Narendra Damodardas Modi needs no introduction. The 57-year-old Gujarat Chief Minister evokes as much awe as disdain. A look at the State’s economic indicators makes one admire the man. But hidden behind Gujarat’s seductive growth story are tales that could inspire a thousand Parzanias.
Prompt to launch a vitriolic diatribe when caught in adverse situations, Modi has not uttered a word so far on the ‘fake encounter’ that felled Sohrabuddin—probably out of fear of the Supreme Court. But credit goes to him alone for having conditioned vast sections of the middle class to remain unperturbed in the face of shocking violations of civil liberties and fundamental rights.
“Somehow Modi had been successful in injecting the anti-Muslim sentiment among the middle class. He makes them think that they are safe as long as he is the Chief Minister,” said Gandhian activist Indukumar Jani, Executive President of the Gujarat Khet Vikas Parishad.
Precisely for this reason Gujarat’s urban middle class is all praise for Modi irrespective of the fact that the CM is a deeply despised person in the eyes of those who value secularism. Even his worst critics admit that Modi has a charm of his own.
“Undoubtedly, Narendra Modi has charisma,” conceded Jani, moments before criticising him for having destroyed the secular fabric of the State to which the Mahatma belonged.
“Modi’s rule in Gujarat would be remembered for conflicts between communities,” insisted Jani. But, there are many people in the middle class who feel that criminals like Sohrabuddin need to be eliminated. These were the sections that came up with the retributive sabak sikhana logic in defence of the post-Godhra pogrom in 2002. Sadhnaben Pandya, an NGO activist and homemaker, is a typical example of that middle class viewpoint of Modi having “silenced” the Muslims for good.
Octogenarian Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya says that Modi’s tactics of ‘ending’ conflict by suppressing or ‘silencing’ a community would ruin the country in the long run: “Whatever he did to create a rift between Hindus and Muslims is very bad.”
But even Vaidya feels compelled to laud the CM’s administrative acumen. And it is this efficiency quotient that has helped Modi become a darling of industrialists and prospective investors alike.
Despite all the criticism of Modi since 2002, the opposition parties are grudgingly admitting his achievements in the economic field, says technocrat-economist Sunil Parekh, advisor to CRISIL.
Quizzed on how exactly could Modi attract investments in the State that fetched international opprobrium in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, Parekh says, “He just closed his eyes to criticism and got on with the job of development.”
That might sound like a sycophantic muse, but investments that have flowed into Gujarat corroborate the claim. The Rs 66,000 crore commitments during the first Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2003 have gone up to Rs 1,16,000 crore in 2005.
Even though only 19 per cent of the 2003 commitments and 23 per cent of the 2005 commitments have materialised, the investment summit in January this year logged a mindboggling figure of Rs 4,49,000 crore.
“Modi has successfully positioned Gujarat as a powerful brand,” says Parekh and attributes his achievements to reforming the government by bringing in accountability and transparency.
Conceding that the business-savvy nature of Gujarat preceded Modi, Parekh argues that a combination of entrepreneurship and a favourable investment climate created by the CM did the trick.
A law unto himself
But, there are critiques aplenty of the Modi-inspired investment flow into the state. “The economic growth of Gujarat in not a new phenomenon,” comments eminent social scientist Ghanshyam Shah who retired recently from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
He argues that the spurt in investments is a result of the economy looking up due to globalisation. Investments are also flowing into Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab where Modi is not the Chief Minister, he adds.
Explaining Modi’s tacit support to encounter ‘specialist’ DG Vanjara, now behind bars, Shah said it originates from the RSS ‘shakha’ mindset in which the order of the ‘pracharak’ is final.
“Modi believes he is the law and thus his followers like Vanjara too get the signal that Modi is right,” he said, explaining what he felt was the anatomy of police encounters that made a mockery of the law.
Shah acknowledges that Modi is on a ‘positive’ mission for Hindutva but says that the economic policies he is implementing are not ideal Hindutva.
“His economic policies are not ‘swadeshi’ and that has brought him in conflict with the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the RSS,” avers Shah.
Communalism and development apart, Modi is an orator par excellence. His ability to play around with words makes him his own best spin-doctor.
Faced with intense criticism over bringing surplus Narmada water to the dry Sabarmati River during the holy month of Shravan to ‘appease’ Hindu sentiments, Modi delivered the riposte in his speeches during the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra. He told his communally surcharged audience in Chanasma of Mehsana: “The Congress has a problem if I bring Narmada water during Shravan. If they ever have their way, they would bring the water during the Ramzan month.”
Legally, he did not utter anything derogatory but subtly he put across the message that the Congress’ bid was to appease the Muslims.
Modi almost rubbed it in by stating that anyone could take a dip in the water: “There is no discrimination from my side. Those who bathe daily can do so daily. Those who want to bathe only on Fridays can do so only on Fridays.” That the covertly communal suggestions caused mirth among the crowds was a comment on Modi’s constituency. It explained at once the mindset that motivates the likes of Vanzara.