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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 24, Dated 07June 2012
    CURRENT AFFAIRS  
    COVER STORY

    MAN IN A HURRY

    Firestarter

    Narendra Modi’s go at the party top spot last fortnight triggered an instant implosion within the ranks. Shoma Chaudhury on why Brand Gujarat has holes and why Brand Modi finds it so difficult to get out of his state. With Rana Ayyub & Revati Laul

    Narendra Modi

    Photo: India Today Archive

    LAST WEEK, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was hit by a curious contradiction. He notched a milestone victory for himself yet shot himself in the foot at the same time. For a man who has striven hard for a solo spot in the sun, Modi must be kicking himself for hyphenating his name with his bęte noire Sanjay Joshi at the precise moment of his own clear rise within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But in a pattern that seems to repeat itself in his life, the path he chose to success may end up being his worst impediment.

    Shoma Chaudhury

    Shoma Chaudhury


    For several years, the BJP has been having a bitter internal tussle for power along several arterial lines. There’s been a vertical fight for control between the party and its ideological mentor, the RSS. There’s been a horizontal fight for leadership between the older party guard, especially LK Advani, and the younger leaders. And there’s been heavy politicking within the party for the top spot — the prime ministerial candidacy — that’s not been filled since Atal Bihari Vajpayee vacated it. (As a journalist joked on television, the party has been fighting for the byline even before it has written the story. To which a BJP wit replied, “That’s because the authors lie outside the party.”)

    Last fortnight, at the high-voltage BJP national executive meet in Mumbai, on the face of it, Modi, 61, forced answers onto many of these questions. Despite his many faux pas, the RSS wanted their man Nitin Gadkari to have an unprecedented second term as party president. To accommodate this, the BJP had to amend its constitution. As a powerful member of the executive, Modi’s consent was needed. Modi, however, had been on a prolonged and very public sulk ever since Gadkari had rehabilitated Joshi into the party fold and placed him in charge of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. By insisting now that Joshi — a strong RSS man — first be sacked from the executive before he would deign to attend the meeting, Modi seemed to have shown the RSS its place and sloughed off its control. He also stopped Joshi from taking a train ride through Gujarat and forced him to fly back to Delhi, to pre-empt his showcasing his angry supporters from station-stop to stationstop. For many party well-wishers — hungry for the BJP to reinvent itself as a right-ofcentre party not latched to a regressive communal agenda — these assertions would have seemed a significant emancipation.

    Certainly when Modi walked into the hall in Mumbai, it seemed all the leadership questions — horizontal and vertical — had been sorted out. The crowds roared for their “Gujarat ka sher” and the entire leadership came down from the dais to escort him on stage. Like the others, Gadkari walked a step behind. (There is a theory that RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat had allowed Modi to stage this victory so that the Gadkari-Modi partnership would become the new power centre, forge a new sense of unity and cement both Parivar and party.)

    However, barely a few hours later, all of this started to implode. A clearly upset Advani and Sushma Swaraj left the meet early and went back to Delhi. The next day, Advani wrote his famous blog criticising Gadkari and asking the party to introspect. Before the sizzle of this could die down, in a barely veiled attack on Modi, the BJP mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh and RSS journal Panchajanya wrote scathing editorials about leaders who were in too much of a hurry, who thought they were above the sanctity of the organisation, who felt “only their will should be honoured and no one should command but me”; who forget that “as they go up the ladder, their thoughts must elevate too”; and who have a false sense of invincibility. Quick on the heels of this, another Sangh Parivar mouthpiece, the Organiser, wrote yet another editorial, praising Modi as “by far the most popular leader in the country” and as the only BJP leader who could catapult the party to power as Vajpayee had done in the 1990s.

    Modi’s rise has not only set fire to the BJP, it has even put a cleaver through the highly closed and ideologically tightknit ranks of the Parivar

    Then on 5 June, a few billboards came up anonymously at strategic locations in Delhi and Gujarat, plastered with photographs of Joshi and the slogan — Dil se bolo, Sanjay Joshi phir se — couplets from Vajpayee’s poems, questions about the BJP’s sense of justice, which promotes one leader by asking for the resignation of others, and scorn about such “dadagiri”. A coup had been effected. The Modi-Joshi rivalry became the top news story, eclipsing the rise of Modi. Joshi was suddenly almost as well-known a name as Modi in many parts of the country.

    All of this brings an astonishing set of firsts. Modi’s rise — and the manner in which he engineered it — has not only set fire to the BJP, parting it through the middle and making the battlelines clear; it has even put a cleaver through the highly closed and ideologically tight-knit ranks of the Sangh Parivar, outing its differences like never before.

    RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav laughs heartily when asked for an assessment of the situation, or even his opinion on what makes Modi both so coveted and polarising a leader within the party. “I have nothing to say on him,” he says. “It’s all out there to see. The media can say what they want, but ultimately it’s the voters who will decide.”

    Other BJP leaders are more unequivocal. One senior partyman says, “It’s a very turbulent time for the BJP. I don’t blame Nitin Gadkari for the mess. He’s just trying to keep everyone happy. Personally, he has nothing against Joshi but if he had not requested him to leave, he’d have been held responsible for an even bigger dissidence within the party. Narendrabhai is a very able administrator but he has to understand there have been as able chief ministers as him within the BJP.”

    Drawing blood in both directions, another partyman close to Advani says, clearly indicating the hierarchy as that camp sees it, “The problem is not Modi or Gadkari. Advaniji and Narendrabhai have always shared a guru-shishya relationship. Advaniji has treated him as a protégé throughout his life and seen to it that he remains unscathed. Whether it was the 2002 riots or the Haren Pandya murder investigation, he has always shielded Modi from the tough questions.”

