A YEAR and a half after he became Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014, the people of India have begun to discover that Narendra Damodardas Modi is a flawed character who has proved himself unfit to sit on the chair on which Jawaharlal Nehru once sat. Nehru united the country. Modi is a quintessentially divisive figure. Even before he became Prime Minister, he had boldly nailed his colours on to the mast for all to see. The pattern is alarming. “The nation and Hindus are one. Only if Hindus develop will the nation develop. Unity of Hindus will strengthen the nation,” he said in the presence of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat at a Hindu Samajotsava organised by the RSS in Mangalore. He said: “In Gujarat, an ordinary swayamsewak of the RSS [that is, Modi himself] is toiling to make Gujarat the number one State in the country.” He added that he had “spent his entire life for Hindu Samaj” ( Organiser ; February 11, 2007).
In an interview to Reuters, after his succession was all but sealed, Modi was asked: “But do you think you did the right thing in 2002?” (in the pogrom). He replied: “Absolutely.” He was also asked: “People want to know who is the real Modi—Hindu nationalist leader or pro-business Chief Minister.” Modi explained in rich detail: “I am a nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So, I am a Hindu nationalist. So, yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu” ( Indian Express ; July 13, 2013).
Those who had pinned their hopes on Modi as “The Deliverer” find little sign of his delivering on the promises he had so lavishly made. The promised acche din (good days) have turned out to be a deceptive mirage; bure din (evil days) are now upon us with highly charged communal statements and accusations; a systematic purge of cultural and educational institutions; killings, lynchings and the like without any censure by the chief executive of the nation. Few care to understand what his meaningful and continued silence signifies. Desperate pleas by admirers—to control the “fringe elements”, curb the purveyors of hate and censure, and condemn loudly and without qualification the killings and the spread of intolerance and hate—leave Modi unmoved. For these elements comprise the core of his constituency . The record, viewed as an entire whole, provides ample warning of what lies ahead of us today.U.S. envoy’s assessment
It is very important for the nation to assess accurately its Prime Minister. Modi has not changed one bit from the Modi who repelled many during his days in Gujarat. Horrible as the pogrom on his watch was, worse, still, was his callous conduct on the rehabilitation of its victims. A strikingly accurate appraisal of the man was made nearly a decade ago by an astute diplomat. Mark his words, so perceptive and insightful and so far removed from the frenzied applause of columnists, TV anchors, businessmen and the like: “Modi has successfully branded himself as a non-corrupt, efficient administrator, as a facilitator of business in a State with a deep commercial culture, and as a no-nonsense, law and order politician who looks after the interests of the Hindu majority . Modi’s backers in the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] now hope to convince the party leadership that he can use these positive traits to attract voters throughout India. Some voters believe, or hope, that the voters will forget and forgive Modi’s role in the 2002 bloodshed , once they learn to appreciate his other qualities.…
“In public appearances, Modi can be charming and likeable. By all accounts, however, he is an insular, distrustful person who rules with a small group of advisers. This inner circle acts as a buffer between the Chief Minister and his Cabinet and party. He reigns more by fear and intimidation than by inclusiveness and consensus, and is rude, condescending and often derogatory to even high-level party officials. He hoards power and often leaves his Ministers in the cold when making decisions that affect their portfolios” (emphasis added, throughout).
The writer was Michael S. Owen, the U.S. Consul General in Mumbai, in whose bailiwick Gujarat fell. That his sober, nuanced 2,850-word cable, dated November 2, 2006, was cleared by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, before its despatch to the State Department, shows that it was carefully considered by the Ambassador and his colleagues. Suresh Nambath aptly remarked: “The disquisition could well form the core of an M.A. thesis in politics.” Owen’s concern was that the revocation of Modi’s B1/B2 visa in 2005 should be lifted soon, lest the U.S. be accused of “opportunism in the likely event that he makes it to the national stage”. Interaction with Modi would enable the U.S. to deliver “a clear message on human rights and religious freedom in Gujarat”. The cable was part of the WikiLeaks disclosures published in The Hindu ; this one, on March 22, 2011.
The cable might well have been written shortly after Modi became Prime Minister and tried to fulfil his dream of replicating “the Gujarat model” nationally. He began by undermining the Cabinet system of government at the Centre, as he had in Gujarat. Ministers were cut to size, chosen civil servants were exalted. Amit Shah was appointed the BJP’s president. The grip on the party was complete. As in Gujarat, rivals were shown the door. (For details, see the writer’s article “Modifying democracy”; Frontline ; July 11, 2014.)
Former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash noted on November 12, 2015: “[C]ivil-military relations have nose-dived in the last six months. We are not in a position to start anything, or to counter anything if China or Pakistan were to attempt something” (Josy Joseph, The Hindu ; November 13, 2015). Relations with Pakistan have hit a new low with Modi’s cancellation of the talks between the Foreign Secretaries as well as the National Security Advisers. Nepal was driven to seek China’s help because “under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been an abrupt shift towards adventurism”. The invitation to South Asian neighbours to attend the Prime Minister’s inauguration in May 2014 looks, in retrospect, “more like the darbar of George V with local potentates having been brought together to applaud the King Emperor”. Kanak Mani Dixit’s remarks are all the more telling for the fact that he has long been a committed friend of India. He added: “It increasingly looks like India’s foreign policy is being run as a personal public relations crusade by Narendra Modi …he thinks nothing about blockading a country which is by far the friendliest of India’s neighbours…”—a helpless Nepal ( The Hindu ; November 18, 2015).
