for the post of Prime Minister of India because he is just an enormous bubble, which his supporters claim to be full of righteousness, but is actually inflated with divisive communal politics, anti-people neoliberal policies, false development claims and a deeply patriarchal worship of the dominant male. Considering how it is impossible for the common people of a country as diverse as India to imagine such a person as their Prime Minister, it follows quite easily that most of us would not end up supporting him despite the highly professional publicity team serving Modi's interests. Let us remain hopeful for a NaMo-free political environment after 2014 at the national level.

M Akhil is an Integrated Master of Arts (Economics) student at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras.

Author's note: I would like to thank Pratheesh Prakash for his help and solid encouragement throughout the making of this article. Also thanks to Binny Alexander for some crucial links and comments regarding the erroneous interpretation of statistics used in support of Narendra Modi. Shared effort is strength!