When I was a child, the only way my father could explain to me why communism had taken such deep roots in Kerala was to say: "Because, in this beautiful state, the discrimination once was such that there were only two castes: the Namboodiris (Brahmins) and everybody else."
Years later, in the aftermath of the riots in Gujarat, one Muslim friend from the state, in his attempt to explain why the retaliation against the massacres had come not from local Gujarati Muslims but from those in Maharashtra and elsewhere, echoed my father, “Because, in Gujarat, there are only two castes: the rich business class and the poor.’’
The poor could not find the wherewithal to group themselves and retaliate and the rich Muslim entrepreneurs were in a hurry to forget the bloodshed and the trauma as they only wished to go back to their businesses. So they had forged a compromise with Narendra Modi, he said. "Whether Hindu or Muslim, Baniya or otherwise, business is in the Gujarati blood. And the only thing that distinguishes the Gujarati Muslim from the Gujarati Hindu is food habits – the former eats meat, the latter will not touch anything even remotely alive. Even their surnames could be same: a Muslim could be a Patel, a Shah or a Chaudhury, a Kanchwala or even a Batliwala."
It was then easy to see why so many Muslims who suffered in the riots were willing to forgive and forget – and get on with the rest of their lives. Their endorsement of Modi is a virtue born out of necessity and not merely because he is a fine administrator or a great man for development.
Why I would not credit Modi solely for Gujarat’s prosperity is then this: the state already had a thriving culture of business and development and it was easy to build on the foundations laid by others. Moreover, his dictatorial style ensures that there is no interference in systems and procedures and he squashes all dissent – as is now becoming evident in the manner in which he has chosen to deal with RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi.
Amid the Comptroller and Auditor General’s discovery of more than one case of multi-crore corruption in Gujarat and reports coming out of the Planning Commission that the growth indices, including that of agriculture, presented by Modi are far less impressive than he would have us believe, I do not think Modi is doing a fine job in Gujarat except to keep all dissidence in check and brush the true facts under the carpet.
Returning to power more than once is no great feat either: the casteless Left in West Bengal returned an unprecedented seven times without even having Modi’s growth indices to show for it. Even Lalu Prasad, without lifting a finger, returned thrice – perhaps, as Modi alleges, by playing caste politics and keeping the Bihari people underdeveloped and underprivileged.
But the same cannot be said of Nitish Kumar, who returned with a resounding majority – and without having to massacre even a single person for it. Admittedly, there have been some injustices in Bihar over Kumar’s attempts to allot land and other facilities to 'Mahadalits' but the fact that crime rates are down and growth rates up in Bihar is a message to Modi – for Kumar is building his state up from scratch and his development rests neither on mass graveyards nor on 'political terrorism'.
Modi’s success with an enslaved BJP and RSS leadership in ridding himself of Joshi might have given him the notion that he is second to none in the prime ministerial stakes in 2014. And Kumar’s rendering of Modi as an electoral pariah must have hurt and rankled for the Gujarat CM to now mistakenly believe that targeting the Bihar CM on divisive caste politics would somehow make him a little more acceptable than he has been until now. But as Sharad Yadav of the JD (U) said, "Which state in India is casteless?" Modi may choose to wear blinkers but Gujarat is no exception.
Yadav also exhorted Modi to mull over his own situation first. I wonder if he was thinking of those Joshi masks and anti-Modi posters with the BJP symbol which recently surfaced in Gujarat -- they might as well have been designed by the Congress.
So Modi for prime ministership? Pipedream, anyone?