This is the Peter Principle at work. The lessons of Gujarat’s “success” cannot be applied to the conduct of foreign policy, especially by one who never had any exposure to this foreign field. Slogans and banalities cannot cover up the absence of sound policy.Message from London
However, there is another and more relevant lesson from Gujarat which Modi refuses to learn. The demonstrators in London last month conveyed to Modi that the world has neither forgotten nor forgiven him for his role during the pogrom of 2002. (For details, see the writer’s article “Modi is accountable”, Frontline ; July 25, 2014). A report prepared by a group headed by Peter Holland, First Secretary, United Kingdom High Commission in New Delhi, found that the violence was “planned …with the support of the State government. The aim was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas.” The report added that “reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is impossible while the Chief Minister [Modi] remains in power”. Both aims were accomplished. There has been no rehabilitation work worth the name, as Dr Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande establishes in her work Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State: Gujarat since 2002 (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Her focus is on the aftermath. The European Union’s draft statement hit the nail on the head: “the carnage in Gujarat was a kind of apartheid”.
A mere six months after the pogrom, Modi said at Becharaji on September 9, 2002: “We have resolved to destroy and stamp out all forces of evil who are a threat to the self-respect of Gujarat…. There is allegation against us that we are Hinduwadis. Oh! Brothers, for the development of Becharaji Devi temple, our government has allotted Rs.8 crore. Is it a crime done by us? They say, this Narendrabhai has brought Narmada water to Sabarmati river and this man is so much clever that he brought the water in the month of Shravan [a holy month for Hindus].… Since, we [meaning the BJP] are here, we brought water in Sabarmati during the month of Shravan, when you are there, you can bring it in the month of Ramdan [the holy month of Muslims]…. What brother, should we run relief camps? Should I start children-producing centres there [that is, in the relief camps]? We want to achieve progress by pursuing the policy of family planning with determination. We are five and our 25!!!! [ Ame panch, Amara panchis , referring to Muslim polygamy]. On whose name such a development is pursued? Can’t Gujarat implement family planning? Whose inhibitions are coming in our way? Which religious sect is coming in the way?
“We are scrutinising madrasas from Kutch [district] onwards.… We cannot permit merchants of murder to freely operate in Gujarat.… I will not allow those plotting to destroy Gujarat and harm the innocent, to carry out their plans. This daughter of Italy [Sonia Gandhi] had given us open certificate that we had insulted the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel . We have to demand your answer in this matter.… If you want to contain and check the merchants of murder, we have to follow the path of Sardar Patel. Our motto is to pursue the path of Sardar.… if we raise the self-respect and morale of five crore Gujaratis, the schemes of Alis, Malis and Jamalis [referring to Muslims] will not be successful to do any harm to us. These five crore Gujaratis will decide about their future. The buffoons of Delhi will not decide the future of Gujarat.” Coarse, vituperative and rabidly communal rhetoric is the hallmark of Narendra Modi as his speeches in 2014 and recently in Bihar vividly reveal.
Relief camps in Gujarat began to be closed from as early as May 2002. Modi’s response to criticism was to move on the offensive. He launched a campaign called Gaurav Yatra (campaign of pride). In a roadshow for the Gaurav Yatra, he asked villagers if they had heard the news that 60 Ram bhakts had been burned alive in a train. “Using his great ability to work the crowd, he prodded them into responding loudly to questions such as:
Narendra Modi: Did anyone of you stab anyone?
The crowd responds: No
Narendra Modi: Did anyone of you behead anyone?
The crowd responded: No
Narendra Modi: Did anyone of you take the honour of any sister/daughter [rape anyone]?
The crowd responded: No.
Narendra Modi: Even then enemies of Gujarat are only saying that from village to village there were flames, from village to village people were being killed, from village to village people’s heads were being smashed. They have defamed Gujarat so much, to give them all an answer, I have undertaken this Gaurav Yatra.”
In another speech in the yatra he said:
“When I embarked on the Gaurav Yatra my friends from the Congress said, in pride of what? To me that question itself underscores the need for a Gaurav Yatra.
“They say in our Gujarat there are rioters, in our Gujarat people have knives, in our Gujarat people are killers, are looters. This is a definitive attempt to finish the pride of Gujarat and in the face of this BJP is determined to fight it. People may try a million times to malign Gujarat but I have decided to bring out the truth of Gujarat boldly” (Lokhande, page 162).
In an interview to a hand-picked Muslim journalist in July 2012, Modi asked: “What is the point in apologising now? I took full responsibility for what happened during that time, expressed sorrow and apologised. Please check what I said in 2002 after the riots. Now you should write that you [media] have been doing injustice to me for the past 10 years. You should now apologise to Modi.”
But, the Gujarat pogrom cannot be wished away by Modi or his admirers. The situation on the ground continues to shriek its relevance. Two questions must be faced honestly. First, why did his admirers shut their eyes to a man with such a background? And can a man with such a heavy load of baggage serve as the Prime Minister of a secular country?
