S IFTIKHAR MURSHED
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]arendra Modi’s stunning victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has dazzled his opponents and commentators alike. With an absolute majority in parliament he is set to be sworn in as the 14th prime minister of India (15th if the two 13-day interim terms in 1964 and 1966 of Gulzarilal Nanda are included). Through a strange coincidence, he was also the 14th chief minister of Gujarat – a post he held continuously for the last thirteen years from October 2001.
Modi’s uninterrupted stay in power for 4,602 days is unparalleled in Gujarat’s history and has established his reputation as a ruthlessly ambitious politician. His tenure was marked as much by controversy as it was by claims of spectacular economic achievement.
As early as December last year, a spirited Pakistani commentator, who relishes expressing himself in colourful phrases, predicted: “Modi is the next Indian prime minister for sure and he is a survivor. He knows the ropes and is as fleet-footed as a prize fighter of the mold of Rocky Graziano. He will tire and outclass his opponents and will survive for three or four terms as he did in Gujarat. This is what our government has to factor in as it formulates its India policy.”
Graziano (1919-1990) started as a street fighter to eventually become a boxing legend and his life story is depicted in the 1956 Oscar-winning film Somebody Up There Likes Me. Modi was also a child of the streets. Born on September 17, 1950 as the third of six children to a family of grocers in Vadnagar in the Mehsana district of Gujarat, Modi’s childhood days were uneventful. He occasionally helped his father sell tea at the local railway station and, at the tender age of eight he involved himself as a volunteer with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
It was in 1970 while working in the canteen of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation that Modi became a fulltime pracharak (propagandist) of the RSS and was formally admitted into the outfit the following year. He subsequently underwent training in Nagpur which was a requirement for being assigned an official position in the Sangh Parivar, an umbrella organiZation consisting of the RSS, the BJP, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other groups. This also explains Modi’s uncompromising commitment to the concept of Hindutva which has been the dominant influence in his life.
The word Hindutva was first used by the politician, poet, writer and playwright, Vinayak Domodar Savarkar (1883-1966) in his 1923 pamphlet, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? He applied the term to all movements that were inspired by Hindu nationalism.
This was amplified by Madhav Sadashiv Gowalkar (1906-1973), the second sarsanghchalak or supreme leader of the RSS in his 1938 work, We, or Our Nation Defined in which he stated: “The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture…In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizens’ rights.”
It is unthinkable that Modi will ever discard the principles enunciated by Golwalkar even though a 1995 Indian Supreme Court ruling defined Hindutva as “the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture and ethos.” Starting from September 17, 2011 (his 61st birthday) to early 2012 Modi underwent a series of fasts – 36 in total during visits to 28 districts and eight cities – in what he described as a “goodwill mission to further Gujarat’s environment of peace, unity and harmony.” The purpose was apparently to reach out to the Muslim community but they were unimpressed. When the initiative was criticiZed as a publicity stunt he responded that the fasts were not motivated by the desire to woo “any particular community or religion.”
The second dominant trait that defines Modi is an almost dictatorial frame of mind. The Indian-American academic and former editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan is convinced that if Modi had his own way he would circumvent or even undermine the checks and balances incorporated in the constitution and institute a quasi-presidential form of government.
He was up in arms when the governor of Gujarat, Kamla Beniwal, appointed Justice RA Mehta on August 25, 2011 as the head of a vital anti-corruption post that had been vacant since 2003. Beniwal was merely implementing the orders of the chief justice of the Gujarat High Court but Modi was livid and accused the governor of working at the behest of the Congress party. The appointment was challenged in the high court on the ground that the chief minister had not been consulted. A two-member bench gave a split verdict on October 10, 2011 but in January, a third judge upheld the appointment.
This portends possible tension in the future between Modi and an assertive president. He could not have forgotten president Shankar Dayal Sharma’s strong reaction to the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992. Sharma had asked searching questions about the incident and had stated that “such acts are absolutely against the doctrine and practices of Hinduism and all other great religions…”
Similarly after the 2002 pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat, then president Narayanan expostulated with the BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee through letters and in person about the center’s indifference to the massacre. Narayanan was succeeded by the BJP-backed Abdul Kalam that year. In March 2005, a few months before his death Narayanan told the media: “Had the military been given the powers to shoot, the carnage could have been avoided to a great extent. I feel there was a conspiracy involving the state and central governments behind the Gujarat riots.”
Ideally the type of person that Modi would like to see in the Rashtrapati Bhavan is another Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who, instead of dismissing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 meekly signed the Proclamation of Emergency on June 25 of that year on the grounds of “internal disturbance” (Article 352 of the constitution) which he knew was false. He died of a heart attack while still in office on February 11, 1977.
Much will now depend on the manner in which Modi reacts to his landslide victory. Will he go completely off the deep end as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did during his second term, or, will he display sober statesmanship? Modi’s immediate response to his triumph was a simple one-liner, “It’s India’s win – good times ahead.”
The contours of his foreign policy are yet to emerge. The BJP’s election manifesto pledged to “reboot and re-orient the foreign policy goals, content and process, in a manner that locates India’s global strategic engagement in a new paradigm and a wider canvas.” It also promises to rescind Article 370 of the constitution which accords special status to Indian-held Kashmir.
Although Article 370 has been drastically modified through the decades and exists today as an empty provision in the Indian constitution, its abrogation, if carried through, will impact on the Pakistan-India talks if they are resumed anytime soon. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to tread carefully. No one in his right mind can possibly oppose the normalization of relations between the two countries. But further initiatives towards New Delhi must be calibrated to the new ground realities as they emerge.—Courtesy The News
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