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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 10, February 23, 2013

Re-reading Modi’s Gujarat

Tuesday 26 February 2013, by Arup Kumar Sen


The eminent political psychologist, Ashis Nandy, made some insightful observations on Gujarat and Narendra Modi in 2008, and those seem prophetic in the wake of Modi’s recent victory in the Assembly elections in 2012. It may be mentioned in this connection that a petition of criminal offence was filed against Nandy for his critical observations carried in The Times of India.
Nandy argued that even if Narendra Modi had lost the last elections (2007), it would not have made much difference to the culture of Gujarat politics and most of the State’s urban middle class would have remained mired in its inane versions of communalism and parochia-lism. He further argued:

Finally, Gujarat’s spectacular development has underwritten the de-civilising process. One of the worst-kept secrets of our times is that dramatic development almost always has an authoritarian tail.1

Media reports suggest that Modi assiduously built the cult of his personality, cleverly juxtaposing Gujarat’s development with his own achievements. In this endeavour, he ensured strong support from the Big Business houses and marketed the idea of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’. The upwardly-mobile, modern, city-dwelling youth of Gujarat also extended their support to Modi. Significantly, many of Modi’s fans are modern, working Gujarati women. According to social scientist Ghanshyam Shah, Modi appeals to the middle-class youth because what he offers matches their aspirations. To put it in the words of Shah,

They haven’t seen the Gujarat of the 1980s and have been brainwashed into believing that everything in Gujarat has been achieved by him. The poor, the welfare state—these have never been part of Modi’s vision.2

In his recent writings, Shiv Visvanathan, a social science nomad, reminds us that develop-ment, in the abstract, is one world and that concrete cases of development need a detailed ethnography. He has argued that the Modi-style of politics reflects the decline of the political in Gujarat. He feels that the latest Assembly elections in Gujarat, by centring on Modi, the man and his achievements, depoliticised local-level issues, problems and protests.3

Fortunately, the corporate-friendly politics of Modi received some setbacks. The BJP candidates could not win in Sanand and Viramgam, home to the Tata Nano and Maruti Suzuki projects.4

The developmental agenda of Modi has a communal dimension. The all-Muslim ghetto of Juhapura in Ahmedabad tells that story. In the wake of the 2002 carnage, physical segregation of living spaces became sharper between the majority and minority communities. Hindus all moved out of Juhapura in 2002 and the ruling party abandoned the area. Abandonment by the ruling party led to the withdrawal of the state. There is no proper drainage or street lighting in Juhapura. Across the “border”, from where the Hindu locality of Vejalpur begins, are the sodium lights, the wide road, the overbridge and water supply.5

Ashis Nandy has been arguing for a couple of years that the two major traits of the modern, urban middle class are income and consumption. This middle class played a big role in legitimising the Modi-brand of politics in communally segregated Gujarat.

1. Ashis Nandy, ‘Blame the Middle Class’ in The Times of India, January 8, 2008.
2. See the Outlook, December 25-31, 2012.
3. Shiv Visvanathan, ‘Janus Shut the Door’ in Outlook, December 25-31, 2012; ‘Is Gujarat a suitable model for India?’ in The Asian Age, Kolkata, December 27, 2012.
4. See The Indian Express, December 21, 2012.
5.Vandita Mishra, ‘Juhapura in 3D’ in The Indian Express, December 15, 2012.

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