    Sanjay Joshi

    Bête noire Sanjay Joshi has been sidelined after a long-running spat with Modi

    Photo: Pramod Adhikari

    The Sangh’s interference, he continues, is the real root of the problem. “The Sangh has to make up its mind and let the party function. Advaniji was not against the removal of Joshi per se, the point he disliked was the Parivar bowing down to the diktats of one leader. Advaniji walked out not in the face of Modi or Gadkari but in the face of the RSS. There’s too much hypocrisy now. If they don’t want (BS) Yeddyurappa as Karnataka chief minister because he’s corrupt, then why not use the same yardstick for Gadkari, who was responsible for bringing in both (Babu Singh) Kushwaha (the sacked BSP minister accused of massive corruption in the Uttar Pradesh National Rural Health Mission scam) and Anshuman Mishra (a controversial moneybags man) into the party. Modi has become arrogant today as a result of this hypocrisy.”

    An RSS man close to Joshi says, “Many leaders who supported Modi earlier have now become aware of his true colours. When you join the RSS, you are supposed to dedicate yourself to the Sangh. But what did Modi do? Many pracharaks feel this time his arrogance should be given a befitting reply.”

    Suresh Mehta, former Gujarat chief minister and a key Modi detractor, confirms this. “The RSS unit in Gujarat in toto is against him, from the prant pracharak to the lowest worker. Modi has broken the Sangh; broken the party. He has raised his own personal stake so high, he has decimated the party structures. He is a vengeful man who can go to any lengths; everyone may not voice this openly but no one likes what’s going on.”

    For Modi, these open declarations of hostility are perhaps only one end of the worry. For a man who has always been the master of the banner headline, the broadstroke message, the brand positioning, this episode has also brought some other subtler but possibly far-reaching diminishments. Modi understands the positive economies of scale. Reviled or admired, he has always been described in highly-charged, larger-than-life terms: “Fascist monster”, “mass murderer”, “Hindutva fanatic”, if you have been a critic or victim of his purges. And “Loh Purush” (Iron Man), “Vikas Purush” (Development Man), “Hindu Hriday Samrat” (Emperor of Hindu Hearts), keeper of Gujarati Asmita (pride); “unstoppable horse” or “CEO CM”, if you have been an admirer.

    Mass appeal Modi has fanatic followers in Gujarat but India is a different story

    Photo: AP

    Now, with his pique against Joshi so blatantly out in the open, for the first time, new and much more reductive epithets are being ascribed to him: “BJP’s petty poster boy”; a man capable of small-time neighbourhood “dadagiri”. Ironically, in the long run, this down-notching of scale might dent him much more in the popular imagination than much more serious blows have done. It’s certainly given fresh wind to a growing section of dissidents back in his home state of Gujarat.

    On the other hand, Modi’s larger-than-life persona — which has been the source of his towering popularity for some — may itself checkmate him in the time to come.

    FOR SEVERAL YEARS, certain sections of India’s middle class, led most influentially and vocally by a group of big corporates, have been clamouring for Modi as prime minister. But Modi’s ascension to the race, let alone the victory, is clearly not going to be an easy one. His track record and personality — a complex cocktail of high intelligence, high ambition, high capacities, high efficiencies, high demagoguery, high vengefulness and high megalomania — pose many riddles, not just for the country and Indian democracy, but his party itself.

    A political commentator sympathetic to Modi sums up the dilemmas dispassionately. “If there was an America-styled primary within the party today, Modi would win hands down. It seems clear that just as Congress will fight at least one election under Rahul Gandhi, the BJP needs to do one under Modi. The irony is that the party needs him, but can it really risk positioning him as the prime ministerial candidate for 2014? Doing this would immediately turn the election into a highly-polarised referendum on Modi rather than the UPA’s bad governance. His peer group within the party have many doubts about him, some driven by pure jealousy, some by genuine worry about his acceptability at a national level. But, waiting till 2019, may also make it too late.”

    The commentator piles up other imponderables. Though Modi is acceptable to some allies such as the Akalis, AIADMK, JD(U) and Shiv Sena, they also secretly fear his leadership may help make BJP the senior party in their own states. Leaders like Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, will not risk allying with him at all. Modi’s capacity to build coalitions also remains suspect and untested. Other points of anxiety is the bad press he gets.

    “It’s clear,” says the commentator, “that Modi will have to express regret over the 2002 riots at some point, but he has to wait till the final court judgments and hope they clear him completely. To express regret now would be a sign of weakness.

    “In Gujarat itself,” he concludes, “Modi is the all-powerful CEO of the state. He is like a Chinese leader. He has completely centralised control. Files here do not go through 30 people, but five. He works through an efficient machinery of technocrats, empowering them and getting results. This is not a state government that tries to take everyone along. In fact, Modi has made his MLAs irrelevant. Figuratively, he could give you and me a ticket and make us win. He gets votes on his name. But the problem for him is, Gujarat is not India.”

    Gujarat is not India: this pithy phrase opens up several intriguing lines of enquiry. No other leader in recent memory has roused as much mixed reactions as Modi, so what about Gujarat helped make him such an intractably popular leader there for over a decade? If a China-style leader — with its connotations of authoritative and authoritarian rule — is not easily acceptable to the rest of India, what made it so coveted in Gujarat? And, if the first signals can be believed, why is that popularity starting to slip just a little now?

