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Gujarat: The Meaning of Modi's Victory

The 2007 elections in Gujarat revealed that Narendra Modi was not only a new kind of politician, he also represented a new kind of politics. By playing on notions of Gujarati nationalism and pride, by sustaining an anti-Muslim mood and by building a personality cult that appealed to both the urban middle class and the "Gujarati" voter, Modi seemed to be reinventing politics. Is Gujarat a forerunner of politics in all of India?

COMMENTARY

Gujarat: The Meaning of Modi’s Victory

Christophe Jaffrelot

The 2007 elections in Gujarat revealed that Narendra Modi was not only a new kind of politician, he also represented a new kind of politics. By playing on notions of Gujarati nationalism and pride, by sustaining an anti-Muslim mood and by building a personality cult that appealed to both the urban middle class and the “Gujarati” voter, Modi seemed to be reinventing politics. Is Gujarat a forerunner of politics in all of India?

Christophe Jaffrelot (jaffrelot.schlegel@ orange.fr) is with the Centre d’etudes et de recherches internationales (CERI), Paris.

L
ast December, the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party of Narendra Modi escaped the usual anti-incumbancy reflex of the voters to win a comfortable majority in the Gujarat assembly. This unprecedented performance is even more surprising as the outgoing chief minister had been attacked in the press before the campaign started because of his role in the 2002 pogrom. His success may be attributed to his economic factors, but the election campaign shows that other factors – which may be more significant – must be taken into account.

‘Vikas Purush’ and Hindutva

The BJP election manifesto, that was released in October 2007 focused on development issues and good governance (Indian Express, Ahmedabad edition, October 22, 2007). Gujarat being one of the best performing Indian states in terms of per capita revenue, Modi publicised his economic achievements in the first weeks of his election campaign and projected himself as the ‘vikas purush’ (development man). He clearly did so to avoid any reference to the 2002 pogrom, but the media did not let him go away with it. One of the Tehelka reporters, Ashish Khaitan, who had managed to approach Sangh parivar leaders involved in the riots by pretending that he was a sympathiser doing a PhD, succeeded in recording their interviews with an hidden camera. Babu Bajrangi, who had played a decisive part in the violences of Naroda Patiya, one of Ahmedabad neighbourhoods where 89 Muslim were killed on February 28, 2002 confessed [Jaffrelot 2007]:

It has been written in my FIR that I ripped open the womb of a pregnant Muslim woman and flung the baby away with the sword. After killing Muslims we felt like Maharana Pratap. After killing them, I called up the home minister (Gordhan Zadaphiya) and also Jaideep Patel (a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader). I told the home minister we have killed so many people, please take care of us. He told me to flee the spot, hide somewhere and save myself. […] We were doing a running commentary for the home minister from the field when the riots were on. Modi also helped me in many ways. He asked me to flee and kept me in hiding in Abu, and, finally, when I was arrested he ensured the transfers of three lower courts judges to facilitate bail for me. No one can do what Modi did. He came to Naroda Patiya, saw our enthusiasm and thanked us.

According to India Today, Modi’s agenda was not compatible with a visit to Naroda Patiya (India Today, November 12, 2007, p 30), but the fact that Bajrangi is on bail remained quite embarrassing for the Gujarat government.

Last but not least, Arvind Pandya, the government counsel in the enquiry commission that had been appointed after the riot, the Nanavati-Shah Commission told Khaitan:

The report of the Nanavati-Shah Commission is going to come in the government’s favour because Shah is our man and Nanavati can be swayed by money. Modi was so enraged by the Godhra carnage that had he not been a [chief] minister, he would have himself gone and thrown bombs in Juhapura.

After this interview was broadcast by Aaj Tak, a TV channel, Pandya resigned and then the collector of Ahmedabad

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censored the channel. However, an opinion poll that was made soon after showed that 55 per cent of the interviewees – 60 per cent of whom were urban dwellers – considered that “The government’s performance in the last five years is more important than the Godhra riots” – 20 per cent of them disagreed with this proposition and 25 per cent did not know how to respond (DNA, Ahmedabad edition, November 24, 2007, p 2). This survey was a clear indication that the Congress would focus its election campaign on the communal issue at its own risk. Some congressmen even claimed that the Tehelka report had been planted by the BJP in order to increase Modi’s popularity!

