I’m not a hugger. Like the way staunch Catholics maintain that every act of coition should have procreation as its sole purpose, I believe that every hug should be conducted only to console someone very close. But in today’s overtly touchy-feely world, where the enclenched pair of Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia from Bobby could have easily been mistaken for siblings, I can’t escape from getting hugged. So, yes, I am a disgruntled huggee.
Armed with the knowledge that to hug and to be hugged are two wildly different things, I couldn’t help but notice that at the Global Investors’ Summit in Ahmedabad last week, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was hugging Ratan Tata. Sure, Tata’s arms were arched behind Modi’s back and the industrialist was creaking open a smile that was as spontaneous as he is capable of. But it was the CM’s hands that you saw straining to pull the larger body of Tata closer towards him. It was as if the man wanted a piece of India’s most respected businessman as a talisman next to his skin to ward off the Evil Eye.
A day later Tata went on to state: “I listened to my own advice that ‘if you are not in Gujarat, you are stupid’. Perhaps I am not stupid any longer.” Frankly, considering that Modi-ruled Gujarat bailed out the Nano project from secular but basketcased West Bengal, who can find anything wrong in Tata’s statement? His uttering was a salutory fact. As were those by ICICI Chairman K.V. Kamath (about Gujarat growing at 12 per cent and that “Modi has made it happen” and that “it should be replicated everywhere”) and by Mukesh Ambani (about Modi having a “vision and the ability to convert the vision into reality with amazing clarity”).
It’s another matter that these words of praise were locked into a bear hug with those of Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal, who pretty much endorsed Narendra-bhai as their prime minister of choice.
It’s one thing to laud Modi’s genuine success in making business be conducted in Gujarat like in no other state in India. And it’s not only business alone. The writer Mahasweta Devi, a blistering critic of those responsible for the post-Godhra carnage of 2002, has lauded Gujarat under Modi more than once for pushing development and enabling good governance. “It’s very bad what he did,” she said in 2007. “But when I went there after the riots, I saw that from Ahmedabad to Baroda and Surat, there were good motorable roads to the villages. And even the humblest mud hut had electricity... and access to drinking water. I was especially impressed with the medical facilities in the panchayats and local-level health centres.” This wasn’t some pre-election schmooze-festing fat cat. This was someone saying it as it was: Narendra Modi, for all his well-earned ‘Hitler-mass murderer’ ID tags, has also brought a lot of prosperity and relief to people.
The problem happens when you start believing that Modi’s good work makes him the man for all seasons: in other words, a Prime Minister of India. However wonderfully efficient he may be as a CM (at least for those who survived Gujarat 2002 and its continued after-effects), to let someone who is yet to answer for the butchering that was conducted under his beat and nose is to change the basic requirements of the job profile of the person who should take charge of democratic India. (At least Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had the excuse of coming from a famous family, gaining overwhelming sympathy after his mother’s death, having good looks and a flawless command over the English language to get away with another of post-Independent India’s most horrendous communal pogroms.)
The fact is that it takes more than deserved commendations and captains of industry rooting for Narendra Modi for Narendra Modi to become PM. But it does beg the question: aren’t there any CMs out there who can be great huggers of industry, be aggressive about development, win the popular vote, and not have skeletons rattling in their cupboards? Come on, guys. Never mind which party you’re in. The hugger wants some competition.