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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 17, April 19, 2014

Narendra Modi and Governance

Sunday 20 April 2014

by Siddhartha Guha Ray

The results of the opinion polls shown in several television channels give a clear indication that National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, shall be our rulers for the next five years, and Narendra Modi’s election as the next Prime Minister is just a matter of time. If the NDA under Modi succeeds to manage a massive mandate of the people in their favour in the Lok Sabha elections, 2014, then everybody is to accept it and this is the most essential lesson of democracy. It is beyond our capacity to arrive at any foregone conclusion about how Modi will run the country after becoming the Prime Minister. But there is little doubt that sometimes the past history of the BJP, and more particularly of Narendra Modi, went against the accepted norms of civility. The role of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat riots of early 2002 disgraced the world’s largest democracy. Members of the majority community organised a violent genocide against the minority Muslims and at that time Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Modi’s own partyman, Atal Behari Vajpayee, then the Prime Minister of India, reminded Modi of following the Rajdharma, as Modi miserably failed to protect the lives and property of the innocent Muslims. Furthermore, some of his remarks aggravated the crisis.

Almost twenty years ago, the noted civil rights activist, V.M. Tarkunde, wrote an article, entitled,‘Communalism and Human Rights’.1 Tarkunde observed that the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had endangered the Indian society and polity. The power behind it was the Sangh Parivar, comprising organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Vidyarthi Parishad and Bajrang Dal. In the words of Tarkunde, “They are giving the Indian people a heady mixture of aggressive Hindu communalism with equally aggressive Hindu nationalism.”2 He even went to the extent of comparing the Hindutva movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Nazi movement in Germany. Although there are some obvious differences between the Nazi movement and the movement of the Sangh Parivar, depending on different time and place, “they have basically the same Fascist character-istics.”3

The article was published after about one-and-a-half years of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The dispute over the mosque in Ayodhya, constructed in 1528 by Mir Baqui, a noble of Babur’s Court, had simmered for long, at least since 1885, when litigation had begun for the right to property in the area.4

The surreptitious installation of an idol of Ramlala inside the mosque in 1949 brought about a qualitative change in the nature of the dispute. The idol was placed inside the mosque with the active connivance of the District Magistrate, K.K. Nayar, who later became a Jan Sangh Member of Parliament. Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Union Home Minister, described the incident as a “unilateral action based on an attitude of aggression and coercion”. Yet the Indian state did not take any step to remove the idol.5 Since the installation of the Ramlala idol in 1949 Ayodhya had become the hotbed of religious animonisity and communal tension between the Hindus and Muslims. After nearly four decades the BJP along with the Sangh Parivar exploited this potential in its quest for political power. The issue, which remained dormant for about 40 years, was utilised by the Sangh Parivar with a view to achieving its political goal of turning India into a theocratic state.

The Sangh Parivar was vociferous in claiming that Ayodhya being the birth-place of Ram, there was a Ram temple, which was destroyed by the Muslim invaders. The Babri Masjid was built upon the ruins of a Ram temple in the medieval period. Hence a fervent appeal was made to the Hindu mind that a Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya demolishing the Babri Masjid. The organisational inspiration of earlier efforts of communilasation of the political sceme came to be replaced by the new phenomenon of mass communalism. Here lies the crucial role of the VHP in the late 1980s. In fact, the VHP’s efforts brought about a quali-tative change in the nature of Hindutva movement. Eminent historian K.N. Panikkar observed: “It touched a sympathetic chord in the mind of the Hindus, even in the areas where worship of Rama was not popular.”6

Then the programme for a more intense mobilisation was undertaken by the BJP President, L.K. Advani, through a rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. The rath yatra, which began at Somnath on September 25, 1990, was scheduled to end at Ayodhya on October 30. The 36-day journey enlivened the covert divisive forces of the Indian society and triggered off a series of communal riots in several parts of the country.7 The worst affected provinces were Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

All these developments of the late 1980s and early 1990s paved the way for December 6, 1992, when the 460-year-old Babri Masjid was destroyed by a frenzied mob of Hindu fanatics, with active help from the UP State Government led by the BJP. Sheer callousness and opportunism by the Congress Government under Narasimha Rao at the Centre made the task easier for the BJP and Sangh Parivar. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was the central plank of the political strategy of the BJP which proved to be extremely rewarding for the party. As an inevitable result of the entire process, the BJP emerged as the largest single party in the elections of 1996, 1998 and 1999. The NDA Government under Vajpayee was formed in both 1998 and 1999. There is little doubt that Vajpayee represented the most accepted and transperant face of the BJP. But it was under his premiership that the unfortunate incident of Gujarat genocide occurred in 2002. Allegedly the chief architect of the genocide was Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

On February 27, 2002, 58 kar sevaks were burnt to death in a compartment of the Sabar-mati Express in Godhra of Gujarat. This unfor-tunate incident summarily turned the entire Gujarat into a killing field. Armed attacks by the Hindu fanatics endangered the lives of innocent Muslims. An organised genocide was perpetrated throughout March and April, 2002 and thousands of Muslims lost their lives.8 The right to life of the citizens, as ensured by the Constitution of India, became an irony. Today’s projected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was then the Gujarat Chief Minister. Reports regar-ding active encouragement to the rioters by Modi had been published by several contem-porary newspapers. Even if we take it for gran-ted that Modi was not directly involved in engineering the genocide, he cannot shake off his responsibility as the Chief Minister. It was his first and foremost constitutional duty to protect and ensure the lives and property of members of the minority community.