Congress Schizophrenia

This time the anti-Modi political forces decided to present a common front for a change in Gujarat. The Congress agreed to have some seat adjustment in 10 constituencies with the Nationalist Congress Party, for instance. And its leaders, though locked in personal rivalries, did not fight each other as much as faction chiefs often make in the Congress Party: Bharat Solanki, the state party president, Arjun Mohwadia, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly and Shankarsinh Waghela, the union minister for textiles, did not project themselves as chief ministers in waiting.

So far as its election campaign was concerned, the state Congress was keen not to identify itself with the Muslim cause by recalling the 2002 pogrom. When asked, in late November, about the issues the Congress were focusing on, Mohwadia replied:

First, law and order: fear psychosis, kidnapping of women, children and businessmen, misuse of the police, general insecurity, fake cases and encounters, misuse of investigating agencies; second, privatisation of education; third, deprivation of health; fourth, farmers issues, including indebtedness; fifth, unemployment, especially within the youth (interview by Christophe Jaffrelot with Arjun Mohawadia, November 25, 2007 in Gandhinagar).

It is only after I asked him about communal harmony that he added to his list “to sponsor riots for political purpose”.

Moreover, the Congress nominated only seven Muslim candidates and welcomed a dozen BJP dissidents who, in some cases, had indulged in anti-Muslim actions in 2002.

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The Congress was therefore proceeding in the same vein as in the 1990s when the party had, for instance, coopted Shankarsinh Waghela. Besides, the state Congress canvassed on the same ground as the BJP. In newspaper ads figuring a terrorist covering his face, he denounced the complacency of Vajpayee’s government on four grounds: first, the liberation of Masood Azhar, the Pakistani jihadist who was to found Jaish-e-Mohammad, after the December 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking, second, the attack of the Akshardham temple of Gandhinagar in 2001, third, the destruction of Jammu and Kashmir temples and, fourth, the assault against Hindu pilgrims in Amarnath. The Congress was trying to exploit the same latent anti-Islamistic sentiment of the Gujarati Hindus as the BJP.

The national leaders of the Congress who campaigned in Gujarat articulated a different discourse. Sonia Gandhi launched the official campaign of the party on November 3 in Anand by a meeting intended for women which stood in stark contrast:

We all know the misdeeds committed during his [Modi’s] rule in 2002. The truth makes us hang our heads in shame. Which civilised society would want such a ruler? […] After all we all are mothers, wives and daughters of those who have been killed and jailed.1 We have to raise our voice against barbarians. ‘Maujuda kushasan badalne ka mauka hain’ (We have the opportunity to change the present government) (Indian Express, Newsline, Ahmedabad edition, November 4, 2007).

In her second tour a few days before the polls, Sonia Gandhi repeated untiringly the same argument. On December 7, she said during her Amreli meeting: “The Gujarat election is not about one election, but about the protection of democracy, rule of law and humanity itself” (Indian Express, Ahmedabad edition, December 9, 2007). And she added that Gujarat had been known as the place were the belly of pregnant women was split open. Soon before, she had argued, in Navsari and Rajkot, that “those who run the government are liars, corrupt and peddlers of religion and death” (ibid). Local congressmen suggested that the latter comment was not aimed at Modi, but Digvijay Singh, the secretary general of Congress insisted that “Hindu terrorist” had misbehaved in 2002 in Gujarat and Abhishek Singhvi, the Congress spokeperson, went even further by demanding that Modi should be judged by an international court. Modi immediately exploited this new context.

Modi’s Ultimate Radicalisation

Till then, Modi’s campaign had focused on purely economic issues. But he was perfectly aware that his Hindu nationalistcum-anti-Muslim image was more of an asset than a liability. Incidentally, he had already started to refer to Ram Sethu in a recurring manner during his election meetings. He hit back immediately after Congress national leaders attacked him on the communal terrain. He first intensified his propaganda on security issues. He had one placard published in the English press under the title: “In 4 years, acts of terror claimed 5,619 lives in India. But in Gujarat, only 1”.2 Citizens were then invited to restore a safe India “by trouncing soft-on-terror Congress”. Among other things, the ad criticised the repeal of POTA. In a meeting in Godhra, Modi harangued the crowd in a typical way:

the Congress says you are terrorists. Are you terrorists? This is an insult to Gandhi’s and Sardar Patel’s Gujarat. Teach the Congress a lesson for calling the people of Gujarat terrorists […] Sonia Behn, it is your government that is protector of merchants of death. In Gujarat, we have eliminated the merchants of death [that is the Muslims in 2002] […] Sonia Behn, if you cannot hang Afzal, hand him over to Gujarat. We will hang him (Times of India, Ahmedabad edition, December 6, 2007).