    ‘Positioning him as the PM candidate would turn the 2014 election into a referendum on Modi rather than the UPA,’ says a political commentator

    This December, Modi will face an election for his fourth term in the state. Several years ago, another political watcher close to Modi had told TEHELKA, “I don’t think he orchestrated the riots, but when he saw the public mood, he rode with it.” It’s a telling commentary on Modi that almost no one likes to speak on the record about him. But to say “he rode with the mood” is an even more revealing one. It captures in one line the incendiary speeches, the suspect political decisions, the destroyed police control room call records, the unattended calls for help, the police officers penalised for helping riot victims, the saffronised public prosecutors that activists and sections of the media, including TEHELKA, have been documenting and trying to get justice on for years. The final SIT report submitted recently may have said there is no legally prosecutable evidence against Modi, but this one line captures why then prime minister Vajpayee had said that Modi had failed in his “raj dharma” and should step down.

    This story, however, did not set out to examine the rights and wrongs of the riots. What is intriguing is the political fallouts his utilitarian route to success at the time is now having for Modi. If he “rode the mood” in the early years of his term, he quickly realised its diminishing returns as the wash of public opinion caught up with him. He began to reinvent himself as a development man and, in his hunger for power, the Sangh Parivar — with all its affiliates — was completely sidelined.

    As reputed psychologist Ashis Nandy, who had described Modi as a “textbook case of a fascist mind” way before he came to power, says, “Ironically, India may end up thanking Modi for something he never intended: the decimation of the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat.”

    But it’s difficult to read how his uneasy relationship with the Parivar is really going to pan out for Modi. At one level, when Modi launched his Sadbhavana campaign last year — as part of his brand repositioning — many hardcore Parivar cadres began to feel they’d been had. They had zealously followed Modi and served the Hindutva cause when he needed them. Now, without any notice, the rules of the game were changing. As Suresh Mehta said, many from the family are determined to teach him a lesson.

    But another veteran cautions against any easy summations. According to him, when the party came to power, the Parivar permeated every aspect of Gujarati life. It opened over 104 cells, positioning people in lawyers, doctors and trader associations, business federations, education committees, governing boards, co-operatives, et al. “All this definitely doesn’t run on guru dakshina,” he says, “I cannot say this as substantiated fact but you could say ideological affinities have been replaced by money control.” As Ashis Nandy would say, “Power is the best Rorschach test.”

    Modi with BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi Modi with Kashiram Rana, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela

    Parivar upbringing Modi with BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi

    Photo: Indian Express

    Friends turned foes (L to R) Modi with Kashiram Rana, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela

    Photo: India Today Archive

    Curiously though, none of the ethical blackouts Modi is capable of has alienated his peers as much as the character traits that precipitated the Joshi crisis last week. Clearly, Modi has never been a man who likes red marks in his personal book of accounts. A small incident offers interesting insights. In April 2004, then prime minister Vajpayee was to make an election speech at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. As chief minister, Modi was responsible for the arrangements but, according to sources close to him at the time, he did not send out any buses. Instead he ordered such impenetrable security arrangements around the stadium, it did not just keep out potential hazards, it kept potential listeners away as well. When Vajpayee — accustomed to address oceanic crowds — landed at the airport, he was told no more than 500 people had gathered at the stadium. Mortified, he checked into a hotel while frantic calls were made from the Union home ministry to the state machinery. A few hours later, having made his speech to a hastily gathered crowd of a few thousand, Vajpayee turned to Modi as he was getting into his car and said with biting politeness in Hindi, “I’d heard a word from you could rustle up lakhs of people in Gujarat. Now I have seen your not saying a word can keep them away as well.” It’s the last time Vajpayee ever addressed a crowd in Gujarat.

    But Modi had got what he wanted: he could put a black tick in the column against Vajpayee’s “raj dharma” remark. Even a casual enquiry about Modi in Gujarat yields many such stories of scores settled, of foes cut to size and friends used and thrown in his climb to power. There’s former BJP chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, with whom Modi had built the party ground up from 1987 as an RSS pracharak, but who he ruthlessly played against each other till he was himself installed as chief minister in 2001. There are men like Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia, VHP firebreathers who were useful tools in the communally charged era of 2002, but who have since been cast-off as embarrassing riff-raff. And Gordhan Zadaphia, Modi’s stridently communal home minister at the time of the riots, who has proved a similar inconvenience. Modi’s tiff with Joshi itself goes back a long way.

    In the 1980s, Modi and Joshi — both RSS pracharaks — had been entrusted with building the party in the state. By 1995, along with Patel, Vagehla and Togadia, they had taken the party from 11 seats to 121. Patel, the senior-most leader among them, was made the chief minister. But Modi, jockeying for power, engendered so much distrust between Patel and Vaghela that Patel had to cede his seat to Suresh Mehta, a sort of compromise chief minister, and Modi was banished by Vajpayee to Delhi to prevent further trouble-making.

    At this point, Joshi’s star began to rise. When Keshubhai Patel swung back as chief minister a second time in 1998, Joshi sided with him and resisted Modi’s return to Gujarat. Modi never forgave him for this. In 2005, a mysterious CD appeared with Joshi in compromising circumstances, and Joshi found himself in political exile. His rehabilitation under Gadkari last year as Uttar Pradesh election in-charge rekindled Modi’s ire, triggering their latest round of sabotage and counter sabotage.

