A week before and some days after this year’s Muharram the police commissioner of Baroda banned SMSs across his jurisdiction. Ganesh Devy, a social scientist, who has been working among tribals in Gujarat for nearly three decades, told me that the decision was taken independent of the Gujarat government. “It was against the wishes of Narendra Modi. There had been rumours that there could be riots in Baroda around Muharram and the police commissioner was taking no chances. He refused to bow to Modi.”
That, Devy said, was a clear indicator that the police and bureaucrats are no longer enamoured of the Gujarat chief minister. “They have seen for themselves what happens to them if they disobey the law at the behest of other people. Others survive but they go to jail. So that won’t happen here anymore.”
Now, I have been a bitter critic of the Gujarat CM all along. So I was surprised when Devy included me in the “national media” who, he alleged, sing only Modi’s tune without applying their minds. “What you call ‘Modi’s magic’ is merely Modi’s terror. But that terror is now at its end.”
Devy is convinced that Modi is going out of the window tomorrow but whatever the results of the elections — exit polls predict a sweep — he is not alone in complaining about the national media. I was rapped on the knuckles on this score not once but thrice — the others were veteran socialist Sanat Mehta and three-time BJP MLA Kanubhai Kalsaria, seen as a second Mahatma Gandhi by the rural poor in Gujarat, who is now opposing Modi tooth and nail.
“We need to throw Modi out to save Gujarat. We must return Gujarat to Gandhiji,” he said and is convinced that that might well happen. He, too, blames the national media for paying scant attention to the grassroots reality in his state. We failed to cover the immensely successful Mahuva agitation in Gujarat that had the resonance of Singur (West Bengal) — but without the violence — and that agitation had unnerved Modi, he said.
“Just because the agitation was peaceful, the media was not interested,” Sanat Mehta said. “It started with 200 villagers affected by one of Modi's projects, marching to Ahmedabad and we ended up with 15,000 people joining us en route.”
There was no class divide here because these 15,000 had included even upper class Patel farmers, small and medium scale entrepreneurs and all those affected by Modi's obsession with just the Tatas and the Ambanis and at most the Mittals and the Adanis.
When I challenged that perception, Zubair Gopalani, a businessman and educationist, told me in no uncertain terms to use my mind and keep my eyes and ears open. “Tell me: except for Tata's Nano, how many other car manufacturers even have chosen to stay with Gujarat? Mercedes has gone out, so has Skoda. And Nano stays only because Modi has pulled out all the stops for the sops. Gujarat will go bankrupt if those sops are offered to every other manufacturer who wants to set up shop here and even he knows that.”
After more than 10 days in Gujarat, I am not certain who is right and who is wrong. But the remarkable thing visible now is that there are rising voices against Modi and that these are not just limited to one section of society.
I believe Devy is right when he says that the people by now have had enough of Modi though they may still not talk openly about their disappointment with the government. “Is there any other person in this country who can stop you travelling through any state in India? Not even the prime minister! But Modi did that to Sanjay Joshi. People have seen and they have made up their minds.”
Will they vote Modi back to power? I am surprised that, despite the poll predictions, all of them are convinced that nothing like a sweep awaits Modi. “It will take more than just a miracle for Modi to win this time,” Devy was untroubled. But what if that miracle does happen? “Then my faith in God will be greatly weakened.”
I wonder if any of them noticed that, this time around, Modi had promoted/projected himself as a latter day avatar of Lord Krishna? Hmm...That's God, isn’t it?