BJP and Narendra Modi: To choose or not to choose? (Opinion Editorial)

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With this series, we wish to bring out a few prevalent opinions within the student community about major political parties contesting for the elections this year. The views expressed by the author are his perspectives alone and should not be construed as facts or opinions endorsed by Insight or IIT Bombay. We only seek to provide the campus community with a platform to engage in constructive debate.

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The following article is written by Alankar Jain, a fifth year Undergraduate Student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay.

Alankar Jain

For the first time since its inception, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s second largest political party, is this strongly poised to form the next government in center. Key decisions of elevating Gujarat’s Chief Minister (CM) Narendra Modi to BJP’s Parliamentary Board, as Chairman of the Central Election Campaign Committee and finally, as its Prime Ministerial candidate, appear to have achieved the desired goal of reviving a party whose performance had been steadily deteriorating after its only full-time stint at the center (BJP secured 182, 137 and 112 seats in the 13th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabha elections, respectively).

Narendra Modi: Making of a national leader
BJP’s position today is a result of a host of factors:
1. Narendra Modi’s undeniable charisma and mass appeal in Gujarat fueled by his successive terms as CM (despite facing some very serious allegations)
2. Excessively aggressive political campaign supported by numerous over-enthusiastic, often abusive, Modi supporters (or “Modi-bhakts” as they have been labeled) that has now made it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction and information from propaganda
3. A shrewdly orchestrated campaign to market Gujarat as an epitome of good governance and development that started off as early as 2003 with Vibrant Gujarat events and that has led to the questionable Gujarat model of development (fact or fiction?), and finally

Modi has been catapulted to the national scene in a rather short span of time to fill the long-standing leadership vacuum in the country.

4. Enormous support provided by India Inc. and media houses controlled by them, because of Modi’s real and perceived investor-friendliness. Resting on the shoulders of his “bhakts” and India Inc. and aided by one of the biggest projects of city imagineering in India’s post-independence history and his own crowd-pulling speeches, Modi has been catapulted to the national scene in a rather short span of time to fill the long-standing leadership vacuum in the country.

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Modi: The man

Modi is widely perceived to be a decisive leader and a go-getter – qualities that India desperately needs and wants to see in the Prime Minister (PM) of the country. He has been quite successful in bringing a number of influential people to support him and forging key alliances because of his modern pro-development and pro-industry stance. But, he is also seen as an alienating and divisive figure who makes an irresponsible “puppy” remark and refuses to accept a skull cap by a Muslim cleric, indicating that his actions are still shaped (in howsoever tiny ways) by the traditions of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu Nationalist group he was once a part of. He is also seen as an authoritarian bully, who threatens a TV Journalist when asked uncomfortable questions and someone who has failed to give a single no-holds-barred interview till date. But, perhaps, the biggest among all the things that hold him back, is the ghost of Godhra.

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Godhra: A possible deal breaker

He has made several failed attempts to apologize for 2002, but it is a catch-22 situation for him, where he can’t afford to look too convincing.

There have been serious allegations against Narendra Modi of incompetence and inaction during the 3-day Godhra riots that have been labeled as a state-sponsored pogrom or ethnic cleansing or genocide by many. The riots, were in fact, triggered by the burning of Sabarmati Express, that led to a death of 58 people, a number of them being Hindu Kar Sewaks returning from Ayodhya. I would recommend readers to watch Rakesh Sharma’s documentary feature “The Final Solution”, Nandita Das’s fictional film based on the documentary, “Firaaq” and Rahul Dholakia’s National award winning English film “Parzania” to understand the human impact of the horrific tragedy. 12 years hence, the rioteers roam largely scott-free and BJP claims that Narendra Modi has been acquitted of all charges because of the supposed clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. Please read this article and this article to appreciate why this clean chit doesn’t mean much. What it simply means is that there isn’t enough evidence to convict Narendra Modi. But does that relieve Modi of all the responsibility? It does not. And he has made several failed attempts to apologize for 2002, but it is a catch-22 situation for him, where he can’t afford to look too convincing. Can Godhra prove to be a deal breaker for Narendra Modi? Maybe. Or maybe not. But, apart from Godhra and his own authoritarian ways, Modi faces another obstruction in his road to the Raisina Hill: his own party.

BJP: An alternative to the Congress

Well, no. BJP is not an alternative to the Congress, for me. They are too similar. Both are traditional parties which allow candidates with criminal charges to contest elections and do not disclose their sources of funding. They share a strikingly similar manifesto, with largely well-intentioned and progressive points, but included only to checklist various sections of the society. Imagine what would have happened if Congress had fulfilled its 2009 manifesto? I believe that BJP, if elected, will not prove to be drastically different from Congress (despite a potentially more active PM). While Congress’s life unnecessarily revolves around a single autocratic and undeserving family, BJP’s life revolves around the deeply flawed idea of an erstwhile glorious and pure Bharat. A scan through BJP’s manifesto’s preface will give a glimpse into how BJP is foolishly trying to pursue the idea of a perfect India of olden days by focusing solely on its strengths and disregarding its flaws and failings. BJP, through the preface and the section on cultural heritage, practises politics of erasure by deliberately washing off Mughals from its narrative of Indian history. BJP aims to rewrite India’s history from a very narrow upper caste/ Brahamanical perspective where Ram Mandir, Ram Setu, Ganga and cows hold a sacred position (read their section on cultural heritage). It is unfair to people belonging to the historically oppressed castes (so-called lower castes) and other religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities. It is also against the plural and diverse idea of India. This ideology manifests itself in BJP’s shallow opposition to removal of Section 377 on ill-founded and ill-informed grounds that homosexuality is against Indian culture (which anyone with slightest knowledge of Indian history, can tell you is not correct).