Afzal Guru has been condemned to the death sentence in 2006 because of his implication in the December 13, 2001 attack against the Lok Sabha. He has pleaded for presidential mercy but the head of the state never replied and he is still waiting for the ultimate verdict in jail. This is why Modi volunteers to do the job the centre is not doing – supposedly not to antagonise the Muslim community.

A few days before the first round of elections, Modi further communalised the campaign by mentioning Sohrabuddin. This militant of the Islamist Pakistanbased movement Lashkar-e-Taïba, according to the Gujarat police, but a small-time extortionist according to independent media reports, had been killed in 2005 on

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the border between Gujarat and Rajasthan. To begin with, Modi’s government had argued that he had been a casualty of the Rajasthani police on the Rajasthani side in some encounter. But his brother had argued that it was a fake encounter and that Sohrabuddin’s wife too had been killed in cold blood by the police who, then, had her body burnt. During his meetings in south Gujarat on December 4, Modi referred to this case on a very aggressive tone:

I am thumping my chest and declaring that Sohrabuddin’s encounter took place on the ‘dharti’ of Gujarat. If I have done something wrong, hang me. But these people [Congressmen], next they will offer a ‘chadar’ at Sohrabuddin’s grave (ibid).

This was a way to claim full responsibility for the crime in order to receive all the credit for this “achievement”. But such a strategy was in contradiction with the previous line of conduct of Modi whose government had, so far, considered Sohrabuddin’s death as a mistake by the police, had put the guilty men behind bars and had informed the Supreme Court on March 23, 2007.3

So far as trial by an international court was concerned, Modi declared in his Godhra meeting: “Why not a court in Pakistan? The centre talks of imposing Article 356 in Gujarat but the Gujaratis will give me an AK-56 to fight it” (ibid). Soon after, while campaigning in Rajkot, he termed Manmohan Singh’s government “the Delhi Sultanate” (Indian Express, December 9, 2007).

The shift in Modi’s campaign was duly noticed in the media, though it was never interpreted as a response to the campaign of national Congress leaders.4 This new context resulted in the mobilisation of Sangh parivar activists who had played a rather marginal part in the BJP’s campaign so far. Now Modi appeared once again – like in 2002 – as the rallying point of the anti-Congress and anti-“Muslim appeasement” forces. In early December, a thousand of the RSS cadres joined the BJP campaign in an active manner (DNA, Ahmedabad edition, December 10, 2007).

The Modi Phenomenon

Hindutva is not the only mainstay of what may be called “Moditva”. The 2007 election campaign was very revealing of two