This is where judgment of character comes. “A highly impressionable person without a firm grip of public affairs and without any strong convictions … an amiable man with many philanthropic impulses, but he is not the dangerous enemy of anything, …a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.” Until he died 40 years later, neither friend nor foe could forget Walter Lippmann’s egregiously wrong appraisal of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. But a little over a decade earlier, after a brief meeting with Roosevelt, the sage Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a judgment that stood the test of time: “A second-rate intellect, but a first-rate temperament.”
What is it that Holmes had which Lippmann lacked? It is what is known in Urdu as mardum-shanasi , the art of judging character. It is a gift given to few. People are not particularly keen to acquire it, either. It complicates things. There is another comforting belief, not unlike that held by parents in the olden days that the rakish son would mature in marriage. So, trust Richard Nixon and Morarji Desai to mellow at the apex of power. They did not; nor did Indira Gandhi after her return to power in 1980.And Modi has not changed
The record since he became Prime Minister shows that Modi has not changed one bit, though his admirers fervently pray that he will control “the fringe elements”. The speeches abroad alone suffice to reveal his true outlook.
1. On September 2, 2014, Modi gifted to Japan’s Emperor a copy of the Shrimat Bhagwad Gita, but only to make a swipe at critics at home: “I do not know what will happen in India after this. There may be a TV debate on this. Our secular friends will create toofan [storm] that [ sic ] what does Modi think of himself. He has taken [ sic ] a Gita with him. That means he has made this one also communal.”
Modi went on to allege: “Anyway, they [the media] should also have their livelihood and if I am not there then how will they earn their livelihood?” ( The Times of India ; September 3, 2014). Such aspersions on motives are typical.
2. On August 31, 2015, in New Delhi Modi said: “Today if somebody utters Om, a controversy rages for a week as to how Om can be uttered” ( Asian Age ; September 1, 2015)—a palpable falsehood and a ridiculous one at that.
3. On September 23 in Dublin, Modi praised Indo-Irish students for reciting Sanskrit mantras, but in a manner that he can never shed: “It is a matter of happiness that they can do it in Ireland, but had this been done in India, it would have raised questions on secularism” ( Hindustan Times ; September 24, 2015).
4. In London, Modi lauded India’s “diversity” in his prepared address to the British Parliament on November 12. But the very next day the Old Adam reasserted himself at the Wembley Stadium where he probably spoke extempore: “The things happening in the name of terrorism in the world today, sometimes I feel that had the Sufi tradition gained strength, had its influence in Islam grown, whoever understood that tradition would never have thought of picking the gun” ( The Telegraph ; November 14, 2015). To what or to whom does he hold responsible the Mecca Masjid and the Malegaon terrorist attacks? Prime Minister David Cameron, whose speech preceded his, condemned terrorism but did not make any reference to any religion. He did not feed Islamophobia.
The British were not impressed by Modi. A headline in The Guardian of November 13 read “India is being ruled by a Hindu Taliban”. Aditya Chakrabortty, a columnist for The Guardian , dubbed Modi “one of the most dangerous politicians on the planet. Well, imagine any national leader—Cameron, Merkel, Obama—spending a large chunk of his or her life working for a gang of religious fascists—one that renowned academics compare to Islamic State. Chuck in a long personal history of inciting religious hostility, a track record of cosying up to big business, and a reputation for ruthlessness towards enemies. Now put this extremist in charge of a nuclear state. Worried yet?”
K.P. Nayar reported that the main establishment newspaper carried the headline “Hold your nose and shake Modi by the hand”. He noted: “By a stretch, the closure of the surroundings of Whitehall and the roads leading to Parliament Square may be justified, but when exit points from St. James Park tube station have the look of a war zone because Modi’s hotel is only a few steps away, the level of ‘intolerance’ in Britain towards Modi that lurks beneath the surface can be gauged.
“Hyped domestic television [in India] coverage masked these disturbing undercurrents of the Prime Minister’s three-day stay in the U.K. But for those familiar with both London and Washington, the implications of such shows of law enforcement strength around Modi will be apparent. Security considerations are not a credible excuse” ( The Telegraph ; November 18).
Three of the four speeches cited above were made abroad. The first three reflected intense discomfort with secularism, the last, his prejudice against Islam and his ignorance of its tenets. All four uttered brazen falsehoods. Modi does not forbear from making a statement with reckless disregard for the truth—one which he knows, and should know, was not true. Here is a fine example.
Speaking at Madhopur (Pathankot) on June 23, 2013, Modi confidently asserted: “I want to reveal one of India’s best kept secrets. Nehru always harboured ambition of becoming the Prime Minister and for that he could not see three leaders growing before him. They were Ambedkar, Mookerjee and Sardar Patel. Nehru and the Congress were responsible for Mookerjee’s mysterious death ” ( The Times of India ; June 24, 2013).
Modi knew, of course, that he was speaking in a communally polarised region. The “secret” he belched out was below bazaar gossip. Neither B.R. Ambedkar nor Syama Prasad Mookerjee, president of Hindu Mahasabha, had the slightest chance of becoming the Prime Minister. Gandhi shrewdly decided that Nehru had wider mass appeal than Patel.
