Tuesday, 17 June 2014 00:00
The Modi Aandhi (Storm)
The resounding chant by the massive crowds who gathered at BJP rallies in Northern India’s ‘Cow Belt,’ the Hindutva conservative base, ranging on a north-south axis from the states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, parts of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, parts of Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka, which greeted the arrival of the helicopter carrying BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to rallies, there and throughout India, was ‘Na Mo-Na Mo,’ an acronym for Narendranath Damodardas Modi.
How Na Mo structured a journey from the remote village of Vadnagar, about 100 km from Ahmadabad to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Race Course Road in Luyten’s New Delhi, has already become the stuff of virtual legend.
The stuff of legend
Born on 17 September 1950, Narendra Modi was the third child of Damodardas Modi and Hiraben who belonged to an ‘Other Backward Class’ (OBC) community. Modi studied at B N High School, a co-educational Gujarati language high school. His teachers and classmates remember him as ‘ND,’ an average student, who was a keen debater, participated in theatrical performances, a strong swimmer and a committed member of the National Cadet Corps.
Modi’s father ran a tea stall along with his uncle and ND would take tea in a kettle to sell to passengers at Vadnagar railway station. During the election campaign Congress party scion Mani Shankar Aiyer created a sensation when he sarcastically most generously offered Modi a stall if he wanted to sell tea at the Congress party annual sessions. Aiyer, a Brahmin, retired from the Indian Foreign Service, was roundly condemned for this comment!
ND showed an early commitment to social service by volunteering to serve tea to Indian Army Jawans passing through Vadnagar railway station on their way to fight in the 1965 Indo -Pak war. He also involved himself in flood relief and other such social service activities.
Modi’s parents, as is the Indian Hindu custom, arranged a marriage for him when he was 17 to Jashobaden, but he never lived with her. Jashobaden could not be traced by Indian media during the 2014 election, she being a retired teacher by then, as her family had very sensibly sent her on a ‘strategic’ pilgrimage. Indeed Modi admitted and disclosed this marriage for the first time in April 2014, only when filing nomination papers for the Varanasi constituency for this 2014 election, after the Indian Supreme Court had earlier ruled that non disclosure of relevant information in a candidate’s nomination papers could result in the nomination and or election being invalidated.
After Modi’s stunning victory, Jashobaden very graciously congratulated him and wished him well and said she would certainly attend his inauguration event as Prime Minister if invited. Indian media has not reported whether she was invited. Modi is reported to have left home shortly after this marriage at 17 years and roamed the scenic mountains of Kumaon, in the foothills of the Himalayas, about which the famed author and Shikari Jim Corbet has written so eloquently, especially his masterpiece ‘The Man-eaters of Kumaon’ on hunting tigers who had turned rogue man eaters.
Modi’s social service work
Modi’s social service work drew him to the Rashthriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pro-Hindu social movement, and he became an RSS volunteer, a ‘Pracharak’. Photographs of Modi have emerged on the internet showing him sporting his iconic beard during these young days.
Biographers have written that Modi’s early responsibilities as a Pracharak included making tea, breakfast and snacks for seniors, after they had finished their morning their morning drills or ‘Shakas’. These are militaristic drills undertaken by RSS cadres wearing white shirts and brown shorts using bamboo lathi poles. Contemporaries however claim that Modi himself, a late sleeper, often missed the Shakas himself. But by the time the 2014 election and indeed in his repeated terms as Gujarat’s Chief Minister, he seemed to have outgrown this lethargy!
Over time with the RSS Modi built up a reputation as a superb organiser. Although the RSS began in pre-independence India with charitable aims, it always carried quasi-military overtones as evinced by the men in brown shorts performing morning callisthenics. Today, the RSS has successfully re-branded itself as a more youthful, right leaning, nationalist organisation, with rugby football and volleyball as alternatives to the physical jerks with bamboo lathi poles of yore.
"The effect Narendra Modi will have on South Asia is very interesting to speculate. During the campaign, Modi declared that India’s smaller neighbours ‘do not sometimes show sufficient respect to Bharat’. Modi broke new ground in inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who attended against the wishes, it is reported, of Pakistan’s powerful Army, which sees India as an existential threat, and other South Asian leaders. Reports of Modi’s meeting with Sri Lanka’s President are illuminating. Modi reportedly requested the Sri Lanka President to expedite the process of national reconciliation ‘in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity within united Sri Lanka’Unlike other recent Indian Governments at the centre, Modi has no coalition partners to trip him up or moderate his policy idiosyncrasies, which he has to play up to. He has a full Parliamentary majority which dominates the Lok Sabha. He will overcome the temporary numbers issue in the Rajya Sabha in the short-term. Modi’s new Indian Parliament is also in many ways a unique institution – the 543 members of the Lok Sabha are the wealthiest-ever Parliamentarians in India’s history. It has the largest-ever number facing criminal charges in the history of India. It also has the lowest-ever number of Muslims in India’s history"
Modi’s distinctive tastes were short-sleeved kurtas with hand-tailored button holes. Modi favours Swiss watches and Mont Blanc pens, those of us who watched his inauguration would have notice the distinctive ‘top luxury end of the market’ black Mont Blanc Meisterstuck pen, with a white cap, Modi pulled out to sign his acceptance of the Prime Minster of the Indian Republic.