other saliant features of this phenomenon: village school. On November 24 the news
an extreme personalisation of power and paper narrates the fact that, as a child he
a managerial style of governance (or, at liked to swim in the lake near his house
least, some taste for it). amidst crocodiles – he even brought back
a baby crocodile to his home once, but he
‘Modi Is Gujarat and Gujarat Is Modi’, obliged his mother when she asked him
‘High Tech’ Populism: The 2007 election not to do it. On November 25, one of the
campaign had been fully organised front page articles of the newspaper is
around the personality of Modi. The BJP devoted to one of the sentences found on
state president in Gujarat, Purshottam Modi web site: “I can digest any kind of
Rupala, himself admitted that his party poison”. The journalist who authored this
had a one point-programme: Modi.5 piece then compares Modi and one Sultan
Not only did the iconographic material of Ahmedabad who had similar power. On
on which the BJP propaganda was based November 26, we learn that Modi, when
show Modi in a systematic manner, but he was 10, helped his father sell tea on the
the chief minister displayed a narcissist platform of a small railway station.
taste for photography. Vivek Desai, one of In addition to Modi’s omnipresence on
the men who portrayed Modi with his the public scene, he tried hard to maintain
camera, explained in the press that he was a direct relation with all the citizens of
very particular about each and every detail, Gujarat. For that purpose he made a point
dress, colour, attitudes which could carry to use the latest technology. Having three
some specific meaning – he never showed laptops – one in his office, one at home
the palm of his right hand because this is and one for travelling – he is supposed to
the Congress electoral symbol, for in spend about 4 hours a day to read the 200
stance [Dayal 2007]. His web site, that he 250 emails he receives every day from citi
had contracted to a private company, com zens of Gujarat. He allegedly responds to
prised 373 photographs of Modi. In August 10 per cent of them and lets the bureau
2007, two months before the campaign cracy take care of the others (Times of
started, he hired an American firm spe- India, November 14, 2007).
cialising in the communication of public Modi’s campaign has used this channel
figures, Apco Worldwide, which had already – the internet – and the mobile phone too,
worked for the Nigerian dictator, Sani Gujaratis being very well equipped with
Abacha, the life-president of Kazakhstan, mobile phones compared to the rest of
Nazarbaiev and the former Russian India (14 million people – out of 52
oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This inhabitants – had one cellphone in 2007).
company reshaped the image of Modi for Such phones enabled Modi to send thou
25,000 dollars a month (Times of India, sands of SMS and MMS to potential voters
November 17, 2007). as well as party cadres.
Modi officially launched his electoral Modi not only tried to establish a direct
campaign on October 22, 2007 by pretend relation with every citizen of Gujarat but
ing that he was the only “full-time CM in also made a point to be identified with
the country” since he had no wife and Gujarat. His main slogan was “Jitega
children to take care of – he hereby sug- Gujarat!”, as if his victory could only be
gested that Gujarat was his family (Indian the victory of Gujarat. He tried hard, indeed,
Express, Ahmedabad edition, October 23, to appear as the protector of the Gujaratis.
2007). He then made a point to occupy the One of his video clips broadcast on the
public space. He succeeded in being on the internet starts off with a bomb blast,
front page of newspapers almost every followed by sirens, dead bodies strewn
day, not only because of his speeches and about and Modi threatening unseen
achievements, but as a private individual. terrorists with “int no jawab patthar thi”
Let us take the example of the front – a stone for every brick (Times of India,
page of the Times of India on four succes- November 19, 2007).
sive days. On November 23 one article His techniques remind us of Indira
recalls, on the basis of testimonies by old Gandhi’s modus operandi. In the 1970s she
teachers of Modi, how good he was as an could reach every Indian home by using
actor in the theatre plays organised in his All India Radio and projecting a similar
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propoganda whose motto was “Indira is India and India is Indira”. Modi did the same in 2007, as evident from the name of his TV channel, “Vande Gujarat” (adapted from Vande Mataram) and from the fact that his supporters canvassed while wearing a mask of him – as if hundreds of Modis were campaigning together!6

Like Indira Gandhi, Modi is authoritarian, but Gujaratis do not mind too much. A survey by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) of early November, showed that 34 per cent of the interviewees (and, among them 37 per cent of BJP voters) considered that Modi’s style was “dictatorial”. But 48 per cent of those who disapproved of his “dictatorial style of leadership” were ready to vote for his party, whereas among those who approved of this style, 61 per cent were about to do the same (Indian Express, November 27, 2007).

These figures reflect an increasing rejection of parliamentary democracy and an increasing interest in non-democratic forms of governance.

Managerial Culture of Politics

Modi is very popular among businessmen,7 including those who are at the helm of multinational companies and who take part every year in the Vibrant Gujarat Investors’ Summit. Mukesh Ambani said about him: “Narendrabhai is a leader with a grand vision…amazing clarity of purpose with determination…strong ethos with a modern ourlook, dynamism and passion” (Indian Express, November 27, 2007). His brother, Anil, said, “Narendrabhai is one of India’s biggest leaders, a man who inspires loyalty and attracts followers wherever he goes…a political visionary” (ibid). K M Birla went even further: “Gujarat is vibrant because of its political leadership and Modi is a fulltime chief minister of the state and genuinely the chief executive officer of Gujarat” (ibid).

