Modi’s Mission to ‘Reform’ India Must Begin At Home

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi. The iconic Jama Masjid of Delhi is seen in the background. IANS photo
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi. The iconic Jama Masjid of Delhi is seen in the background. IANS photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call urging the nation to “shed communal poison” is welcome. However, this mission to save India and the world must begin with his own ‘parivar’

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ugust is the month of anniversaries and memories in the subcontinent. This past week saw India and Pakistan celebrate their Independence with the usual fanfare although it was a rather muted affair on the other side of the border. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party was spoiled by the clamorous calls of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri demanding instant revolution.
In India, national celebrations were led by Narendra Modi, something many in India and around the world had hoped they wouldn’t see in their lifetime.
The Red Fort, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, who also gave us the eternal Taj Mahal and iconic Jama Masjid, saw Modi stand where Jawharlal Nehru had stood and addressed the nation for long years. The first prime minister sported an elegant sherwani for the occasion and chose the language of departing British for his soaring eloquence.
Modi, who cut his ideological teeth in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and went on to become its proud pracharak (propagandist), was expected to break from the past. And he did–by choosing his trademark short-sleeves kurta with a polka dotted flaming orange turban and speaking in Hindi.
But that’s where the predictability ended. What Modi said in his maiden I-Day address took everyone by surprise. With the Red Fort in the backdrop and majestic Jama Masjid on his left, Modi said the Indians needed to “shed the poison of communalism and casteism.”
“How long will this continue?” he asked. “We have fought long enough. We have killed enough. Turn back and see. Has anyone gained anything?”
Lamenting that decades of bloodshed had caused deep wounds to ‘Bharat Mata’, the PM proposed a 10-year moratorium on violence. One couldn’t believe one’s ears; nor did one’s eyes trust what they beheld.
What’s going on? Is this the same man whose name has been synonymous with the Gujarat 2002? Urging national unity and harmony and stressing the need to build a new, all-embracing India–it was as though it was Jawaharlal Nehru, and not Narendra Modi, speaking!
What do we make of this change, if it’s indeed a change? A classic case of the devil quoting scripture or has Modi had a sudden change of heart, an overnight metamorphosis? Has he lately been reading the Discovery of India since he moved into 7, Race Course Road? Perhaps a copy left behind by Dr Manmohan Singh?
Which reminds me–what a stunning contrast Modi’s Red Fort performance made against that of his predecessor! Probably, MJ Akbar, BJP’s new spokesperson, is right after all when he suggests that while Dr Singh essentially spoke to his Congress bosses, Modi addressed the nation.
That’s not a very charitable thing to say about the former PM, a decent and humble man. But then politics is not really the place for decent and humble men. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have ended up holding the can and being blamed for all the mess and corruption of the Congress-UPA rule.
It turns out that Singh had been all along riding a horse whose reins were not in his hands. But enough about the past. The man of the moment is Singh’s successor. The effortless transition Modi seems to have made from a universally despised satrap presiding over the most chilling, state-sanctioned pogrom in India’s history to the popularly elected prime minister is truly remarkable. More dramatic and breathtaking has been the ostensible shift in his approach and worldview.

ON THE SAME PAGE? RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (left). Either all this is happening with the blessings of Modi and according to a well-defined strategy or the Parivar is singing its own discordant tune, independent of Modi’s orchestra. Either way, this is a disturbing state of affairs--and not just for the country’s minorities and marginalized communities.
ON THE SAME PAGE? With RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

Either all this is happening with the blessings of Modi and according to a well-defined strategy or the Parivar is singing its own discordant tune, independent of Modi’s orchestra. Either way, this is a disturbing state of affairs–and not just for the country’s minorities and marginalized communities.