Modi was not revealing a “secret”; he was manufacturing a falsehood. His charge that “Nehru and the Congress were responsible for Mookerjee’s death” is a lie. Even Mookerjee’s close associate and co-founder of the Jana Sangh, Balraj Madhok, never said that. Mookerjee died on June 23, 1953, as a result of an acute heart attack while under detention in a cottage near the Dal Lake in Srinagar, which had been converted to a sub-jail. Two of Kashmir’s top physicians, Dr Ali Mohammed and Dr Ram Nath Parihar, attended to him continuously. He was removed to a nursing home.
Madhok alleged “criminal negligence in the treatment” and said that it was “natural for the people in India to suspect foul play” ( Portrait of a Martyr , 1969, pages 242-4). The “circumstantial evidence” he mentions is no more than “the general belief and Shri Trivedi’s [the advocate’s] own conviction that Dr Mookerjee’s [habeas corpus] petition would have been granted and he would have been set at liberty on 24 June”. This is his “circumstantial evidence”. Modi’s charge that “Nehru and the Congress were responsible for Mookerjee’s death” is a patent lie.Not up to the job
A gentleman is known in the midst of a quarrel, Bernard Shaw said. Contests test a man. In contests Modi descends to cheap vulgar comments for his opponents. If in 2002 he called Sonia Gandhi “this daughter of Italy”, during the Bihar election campaign in 2015, he dubbed his opponents “the 3-idiots”. In the 2014 election campaign, he often spoke of shahzada [the prince, Rahul Gandhi] and the damad [son-in-law, Robert Vadra].
To be fair to L.K. Advani, his opposition to Modi’s candidacy was not entirely due to pique at having been pipped to the post. It was also due to a fear that Modi was just not up to the job. With such rhetoric outside, how can a Prime Minister expect cooperation inside Parliament? Especially since it was his own party’s consistent policy to obstruct its proceedings? “We don’t want a debate for debate’s sake,” said Atal Bihari Vajpayee on December 19, 1995, a propos his demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the telecom scandal. On December 13, 2010, Advani embellished the doctrine: “Sometimes business not proceeding also yields result.” The siege of November-December 2010 was unique. The Lok Sabha worked for just seven hours and 37 minutes, the Rajya Sabha for barely two hours and 45 minutes. The Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, announced on August 10, 2011, that the BJP would decide on participation in Parliament “each morning”, on “a daily basis”.
Democratic governance requires two things, a national consensus on the fundamentals and a degree of trust and mutual respect. Modi’s rejection of secularism and his cheap rhetoric destroy the very basis of democratic governance. Not once has he delivered a cogent, coherent policy speech. Not even in the Lok Sabha on Dr Ambedkar’s legacy on November 27. His forte lies in slogans, flamboyant claims, banalities and trivia. Sample this specimen delivered, of all places, in London, on November 13: “When we think of rupee bond, we think of James Bond. Take it further, we think of Brooke Bond. James Bond gives manoranjan [entertainment]. Brooke Bond gives taazgi [freshness].” Is it not brilliant? His is a highly elevated level of discourse—not “red tape but red carpet”. Those of today’s generation who are alive 25 years hence will discover what the leaders of Britain and America really thought of Modi and his chatter when the archives are opened up then.
We have had our share. Eyebrows were raised at the famous speech at the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai in October 2014: “It is said in the Mahabharata that Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that in the times when this epic was written genetic science was very much present. We all worship Lord Ganesha; for sure there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time to fit an elephant’s head on a human being” ( The Hindu ; November 1, 2014).
At the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Jnanpith Award in New Delhi, on April 25, 2015, Modi said that “the Vedas had not only discussed the problems of the environment but also provided solutions. This happened in an age when no one had even thought of environmental exploitation” ( The Times of India ; April 26, 2015). It is a pity that Modi did not share his inspiring insights with the public earlier. It would be a service to humanity at large if he were to contribute an expanded version of the Mumbai speech to TheLancet and elaborate his revelations on environment protection in Vedic times at an international forum, preferably, the United Nations General Assembly. Modi’s hunger for publicity and aptitude for showmanship drove Dr Manmohan Singh to remark on November 14: “Our Prime Minister talks of development wherever he goes. In the name of development, he actually promotes his shop”—a poor translation of the rich Urdu original: “ apni dukan chamkaane ki baat karte hain ” ( Hindustan Times ; November 15, 2015). Beware of the sting of a soft-spoken man.‘But the Emperor has nothing at all on’
If the Bihar elections mark a watershed in domestic politics, the London trip, soon thereafter, registered a low in the much-sought escape and hype in foreign trips. The Prime Minister’s Office was aghast at the presence of Nepali demonstrators. Together Bihar and London mark the peak. The slide downwards has begun. By now the cloak in which he draped himself so smugly has fallen, revealing the swadeshi Caesar’s traits—authoritarian and inept; vindictive and limited; with an ambition that far exceeds capacity. What a child said in all innocence in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes a good many have now begun to say; some sotto voce : “But the Emperor has nothing at all on.” The rise has been arrested. But the decline will not stop. Modi will not win a second term in office as Prime Minister. However, the damage he can yet inflict can be greater than what he has inflicted already through the purges, the hate propaganda, the debasement of the quality of public discourse and of public life itself. The purges are a timely warning.