The fact that Modi behaves like a CEO is of course to the liking of CEOs. It proves that even the political system admits that it should be ruled according to their principles. Indeed, Modi believes in a market economy and has accelerated the retreat of the state. He has reduced the state spending which had not been part of the five-year plans by 9 per cent and reformed the Gujarat State Electricity Board. This

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SEB which was in the red regained some financial health once it started to have power paid by the consumers, including in the villages. Last but not the least, the Industrial Disputes Act was amended in order to make the labour laws more flexible in the state’s special economic zones.

Besides, Modi “has shown the possibilities of an alternative approach to politics”, according to Swapan Dasgupta, because he claimed that he would adopt efficacy as the only criterion of his action, like in business [Dasgupta 2007]. Going by these principles, Modi sidelined a record number of 33 outgoing MLAs (out of 127) because they had not delivered, according to him.

What Electoral Basis?

Modi’s policies are well in tune with the natural inclinations of the urban middle class which developed because of the economic reforms. This social milieu also has strong reservations vis-à-vis the state’s interventions in the economy, simply

Table 1: Voting Pattern of Different

because the

Socio-economic Groups (in %)

private sec

Socio-economic Groups BJP Congress

tor is sup-

Rich 62 28 Intermediary 50 35 posed to per-

Low 43 40 form better.
Poor 36 49 This group is
Very poor 36 50 also critical

Source : Indian Express, November 15, 2007, p 4.

of the traditional political personnel who are described as not only ineffective but also corrupt – a liability which is not affecting Modi, it seems. Such a political culture explains the rising anti-parliamentarianism of the urban middle class and its growing lack of interest in elections: the turnout is very low indeed in urban middle class residential areas. The alternative style of governance that this milieu is longing for borrows its main features from the corporate sector: the political system must deliver the same way, and no one really cares if it goes along with a dose of authoritarianism.

The hidden face of this political culture lies in communalism. Modi’s authoritarianism is largely praised or accepted by the Hindu urban middle class also because it has brought results vis-à-vis the Muslims who, as I heard so often in perfect English, have been taught the lesson they deserved in 2002. Gujaratis adhere to what is known as Modi’s “marut”, a form of virility which is associated with Modi because he never apologised for what happened in 2002, in contrast to Advani who said that the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992 had been the saddest day in his life.

Gujaratis get identified with him even more since the rest of the whole world is pointing a finger at Gujarat. The US which has refused Modi a visa and the centre – via Sonia Gandhi – have hurt the Gujaratis who, therefore, have tended to display some solidarity with their chief and have highlighted their economic achievements as a major source of pride (incidentally one of the rubriques of Times of India in Gujarat is called “Gujarati Pride”). But to highlight economic achievements is often a way to legitimise one’s support for Modi

– whereas this sympathy is in fact deeply rooted in communal feeling.

The urban middle class, therefore, is one of the nucleus of supporters on which Modi relies, as evident from the CSDS survey made a few weeks before the elections, between October 31 and November 6. Potential voters (number: 3,983 were interviewed in 60 constituencies. The results showed that the richer the interviewees were, the more favourable they were to Modi’s party (Table 1).

The break-up shown in Table 1 is further documented by the voting pattern by caste and religious community (Table 2).

Though Modi is from an OBC caste, he is well in tune with the upper caste ethos,

largely be-Table 2: Voting Pattern of Castes and Religious Communities

cause of his

Castes and Communities BJP Congress

RSS training.

Upper castesMore over, he Brahmin 64 20

projects him Rajput 50 37
self as an Intermediary castes
ascetic fully devoted to Patidar OBCs Koli 66 30 20 48
the cause of Mer 47 38
the people, a Other cultivating OBCs 46 35
‘Karmayogi’, Scheduled castes 30 56
like so many Scheduled tribes 45 43

‘pracharaks’. Muslims 13 74

Source: Ibid.

