Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 29, 2014
A Model in Search of Substance
Wednesday 2 April 2014
by V.P. Jain
Modi is hogging all the media limelight by trumpeting his development gospel, a remix of the NDA’s 2004 ‘India Shining’ chorus. Self-obsessed, vain and presumptuous, he has been assiduously working to create a larger than life-size image of himself. Many of his followers even fantasise him as an ‘avatar’, who has desc-ended on earth to redeem the lesser mortals of their miseries, purportedly inflicted on them by the current regime. “Mr. Ashok Singhal, chief patron of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, decreed Mr Modi as a ‘divine creation’.” (The Hindu, August 2, 2013) The game-plan to rechristen him as ‘Na Mo’ supported by the chanting of Har Har Modi, to obliquely connect him to Lord Shiva, is to anoint him as a messiah, to con peo-ple into believing that he is the chosen one for deliverance. The strategy to field Modi from Varanasi is to reinforce this myth to relate his candidature to the collective consciousness of the Hindus which pervades the ‘holy city’. The hoaxes succeed because they quickly take a life of their own. In a culture where myths run only a poor second to facts, hoaxes can be a romantic expression of the hope that lies deep within us. Propaganda is the most lethal weapon in the armoury of the conman: repeat a lie hundred times and it will be taken as truth, euphemisti-cally called the media creation. That is why media ownership and control is such a contentious issue.
No wonder, all his rallies, which resonate with the promise of his divine favour, if elected to power, are covered to the minutest details by the media as a self-fulfilling prophecy. A demagogue, he has mastered the art of playing to the gallery, pandering to sectarian instincts based on linguistic, regional, caste and religious affiliations, and indulges in frivolous talks full of clichés, never mind the prolix preaching, to obscure the substantive issues. True to the culture of brand marketing, Modi has launched his ‘Gujarat model’, without ever defining its contours; label is all that matters (nobody knows what lies underneath) as a panacea for the ills of the whole country. Boastful of his ‘He Man’ image and marshalling the high decibel, intimidating mega rallies throughout the country, as a show of brute force to overawe other States into submission, he is meticulously promoting his agenda for an all-India hegemonic design, ‘surrender or prepare to die’.
Understandably, like a marketing executive he is not obliged to elaborate his blue-print, and lesser still, his game-plan (ominous details are invariably in fine print in the footnotes), and skirts all the crucial issues with impunity: rationale to replicate the so-called Gujarat model all over the country, in the face of better track record by other States, his love for business tycoons, giving away most precious resources of the State in phony privatisation, who have made unprecedented wealth at the cost of the general mass of people, the poor you and I, his stoic silence on gas pricing and CAG audit of discoms, just to mention a few cases by way of illustration. Gujarat’s growth model, which is no different from the UPA’s model, is predatory and seriously falters on social indices. Obviously, Modi is not a chaiwala now, nor are the Ambanis and the Adanis ‘scrap dealers’ any more. Their’s may be a true rags-to-riches story, but could that be cited as a case for inductive reasoning to have extended opportunity for social mobility for all, or does it simply epitomise cronyism and clientelism, corruption taking over the reform process? Apart from polarising the country on religious grounds, he is also dividing the country into the haves and the have-nots. Ironically, in a country, in spite of the media hype of the spectacular growth achieved, mani-pulating the poverty benchmark is the only hope to generate euphoria. For most people, dole remains the only sustaining factor.
Against such a backdrop, the AAP sceptic Kejriwal embarked on a journey to Gujarat to discover the truth for himself. He decided to take Modi on his own turf in Gujarat to call his bluff, which stunned his friends and critics alike. AAP volunteers, after touring 26 districts in Gujarat, and covering several villages, have come to the conclusion that the much-touted achievement in Gujarat is a statistical fiction, which corroborates similar findings by celebra-ted organisations like the UNDP, and many independent scholars.
