Thursday, 17 January 2013

A Red Rag Called Modi

Two things have prompted this post.
The first is an article a friend posted on Facebook. It is an open letter to Madhu Purnima Kishwar by a Gujarati Muslim writer, Zahir Janmohamed, in Kishwar had apparently visited Gujarat recently and posted favourable tweets about Gujarat under Narendra Modi. Janmohamed details all that is wrong in Gujarat, especially the status of Muslims there. The friend who posted this article had this to say in his status message: “A must read for 1. all Modi bhakts 2. all poor sods who believe in activists.”
That reminded me of an incident that is the second reason for this post. Last week, a report, Economic Freedom of the States of India, 2012, was released. Gujarat topped in that. At the launch ceremony, the noted agricultural economist and currently chairman of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ashok Gulati, was speaking about the role of rural infrastructure in promoting agricultural growth and mentioned that the rate of growth of agriculture in Gujarat was 9.6 per cent a year for six years, which was unheard of. A friend sitting next to me, scoffed and whispered, “then how come BJP didn’t do well in the rural areas in the elections?” I pointed out that Gulati was citing figures. “No, but I’ve seen villages in Gujarat, some are worse than Bihar.”
The sub-text in my friend’s status message, Janmohamed’s article and my other friend’s refusal to accept agricultural growth figures for Gujarat is the same: How can anything good be happening in Gujarat, considering Narendra Modi is the chief minister? How can a man, during whose reign the 2002 riots happened, ever do anything good at all?
The way people get worked up whenever something positive is said about Modi or about Gujarat under his rule reminds me of the reaction in the Congress whenever the Gandhi family is criticised. All sense of perspective is lost as people scramble to deflect criticism (or praise in the case of Modi). Facts are ignored or (if they can’t be) some completely unrelated fact is quoted as a counter.
I am not getting into a debate on the facts about Gujarat. For one, I don’t know enough about the state. Besides, this post is less about Gujarat or Modi and more about how we refuse to accept facts if they don’t confirm our perceptions about something. I am using the Modi example only to show how a phenomenon that was largely limited to those committed to an ideology or political party has extended to general discourse.
Take Janmohamed’s open letter. He starts by saying he was keen to meet Kishwar because he had heard that she had once signed a petition calling for Modi’s dismissal after the 2002 riots. Shouldn’t that establish the fact that she is no Modi admirer and she is definitely not endorsing his government’s failure to control the riots? Why does the fact that she was once critical of the Modi government mean that she should not give credit where she thinks it is due?
Or take the case of my friend, who questioned the figures on Gujarat’s robust agricultural growth only because the BJP fared poorly in rural Gujarat. So now the soundness of official data has to be tested against electoral verdicts? Besides, why can’t Gujarat have a 9.6 per cent agricultural growth rate and also have villages whose conditions are worse than those in Bihar? How does one fact disprove the other? Going by that logic, India could not have posted over 9 per cent growth for three years in a row because there are parts of the country where conditions are worse than in sub-Saharan Africa. India is a land of contrasts and nowhere is this more obvious than in the economic condition of its people. If Mumbai can have an Antilla and Dharavi, why can’t Gujarat have both great agricultural growth and pressing poverty?
Take also the reactions when Tata Motors shifted its Nano plant from Singur in West Bengal to Sanad in Gujarat. (See my 2008 post on this.) Industrialists hailing Modi as prime minister material and king of kings is sickeningly over the top, yes, but what is wrong if they decide to put their money in a state with a good business environment? I am surprised that even people who criticise CSR (corporate social responsibility) as a concept on the grounds that businesses should be concerned only with profit are uncomfortable with Corporate India’s endorsement of Gujarat as an investment destination. If companies’ sole motive should be to run a business profitably, why should they bother about the ideology of the government in power? If they can invest in China, why not in Gujarat?
This kind of double standards does not augur well for debate and discussion in the country. When an innocuous tweet about Ahmedabad’s auto-rickshaw drivers going by the meter is seen as an endorsement of Modi, when his disgusting comment about Sunanda Tharoor is linked to her being groped (it turned out later that the groping happened before), it’s time to stop and reflect. Isn’t there a danger of such constant, and at times unfair, bashing backfiring? It allows Modi to paint himself as a victim of a biased mindset and, worse, convince people of the fact.
Keep the heat, by all means, on Modi on the 2002 riots and discrimination against Muslims and other real failures. But give credit where it is due. And don’t paint everyone who talks about one positive aspect of him or of Gujarat under him as a Modi admirer or BJP-RSS supporter in denial about the riots.
Kishwar also tweeted: “If I as much as say Gujarat roads are best in country, see Modi’s inclusive development for urself I become political untouchable. Why?”
Why, indeed?
Many readers of this post would have stopped reading mid-way, convinced that I am a Modi-bhakt. Earlier, whenever I would counter such biased views, I would preface my statement by saying I am not a Modi supporter, but today I wondered why I should do it. This blog is called Beyond Labels and the reason I started writing it is to air my views without the fear of being labelled (see Why this blog and why this name?). So go ahead and call me a Modi-bhakt. Because the Modi-bhakts call me a pseudo-secular. Chew on that.


laveesh said...

GREAT one Seetha. I wonder where this reluctance of appreciating facts comes from? A guilt over one's own secular credentials? ...Desi history and mythology is full of characters with shades of
grey. It is as if they were created to force us to appreciate the good while simultaneously recognizing their unacceptable traits. The ability to recognize that all elements/forces/people are a combination of the the good and the not good, or the bad and not bad, seems to have gone missing. But this should have come naturally to all Indians.

neela said...

I think the standards that he is being judged by differ here - one moral, the other professional achievement. as long as we understand that distinction I'm fine. and because the standards are distinct, the results should be treated as distinct from each other. One does not replace the other. People seem to think he redeems himself morally by achieving professionally. He should not expect people to judge him as morally upright, because gujarat has achieved _% of growth/development. A political leader is about much more than that. hence I have a problem when his achievements in gujarat are perceived as qualifying him to be PM. Because invariably this PM argument/statement follows when one accepts his professional achievements in gujarat. To me he is morally tainted and the economic development in gujarat like fruits of a forbidden tree, my two cents.

Subhashis said...

Critiquing at its best => Not Judging or Generalizing Only Focusing on the Facts