In a book that was forthcoming at the time of the 2007 elections, and whose title was precisely Karmayog, he gives a spiritualist interpretation of the caste system which was likely to maintain the social status quo. In some of the pages which have leaked to

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the press, he pays attention to the dalits and more precisely to the Banghis (scavengers) – whose sanskritised name is “Valmikis”:

I do not believe that they [the Valmikis] have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued this type of work generation after generation. [...] At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.8

Such an interpretation of some of the worse forms of untouchability is typical of the RSS and carries also some Gandhian connotations. Society is presented as potentially harmonious and permeated by the legacy of its divine origins. Each group is supposed to fulfil complementary functions without suffering from any hierarchical arrangement. Modi’s views were strongly rejected by dalits who asked for a ban of the book. Its release was postponed officially because to do so a few weeks before the polls would have contradicted the electoral code of conduct.

New Face of BJP Politics?

Narendra Modi not only embodies a new style of politics in India, as evident from the main features of his 2007 election campaign, but also, to some extent, a new type of BJP politician. Generally speaking, the Sangh parivar leaders are not supposed to develop such a personality cult. The Hindu nationalist movement has always functioned in such a way as the organisation comes first and men afterwards. Secondly, the RSS had to prevail in all strategic moves, the Sangh giving, absolute priority to institutional considerations in comparison to personal equations. Modi, while he was a staunch follower of Hindutva and, therefore, could hardly be criticised by the RSS on this ground, tried to free himself from this organisation. For instance, he did not submit the list of candidates nominated by the BJP to the RSS headquarters as state party leaders routinely do in such circumstances. He also reduced the coordination with the state prant pracharak to a minimum. As a result, one of the RSS strongmen in the Gujarat unit of the organisation, Mukund Deobhankar, declared in the press that this time his organisation would not get involved in election work (Times of India, November 6, 2007). One of his colleagues, Pravin Maniar, explained in an interview that indeed the RSS would adopt a different attitude than in 2002:

This time around, we have not asked our workers to get involved in any poll related work […] We have always extended our support for the cause of Hindutva. But we are wedded to an ideology and not any individual […] None of the Sangh parivar organisations have benefited from this government (DNA, Ahmedabad edition, November 25, 2007).

The RSS was clearly reproaching Modi with his personalisation of power and resented the fact that he had not done much for the other components of the Sangh parivar, which had helped him so much in 2002. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) felt especially alienated. The BKS is rooted in that part of Gujarat – the villages – to which Modi paid little attention. Not only did the government implement a procapitalist policy by focusing on the industry and services, but it asked the peasants to pay for their electricity in places where they had never done so.

The VHP was even more hostile to Modi since its leaders considered that he had won largely because of the organisation’s support in 2002 but never repaid his debt. Pravin Togadia, one of the VHP leaders in Gujarat, let his brother canvass in favour of the Congress Party. Devendra Das, the secretary general of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Parishad and of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas Raksha Samiti accused Modi of killing 1,00,000 cows. He propagated a staunchly anti-Modi slogan in his stronghold of Baroda: “Narendra Modi is not the protector of Hindus, but their destroyer” (Indian Express, Ahmedabad edition, December 11, 2007). The vice president of the Sant Parishad, Swami Avilchaldasji Maharaj, who was also the leader of the Gnan Sampradaya, one of the most popular sects of Gujarat justified his rejection of Modi in three words: “We feel cheated” (ibid). The anti-Modi mobilisation of these religious figures did not have any political fallout. Uma Bharti, the BJP dissident who had launched her own party, the Bharatiya Jan Shakti, received the support of many former colleagues and supporters of Modi but she eventually gave up the idea of opposing him. In the end, the central headquarters of the VHP, BJP and RSS have closed ranks and demanded their members fully support Modi. Such an evolution was partly due to the communal turn of his campaign. As soon as the Congress projected itself as the defender of secularism

– and, therefore, as the protector of the Muslims from the Sangh parivar’s point of view – the Hindutva movement could not take the risk of weakening Modi, who had returned to his Hindutva plank.

Nonetheless, Modi was not the first choice of the Sangh parivar and he remains atypical compared to other Hindu nationalist leaders. But he may have inaugurated a new style of leadership in the BJP, based on personal appeal rather than the Sangh parivar’s network. Where the BJP has become really big as in Gujarat, the party leader may be able to rely on his personal popularity and emancipate itself from the RSS. Similar developments may occur at a pan Indian level too. Interestingly, L K Advani has managed to remain leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and to appear as the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate for prime ministership at the time of the next general election in spite of the RSS’s eagerness to replace him after the 2004 defeat.