BJP would have been more dangerous than Congress because of its regressive cultural approach, if only it had the guts to pursue its communal designs after coming to power.

Congress is guilty of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom triggered by Indira Gandhi’s assassination (Remember Rajeev Gandhi’s infamous quote: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes”?). On the other hand, BJP is guilty of sowing the seeds of hatred with the Ram Janmbhoomi movement that not only led to the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992 by 1.5 lakh armed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and BJP Kar Sewaks, but also led to a chain of riots, 1993 Mumbai blasts and also the 2002 Godhra riots. While BJP has been guilty of terrorizing the minorities (especially the Muslims), Congress has also been guilty of keeping the minorities terrorized by playing the pseudo-secular card, every now and then. In my mind, there is no doubt that both the parties are equally capable of stoking communal violence when it serves their political interests. BJP would have been more dangerous than Congress because of its regressive cultural approach, if only it had the guts to pursue its communal designs after coming to power. If history is anything to go by, I doubt BJP, if voted to power, will do anything on the cultural-communal front. It is most likely to stick to the safer neo-liberal development tone of its 1998-2004 government, reiterated time and again by Narendra Modi. What hurts me is that people fail to realize that even that development theme is a severely limited one.

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Economic Development: For whom?

It’s only seldom that we, as the so-called middle class, while cribbing about first world problems such as lack of an air conditioner in our rooms, even recognize that people only kilometers away starve daily.

One of the biggest reasons for the unexpected defeat of NDA in 2004 Lok Sabha Elections was its inability to reach out to the rural population of the country, despite its “India Shining” campaign. Narendra Modi’s idea of development is of a similar kind: aesthetics over quality, urban middle class over rural population. Shiny malls, highways and bus stops aren’t enough to provide food and livelihood to scores of people still living beneath the poverty line. Economists including Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen have criticized Gujarat for its low rank in indicators of human social development. Still others have criticized its lack of focus on environment during the process of development. It’s only seldom that we, as the so-called middle class, while cribbing about first world problems such as lack of an air conditioner in our rooms, even recognize that people only kilometers away starve daily. We need a party and a leader who can awaken us from our comfortable sleep to help us realize real issues. A narrow perspective of economic development is only going to further exacerbate economic inequalities in our society.

The big question: Will I vote for Modi and BJP?

We had crossed that moral line long ago when Rajiv Gandhi was throned PM while Sikhs were being butchered and burnt alive on the streets of Delhi

It’s my inability to answer the question, “if not Modi, then who?” that is going to dictate my answer to the above question. Modi is divisive, polarizing and works in an authoritarian fashion and has had a terrible record of handling communal outbursts in the past. Like the author of this brilliantly succinct piece, many believe, India will cross the moral line of no moral return if Modi becomes PM. I personally believe, we had crossed that moral line long ago when Rajiv Gandhi was throned PM while Sikhs were being butchered and burnt alive on the streets of Delhi. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but I am willing to overlook the crimes Modi might have committed because he does have some redeeming qualities: he’s an aggressive and decisive leader, qualities we need to prevent further economic injustice that takes more lives than Godhra on a daily basis. If only Modi broadens his notion of development can he get any redemption for the gross injustice that has been meted out to thousands under his rule.

The same cannot be said about BJP, however. It is a terrible party because of reasons I have enumerated earlier. Probably even worse than Congress. But, I believe, as Ramachandra Guha writes in this article, that Indian democratic institutions (media, judiciary, election commission, etc.) are today strong enough to handle the pressure. Also, BJP is simply too meek to pursue its communal agenda any longer after it mobilizes its target vote bank and comes to power. Thus, I don’t see BJP pose any grave danger to Indian society and democracy. Though, it’s not going to better both in any way whatsoever, either.

India is lucky to have a party and a leader that can provide it a stable government and India is unlucky, that it is BJP and Narendra Modi. Only if we could do better

No way should Congress be allowed to clutch the government again this time. Left is still a largely regional force. AAP is in its infancy, and in a muddled mess, half created by itself and half by some really bad press. As clichéd as it might sound, India genuinely needs a party and a leader that can provide it a stable government that might serve as an “alternative to the weakest, most incompetent, uncommunicative and incoherent full-term government in our history” (Shekhar Gupta’s article). India is lucky to have a party and a leader that can provide it a stable government and India is unlucky, that it is BJP and Narendra Modi. Only if we could do better.

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You can get in touch with the author by mailing him at alankarjain91@gmail.com