Let us scrutinise the report card (for details see EPW March 15, 2014). There is a consensus that, at best, development in Gujarat is an amalgam of pockets of affluence interspersed with ghettos. While the State did grow at over 10 per cent between 2002 and 2012 above the national average, but in line with the growth rates of comparable large States like Maharash-tra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. The growth is impressive, but the larger community is left out of mainstream development: its benefits have bypassed the common Gujarati. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell: the effects of the high growth are yet to trickle down among its people. During Modi’s tenure, 16,000 workers, farmers and farm labourers had committed suicide due to economic distress by 2011. There is massive corruption in Gujarat even after 11 years, politicians taking huge bribes for ensuring jobs and the flip side of industrialisation is that 60,000 small industries have been closed during Modi’s tenure. Gujarat has the highest prevalence of hunger and lowest human development indices among States with comparable per capita income. Gujarat’s record in education and health care is pretty bad. The scale of corruption in Gujarat is stupendous, and the whistle-blowers have paid the price by becoming martyrs. With only five per cent of India’s population, 22 per cent of the murders and 20 per cent of the assaults on RTI activists in recent years have taken place in Gujarat. The post of Lokayukta (corruption watchdog) was not filled for ten years since 2003.
And going after mirage has its own travails: Kejriwal fumbled, bumped into all kinds of adversities, and incurred the wrath of Na-Mo, paranoid as he is, who dreaded him as the shadow of Jan-Lokpal, chasing him all over. His first encounter of the much-touted governance in Gujarat was his encounter with the Gujarat Police which arrested him, ostensibly, for violating the moral code of conduct which had come into force, coinciding with Kejriwal and his team crossing the border. When confronted on facts, they reasoned that they had simply detained them for their own good, to ensure the safety of the ‘aliens’. His second brush with the governance was with the much-peddled law and order network in Gujarat, to be emulated all over the country, when hoodlums vandalised his car on the road by breaking its wind-shield. The episode was repeated when the car of Mr Sisodia was similarly damaged by anti-social elements.
Time and again it has been proved that the mis-creants have no fear of the law in Gujarat and the authorities are unable to rein in vandalism, and, of course, their complicity has always remained, at best, a contentious issue. High-ranking police officers are facing criminal charges for engineering fake encounters as the legitimate policy in Gujarat. The heinous comm-unal massacre in Gujarat in 2002 continues to invite censure globally, so much so that Modi continues to be denied US visa till date. Gujarat has also produced criminals like self-styled god-men Asha Ram and Narayan Sai, who are the products of the system. They are alleged to enjoy state patronage and run mafia-like organisations under the garb of religion. A few days earlier, two unidentified men threw acid on one of the witnesses in the rape case against the god-men. This was the third attack to silence the witnesses. These examples can be multiplied ad infinitum. It is a mistake to identify ruthless governance as good governance and confuse peace of the cemetery with tranquillity. Gujarat may appear calm because conformity and subservience is the law and dissent is dealt with an iron fist. Dictatorial as he is, the Gujarat governance is entirely Modi-centric and he has already assumed a commanding position in the party at the national level, to the chagrin of even veterans, who have been pushed to the periphery in the organisation. The fault-lines have already appeared with the identification of the ‘160 club’ of party leaders charged with trying to subvert Modi’s prospects, as a panic reaction to his overpowering image.
Rhetoric and slogans don’t change systems. Policy framework must be spelt out for a meaningful debate and consensus. My humble submission is that the election should centre on issues and we should not become obsessed with personalities. There can be honest differences of perspectives and ideologies and different political outfits must project their position with conviction and in good faith. That is what electoral politics is all about. But, unfortunately, it has degenerated into a no-holds-barred power game for ulterior motives, pursued as hidden agenda. The VHP chief patron said the RSS and VHP were “confident that Modi will stop the process of de-Hinduisation that is taking place, and address unheard issues”. He then offered the clearest indication yet of what the Sangh Parivar expected from the Chief Minister in return for organisational and cadre support. However, their overdrive to exploit Hindu sentiments for electoral gain has snowballed into a big embarr-assment for the saffron brigade. Shankaracharya Swaroopanand has taken great exception to slogans like ‘Har Har Modi’ which endorses man-worshiping. Another seer Sankaracharya of Puri Swami Adhokhshayananda articulated his disapproval in no uncertain terms: “It does not suit any human being to be compared to God. ‘Har Har’ is a revered saying, not for a power-hungry person like Modi.”