But on the other hand Modi is a vegetarian teetotaller, who gets up at 5 a.m. every day to do yoga exercises and meditate, reads the news for 15 minutes, checks his Tweets and responds on his iPad. Modi was one of the first Indian politicians to own a digital diary and reportedly has not taken a holiday in 12 years. Indeed as Prime Minister Modi hit the PMO running, working a virtual 14-hour day!
Delhi’s laidback senior IAS bureaucrats were flabbergasted! He has ordered them to tidy up their offices and maintain high standards of sanitation in the toilets. A welcome order for anyone who has had to endure a rest room in an average Indian departmental office! Modi is expected to bring n a selected team of IAS bureaucrats from Gujarat soon. Modi, who has published a diary he kept as a young man, is a regular writer and addictive tweeter and a poet whose work centres on nature and patriotism.
Icon for communal violence
Narendra Modi’s rocketing rise from humble char wallah or tea seller transformed to a national icon for communal violence to hyper efficient developmenalist will in time be the stuff of legend.
The national icon for communal violence, with which Modi is branded, is due to Modi’s alleged association with the worst anti Muslim riots in two decades in 2002, when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. A train carrying Hindutva RSS cadres returning triumphantly after destroying the Babri Masjid Mosque, at Ayodhya, the location of which the Hindutva’s claim is the birth place of Ram, where the India’s Mughal rulers destroyed an ancient temple and built a mosque which the BJP and Hindutvas tore down, caught fire at a station in Gujarat, and the Hindutva, who blamed the Muslims for the arson, went on an anti-Muslim pogrom, blaming the Muslims for the arson. There was some doubt later whether an electrical short in the train caused the fire.
Senior members of Modi’s State Government, the BJP and fraternal mass organisations led murderous attacks against Muslim neighbourhoods across Gujarat. The Police and remaining members of Modi’s State administration it is alleged, who were not rioting stood around, as limp and powerless bystanders, feigning strategic paralysis and ineptitude, at a time when their much-acclaimed, administrative and crisis management skills were most needed.
While Modi has denied any role in the anti-Muslim pogrom, it is alleged that his State Government has actively and systematically obstructed the investigation and prosecution of those allegedly responsible. Notwithstanding this, one of his Ministers in the Gujarat Government of that time has been convicted. Strangely Modi has not expressed any contrition for the event under his watch either. Except, when pressed by an aggressive interviewer, saying something like ‘he was as sad as he would be when he sees an innocent puppy dog run over by a car’! A most unfortunate analogy!
Modi’s years as Chief Minister of Gujarat has had Indian capitalists such as Ratan Tata and the Ambanis of the Reliance Group and other Indian and Foreign investors falling over each other in praise of his decisiveness and consistency, commanding a bureaucracy that took decisions and attracted massive Indian and FDI into Gujarat. Gujarat is one of the few Indian states which have power 24/7 in India.
Modi has pushed strong initiatives into alternative energy. Gujarat’s infrastructure is said to be world class, with road, harbours and airports which really deliver. On the social development side, Modi has his critics, especially among India’s social organisations and redistribution economists such as Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who have criticised the low social indicators especially among the minorities. However, Modi extremely successfully projected himself as a ‘can-do’ hands-on administrator, who can move India out of its lethargy caused by the inaction and indecisiveness of the then incumbent Congress Government.
Indeed in the campaign Modi targeted the Gandhi family, Sonia and Rahul and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who ushered in India’s revolutionary reforms, but today reduced to a cipher under Sonia Gandhi chairmanship of the Congress party. Sadly even Singh’s former supporters now call him ham-handed, withdrawn, a wimp, and a classical babu (a bureaucrat promoted way beyond his abilities, long past his ‘sell by’ date).
Allegations of endemic corruption under Congress rule was compared with Modi’s claimed corruption-free management of Gujarat. Modi went for the jugular, during the election, offering ‘less Government, maximum governance’.
Electorate responded in spades
The electorate responded in spades. The BJP attracted 31% of the vote; the Congress, a mere 19%. Turnout of voters was unprecedented for India – 55%, compared to only 45% in 2009’s election. India’s Westminster style first past the post system enabled the BJP to win 282 of the 543 seat in India’s Parliament with only 31% of the popular vote. The BJP led alliance totalled 336. The Congress was reduced to a mere rump of 44 members of Parliament. Only well-established, well-known, longstanding senior Congress MPs were re-elected. Modi called it an Aandhi (storm); his supporters labelled it a tsunami.
