[Previous part: Part 3]
In my last post on this topic, admittedly many eons ago, I had finished with a reference to Congress as Modi’s biggest polling agent.
Much of Modi’s support outside the BJP’s core base, I would suppose all but the most committed of Modi fanboys would accept this, stems from the performance (and lack of it) of the Congress-UPA government. Only those who have been given a Padmabhushan by this government or hope to be given one in the future would defend its inglorious legacy of slush and paralysis and so I would presume there is no need to put the history of the UPA under the scanner here. The UPA has been Rohit Sharma in New Zealand and most of us can agree with that.
The problem with the Congress is so basic, so deep is the cancer bonded with its DNA, that there is nothing much it can do about it in the near future. Which makes the job so much easier for Modi.
The Congress, ever since Sonia Gandhi firmly took over its reins and relegated reformers like Narasimha Rao to the dustbin of history, has become a party with one single obsession. Namely to perpetuate the Gandhi dynasty. Rahul Gandhi poses the greatest challenge to this, as his public pronouncements and singular ability to shirk responsibility, notwithstanding an army of cheerleaders throwing legs and waving their pompoms, has made him an object of more or less universal ridicule. If there has been something worse than the sight of Rahul Gandhi (he admittedly is funny, in an unintentionally subversive way) trying to act statesmanly, it is the naked display of sycophancy that goes on in parallel, almost like a real-life enactment of the fable of the Emperor with No Clothes (remember how the courtiers keep applauding the king’s excellent clothes even though he is stark naked). In the 70s when people were more enthralled by the Gandhis and in general more respectful of royal authority, this kind of tomfoolery might have had some political impact. Now this just makes people roll their eyes. Of course, such is the web of power inside the Congress, and props to Sonia Gandhi for that, that no single Congress leader, no matter how much more suitable he might be than Rahul Gandhi as a leader, will dare to make a play for the party leadership. Unless Sonia Gandhi chooses him as the next cipher.
Which should make Modi happy.
What should make Modi doubly happy is the style of leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh. Leaving aside the justification of the worst kind of corruption as coalition-dharma i.e. realpolitik, Dr Sing’s inability to connect with the population of India, perhaps brought out most tellingly by his failure to inspire a nation attacked on 26/11 (even George W was able to pull that off) with even something as simple as a rousing speech, and the perception of him being a sock puppet, has made India pine for a strong, authoritative leader, with the reputation for not being controlled by anyone else. And that Modi is, though it can be argued, that he goes over to the side of authoritarian from authoritative, but then again in that respect, he is no better or worse than the Mamata Banerjees and the Mayawatis and the Jayalalithas.
This brings us to the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Gujarat 2002.
There are those, and this constitutes most of Modi’s critics, that would say that Modi orchestrated the riots, like a director of a movie, and that throughout he was in full control of the situation. This is an extremely serious charge, and puts him on par with war criminals. Despite the presence of an antagonistic government at the center, nothing that has come remotely close to indicting Modi as a direct conductor of the violence has been established in court.As a result, Modi’s attackers, mostly in the English language media, have tried to press the weaker charge, even while implying the stronger, which is of course a most adroit sleight of hand. And this weaker charge is that Modi did nothing, and by his sin of omission, enabled the carnage of 2002 either because he hates Muslims or because he is incompetent. Either way, he has blood on his hands. Ergo he is unfit to rule. Again, nothing towards this charge has been proven in a court of law but one may argue that the nature of the crime is such that establishing it legally becomes very difficult.
One can take a principled stance and say that in case of riots, the ruler should always be held guilty till conclusively proven innocent, especially when it is his political base that caused the maximum carnage. Since the shadow of doubt hangs over Modi, and will always hang over him, that fact itself renders him unfit for PM-ship. But in essentially a two-way contest at the national level (apologies to Kejriwal fans but Kejriwal needs to do a lot more before he can make it a three-way contest at the national level and if he does he definitely will have an advantage in this respect), this principle can only be applied to cross out Modi only if the opponent is any better. As a matter of fact, the opponent in this case can be argued to be as bad, if not worse.
Wait. Am I bringing up 1984?
One of the many ways the captains of our opinion have stifled an even-handed deconstruction of Modi is by browbeating the mention of 1984. How dare you trivialize 2002 by bringing up another atrocity? How dare you think that 1984 justifies 2002? Sanghi clown.
Of course, the reason why 1984 comes up is not to trivialize or to justify what happened in 2002 but to contextualize and to establish the comparison, which is essential because an election is a choice.
But try telling that to some.
A piece written by a prominent commentator on politics and sport, in the Telegraph, forms a most interesting example of how this comparison is actually spun, as being favorable to the Congress.
The stock response of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the argument that Godhra makes Narendra Modi politically untouchable is “What about 1984?” There are several inadequate comebacks to that question and the best of them is that no one should use one pogrom to justify another
As I was saying.
After saying that one should not use one pogram to justify another (even though that is a strawman if there ever was one), the author kind of brings them up both. But since it is used to establish that the BJP is worse than the Congress, it is fine. Ends justifies the means and all that.