However, Modi chooses to remain a deeply polarising figure and it is apprehended that he will destroy the idea of India and promote a majoritarian agenda. The New York Times noted: “India is a country with multiple religions, more than a dozen major languages and numerous ethnic groups. Mr Modi cannot hope to lead effectively if he inspires fear and antipathy among many of its citizens.” Prof Subramaniam Swamy has a constant refrain to bond eighty per cent of the Hindu population into a unified force to push his Hindutva agenda to get Modi elected as the PM of the country. It would be much more prudent to take all groups, social, religious and economic, on board to fortify India as a nation. He incessantly talks of patriotism. Patriotism, however, has acquired a different connotation: instead of willingness to sacrifice for love of the country, it is equated with unquestioning loyalty to the ruling elite. Isn’t not paying one’s tax unpatriotic? Isn’t stealing the country’s precious resources not unpatriotic? Isn’t patronising the mafia, the land mafia, the coal mafia, the mining mafia, just to name only a few, not antinational? To be patriotic also means to feed, clothe, provide shelter and educate all the country’s population to earn international respect. After all, definition is the tipping point, and it all depends on one’s perspective and ideological moorings. One should ponder over issues of secularism and patriotism with a dispassionate mind.
Kejriwal had gone to Gujarat to see for himself the incredible success story flaunted by Modi which he wants replicated at the national level by becoming the PM of the country. Modi, the entrepreneur, should have welcomed this opportunity to showcase and market his business model. In fact, he should extend an open invitation to everybody and organise field trips so that they can have a glimpse of the prosperous State he claims to have so profusely nurtured. Instead, he has taken Kejriwal’s visit as a personal affront, a witch-hunt. Modi not only missed the opportunity to stand vindicated, but his reluctance to answer questions only strengthened the suspicion that, after all, he may well be marketing a spurious product. What is crucial is that Mr Modi must remove all misgivings by taking a categorical position, enunciating his economic policy and whether he would continue to valorise the UPA’s growth model of neo-liberalism to benefit the business houses who have cornered the country’s wealth at the dictates of crony capitalism, while most of the Indians still live in abject poverty. Will he go by the Gandhian dictum that higher growth is not worth much, unless it improves at the same time the lot of the poor in India?
The electorate has the right to know whether the agenda of the BJP is to bring about radical change in the economic policy of the present regime, or whether the policy prescription is fine but the UPA has faltered only on governance, and how will he break the unholy nexus manifesting in the scam culture. The country is witnessing a movement whereby the linkages (nexus) of the current predatory system are crumbling. The man in the street is waking up to the rights of individuals and the system of justice in the country. Throughout the country, we see the political landscape changing with an awareness of the need for participatory democracy, to preserve the institutions and the processes of law from graft and abuse of power. The movement cuts across ethnic, regional, cultural and religious divide. The ruling elite is dubbing this phenomenon as anarchic, unconstitutional and tantamount to rebellion against the government. Actually, the ostensibly unsettling scenario corresponds to the crisis phase in the Kuhnian dynamics as the existing governance paradigm is unable to solve the problems of the people, giving rise to anomalies. The problems will be solved only by the emergence of a new paradigm (for example, a new Constitution) and cannot be judged by the rules of the old paradigm. It is naïve to believe that the recent upsurge to make governance more people-friendly and accountable would materialise simply by the change of guard, as Modi and his protagonists want the people to believe. Even the most celebrated players cannot perform on a sticky wicket.
We need a conceptual framework to adopt a systemic approach to understand the pheno-menon. So long as we think of these changes as isolated events and miss the larger significance, we cannot design a coherent, effective response to them. (Toffler, Alvin) However, as observed by Thomas Kuhn, “novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation.” Striving to change the rules of electoral politics is per-ceived as a threat to the cronies, who have conflict of interest in the system, and they are desperate to maintain the status-quo, that is what stability means to them. The most celebrated argument in support of Modi is that he will provide this stability. That is also the rationale of Modi as the saviour, a ruthless politician to be able to lead the reactionary forces, and the significance of his Gujarat model which accords substance to their design to cling to the existing polity. The much-hyped develop-ment in Gujarat is exclusive and lopsided and Modi is no champion of good, inclusive governance. He is the rich man’s CM, and if the BJP forms the government at the Centre, he will be the rich man’s Prime Minister to maximise the wealth and power of its elites, all in the name of good governance and stability as a camouflage. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “it is altogether fitting that they should do so. And it is altogether inevitable that we should find them out.”
1. Hensman, Rohini, ‘The Gujarat Model of Development: What would it do to the Indian Economy?’, EPW, Vol. 49, Issue No. 11, March 15, 2014.
2. Toffler, Alvin, The Third Wave, Pan Books in association with Collins, 1980.
3. Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure, of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press, 1962.
4. Jain, V. P., “Corruption: the Great Political Divide”, Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 39, September 17, 2011.
Dr V.P. Jain is a former Associate Professor (now retired), School of Open Learning, University of Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail: email@example.com.