    With all of this now lying split wide open, very slowly but surely scorn has started to replace awe in Gujarat. Modi’s flashy individualism, always a thorn in the Parivar’s side, has begun to grate too hard now. Achyut Yagnik, a reputed intellectual and human rights activist, recounts how the head of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh recently said of Modi, “We are tired of both his sheel and his shaili; his brand of integrity and his style.”

    NARENDRA MODI is a labyrinthine man. What you think of him depends on which cubicle of the labyrinth you meet him in. Fellow travellers who knew him in his youth remember an ambitious, hardworking but angular man. Modi was born into a low-caste Ghanchi family in the dusty small town of Vadnagar. His parents Damodardas and Heeraben Modi had six children; Modi was the third. Besides the small oil mill they ran, the family had a teashop. Modi joined a local RSS shakha when he was 8, but other than that he seems to have had an unremarkable childhood. When he was 13, according to custom, Modi was symbolically married to Jashodaben Chimanlal, a girl three years younger than him. However, when his parents brought his wife from her maternal home to formally conjugate the marriage, Modi left home in a huff, rejecting the marriage. He was around 20. (He has never acknowledged this episode in his life. In his official profile in the state Assembly, the box on marriage has been left a blank.)

    Support system Modi’s ambitions of becoming prime minister hinge on the number of allies he can draw into his corner; (clockwise from top) with Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, J Jayalalithaa and Bal Thackeray

    Photos (clockwise from top): Fotocorp, AFP, AP, AFP

    Making his way to Ahmedabad from Vadnagar, Modi worked in his uncle’s canteen for a while, then set up his own tea cart. This is when he got enlisted by the RSS. Though a staunch ideologue, it appears Modi always chafed against the collective discipline of the Sangh. An RSS pracharak, who had a room right next to his in Hedgewar Bhawan, remembers that he would express his rebellion in tiny ways. If the RSS rulebook required everyone to wear khakhi shorts with buttons, he would insist on a zip; if the rule was long-sleeve kurtas, he’d wear them short. His room always had the latest electronics, when everyone else’s was bare. Even then, Modi had an intense need to individuate himself.

    Most people who write about Modi have to rely on the perceptions of others as Modi never agrees to meet anyone he thinks is critical of him. An anecdotal reconstruction of him though can make for a fascinating picture. His 20s and 30s were dedicated to a slow but steady rise through RSS ranks. People from that time remember him as an austere man, absorbed only in his work. “He is a very keen observer and learner,” says a veteran local journalist. “He would take a bus and travel to the furthest corners. There are hardly three political leaders left who know every constituency of the state like the back of their hand. He is one of them.”

    Former cop IH Sayid, now chairman of the state Wakf Board and a BJP man, says, “Modiji always has correct, minute and complete information about everything going on in the state. He has his own network of people. I found that very impressive about him.”

    According to bureaucrats, who talk only in whispers and always in complete anonymity, Modi started on a major makeover of himself once he became chief minister. He taught himself English. He had a room in the chief minister’s bungalow mirrored wall to wall and brought in a tutor. Today, if local political gossip is to be believed, he practices his speeches in this room and has employed a platoon of professionals to watch his every public speech and give him detailed feedback on his voice modulation and gestures. This team also monitors Modi’s image online, putting out positive stories, combating negative ones. The fact that the American firm APCO manages his overall brand is of course well-known.

    Modi is a master of spectacle. This is a key aspect of his reinvention as a development icon and his hold over people’s imagination in Gujarat

    Again if political gossip is to be believed, moving away from his spartan beginnings, Modi has a giant wardrobe. Over 350 kurtas, says a political opponent, and most of them stitched by Jade Blue (a premium tailor in Gujarat).

    Through all this radical makeover, Modi has never tried to promote his family. His mother still lives in a one-room apartment; one of his brothers is a clerk at the Secratariat; another runs a fair price shop. This absence of family is part of Modi’s appeal for the middle class. It reaffirms his reputation for personal honesty and allows him to retain an aura of austere restraint, despite his many reinventions.

    There are many other versions of Modi in the labyrinth. Corporates speak of his suave charm; political adversaries of his dexterity with the crossed sword; and police officers of his absolute ruthlessness. Almost all of them also speak of how one can get completely taken in by him at first. “I really thought he meant business when he first became chief minister,” says one officer. “He used to speak such a convincing language of governance and law enforcement.”

    “God forbid he ever crosses the borders of Gujarat,” says suspended IAS officer Pradip Sharma, who was once close to Modi and has now been badly singed by him. “The whole nation will be fooled.”

    THERE HAVE been two big strands in Modi’s political career so far: the communal consolidation of his early years and his more recent high-profile agenda of “development” and “good governance”. In a sense, both have cannily intuited and fed off different aspects of middle-class desire. Conflagrations and prejudice between community foot soldiers on ground are a phenomenon somewhat easier to understand. But one of the most dismaying aspects of the riots of 2002 was the easy-on-conscience response sections of the Gujarati Hindu middle class had to it. But for small courageous enclaves of resistance, the dominant mood at the time was “Pehli baar kisne inko sabak sikhaya; it’s great they were taught a lesson for the first time.”

    Apart from all the hurdles the government put up, one of the reasons why it became so difficult to take on Modi for the riots was that, with his intuitive grasp of mass psychology, he quickly read the mood and bullet-proofed himself by conflating any moral assault on him as an assault on Gujarati pride. From then on, any arrow aimed at him became an arrow aimed at “Gujarati Asmita”, and subliminally burdened by their shared guilt, “six crore Gujaratis” came together like a phalanx around him.