Walter Lippmann described the conditions for the success of democracy with deep insight. Addressing the University of Rochester on June 15, 1936, he said that one of the reasons why democracy “has worked in America is that outside the government and outside the party system, there have existed independent institutions and independent men. Foremost among the independent institutions has been the Judiciary, with its power to review the actions of the Legislature and the Executive. But the judiciary has not stood alone outside the political government and the parties. There have been others, notably the free churches, the free press, the free universities, and, no less important to the preservation of democracy, free men with the sufficient secured property of their own, farms, factories, shops, professions, savings, which were protected by the law and not dependent upon the will of elected or appointed officials.”
Planned purge & state control
In India, the state has amassed enormous power over the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. Universities and the academies in New Delhi depend on the state. Previous regimes were not free from the urge to control these bodies. “Jobs for the Boys” was their motto as it was of Jim Hacker and Humphrey Appleby. What marks Modi’s purges is their systematic, organised, communally driven and ruthless character. Existing incumbents in office were evicted. Faithfuls were planted. A Hindu majoritarian culture was spread sedulously.
1. The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was entirely reconstituted on February 24, 2015, with 18 fresh appointees including the office-bearers of the RSS-backed Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY). The convention of reappointing members who had completed just one term was abandoned. On May 12, the new Council decided to dissolve the Editorial Board and Advisory Committee of its journal, Historical Review . Among its distinguished members were Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Richard M. Eaton, Profs Herman Kulke, and William Kloss. The new ICHR Chairman was one Y. Sudershan Rao, who has written extensively to establish that the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata are truthful accounts of historical events. (He resigned on November 24 for interesting reasons.)
2. Baldev Sharma was made Chairperson of the National Book Trust on March 3, 2015. Only a couple of years earlier he was removed as editor of the RSS’ organ Panchjanya .
3. On January 2, 2015, the businessman Zafar Sareshwala, the CEO and MD of Parasoli Motors, the only BMW dealer in Gujarat, was appointed Chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University at Hyderabad. A close aide of Narendra Modi, he serves as his point man in his “interaction” with Muslims.
4. On June 24, 2015, the country’s highest policymaking body on education received the same treatment. The Central Advisory Board of Education, headed by the Minister for Human Resource Development, the erudite Smriti Irani, was reconstituted with yoga teachers, Sanskrit scholars, actors and the head of an RSS-affiliated research body—Anirban Ganguly, Director of the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. It is affiliated to the RSS.
5. The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was ousted from the chancellorship of the Nalanda University. He stepped down on July 17, 2015. In an article in an August issue of The New York Review of Books , he wrote: “Nothing on the scale of interference has happened before. Every institution where the government has a formal role is being converted into one where the government has a substantial role.” The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research suffered at its hands. Delhi IIT Director Raghunath Shengaonkar resigned.
6. The highly respected scholar and Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library in New Delhi, Mahesh Rangarajan, was pressured to quit. It is of a piece with these gaucheries that the eminent economist Professor Jean Dreze was disinvited, on November 4, 2015, from the panel of speakers at the Delhi Economics Conclave which was to meet just two days later.
7. Students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune agitated for months against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as President of its Governing Council because of his proximity to the BJP. He was a special invitee to its national executive for two terms with a slender record in films. The students were joined by a host of well-known alumni. Four of the eight persons appointed to the category of “Persons of Eminence” are linked to the RSS, which evidently calls the shots.
8. Pahlaj Nihalani’s appointment as Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification is a gross outrage. He had made promotional videos on Modi. Suresh Gopi, a BJP supporter, was installed as chair of the powerful National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
Amartya Sen’s summing up is perfect. Under Modi, government intervention “is more extensive, politically organised and connected with the Hindutva movement”. In his book The Country of First Boys and Other Essays (Oxford University Press, pages 328, Rs.550), he provides interesting details. “Often enough, the persons chosen for heading institutions of national importance have been exceptionally dedicated to promoting Hindutva priorities. For example, the newly appointed head of the Indian Council of Historical Research, Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, may not be known for research in history, but his Hindutva-oriented opinions are well-known. For example, in his paper ‘Indian Caste System: A Reappraisal’, Sudershan Rao gives his endorsement to the caste system, which—we are told—is often ‘misrepresented as an exploitative system’.”
Sudershan Rao’s strong links with the ABISY, which is known as the history wing of the RSS, have been a matter of concern in the academic community, especially after four ABISY activists were appointed to the Council of the ICHR. The chief editor of the official journal of ICHR ( TheIndian Historical Review ), the noted historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, resigned rather than work with the transformed ICHR. Similarly, the new head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), Lokesh Chandra, appointed by the Modi government, informed The Indian Express that “from a practical point of view [Mr Modi] supersedes Mahatma [Gandhi]”. Chandra said that Modi is, in fact, “a reincarnation of God”.