As a human rights activist, I condemn the Godhra massacre in unequivocal terms. Kar sevaks or whoever they might be, none has the right to kill them and violate their right to life. But as a revenge of the Godhra killing organised crime would be perpetrated against the poor and innocent Muslims—that also cannot be accepted in the civilised world. The Newtonian principle must not determine the political events in a society. Furthermore, the state should punish the criminals; the frenzied mobs owing allegiance to a particular community or a particular political party have no right to take revenge against anyone. But what we saw in the Gujarat of 2002 was that a large number of BJP supporters acted with vengeance against the Muslims, who had not even the remotest connection with the unfortunate Godhra incident. The administration in Gujarat mise-rably failed to ensure the security of the victims by putting an end to the culpable genocide. Without taking any punitive measure against the miscreants, the administration rather stood by their side preaching the gospel of action and reaction. The head of such an irresponsible and partisan administration was none else than Narendra Modi and his party is keen to see him as the next Prime Minister of India.

Recently the verdict of a lower court in Gujarat has absolved Modi of responsibility for the genocide of 2002. An elated Modi sharply reacted by writing in his blog that he was “personally shattered” by the “vicious riot” of Gujarat. Why he took long 12 years to express his anguish over the genocide is a million dollar question and the answer is probably known to every Indian citizen. Moreover, a single verdict of a particular court cannot establish Modi’s innocence. Being at the helm of the adminis-tration, why did Modi allow an orgy of violence against members of a particular community for a considerable length of time? He must be answerable to this very pertinent question. There was also some uncomfortable infor-mation which put a stigma on the tenure of his chief ministership of Gujarat. During the genocide in Gujarat, the women of the Muslim community had to face abject brutality from members of the other community. “The unprecedented bestiality of mass sexual violence on women” has been recorded with sensitivity by various investigating women’s groups.9 During the Gujarat genocide responsible officers were arbitrarily transferred by the State Government. Two IPS officers, Kuldip Singh, posted as the DIG in Kheda and Anand districts, and Kutch SP Vivek Shrivastava, were shifted out of their districts “ostensibly because they cracked down on rioting mobs”. A good number of senior State cadre officers, who stopped the riots in various other places, were transferred in the middle of the riots.10

The recently published BJP election manifesto has put emphasis on both the Ram Mandir and development. The BJP cannot avoid the issue of the Ram Mandir, as the issue gave the party a new lease of life in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Leaving apart the question of the Ram Mandir, a brief discussion on the Modi model of development would not be totally out of context. The Modi model of development in Gujarat has been brought to light through formidable propaganda in recent times. The corporate world is full of praise about the success of the Modi model of development. A section of Indian industrialists have even gone to the extent of comparing Modi with Mahatma Gandhi. But a thorough review of the Modi model of development reveals that it represents a lop-sided development and inclusive development is not at all visible. The employment growth has stagnated and there is no semblance of social security in Gujarat. A retired bureaucrat from Gujarat recently remarked: “Modi runs Gujarat like a shopkeeper. Profits and losses are measured only in economic and monetary terms. The larger picture of human development, and I include the environment in this, is completely ignored. Not neglected, mind you, it is willfully ignored.”11 Furthermore, “the spate of suicides by farmers in Saurashtra and continuing agrarian distress give the lie to Narendra Modi’s assertions of Gujarat being a developed State”.12

This is the sixtyseventh year of our indepen-dence and the nation is on its way to electing its 16th Lok Sabha. We cannot single out any government in the past that gave priority to the hopes and aspirations of the Indian citizens and sincerely thought of protecting and ensuring their rights. The assumption to the office of the Prime Minister by Narendra Modi will lead to an unbridled overall development of the country—this is nothing more than myth. Moreover, Modi has left behind a tainted history of Gujarat genocide, when the right to life of the Indian citizens was deliberately ignored.


1. V.M. Tarkunde, ‘Communalism and Human Rights’ in J.P. Memorial Lectures, PUCL, Delhi, 1994, p. 117.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid. p. 125.

4. For a detailed account of the dispute, see Sushil Srivastava, the Disputed Mosque, New Delhi, 1990.

5. A.G. Noorani, ‘Legal Aspects of the Issue’ in S. Gopal (ed.), Anatomy of Confrontation, Delhi, 1991, pp. 58-59.

6. K.N. Panikkar, ‘Religious Symbols and Political Mobilisation: The Agitation for a Mandir at Ayodhya’, Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 7-8, July-August, 1993, p. 66.

7. Ibid., p. 71.

8. Communalism Combat, March-April, 2002.

9. Harsh Mandar, Cry My Beloved Country: Reflections on the Gujarat Carnage, Noida, 2004, pp 110-111. To know in detail about atrocities on women during the Gujarat genocide, see Syeda Hameed, The Survivors Speak: How has the Gujarat Massacre Affected Minority Women, Ahmedabad, 2002.

10. Vipul Mudgal, ‘Reign of Terror’ in Hindustan Times, April 9, 2002.

11. Lyla Bavadam, ‘Mirage of Development’, Frontline, March 8, 2013.

12. Anupam Katakam, ‘Hype and Hard Facts’, Frontline, March 8, 2013.

Dr Siddhartha Guha Ray is an Associate Professor of History, Vivekananda College, Kolkata