The BJP does not need the RSS and its other affiliates as much as before. It does not need swayamsevaks going door to door to convey the party’s propaganda as much as before. It can develop populist strategies by relying on new communication techniques and it raises money for its own expenditures – including from the diaspora which, in the case of Modi, was a great help.

Certainly, the “revelations” made by Tehelka in October 2007 launched the Gujarat 2007 election campaign. But far from sealing Modi’s political fate, they have contributed his electoral success and the national leaders of the Congress further helped him by referring to the 2002 riots during their meetings and interviews. Such a strategy paradoxically led the voters to identify themselves more with their chief minister and to accept more the way he tried to get associated

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with the state of Gujarat by virtue of a new form of Gujarati pride. Gujarati patriotism and anti-Muslim feelings played a significant part in Modi’s success, development and economic achievements being a very convenient fig leaf for the middle class which wanted to find more legitimate arguments for justifying their vote for the BJP.

Gujarat’s election results throw up new interrogations regarding not only Gujarat but the rest of India too. What kind of treatment will the Muslims meet in the state, especially those staying in the “relief colonies” having resulted from the 2002 pogroms? What kind of justice and reconciliation is now possible – if any? These questions acquire a new meaning if Gujarat, one of the most modern states, is reinventing politics along lines of what the new middle class wants. Is Gujarat’s trajectory announcing similar inflexions elsewhere?

Notes

1 Here Sonia Gandhi alludes to the arrests of so many Muslims – after the Godhra events especially – under POTA.

2 Note here that Modi speaks as if Gujarat was not in India.

3 K T S Tulsi, the lawyer representing Modi to the Supreme Court let it immediately be known that he was withdrawing from the case: “On the one hand, the Gujarat government has filed a number of affidavits in the Supreme Court saying that it’s a cold-blooded murder and it has filed a chargesheet against its own police officers and is prosecuting them for murder. And now the chief minister says that the murder is justified. In this situation, the stand of the government and the chief minister is completely contradictory. I cannot defend such a case. I cannot accept that any police officer has the right to murder anyone. It’s a mockery of law” (Times of India, Ahmedabad edition, December 6, 2007).

4 See, for instance, DNA, Ahmedabad edition, December 10, 2007.

5 He said, for instance, in November: “Local issues are not important during the campaign in the forthcoming polls. There is just one issue with us

– Modi” (cited in Rajiv Shah, ‘Modi Only Mascot for BJP: Rupala’, Times of India, November 5, 2007).

6 An astute commentator indeed observed: “Modi is not just a man or (a) chief minister, but an ‘event’ in Indian politics after Indira Gandhi to present that sole authoritative model of leadership. With wider vision of brand building and systematic strategies of image positioning than Indira. So, in a way Gujarat has seen non-stop round the clock election campaign by him in the past five years” (Times of India, December 11, 2007).

7 The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry organised a function in honour of Modi during the election campaign. Interestingly he seized this opportunity for improvising a very harsh speech, showing that he felt he was in the company of hard core Hindutva supporters: “Anti-Gujarat lobby has been propagating that I killed Sohrabuddin. If AK-57 rifles are found at the residence of a person, do I go to take their advice or should I ask the lawyers, you tell me what I should do, should I not kill them?”, and the crowd responded by shouting, “Kill them! Kill them!” (Times of India, Ahmedabad edition, November 18, 2007).

8 Cited in Rajiv Shah, ‘ ‘Karmayogi’ Swears by Caste Order’, Times of India, Ahmedabad edition, November 24, 2007.

References

Dasgupta, S (2007): ‘Modi, Inept Pragmatist’, Indian Express, November 24.

Dayal, Prashant (2007): ‘Shutter-Bug’s Delight and Fit for the Ramp’, Times of India, Ahmedabad edition, November 27.

Jaffrelot, C (2007): ‘The 2002 Pogrom in Gujarat: The Post-9/11 Face of Hindu Nationalist Anti-Muslim Violence’ in R King (ed), Mirrors of Violence, Routledge, London and New York.

EPW
april 12, 2008

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