    In a fascinating sleight of hand, again gauging public mood, over the past few years, Modi has reinvented the shared identity of that time into the razzmatazz of “Brand Gujarat” — the front-rider of India’s development story. A land of double-digit growth, dizzying foreign investments, great roads, surplus electricity and coveted corporate destination. To emerge from the dark cellars of the first chapter onto the red carpets of the second is to transit between two worlds. Interestingly too, while the burden of the first seemed entirely shared, the achievement of the latter seems more individually Modi’s.

    A corporate lobbyist who holds some of India’s most significant portfolios succinctly sums up Modi’s positives for the corporate class. “Like him or not, he is a man of vision. The fundamental principle of policymaking is that, for right or wrong, you have to be able to take decisions. Modi is a decisive, daring man. He knows what he wants and he creates single-window clearances. Gujarat’s state machinery runs because it is protected by the political structure of the state. There are no flip-flops where he’s concerned. Once he gives his word, things happen. I know you are going to pounce on this, but in a democracy, raising concerns can sometimes lead to a lot of chaos. Sometimes, you need to be stern to get ahead; you need to use a stick. He’s got the spine to do that.”

    Rajeev Chandrashekhar, businessman and Rajya Sabha MP, says, “Modi is walking into a vacuum of non-performing politicians. In the past, people were mostly preoccupied with caste and religion. But over the past few years, the language of good governance has begun to acquire political equity and he’s positioning himself in that space. That is what corporates, the middle class and even ordinary people like about him.”

    Yet another consultant from the telecom sector says, “Modi really knows how to get a success story out. I get about a dozen emails a week from the government putting out compelling news about Gujarat’s growth. Whether these are exaggerated or not, how do you combat the visual impact of Modi sitting on stage surrounded by some of the country’s most powerful businessmen? You can write as many words as you want about his failings, but he has already had everyone at ‘hello’.”

    IN TRUTH,Modi is a master of spectacle. This is a key aspect of his reinvention as a development icon and his hold over people’s imagination. Everything his government does is marketed on a giant scale and subsumed to his personality. It is part of the process of turning Modi into an icon rather than a chief minister. Modi has replaced the ordinary business of government, for instance, with a series of melas where he positions himself as the philanthroper king. Kanya Kelavri, Krishi Mahotsav, Garib Kalyan Mela, Pashu Mela, Pravesh Utsav, to name only a few. At each of these festivals, routine Central and state government schemes that have been held up for months are handed out personally by him as special largesse. When TIME magazine put him on its cover recently, Modi strafed Gujarat with hoardings saying “Garv Che.” If he announces a project, the dream will be sold in technicolour. He is also superb at making mega announcements — investment packages that run into staggering numbers of zeros. It’s impossible to pin him down on the details because that would be like combating the communication strength of a hoarding with the dry small-print of a PhD thesis. As Congress leader Arjun Modwadia puts it, “Any communication from the government looks like a Mukesh Ambani wedding invitation.” Of course, this is a self-image both the Gujarati and Indian middle class is eager to buy.

    Another key reason why Modi is feted is that by concentrating government and decision- making in his own hands — and a select few people around him — he has cut out the sort of petty and middle-level corruption that is endemic to India. But if there are two factors that have played the most symbolically significant role in the creation of “Brand Gujarat”, it’s Modi’s coup with the Tata Nano project. Having watched Rata Tata flounder in West Bengal for several months, he famously sent him a message saying “Su Swagatam Gujarat.” According to a journalist close to Modi, he then deployed a special task force of eight government departments and 16 officers and the land was ready and the deal sealed in six days. “He may have given excessive concessions to the Tatas and the Nano car may be a failure,” says the telecom consultant, “but look at what this did to ‘Brand Gujarat’.” Since the Tata project came to Sanand, Peugeot, Ford, Mitsubishi and Suzuki have also decided to set up plants there. Sunil Parekh, former Gujarat CII director and member of the Advisory Board for Vibrant Gujarat 2011, says, “That whole area is transformed. Sanand was just a sleepy little village but the government has built four-lane roads going there and beyond. That’s opened up the entire area. Now about 20 other MNCs are coming to the Sanand industrial estate. So getting the Tata branding at whatever cost was the goal.”

    Modi’s other key tool has been his biannual Vibrant Gujarat meets. After each of these, he has announced staggering MoU figures for investments coming into Gujarat. Almost everyone now agrees that these figures are hopelessly inflated. Even Parekh laughs a little at it. “Undoubtedly, Gujarat’s growth statistics and investments have gone up since Modi took over,” says he. “The problem is sometimes the announcements made are so huge, it defies credibility. For example, in the last to last Vibrant Gujarat, the figures were almost equivalent to the cumulative investments in India since Independence!”

    A chapter on Industry and Mining in the Modi government’s own Socio-Economic Review, issued by its Bureau of Statistics and Economics, states that while the government has announced 17,262 MoUs since the Vibrant Gujarat melas began in 2003, only 6.13 percent of these are under implementation and 9.39 percent of these have been commissioned. In fact, the truth is, for all of Modi’s hype, in 2011, Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh attracted more foreign direct investment than Gujarat; Maharashtra nine times more. As usual with Modi, however, though the devil is always in the details, his master message has gone through.

    Given Modi’s carefully planned strategy of conflating his identity with the identity of the entire state, there is now as fierce a resistance to a debate on Gujarat’s development as there was to a culpability about its riots. If one steps off the glamourised world of Modi’s banner headlines though, the details of Gujarat’s growth story tell another, altogether more darker, tale. It is indisputably true that Modi’s tenures as chief minister has accelerated Gujarat’s growth. But there are many warning signals brewing that the nature and balance of this growth demands a much closer scrutiny.

