Guest Post by – Anwesha Dutta
Anwesha is a PhD candidate at the Dept. of Anthropology, University of Tuebingen, Germany and before that she completed her MSW in Dalit and Tribal Social Work from TISS,Mumbai. Her area of work is conflict and coping in Bodoland, Assam.
The grand victory of Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 general elections is an event that will go down in the history of Indian elections as something which was perfectly planned and a well ‘designed’ victory and shall be much discussed by academics, political analysts, journalists and the common masses across the world in years to come. At this juncture I must mention that I am no Modi-tard and here I will just try to pen down my inhibitions with the victory of a ‘person’ and not a ‘party’. No, I am not on a Modi-bashing spree but I shall try to analyse the circumstances that led to the emergence of a single ‘face’ that swept public sentiments across the country and the eminent dangers that come with such ‘big’ wins. I shall also share some of my experiences in Gujarat, where I worked for five months with the state government in the Secretariat in Gandhinagar and had the opportunity of visiting remote villages across several districts. This also makes me more sceptical of the Gujarat model of development for which Modi seems to have taken all the credit.
I will try to draw parallels with Mr. Modi’s rise with the rise of fascism in Europe and also explain how the common masses fell for his ‘promises of development’, ‘economic freedom’ , and ‘an India free of Bangladeshi immigrants’. It is therefore not surprising that many of my friends belonging to minority groups, including sexual minority (the LGBT population/movement can now forget about getting their rights as Rajnath Singh clearly stated that ‘homosexuality’ is unnatural in the Hindu religion) now continue to live under a shadow of fear, especially in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam. The rise of Modi can be attributed to many factors and not just Mr. Modi’s charisma and shrewd political strategies which worked magic. The deep resentment against the ruling congress, lack of an alternative leader and apparently being a modi-tard not only started to sound more ‘cool’ but was also a ‘fad’, an ‘in’ thing. In the process several million young voters were bought into the ‘modi’ wave (knowingly or unknowingly). Obviously, these are also the people who either do not remember the 2002 Godhra riots or it does not matter to them. Also they have supreme belief in the SIT( Special Investigation Team) and Supreme Court of India’s verdict despite the clear contradictions in the SIT report which makes it unacceptable to many, including the residents of the ‘Gulbarg’ society where several Muslims were killed in open daylight in front of the Police. Modi in his statement said that he wasn’t aware of the happenings in the Gulbarg society till late evening, but the SIT report praised him for holding hourly meetings with the police throughout the day. Then how could he have been unaware of the carnage that was taking place in Gulbarg that very day? The report has been subject to criticisms, especially since a former associate of Modi’s took out an affidavit claiming that a draft of the report had been sent to the Gujarat state lawyers for vetting and possible redrafting.
Modi’s fascist tendencies especially against the minorities is no secret. He has not once apologised for what happened in 2002 in Gujarat. Modi’s entry into Indian politics has been through his long term association with the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The RSS was founded in direct imitation of European fascist movements, and like its 1930s fascist models it still makes much of daily parading in khaki drill and the giving of militaristic salute. Ideologically it believes that India is a Hindu nation and its goal is subsequent racial purity. They believe that the ‘foreign’ races in India should adopt the Hindu culture and stay in this country acknowledging the fact that they owe their allegiance to this very Hindu religion. In a rare comment on the issue of the riots last year, Mr. Modi said he regretted the Muslims’ suffering as he would a “puppy being run over by a car”. Once he seemed to half-justify the actions of the rioters: in the US, he said, “An innocent Sikh was murdered after 9/11. Why? Because he looked like the terrorists. If the educated in America can get provoked, why use a different yardstick to evaluate Gujaratis?”
On another occasion, even more chillingly, he told the Washington Post: “Why even talk about 2002? … It’s the past. What does it matter?” His only regret, he told the New York Times, was his failure to handle the media fallout.
This firmness and rigidity of Mr. Modi was also evident when I worked with the government in Gujarat. People (starting from a clerk to an IAS officer) seemed to be in constant ‘fear’ of the chief minister, Mr. Modi, although one could argue that this increased efficiency and output but one cannot deny that within a democracy the state administration lacked a ‘freedom’ of ‘space’. To explain this further, wherever one travelled to Gujarat, most billboards had pictures of Modi and were saffron in colour.
To speak against ‘saffronisation’ or the almost ‘rigid’ administration was not only unacceptable but one could even be put to task for the same. I once met an activist at the secretariat in Gandhinagar who was unhappy with the plight of Muslims and Dalits in Gujarat (Gujarat still has one of the highest percentage of manual scavengers) and had reports based on his field work. He handed me one of those reports and when I showed it to my senior colleagues I was asked to keep that report inside my bag and never to again speak to such activists. Similar instances continues, when I visited a ‘Hindu’ village and started speaking to a group of middle aged men about development in Gujarat, these men were all praises for Modi Bhai. Then suddenly one of them said, ‘I have to go now because I have been summoned to the court tomorrow’, he said it so casually as if he was going to a local fair. I asked him, ‘why have you been summoned to the court?’, he laughed and said , ‘you know , those Muslims, we killed’. Speaking of the Gujarat model of development, one has to first notice how Modi has wooed in investors from across the world to invest in industries and dams in the state. This has in turn led to large scale displacement, especially of the people living in tribal districts.
I interacted with several villagers who were on the verge of dispalcement for an upcoming dam construction in the state. A group of women said to me, ‘we have been offered only 700 rupees and have been asked to leave our homes, our forests, our rivers, cattles and everything we own’. The administration in Gujarat which was mostly managed by people sharing Modi’s idea of Hindu nationalism and heavy handedness firmly believed that ‘they could get away with just about anything’. The people of Gujarat are also equally enterprising and Gujarat historically has been a prosperous state. Just because a model worked in Gujarat, it might not hold true for the rest of India- given the social, economic and political plurality and demographics.
This communal thread was largely present in most of his campaign speeches be it in Uttar Pradesh or Assam. It is evident that the RSS worked overtime especially in North Eastern states to propagate this Hindu agenda further. I do not see the difference between Mr. Modi who in his election speeches assured the Hindus of Assam that the Bangladeshis shall be ousted from India and the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) who also share a similar ideology. Or, Modi’s most trusted right-hand man, Amit Shah, who is credited for the victory of BJP in UP, who also openly urged voters to use the ballot box to seek “revenge for the insult meted out to our community. This election will be a reply to those who have been ill-treating our mothers and sisters”—this in an area where dozens were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots last year.
It is but evident that the people of India have been bought over by this ‘modi wave’ across India and we again have succumbed to the ‘Indira is India’ rhetoric, because it is the ‘modi’ government one is looking forward to and not the BJP or the NDA. Modi has become synonymous with the ‘state’ and such big wins have always to be perceived with a pinch of salt. It has not been the victory of the ‘lotus’ but of a one man army. Only time will reveal the consequences and aftermath of this commendable victory. I am but hopeful and so are my minority friends, and also the liberals and the leftists and anyone who is against fascism and believe in true freedom of speech, expression and movement irrespective of religion, sexuality or ideology.
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