None of us ‘cynical sickulars’ (in Hindutva’s parlance) in our wildest dreams had imagined that the architect of Gujarat 2002 would one day preach tolerance and plead for purging the nation of “poison of communalism.”
But there he was—pure reason, sweetness and light personified. It was a positive vision statement too.
Who would contest his argument that we have “fought long enough and killed enough”? India has indeed suffered enough thanks to “decades of bloodshed.” It was time to end the madness.
It was a brilliant, bravura performance. Indeed, as that eternal cynic who was a regular at the Mughal court at the Red Fort, would put it, “Yeh masail-e-tasawwuf, yeh tera bayaan Ghalib/Tujhay hum wali samajhte, jo na badakhwar hota (These philosophies you spout with such pompous gravity, Ghalib!/People would think you wise, if you weren’t such a goddamn drunk).
Doubtless, Modi’s argument makes sense. One is almost tempted to take his words seriously. The trouble is, even as the PM has been trying to make a break from the past, projecting himself as a reasonable, pragmatic leader emphasizing time and again on ‘good governance and development of all’ as he promised during his poll campaign, his party and larger ideological parivar have been pushing a different, conflicting agenda.
While he has been signing paeans to inclusive growth and progress, Hindutva rabble-rousers have been dipping into their old bag of tricks, playing the same old games that come naturally to them.
The past few weeks and months have seen hundreds of communal riots in sensitive states Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Tactics have been familiar and Muslims always the target.
In the name of increasingly dangerous canard like ‘love jihad’ (Muslim boys preying on Hindu girls to ‘Islamize’ India!) and rumors of forced conversions and rapes, an environment of mass hysteria and hatred is being created against Muslims.
Last month, rumors of a Hindu teacher being “gang-raped and converted to Islam” in a madrassa, of all the places, spread like wildfire in UP with the media, politicians and everyone else screaming their heads off about “mass rapes and conversions.”

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia.

A state government probe though found it to be a complete hoax with the girl insisting it wasn’t a ‘gang-rape’ but a love affair. The findings were totally ignored by the media though and wagging tongues are yet to fall silent. Meanwhile, UP continues to simmer and fear stalks the land. BJP leaders, members of parliament no less, talk of more Muzffarnagars waiting to happen.
On the other hand, the luminaries of Vishwa Hindu Parishad whose Ayodhya campaign helped the BJP grow from a 2-member outfit into the principal party of power talk of Ram temple, Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) and pushing ahead with the Hindutva agenda.
Now that an RSS pracharak is the PM, some suggest, India is already a Hindu state. Ashok Singhal is confident that the ‘ideal RSS swayamsevak’ that Modi is, he is ready to paint India saffron. Praveen Togadia assures the faithful that the government is set to fulfill the promise of a magnificent temple at the site of Babri Masjid.
On the other hand, saffronization of history and text books has begun in all earnest with the likes of Prof Sudharshan Rao taking charge of the Indian Council for Historical Research.
Either all this is happening with the blessings of Modi and according to a well-defined strategy or the Parivar is singing its own discordant tune, independent of Modi’s orchestra. Either way, this is a disturbing state of affairs–and not just for the country’s minorities and marginalized communities.
Any attempt to change the democratic and secular character of the constitution and polity could have potentially catastrophic consequences for the country.
So it’s all very well for Modi to talk of inclusive growth and a 10-year moratorium on communal violence. But who started it in the first place and who still continues to stir the cauldron of religious hatred across the country?
More important, as Amulya Ganguli asked soon after Modi’s I-Day address, will the PM’s own Hindutva allies heed his call for reason?
I do not doubt Modi’s seriousness. He means what he says albeit for selfish reasons. Now that he has won the election, Congress has been wiped out and no serious opposition exists to confront him, the only obstacle to his long, uninterrupted reign–or at least for 10 years–is from within. He wouldn’t want his fellow travelers to upset the apple cart with their excessive missionary zeal and delusional designs.
But whatever the explanation, you cannot have the cake and eat it too. You cannot aspire to be the new messiah of markets and middle class India and allow your brothers in faith and other crazy cousins to run amok.
Ultimately, the proof of the proverbial pudding lies in eating. We all know Modi speaks well, much better than his predecessor and many of his detractors. In the end though actions speak louder than words. Otherwise, as Shakespeare would argue, even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. Modi’s mission to save India and the world must begin at home—with his own parivar that continues to speak in a thousand tongues.

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All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Clarion India

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