A thumping mandate is always a glorious opportunity. As Narendra Modi was sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister for the third time on Tuesday, many Indians, not to mention many people in Gujarat, wondered which avatar of Mr Modi they will get to see now.
Whether he admits it or not, Mr Modi’s reputation as a good administrator and harbinger of development and wealth in his state is seriously compounded by his reputation as a prime player of exclusionist politics.
While his critics hate him, holding him responsible for the Grand Guignol that was the post-Godhra riots in 2002, there is a niggling feeling that many of his supporters find him to be an irresistible leader for that very reason. Mr Modi has to now decide whether he will reach out to all sections of the society and change his perceived USP.
The fact that development has been his calling card during his last five-year term as CM should not make anyone automatically believe that Mr Modi has changed his spots. He is still the man in whose backyard one of independent India’s most horrific riots took place. He has subsequently not done or said anything to ameliorate that damage — and we’re still waiting. The legal (not to mention the moral) aspect of ‘allowing’ members of the Muslim community to suffer is something that lies outside the reach of Mr Modi. Simply the good work of development can’t blank that out.
What lies within his reach is correcting wrongs. He is in luck here. It is not incorrect to state that the Muslims of Gujarat are in general a better socio-economic lot than, say, their counterparts in secular-communist West Bengal. (The Sachar Committee report confirms that.) But what use is there of being better off if even some sections of Muslims in the state still feel threatened and are paranoid. Mr Modi had kept communal politics out of his election campaign as a strategy. Now, he would do well to keep any whiff of communal politics out of his scheme of governance.
Even if he has stated that he will reach out to each and every one of the five crore people of Gujarat, he now has to be seen to do that. Not only will that help in changing the minds of his critics, but much more importantly, it could change the minds of many of his sinister supporters.