    On 2 June, the Times of India published a front page story that said, that according to Planning Commission reports, Bihar — once one of India’s most backward states — had topped the list of Indian states on growth rates, clocking an astounding 13.1 percent in the year 2011-12. Gujarat did not figure among the first five states. Clearly, Nitish Kumar is doing at least some of the work Modi has been doing, with much less fanfare.

    However, it would be unfair to deny Gujarat or Modi its achievements. Recently, more than 10 of Gujarat’s premium institutes such as IIM-A, IRMA, CEPT, GIDR and others held a national seminar on “Understanding Gujarat’s Growth Story in the Last Ten Years”. More than 50 economists, analysts, academics and bureaucrats presented their papers. A synopsis of these has now been handed to the Planning Commission. Though this report has not been made public yet, TEHELKA has got an exclusive copy of it.

    The perspectives garnered from this tell a complex story. The eminent economist, YK Alagh, who inaugurated the seminar, said that while Gujarat has indeed been doing well in economic growth over the past 10 years, that growth has resulted in widening regional disparities in the state and is increasingly showing weakening linkages with poverty reduction, nutrition and improvement in human development. Prof Indira Hirway’s paper affirmed this position.

    Though Modi has consistently claimed that Gujarat’s agriculture is growing at 11 percent, Prof Alagh said the real figures hover closer to 5 percent. However, even this, he argued, is a very positive average by global standards.

    Corporate comfort Modi’s pro-business policies have attracted big businesses to Gujarat, including the Ambanis, Tatas, Maruti Suzuki and Ford

    Photos: Clockwise from top AFP, AP, AFP, AFP

    Cumulatively, however, the papers presented at this seminar showed that Gujarat has had very low employment generation and amongst the lowest labour wages in the country over the past 10 years. According to Prof Hirway, the state also ranked 20th among the 20 major states in percentage of women with severe anaemia; 15th in malnourishment among children; and 16th in children’s anaemia. The state had slipped from the sixth position on the overall Human Development Index in 1990 to the eighth position in 2008.

    Sunil Parekh, who was also part of the seminar, brought up several worrying signs triggered by Gujarat’s industrial policy. The industries have not had a large ancillary impact, he said. Also, the hi-tech capital-intensive growth the government had been following has not created adequate employment opportunities in the state’s economy. Significantly, the tax revenue from industries was also much less compared to other states.

    Though Modi has often boasted that Gujarat contributes more to India’s GDP than any other state, according to Parekh’s paper, Gujarat’s contribution to VAT from the ASI sector industries in the state was the lowest among all competing states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Pollution had emerged as a serious concern. Also, the process of industrialisation was too resource-intensive and land and water were emerging as major issues. He also affirmed that the present pattern of industrialisation was not solving the problem of inequity, poverty reduction, and poor human development in the state.

    Prof Sebastian Morris argued that some of the reasons for the rapid growth of the state economy in the past 10 years had been the free immigration of workers from outside (no conflicts between locals and outsiders), no major land constraints for industry, favourable political economy, relatively better infrastructure for industries, better fiscal management and concessions in taxes and incentives to investments, particularly in Kutch district.

    But Prof Ghanshyam Shah, who presented a paper on the notion of good governance in Gujarat argued that the lopsided nature of governance in the state was not very visible to outsiders because they are only exposed to the propaganda projected by the government in Vibrant Gujarat summits and in full-page advertisements in the media. According to him, the frequently organised and widely publicised festivals such as Garib Melas, Sadbhavana Utsav, Gunotsav, Kanya Kelavani rallies etc, were destroying local institutions and brainwashing the middle class in favour of the State. Socioeconomic groups adversely affected by the lack of governance, he argued, were neither visible nor vocal in the state.

    There were several other papers on different aspects of Gujarat’s economy, but overall, all the participants present agreed that one major conclusion that had emerged from the seminar was that in spite of the rapid economic growth Gujarat had seen during the past decade, it had failed to satisfactorily achieve major developmental goals.

    “Gujarat’s model of growth has been projected as one of the best models in the country and many states are aspiring to follow it,” says Hirway. “In fact, Gujarat’s economy has been presented as ‘a key driver to national economic growth’. But we must seriously ask ourselves, given our findings, does India really want to follow this model? Should Gujarat itself be following it?”

    ‘In policymaking, the fundamental principle is that you have to be able to take decisions. Modi is a decisive, daring man,’ says a corporate lobbyist

    EXAGGERATED DREAM-MAKING could have been just an innocuous aspect of Modi’s development agenda in Gujarat. But the relentless positioning of Gujarat — and by extension himself — as a cut above everyone else in the country can have a dangerously hypnotic spell. Very few people in Gujarat — or indeed the middle class elsewhere in India — seem to be aware of the dark undersea on which Narendra Modi’s dream kingdom floats. When they are aware, they seem not just blind, but what’s more disturbing, impatient, to have their attention drawn to it.

    In an excellent article on Modi in Caravan, published in February this year, journalist Vinod K Jose writes compellingly about GIFT City (Gujarat International Finance Tec-City), Modi’s most monumental construction project. When completed, according to Jose, it is meant to have more than 75 million sq ft of office space, more than the financial districts of Shanghai, Tokyo and London put together.