It was all a planned purge as the eight instances cited above, one after another, together reveal. It conveyed a message—conform or quit—and contributed to the creation of an atmosphere which made the Hindutva ideology respectable and the hate which its adherents spewed acceptable. Girija Singh, Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi and their likes are not “fringe elements” whom the Modi admirers rail against. They are his front brigade . Alexander Pope’s memorable lines fit him perfectly: “Bear like the Turk, no brother near the throne… And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer …And sits attentive to his own applause.”Witch-hunt and cronyism
There has been a sustained campaign on two fronts. Vindictiveness marks the sheer persecution of the fearless and dedicated Teesta Setalvad, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to expose the real culprits behind the Gujarat pogrom and organise rehabilitation for its victims. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are targeted relentlessly. “Five-star activists” is what Modi calls champions of human rights. Priya Pillai was stopped when she sought to fly to the U.K. to brief MPs on environmental damage which, she alleges, was caused by Essar in Chhattisgarh.
Indulgence is shown to favoured ones, especially the senior cops who served in Gujarat. Reinstatement, promotion and refusal of sanction for prosecution are all governed by political considerations (see Irfan Engineer’s able article “Modi Sarkar’s first year”, Janata ; May 31, 2015)
The killings have won international attention. Sonia Faleiro’s article in International New York Times on the assault on free speech (October 30, 2015) was widely read. She cited Narendra Dabholkar’s murder for campaigning against religious superstition; the communist leader Govind Pansare’s murder in February; and the 77-year-old scholar and outspoken critic of idol worship M.M. Kalburgi’s murder in August. On June 4, 2015, the 28-year-old IT manager Mohsin Mohammad Shaikh was lynched in Pune by “Hindu zealots”, as The Times of India called them (June 5, 2015).
The lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri on September 28 will long haunt the government, not least because of Modi’s studious refusal to condemn it. “Undesirable and unfortunate” was his comment belatedly on October 14. He bracketed “the Dadri incident” with “the opposition to the Pakistani singer” Ghulam Ali ( Asian Age ; October 15). Earlier, on October 8, he cited the President’s comments: “The President showed the path.” This was an act of sheer cowardice on his part to absolve himself of the duty to condemn.
Figures with the Union Home Ministry show that while 330 communal riots were reported until June this year in which 51 lives were lost, there were only 252 such cases in the first six months of 2014, with 33 deaths ( Asian Age ; August 3, 2014).
Modi blithely asked on October 14: “But what has the Centre got to do with these incidents?” Why, then, did President K.R. Narayanan instantly condemn, on January 24, 1999, the burning alive of the Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons, aged nine and six, on the night of January 22-23 in Orissa? It “belonged to the world’s inventory of black deeds”, he said.
President Shankar Dayal Sharma promptly condemned the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a racist who was elected to the House of Commons “a moral leper”. President Eisenhower was criticised for his silence on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign.Climate of intolerance
It is the leader at the top who moulds the atmosphere in the country and it is the fouled atmosphere of hate and intolerance that facilitates the commission of hate crimes. This is the climate of intolerance that provoked the unprecedented return of awards by writers, scholars and artists. More than a hundred historians and social scientists from leading universities wrote an open letter to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Ministers to express their solidarity with the statement issued by Indian historians on October 26 expressing concern at the current political situation in the country ( The Hindu ; November 10, 2015). Only blind supporters of Modi will ridicule such spontaneous expressions.
The purges, the vendettas, the hate speeches and the killings together created a poisoned atmosphere. Yitzhak Rabin’s widow did not accuse Benjamin Netanyahu of murdering him. She rightly accused him of creating an atmosphere which facilitated, even encouraged, the commission of the crime.
We have a more relevant authority on this point. Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Syama Prasad Mookerjee on July 18, 1948: “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible ” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence , Volume 6, page 323).
It is Narendra Damodardas Modi’s culpable silence that gives a free rein to the purveyors of communal hate and the criminal elements in the Sangh Parivar. Sonia Faleiro noted: “Modi’s silence is being interpreted by many as tacit approval, given that the attacks have gained momentum since he took office in 2014 and are linked to Hindutva groups whose far-right ideologies he shares.”
The Economist of November 27, 2015, was close to the mark: “The BJP’s election victory last year was attributed to its promise of competence and good governance. It persuaded enough voters that the Hindu-nationalist part of its agenda and the shadow over… past allegations of his complicity in anti-Muslim violence in the State of Gujarat in 2002 were marginal. Now many worry that Hindu nationalism is a pillar of Mr Modi’s vision, after all. During its previous stint in power the BJP ruled with a parliamentary minority and had to ditch some of its Hindu aims, such as a federal ban on cow slaughter. Now, although it has a majority on its own, with a coalition as an optional extra, many hoped its emphasis on economic progress would nevertheless serve as a constraint.
“Mr Modi’s willingness to play communal politics in Bihar, and his failure to take a firm stand against those perpetrating crimes in the name of Hinduism, cast doubt on that. Perhaps, with his eye already on re-election at the end of his term by 2019, he feels that he cannot alienate the BJP’s Hindu activists, who are an essential part of his support and electoral machine. That is a disturbing notion, implying that defeat as well as victory in Bihar might make Mr Modi more beholden to the extremists. Worse, however, is the thought that perhaps he agrees with them.” That is the clue to his silence as well as his speech .