Modi was sworn in on 26 May; an event which some described as a coronation, with the Mounted Lancers of India’s Presidential Guard present in ceremonial brilliance and grandeur. It was acclaimed as the grandest event since independence at Rasthrapathi Bhavan, the President of India’s red sandstone Luyten-designed palace. 4,000 invitees indulged in Modi’s well-known fondness for dramatics.
Like Asoka the Great who vanquished all before him through war, before sickening of the killing and accepting the Dharma of the Thathagatha Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, Modi had arrayed before him his vanquished local political rivals and all the leaders of the South Asian region.
Effect on South Asia
The effect Narendra Modi will have on South Asia is very interesting to speculate. During the campaign, Modi declared that India’s smaller neighbours ‘do not sometimes show sufficient respect to Bharat’. Modi broke new ground in inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who attended against the wishes, it is reported, of Pakistan’s powerful Army, which sees India as an existential threat, and other South Asian leaders.
Reports of Modi’s meeting with Sri Lanka’s President are illuminating. Modi reportedly requested the Sri Lanka President to expedite the process of national reconciliation ‘in a manner that meets the aspirations of the Tamil community for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity within united Sri Lanka’.
Modi reportedly turned to India’s Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs and asked what assurances Sri Lanka had given the previous Indian Prime Minister. The Secretary replied: ‘to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution and even go beyond it’. Modi also commented that it was five years since the LTTE was defeated.
Clearly Modi intends to be a mover and shaker within India and outside. Modi would want to consolidate his support in states which the BJP could not do well; West Bengal, for example, where Mamta Bannerjee’s Trinamul Congress won. During the campaign, Modi repeatedly referred to Muslims refugees from Bangladesh as outsiders, and Hindu returnees as genuine refugees.
In the same way, the BJP did badly in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Modi would want to outmanoeuvre and outflank Chief Minister Jayalalitha, on the tissue of projection of Sri Lanka’s Tamils, and the protection of Indian fishermen who brazenly poach in Sri Lankan waters in the Palk Straits, destroying the livelihood of the northern Sri Lanka fishermen.
Domestic and foreign security threats
Modi offered India a rapid path to development on the Chinese autocratic model, fast-tracked infrastructure development, smart technical solutions, and authoritarian efficiency. Promoting the banner of patriotism and development, Modi presented to the Indian voter a unifying vision that claimed to be able to transcend the traditional special interest politics which had bedevilled the Indian polity since independence, based on issues of caste and religion that has fractured and fragmented Indian society.
Analysts predict that Modi will have a no-nonsense approach to domestic and foreign security threats. In place of an inchoate and confused mix of half-hearted carrots and sticks offered to the Maoists in the BIMARU states (Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) and the Kashmiri militants, which have kept their battle alive without effective resolution for years, Modi will have a simple and effective securocractic answer: ‘just say no’.
The Maoists and the Kashmiri militants will be dealt with, analysts predict, in the same way the Chinese deal with the Tibetans, the Israeli’s with the West Bank Palestinians, and closer to home, the Government of Sri Lanka with the LTTE, overwhelming military force in the short-term, demographic encirclement in the medium-term and efforts to overwhelm the opposition through infrastructure development and other carrots in the long-term.
Modi’s new Indian Parliament
Unlike other recent Indian Governments at the centre, Modi has no coalition partners to trip him up or moderate his policy idiosyncrasies, which he has to play up to. He has a full Parliamentary majority which dominates the Lok Sabha. He will overcome the temporary numbers issue in the Rajya Sabha in the short-term.
Modi’s new Indian Parliament is also in many ways a unique institution – the 543 members of the Lok Sabha are the wealthiest-ever Parliamentarians in India’s history. It has the largest-ever number facing criminal charges in the history of India. It also has the lowest-ever number of Muslims in India’s history.
A cynic lays out the future of India and South Asia for the next five years – dominated by a Legislature full of rich, criminal Hindutvas, led by an executive which is authoritarian, pro-business, anti-Muslim and entrenched in a greater Bharath fantasy which will be the dominating dogma in regional diplomacy, based on the quip “remember it’s the Indian Ocean – not the South Asian Sea!”
Modi’s first visit to a neighbouring state sets the trend; it is to Bhutan – a virtual vassal state of India, whose security is ensured by a resident Indian Army garrison in the capital Thimpu, at brigade strength. One is reminded of that hoary old Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times!’
(The writer is a lawyer, who has over 30 years of experience as a CEO in both State and private sectors. He retired from the office of Secretary, Ministry of Finance and currently is the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Business Development Centre.)