    An architect working on the project told Jose that Modi wants “an estate of glass boxes”. And to build his own Shanghai, Modi had hired architects straight from his dream source: East China Architectural Design and Research Institute. “I was extremely shocked when I saw the design at one of the Vibrant Gujarat summits,” said an architect working on the project. “It seemed like an awfully alien idea to me. I felt like it was the king asking, ‘Go and build a new kingdom for me’— and someone just executing it.”

    Jose writes, “Another architect who works for Modi put it even more dramatically: ‘I don’t know if I’m Albert Speer or Robert Moses. I hope it’s the latter.’ Moses did more than any one man to shape the city of New York, though he rammed through a series of mega projects that earned him the enmity of many New Yorkers. Speer, on the other hand, was Hitler’s architect.”

    Stuff like this put off his defenders, but it’s no accident that references like these come up in connection with Modi. A businessman, who has projects in Gujarat, told TEHELKA, “As entrepreneurs, we wear different lenses. Yes, Modi has reined in petty bureaucracy; yes, he has made Gujarat relatively corruption-free; yes, doing business here is clear, transparent and fairly quick. Yes, there are better roads and infrastructure. But is that all there is to it? You have all that in China too. But would I want to live in China?”

    Another businessman TEHELKA spoke to, similarly praised Modi. A little later into the conversation, he cautioned, “I admit there’s something worrying about the crony capitalism coming out of Gujarat. It may seem overly exaggerated to say this, but if you look back at history, Hitler came into power at a time when Germany’s economy was in decline and big business was looking for a hero who would talk nationalism and the revival of the economy. People were so grateful to get a strong leader, they all kept looking away. When Hitler spoke a fascist language, they all said, ‘Oh, set that aside’.”

    The references may be too extreme but looking away is something many already seem to be doing. When you dance on red carpets, it’s difficult to imagine tripping; difficult to imagine the cellars below. But here is a quick roster of what has happened to anyone in Gujarat who has questioned or challenged the Narendra Modi government over the past 10 years.

    Click to zoom

    Market-savvy Modi has perfected the art of positioning himself as an icon rather than a chief minister

    Mallika Sarabhai had a spurious human trafficking case slapped on her in 2003 for speaking up about riot victims; her passport was taken away; she had to go into hiding. IPS officer Rahul Sharma, who had saved over 300 hundred Muslim children in the riots and submitted damning phone call records on the Naroda-Patiya massacre to the Nanavati Commission, which led to the arrest of a BJP minister and VHP leader, was slapped with an Official Secrets Act case in 2011.

    IPS officer Rajnish Rai, who investigated the encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi and a man named Tulsi Prajapati and arrested three powerful police officers very close to Modi and his home minister Amit Shah, was immediately transferred out of the case and his performance report was downgraded.

    IPS officer Kuldip Sharma, who investigated Amit Shah’s role in the famous Ketan Parekh bank fraud; refused to falsely chargesheet Mallika Sarabhai; and actively did his duty on several other cases that embarrassed people close to Modi, had twenty-six-year-old cases resurrected against him. Pradeep Sharma, his brother and an IAS officer, was also slapped with several cases and jailed for 18 months.

    (Pradeep testified to the SIT that he was instructed by a key Modi aide to call his brother Kuldip and tell him to go slow on rioters but the SIT disregarded his statement without even examining his call records. Pradeep asked for a lie-detector test, but it was denied.)

    The same fate met IPS officer Satish Verma investigating the Ishrat Jehan false encounter case. But it does not just stop at cops. Reputed intellectual Ashis Nandy was slapped with a criminal case for a column he wrote on Modi and Gujarat in 2008. The Times of India was slapped with sedition cases in 2008 for publishing a story on the Modi regime. And the list just goes on.

    On 7 June, as this story went to press, BJP dissidents Keshubhai Patel, Godhan Zadaphia, Vikal Radidia and Naresh Patel, who have begun to group visibly against Modi, were slapped with cases related to engendering communal disharmony in Junagadh.

    The mysterious murder of former BJP leader Haren Pandya, of course, still remains one of the biggest unsolved riddles in the state.

    This staccato list of real retributions — and alleged ones — does not evoke any of the wrenching distress these people and their families have gone through. Trying to tell their stories, however, is like trying to shout through a soundproof room. People outside hear nothing. Most Gujaratis — middle class or corporate professionals — would not even have heard of them. “What good will your story do?” asks one IPS officer, having recounted the tortuous circumstances that dogged his investigation. “Nothing,” I am forced to answer. “But it’s still important to put it out there.”

    It may seem very thin yet to those outside it, but fear and intimidation have become the permanent lining beneath the smart coat of Brand Gujarat.

    TEN YEARS of Narendra Modi’s rule has transformed Gujarat in many ways. But there are also some inherent qualities in the state that have nurtured his rise as a Chinese leader in an Indian democracy.

    “One can analyse Modi for hours,” says sociologist Tridip Suhrud, “but we are only going after a symptom. The disease lies within.”

    “There are some key reasons why Gujarat has embraced Narendra Modi so strongly and with such little dissent,” agrees Achyut Yagnik. “For one, Gujarat is the most urbanised state in India. There are over 30 cities in the state and almost every 25 km, you will hit a town. This has collapsed the sharp ruralurban divide you get in other parts of India. This is why it’s so much easier to evoke homogenised responses here.”

    Other factors he lists are the deep penetration of the Parivar into local structures; the financially strong but socially regressive Gujarati diaspora; and the fact that Gujarat has already been an industrial society for over 150 years.