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay holds in his excellent study Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times (Tranquebar, 2013) that “Modi eventually decided against such tokenism in the 2012 elections. No Muslim candidates were put up by the BJP owing to Modi’s fear that it would anger his core supporters among Hindus. But if and when Muslims are fielded as candidates and given representation in government, they would have truly ‘moved on’. Modi, in fact, had little qualms about facing an interview with a Muslim who has dwelled in the nether regions of journalism and politics. But, Modi has not exhibited any desire for public demonstration of affection and acceptance by gestures like accepting a skullcap by a lowly placed cleric. His fear was that the moment he partook in such tokenism, the media would label him ‘Mian modi’ and this may not be acceptable to his primary electoral constituency.” That was a giveaway. He had donned and doffed umpteen caps and turbans all over India. He rejected the skullcap instinctively because as an RSS man he does not accept Muslims genuinely.
He banks entirely on the Hindu vote, which he woos by promises of development, stability and fulfilment of Hindutva. Modi cannot afford to condemn “the fringe elements”. This point was elaborated in one of the most insightful articles published in India. The Hindu of May 19, 2015, published an article by Pradeep Chibber and Harsh Shah of the University of California at Berkeley. “At its heart is the idea that the BJP will do just enough to mobilise the majority Hindu vote in its favour without necessarily attacking other communities. It also enables the party to reach across the caste divide.
“Before the midterm polls in the United States late last year, Nate Cohn of TheNew York Times published a fascinating article (‘Why House Republicans Alienate Hispanics: They Don’t Need Them’) explaining the Republican Party’s snub to Hispanic voters in the run-up to the elections, against the advice of most political analysts.
“The similarity to the BJP could not be more obvious. Given that parties in India need less than 40 per cent of the vote share to win in most constituencies, the BJP has little incentive to aggressively reach out to Muslims and other minority communities.… In India, unfortunately, the party that could represent the Muslims, the Congress, has imploded, and a strong recovery in the near future seems unlikely. This leaves the minorities with no real national voice and a sense of vulnerability. The vulnerability also comes from the fact that those who believe in soft Hindutva are less willing to openly censure the hardliners.”
Mukhopadhyay quotes a speech that Modi delivered in 2012: “He began by arguing how ‘secular’ India and Indians—especially after Independence—failed to adequately honour national heroes like Maharana Pratap and Shivaji and proceeded to highlight how they had been ‘virtually defanged’ in history books and official documents. Modi’s attribution was clear—this was done by successive governments who didn’t ‘care about Indian culture, Indian history and Indian heroes’. Successive governments at the Centre, according to Modi in the speech, divided the tradition of the people. He added that those who prevent heroic characters of medieval India (read Hindu rulers) from getting their due were trying to divide the nation, and empowering those who wanted to subjugate the majority . Immediately thereafter, Modi concluded that this only showed that the ‘ 1,200-year long struggle for freedom has to continue ’. It became more than clear that this was indeed Modi’s home territory because of the felicity with which he dovetailed contemporary politics with his understanding and presentation of history. The 1,200-year-long struggle for freedom that Modi mentioned was obviously an attribution to the advent of Islam in India and the decline of the Chauhans in Delhi. Thereafter Modi kept on underlining how for the past 1,200 years, India had been governed—and is still—by a Delhi Sultanate—using the latter word very suggestively. The nation, he thundered, had to be ‘rid of the rulers’ who have controlled India ‘directly or indirectly’ for the past 1,200 years and this includes the major part of the sixty-five years since Independence . The battle has to be waged at all levels—even at the level of primary education where the Hindi alphabet that is equivalent to the English ‘T’ must mean talwar (sword) and not tapeli (vessel). Modi was fully aware that he was addressing a community which had an electoral presence outside of Gujarat.”
Significantly, precisely this theme of “1,200 years of slavery” was explicitly propounded in the very first speech that Modi delivered as Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha. This exposes the fundamental divide between Modi and Indian nationalism. He is a card-carrying Hindu nationalist. This pracharak owes the theme to the RSS.
“This is what the RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar told an RSS camp at Vidarbha on January 10, 1971: “During the last 1,200 years, because of their invasion of the country, the believers of Islam have converted a large number of Hindus to Islam, sometimes through force and sometimes by the use of incentives. With the help of such people they ruled the country. Hindus felt miserable on account of the loss of their freedom and the establishment of rule of the people belonging to an alien dharma. This led to their continuous struggle to root out the invaders. Their power was destroyed just before the English arrived. Those who had accepted the alien dharma remained and their separate existence was established in the country.”
His predecessor and founder of the RSS, K.B. Hedgewar, said: “Is it not a matter for anxiety for Hindus that Muslims in Bharat have a population of ten crores? Once upon a time they [the Muslims] were all Hindus. They have left us because of our indifference and inaction.” In truth, the Sangh Parivar has been at war with India’s history and its nationalism. The ghar wapsi programme and the conversions are fronts in that war.Contrast with Sardar Patel
In contrast, Vallabhbhai Patel spoke of 200 years of slavery in his presidential address to the 45th Congress at Karachi in 1931. He said: “The continued exploitation of India for close on two centuries renders it necessary for us to seek assistance in several respects from external sources. This we would gladly take from Britain, if she is willing to give. Thus we would need military skill and there is no reason why we may not receive English assistance in this direction.
