Why Modi is no panacea for India
Did they expect Modi, widely believed to be the Hindutva brigades’ talisman, to take a U-turn within days and lobby for his name to be sponsored for the prime ministerial slot despite serious internal disenchantment? Perhaps, the poor schoolchildren have got a dose of what Modi is to bring to India if he ever occupies the prime ministerial chair — a huge mismatch between words and deeds. Though Modi’s public relations advisors are working overtime to reinvent this Hindutva mascot’s image to make him more acceptable to the minorities, it is indeed a gargantuan task to erase the dark sides of his polarizing persona.
Moreover, Modi, rightly or wrongly, has leaned toward a segment of intolerant population, which feels that India’s growth story has stumbled because majority of the mainstream political forces pander to minorities. Unfortunately, Modi himself has never made any conscious effort to rein in the band of unruly followers, who are also engaged in virtually unleashing terror in the cyber world. This author understands that the fund for Modi’s often vitriolic internet campaign comes from the BJP’s overseas friends in the United States and some European nations — the so called champions of minority rights. Ironically, not one government — including the Germans who took the lead in softening the European Union stand on Modi — has ever taken note of this malicious development whereby their territory is being used indirectly to browbeat anyone who dares to criticize Modi.
Even Nobel Laureate Prof. Amartya Sen got a taste of the saffron brigades’ habitual disinclination toward the concept of free speech after airing his doubts about Modi’s capability to run as diverse a nation like India during a television interview. Sen had to confront bitter below-the-belt personal attacks for his sin. By all indications, India under Modi is poised to become a nation where democratic dissenters will be bruised by vicious name-calling under state patronage. Modi, after all, in his present avatar as the chief minister of Gujarat has displayed the tendency to adopt a my-way-or-the-highway attitude to bulldoze not only his party colleagues into submission but also the frightened minorities who received a clear signal that there are no other alternatives for them but to play along nicely if they want to remain safe in a Hindu majority country.
To disguise his authoritarian attribute, the BJP is packaging its prime ministerial candidate as an impulsive man who can compel the nation to fall in line come what may. Captains of Indian industry, rooting for authoritative political leadership, ended up supporting Modi without even realizing that it does more harm than good so far as their industrial fortune is concerned. In an era when people world over are gradually becoming more conscious of their rights, it is imperative to gain the confidence of the local populace and make them equal shareholders of any development process. Otherwise, nobody, not even a dictator, can extract the reputation of a brand, which gets a beating due to bad publicity.
Ratan Tata learned this lesson the hard way and preferred to remain non-committal on Modi’s national role despite receiving favor from him for unveiling his pioneering automobile project.
Modi, thanks to blistering image-making propaganda, has turned into a magician capable of reversing economic downturn and liberating India from corruption instantaneously. But, Modi, the shrewd politician he is, has himself been evasive about the particular remedies he would like to offer for the projected ailments, indulging in rhetoric instead. He knows it too well that the BJP is no less prone to corruption. The BJP-led NDA government under A.B. Vajpayee, which demitted office nine years ago, had too many skeletons in the cupboard. From multi- billion dollars UTI scam that robbed innocent investors of their life savings, selling public enterprises — including strategic ones — at less than market value resulting in huge loss of government revenue, embezzlement of 1.24 billion rupees in Gujarat cooperative bank by a sitting minister to unsuspecting public losing money after investing in a fraudulent IT park having government patronage, the list goes on endlessly.
The party with a difference, as their website claims and whose president was caught on camera accepting bribe to secure a defence deal, wanted to make money from every available source. Besides, Modi or no Modi, the Indian economy is bound to reel under the impact of a sudden outflow of foreign fund that resulted in depreciation of the rupee— already struck by inflation and current account deficit (CAD). Interestingly, the BJP is responsible for the CAD mess as the Vajpayee government hastened uncontrolled import by dismantling the import control regime while simultaneously eliminating crucial export incentives leading to import-export imbalance. It would also be interesting to know if the BJP has the appetite to take a hard stand on middlemen, its core constituency, to curb runaway inflation and what Modi thinks about Vajpayee government’s outright rejection of Armed Forces’ one-rank-one-pension demand in 2003.
Since, in an interconnected world, India cannot avoid the danger of facing a synchronized global recession, it would be wiser to maintain administrative continuity in the face of a gloomy international economic scenario. The inevitability of a vacuum creeping in at the center under a polemical regional leader, who has never donned a ministerial berth or dealt with demanding coalition partners, is more frightening as none can claim to have the right pills for alleviating all the sufferings overnight.
• Seema Sengupta is a Kolkata-based journalist and columnist.
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