The problem with this response, though, is that it doesn’t answer the questions that fly in close formation behind the “What about 1984?” question, namely, “Why is the BJP worse than the Congress?” and, relatedly, “Why is Narendra Modi any worse than Rajiv Gandhi?” specially given the latter’s infamous comment, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” which seemed, retrospectively, to rationalize the systematic killing of Sikhs in the days that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
These are important questions regardless of who asks them. The fact that they are often asked by Narendra Modi’s unlovely supporters isn’t a good reason for not taking them seriously……
the reluctance of the Congress to purge itself of members accused of participating in the 1984 pogrom, its willingness to field them as parliamentary candidates and to appoint them to ministerial office, doesn’t add up to a record that can be virtuously contrasted with the BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s brazenness after Godhra
Let’s see why.
Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms.
Try to imagine a BJP government headed by a Muslim ten years from now. It doesn’t work even as a thought experiment. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the BJP’s ideology is essentially the encrustation of prejudice around an inconvenient and irreducible fact: the substantial and undeferential presence of minority communities in the republic, specially Muslims who, for the sangh parivar, are the unfinished business of Partition. The idea that the BJP might appoint a Muslim head of government (as opposed to, say, the nomination of President Kalam to titular office) is unthinkable.
And here is the rubber hits the road. The Congress is a good girl that is naughty when she wants. The BJP is however an evil crone putting on a mask of piety only when it suits them. How do we know that? Well because President Kalam is a titular office, holding no real power, a mere prop while Dr. Manmohan Singh is a real authority, a man that functions fully independently. Now the way I see it, the fact that Dr. MMS is the prime-minister is because he is pliant, obeys orders, had a clean image (operative word: had), and has no personal agenda to push and no designs on Rahul Gandhi’s amanaat. That he is Sikh is simply a coincidence. But then again, what do I know?
Okay now we are coming to the core.
But the reason his prime ministership is possible is that the Congress isn’t ideologically committed to anti-Sikh bigotry (despite 1984) in the way that the BJP is committed to Hindu supremacy and the subordination of Muslims. That’s why Narendra Modi so excites the sangh parivar’s rank and file: the Gujarat Model is the BJP’s test run for India, and it isn’t the economics of it that sets the pulses of its cadres racing.
So the reason the dynastic Congress isn’t as dangerous as Modi’s BJP is dispiriting but straightforward: while the Congress is capable of communalism, it isn’t constituted by bigotry. With Modi, even when he’s talking economics and good governance, we get the “burqa of secularism” and Muslims as road kill. It’s not his fault; from the time that Golwalkar sketched out his vision of an India where religious minorities were docile helots, bigotry has been Hindutva’s calling card.
Tavleen Singh in her book Darbar (Page 4) talks about the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination wherein a certain prominent Congress leader, who had been accused of the same crime in 84, came leading a group of Congress workers shouting “Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge” with, and I quote, “Some of the hot-headed in the group said there would not be a Sikh alive in India this time.” At that time these people thought that the Sikhs had killed Rajiv Gandhi and hence the reaction. This shows that even till 1991, the anti-Sikh bigotry had not abated and the threat of violence was as real as it was in 1984.
Here is the thing. The Congress does not have an anti-Sikh bigotry. True. It has an anti-anti-Gandhi family bigotry. If any entity that is vulnerable goes up against their God, then the Congress activist has the potential to be no different from any of the most violent footsoldiers of the fascist Hindu right. Because that’s his way of showing loyalty to the core values of the Congress.
What makes 1984 worse than 2002 is that this clan of the Gandhi is as strong as ever. The liquid center of their religion glows hot. Modi and BJP has at least soft-pedalled on its rhetoric, opportunistically certainly but it has. Even more importantly, Maya Kodnani has been put behind bars. Critics will call her the fall guy, the token sacrifice. So be it. The Congress has not even done that. It cannot, if it wants their hardcore base to be happy.
The problem here though transcends BJP and the Congress. It is the use of violence by all political parties, from the Sena to the Communists, from the BJP to the Congress, from Samajwadi Party to BSP, to foster a sense of camaraderie, to intimidate opponents, to demonstrate absolute power. However the narrative by significant sections of the media is so constructed as if violence is only a problem for Modi and the BJP and the evil fascist Hindus. There was a cover, I think for Open magazine where Modi is shown standing on a pyramid of skulls while Rahul Gandhi is shown standing on Sonia Gandhi’s shoulders. In the interest of fairness, they should have drawn a pyramid of skulls beneath her feet also.
But then fairness is a quality in short supply in the English media. And why that is is topic for another day.
The silver lining is, and perhaps I am being optimistic here, is that the kind of violence that we saw in 84 and 02 will not happen again. Both the Congress as well as the BJP have learned their lessons. The core bigotry of their cadre may still live, but the expressions of them will not be as violent. Not because they are better people, but because the electorate is not as tolerant as it once was. So elections this time will not be fought on fear, though the fear card will be played. It will be fought on which leader is perceived to be more able to provide better governance.
And on this Modi is definitely quite a few steps ahead.
At this point, some may ask “What about Arvind Kejriwal?” Well, as I said a while ago, Kejriwal is not a viable third option at this time. The mindspace occupied by Kejriwal due to his continuous presence on the nightly news will not translate to PM-ship unless something really unexpected happens. Such are the numbers. As a result, come poll day Modi will be judged against Rahul Gandhi and the BJP against the UPA.
But honestly. What about Kejriwal? What about his movement? Even as a thought experiment, how would he compare? Why is he suddenly so popular? Or is he? A deconstruction of Kejriwal and his methods is definitely called for.
Some time in the future.