“But before all else comes the question of Hindu-Muslim or rather communal unity. The position of the Congress was defined at Lahore. Let me recite the resolution here: ‘In view of the lapse of the Nehru Report it is unnecessary to declare the policy of the Congress regarding communal questions, the Congress believing that in an independent India, communal questions can only be solved on strictly national lines. But as the Sikhs in particular and Muslims and other minorities in general had expressed dissatisfaction over the solution of the communal question proposed in the Nehru Report, this Congress assures the Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities that no solution thereof in any future Constitution can be acceptable to the Congress that does not give full satisfaction to the parties concerned.
“Therefore the Congress can be no party to any Constitution which does not contain a solution of the communal question that is not designed to satisfy the respective parties. As a Hindu, I would adopt my predecessor’s formula and present the minorities with a Swadeshi fountain-pen and paper and let them write out their demands. And I should endorse them. I know that it is the quickest method. But it requires courage on the part of the Hindus.”
It will not do to pin the “blame” for espousing secularism on Nehru alone. He was its most articulate and courageous exponent and saved it from being wiped out by the Parivar in 1947-1951. But he continued a tradition. The Report of the Second Congress in 1886 lauded “discussion of public secular affairs”. The president of the 41st Congress in 1926, S. Srinivasa Aiyangar, referred to “the struggle between communalism and nationalism”. He did not find it inconsistent with “the right to personal laws”.
The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha were a parallel and hostile movement. Modi is its fond heir. Which is why, ignoring public censure, he twice made communal speeches during the election campaign in Bihar on the Mahagathbandhan “stealing” reservation from the Dalits, OBCs and EBCs to give it to Muslims, on October 26 at Buxar and October 28 at Forbesganj. Opinions oscillate from one individual to another. That is not judgment . To judge a man, the dots must be connected. In Modi’s case, such an exercise yields a portrait of menace to a secular democracy.
Can a man with such a pronounced communal outlook ever be true to the oath of office that he took as the Prime Minister of India? The oath of office reads “I, …, do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as prime minister for the Union and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or illwill.”
That is asking too much of him. One is reminded of Chief Justice Derbyshire’s pronouncement in the Calcutta High Court in 1943 a propos the Premier A.K. Fazlul Huq: “A person who takes an oath or makes an affirmation to tell the truth in a judicial proceeding and breaks it is guilty of perjury and may be punished at law by the courts. A person, however, who on taking up an office is required by law to take an oath of office that he will faithfully perform the duties of the office takes what is called a promissory oath. The breach of a promissory oath, in the absence of a special provision of law to that effect, is not punishable at law. As far as I am aware there is no punishment in law for the breaking of the promissory oath taken by Mr Fazlul Huq when he assumed office as Chief Minister. But the clear violation of it brands a man as unfit for public office. If solemn promissory oaths by persons who take high office in the State are to be disregarded as mere formalities there is no possibility of good government. Mr Huq is left to the contemplation and judgment of his fellowmen ” ( Polard vs Satya Gopal, A.I.R. 1943, Cal. 594 ).‘Historic destiny’
Indian nationalism had no more eloquent and erudite advocate than Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. What he said on March 2, 1940, in his presidential address to the Ramgarh Session of the Congress is as relevant now as it was then. It is quoted in extenso : “It was India’s historic destiny that many a human race and culture and religion should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history these caravans trekked into India and wave after wave of newcomers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all and took them to her bosom. One of the last of these caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam. This came here and settled here for good. This led to a meeting of the culture-current of two different races . Like the Ganga and Jumna, they flowed for a while through separate courses, but nature’s immutable law brought them together and joined them in a ‘sangam’. This fusion was a notable event in history. Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India in place of the old. We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave our wealth to her and she unlocked the doors of her own treasures to us. We gave her, what she needed most, the most precious of gifts from Islam’s treasury, the message of democracy and human equality.
“Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism . If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands of years, Islam also has been a religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, Christianity.
“Eleven hundred years of common history have enriched India with our common achievements. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour . There is indeed no aspect of our life which has escaped this stamp. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language; our manners and customs were dissimilar, but they acted and reacted on each other and thus produced a new synthesis. Our old dress may be seen only in ancient pictures of bygone days; no one wears it today. This joint wealthis the heritage of our common nationality and we do not want to leave it and go back to the times when this joint life had not begun .
“If there are Hindus amongst us who desire to bring back the Hindu life of a thousand years age and more, they dream, and such dreams are vain fantasies. So also if there are any Muslims who wish to revive their past civilisation and culture, which they brought a thousand years ago from Iran and Central Asia, they dream also and the sooner they wake up the better. These are unnatural fancies which cannot take root in the soil of reality. I am one of these who believe that revival may be a necessity in a religion but in social matters it is a denial of progress.
“ The thousand years of our joint life has moulded us into a common nationality . This cannot be done artistically. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The fact has now been moulded and destiny has set her weal upon it. Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible. No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity. We must accept the logic of fact and history and engage ourselves in the fashioning of our future destiny.”
In combating Narendra Modi and his cohorts, Indians are fighting to save India’s soul.