Monday, August 8, 2011

Narendra Modi: Redeeming himself and Gujarat.

I never thought I'd come to write a blog like this one. But that's the charm of life. A recent spate of articles and, in my opinion, a key development made me re-evaluate Narendra Modi and come round to accepting him.

Economist magazine recently heaped praise on Modi as the force behind making Gujarat India's Guangdong, China's prosperous outpost. The article starts with a bang, "So many things work properly in Gujarat that it hardly feels like India". Gujarat outstrips the national GDP.Economist points out that with just 5% of the country's population Gujarat accounts for 22% of India's exports and 16% of India's industrial output.The article attests to an 'effective bureaucracy'. An industrialist vouches that he could set up a factory without paying bribes. A distinct wonder in corruption ridden India. In an article in Feb Economist again drew attention to Modi, "Gujarat and its controversial leader". The state, Economist points out, has surplus electricity which it sells to other states.

A February 8th 2011 report in New York Times, "Narendra Modi, a Divisive Indian Official Loved by Business" states, "compared with most other states, Gujarat has smoother roads and less garbage next to streets. More than 99% of Gujarat's village have electricity compared to 85% nationally". NYT too specifies how Modi brought down corruption by making many services online and works like a chief executive. NYT cites businessmen, "he gives promising people positions of responsibility...non-performers are pushed aside". This Feb 8th 2011 article also ominously said "in another state considered pro-business, Tamil Nadu in the south, the ruling party, D.M.K., has been dogged by accusations of corruption". A US based trade group member sums it up "If you are an investors in India, Gujarat must be at the top of your list". Just ask Ratan Tata who was chased out of west Bengal by that shrew of a politician Mamata.

A key moment of re-evaluating Modi came when he invited Narayana Murthy to head an 'incubation' center for future entrepreneurs. In neighboring Tamil Nadu Murthy would be tarnished as a "Kanadiga Brahmin", a double negative. To see an Indian politician talk to a top business man about ideas and invite him to lead an institute to create entrepreneurs to "create wealth" is a refreshing sight amidst pygmies who ride to power on freebies and indulge in mindless blather of distributing wealth with no idea of how to create it in the first place.

What finally compelled me to write was a feature in Rediff, borrowed from Business Standard, titled "Modi: Iron man to ladies' man with focus on growth" . Modi has launched a program 'Mission Mangalam', that will be a database, a giant employment exchange, of skilled and unskilled labor. Linking that mission with SHG (Self help group) he aims to tap into unused and unpaid labor of rural women. His health schemes are not palliative freebies for sloganeering but read like well thought out policy proposals. Gujarat's budget for women and child welfare, Business Standard says, has gone up from Rs 300 crores in 2007 to Rs1,281 crores in 2011.

BUT what is common to every article extolling progress in Gujarat is one criticism. Whether its economist or NYT or Business Standard or BusinessWeek every article draws attention to the Gujarat riots that makes Modi a lightning rod for criticism. US famously refused visa to Modi on grounds of religious intolerance, thanks in no small measure to some hectic lobbying by self declared secular Indians in USA. Modi still addressed the meeting, a Gujarathi cultural meeting, by video conferencing.

Getting over the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots is what sickens anybody's stomach. How do you bring yourself to vote for a man who sat in CM's office while 1000+ Muslims, including many women and children, were butchered? Including a sitting Member of the Parliament. How do we turn a blind eye to Ishrat Jahan's death? How do we vote looking beyond the fact that a guy, who bragged in a TV documentary that he slit open a pregnant Muslim woman's belly, is still at large?

I now venture into a territory that stinks. What I say would appear as rationalizing or excusing but I can vouch its not.

Lets take a step back into time. When Delhi burned after Indira's assassination Rajiv's reply was "the earth is bound to shake when a large tree falls". Top brass from Congress, roamed the city with murderous goons and systematically killed 3000 innocent Sikhs. 25 years later, with a Sikh Prime minister, not a single leader has been convicted in court. Indira Gandhi was warned not to conduct elections in Assam which was seething with anger and divisiveness. Indira plowed ahead and the result was unspeakable horror in Nellie. Indira and later Rajiv brought order Punjab by burying human rights. K.P.S.Gill notorious for encounter killings is celebrated as 'super cop'. Does anybody remember the case of "Jodhpur detainees".Karunanidhi was warned not to name bus corporations with Dalit names. He proceeded and Madurai burned for a week. Finally the entire practice was abolished. An entire village was ransacked and women raped when policemen went in search of forest brigand Veerappan. In Karnataka an entire village was kept under TADA and tortured for the same reason.

What use is all this vaunted administrative efficacy if it could not stop a bloodletting? However its patently unfair to judge Gujarat riots in isolation especially divorcing it from GodhraTehelka telecast an interview of boastful murderers lets note that there was no Tehelka to hold Congress ministers to account for so many riots that happened not just under their watch but also because of them. Excoriating Modi endlessly smacks a tad of hypocrisy.

Modi's detractors in Tamil Nadu are mostly DMK/DK supporters who suffer from selective amnesia. When I see a DMK supporter crying full throated in defense of secularism and probity in defending lives I puke. DMK shamelessly aligned with Indira many times including immediately after Emergency. Most ironically DMK was very shamelessly aligned with BJP just to spite Jaya and to foot Murasoli Maran's medical bills.

That Modi comes from humble backgrounds and is a provincial leader is his drawback. In the absence of any pan-Indian leader within BJP and in view of Manmohans's effete leadership that is bedeviled by scabs of corruption maybe it is Modi's time. Lets watch.

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