    Of the 10 percent Muslims that make up Gujarati society, a large section are Bohras and Memons — Gujarati traders — who are comfortable partnering with the BJP. There is also the rise of new religious sects like the Swaminarayan, the Swadhyays and Morari Bapu followers, all of who breathe Hindutva.

    Larger than life Modi has the middle class eating out of his hands

    Photo: AFP

    Suhrud adds other interesting facets of modern-day Gujarat. Part of the homogenisation of Gujarat, he says, has come from the fact that both tribals and Dalits began to be educated during the old Gaekwad regime. With education, their aspirations have changed and can be met by a middle-class hero. Dalits want upward mobility through entrepreneurship and assimilation into the mercantile class. They know this can be achieved only through collaboration not conflict. Business and protest culture never go together.

    Finally, the old Gandhian movement and the idea of voluntarism is dead; there’s been a total capitulation of the university and writers to the State; and there is genuine admiration for the seemingly modern language of numbers that Modi speaks.

    “There are many aspects of Modi’s governance that have been positive,” says Suhrud, “but the trouble is these positives are inseparable from his authoritarian will for power and intolerance for dissent.”

    The final reason both commentators zero in for Modi’s unchallenged reign in Gujarat is the effete disarray of the Congress. “They can’t get an ad right,” says Suhrud, referring to the Republic Day fiasco this year, when the Gujarat Congress took out a full-page ad that included praise for Narendra Modi’s good governance. “And they want to take on a propaganda machine like Modi, who is on perpetual campaign mode!”

    But perhaps, the Congress is finally limbering itself into an opposition worthy of a shrewd adversary like Modi. In June 2011, the Congress submitted a 1,000-page memorandum to President Pratibha Patil with evidence of 17 alleged scams by the Modi government. Most of these were related to undue concessions and land given dirt cheap to corporations like the Adanis, Tatas, Bharat Hotels, Larsen and Toubro, Essar and others.

    On 4 June this year, the Justice MB Shah Commission, set up to probe these allegations, started to hear the cases. If any of these stick, they will hit at the very basis of Modi’s Brand Gujarat packaging: his reputation for honesty; his grand largesse to corporations; his ability to act quick and unilaterally at his own discretion; his famed single-window clearances. Given the dominant mood against unbridled neo-liberal economic policies elsewhere in the country, Modi might need to start bracing himself for some tough questions.

    Earlier, on 12 January this year, Justice VM Sahai of the Gujarat High Court had criticised the Modi government stridently for its “brazen conduct”; “false sense of invincibility” and “spitefulness” in stonewalling the appointment of Justice RA Mehta as the state Lokayukta. He said it had been “absolutely essential” for the Governor to have exercised her discretionary power to appoint the Lokayukta without consulting the chief minister and his council of ministers as “their action and conduct were perilous to our democracy and the rule of law”.

    The Modi administration has moved the Supreme Court on the issue. The court verdict will come in July. If Mehta, widely considered an upright man, is appointed, this could spell a fresh challenge for Modi, who as CEO CM, has become used to having no peer oversight mechanism on his decisions.

    Two other court orders on 8 February and 15 February 2012, hauling up his government and directing it to compensate 500 religious structures damaged in the riots and 65 Muslim petitioners whose shops had been destroyed, should also remind Modi of the genuine overture to the Muslims that is still pending, beyond the glamoured photo-ops of his Sadbhavana fasts.

    Over the past year-and-half, the local Gujarati media, which had been almost completely subservient to him, has suddenly started reporting robustly on Modi. A journalist from a big vernacular daily explains, “At first, people were very taken in, but now everyone’s starting to see through his natak; his drama. That’s what’s making people speak up.”

    The absence of family is part of Modi’s appeal for the middle class. It has allowed him to retain an air of austere restraint, despite his reinventions

    From the villages of Kutch and Banaskantha, a tribal, cattle- rearing district in north Saurashtra, voices that were earlier approving of Modi, or at least silent, are also starting to speak critically. Sujabhai Roop Singh Rathod, 41, a local journalist with the Sandesh paper and also the local media convenor for the BJP in Banaskantha’s Vav block, is scathing about the water situation in his village. “The water we used to drink earlier from tubewells was clean. The Narmada pipeline water was originally meant for irrigation. That’s why it’s an open canal so that if animals fall into it, it doesn’t matter. But now this water is being piped into our homes as drinking water and we are falling ill.”

    Dudaji Rajput, 52, the sarpanch’s husband in Bharadwa village, Banaskantha, is even more dissatisfied. “The drinking water crisis is massive. There is none for the fields too. It’s true Modi has brought development. But does he even know the meaning of the word Sadbhavana? How much has he gone and spent in the name of Sadbhavana?”

    Asked about Modi’s recent announcement of Rs 1,800 crore as a package for Banaskantha, he says, “My understanding is that Modi claims the credit for the routine funding that arrives for the district.”

    Ramdin Kanor, the sarpanch of Fatehgarh village in Rapar block, Kutch, is equally vocal about his disgust. “Modi keeps talking of the pride of Gujarat — Gujarat’s gaurav. But for the poor, there is no pride, no gaurav. There is no support for the poor. And we have no water.”

    In the 2007 election, Modi had sent out an SMS that said, “I am CM, was CM, and will be CM. CM means Common Man!” In a sense, this witty play captures the dilemma of Narendra Modi’s ambition.

    Which CM is he? If he really wants to make a go at national politics, this is a question he will have to resolve firmly within himself. This December, it might help if he started with making both letters lower case.

    Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka.
    shoma@tehelka.com


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 24, Dated 07 June 2012
 

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