A few days ago I’d written an article about Purkayastha’s Four Laws of Modern Internet Debate. I believe I am now ready to add a fifth law, also known as the Law of Modi-fication:
In any online discussion involving Mr Narendrabhai Modi, anyone who opposes him or points out his history of inciting genocidal pogrom will be referred to the so-called Godhra fire, and, further back, to the Congress-incited anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984, as though one excuses the other. Furthermore, supporters of Mr Narendrabhai Modi will insist that he, single-handed, will solve all of India’s problems if only given the chance.
So just who is Narendrabhai Modi?
One of the reasons – in fact, just about the only reason – I comparatively rarely write about Indian politics on this blog is the fact that I have to explain background and context at the start of every article, so that non-Indian readers will know what I’m talking about. It’s irritating, often exhausting, and always a waste of time I could be spending on, you know, talking about the issue at hand. For comparison, just imagine if, each time I were to talk of current violence in Iraq, I’d first have to discuss the American sanctions against Saddam Hussein, the illegitimate Bushist invasion, the resistance, the growth of al Qaeda, the Iranian influence, etc etc. I’d hardly want to write a line, right?
Anyway, this is kind of important for the future of this country, so pay attention while I explain as briefly as I can.
As I have stated before, the current government in power (an alliance led by the Congress Party, basically a family-owned private firm belonging to the Gandhi dynasty) is positively the worst, most corrupt government we have ever endured in this country; a government so utterly vile, so incompetent, so venal and so in the pocket of Big Business domestically, and of the Americans abroad, that it makes every previous government look good in comparison. Nobody, in their right minds, would normally imagine that such a government, held in utter contempt by virtually everyone, could ever win another election.
Well, I don’t know about that.
The reason that I do not automatically assume that the Congress will lose the next election can be summed up in two words: Narendrabhai Modi.
Now Narendrabhai Modi (his name is usually shortened to Narendra Modi, or, to his supporters, increasingly to “NaMo”, as a branding exercise) is not part of the Congress. He is, on the other hand, part of what is allegedly the main anti-Congress political formation in India, the Republicans to the Congress’ Democrats as it were, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Though the name “Bharatiya Janata Party” translates into “Indian People’s Party”, which suggests a left-wing political formation, the BJP is about as left wing as the Nazis were socialist. That’s not really an inappropriate comparison, because the BJP is an extreme right wing Hindu party which admires the Nazis, has many features in common with them, and has highly fascist designs on India, with the Muslims and Christians standing in for the Jews as the Designated Internal Enemy. That's why I call them Hindunazis. They are also quite as pro-Big Business as the Congress is, and, as for their foreign policy: when they were in power last, they came within an ace of sending troops to help in the occupation of Iraq.
It’s important to remember that the BJP has never managed to capture power on its own at the federal level; it’s always been at the head of another coalition of parties, the so-called National Democratic Alliance, or NDA. This NDA is – like the Congress-led UPA – a collection of opportunistic parties, some ideologically close to the BJP, but others just hanging on for a share of the power. However, the BJP needed these opportunistic parties to maintain a majority in Parliament, so it had to moderate its fascist tendencies to some extent at least at the federal level in order to keep the flock together. That didn’t apply to states where it managed to capture power on its own, and especially not to the western state of Gujarat.
In Gujarat, the BJP had been engaged in a campaign of Hindu radicalism for years, so that it began to be called the “Hindutva (‘Hinduness’) laboratory.” Then, in circa 2001, a particular up-and-coming politician was put in charge of the state, as its Chief Minister: Narendrabhai Modi.
Elsewhere, I’ve written about the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, when Hindunazi goons destroyed a medieval mosque at Ayodhya after claiming it to have been built on the birthplace of the mythical god-king Ram. This event, in December 1991, led to weeks of rioting throughout India, and polarised the Hindus and Muslims in much of the country. When the BJP came to power, it had declared that one of its stated objectives was to build a Ram temple “on that spot” – where the mosque had stood.
By 2002, that expectation had cooled, because the BJP hadn’t the clout in the NDA to have it all its way. The Hindunazi stormtroopers, though, exactly like the Nazi stormtroopers before them, were primed to violence and looking for a confrontation. Some thousands of them went on a trip to Ayodhya and, on the way back, a train with many of them caught fire at a railway station in Godhra, Gujarat.
The cause of this fire is disputed. The Hindunazis claim local Muslims stopped the train and burned it. A judicial commission later concluded it was an accidental fire of the sort which has occurred on Indian trains many times before and since. Whatever the cause, an alleged 59 Hindus, mostly stormtroopers, were killed in the fire. Narendrabhai Modi arranged for the corpses to be paraded through the cities of Gujarat, and then unleashed his goon squads on a carefully preplanned pogrom against the Muslims.
That the pogrom was preplanned can hardly be doubted. Hindunazi gangs went around with documents identifying Muslim shops and houses, even where these were under Hindu or neutral sounding names. For days on end, Muslims were hunted down, raped and burned to death, their properties looted right in front of TV cameras by middle-class Gujarati Hindus. The Gujarat state police either did nothing or actively joined in the pogrom. Officials later testified that Modi’s ministers sat in the police control rooms to make sure that the cops did nothing to contravene Modi’s orders that the “people should be allowed to vent their natural anger.”
Goons who were arrested were quickly let off again by Modi’s state Home Minister, Gordhanbhai Zadaphia, who claimed that he “felt they were innocent.” Nor was the anti-Muslim “anger” directionless: in one village, as I recall, all the Muslims were killed or driven out except one man, who was allowed to survive because he was the only one there who knew how to operate the water pumping station.
(This is far from the first political-party-controlled genocide in India; the Congress has bloodied its hands on numerous occasions, too, most infamously in 1984 after the killing of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, which was followed by an anti-Sikh pogrom led by Congress goons in which thousands of Sikhs were killed.)
The Hindunazi-led government in Delhi, which could have dismissed the state government and taken over, carefully did nothing, allegedly because Modi had the backing of Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani (this is the same Advani who would, the following year, pledge Indian forces to join in the occupation of Iraq). Muslims were driven into ghettoes, where they remain to this day, isolated, ignored, and systematically discriminated against. The state opposition Congress party – fearing that the Hindu vote would desert it – tried its own brand of pandering to the Hindus. It brought them no benefits.
It was Kristallnacht, all over again, as readers might have noticed, and that owes a lot to the fact that the Hindunazis have always been admirers and close students of the policies of the Nazis. At the end of it, with the Muslims neutralised, the Congress reduced to aping the BJP, and the Central government on board, the Hindunazi triumph looked complete. Modi was called the Hindu “Emperor of Hearts” (Hriday Samrat), and it looked like nothing could stop his drive to the very top.
That he didn’t owes everything to an essential fact about Hinduism, which no amount of Nazi ideology can wish away.
Now, there’s a huge amount to despise about Hinduism. It’s caste- and ritual-ridden, hopelessly inward-looking, as illogical as any other religion, and has an inherent racial bias. But it’s also an incredibly heterodox and inclusive religion, in fact, not so much a religion as a conglomeration of separate and distantly-related faiths. There can never be a Hindu Pontiff, or a single Hindu Holy Book, or anything of the sort, simply because most Hindus would never accept it. Even the Great Indian Muddle Class, for all its anti-Muslim sentiments, would never accept being dictated to whom it should pray or what it should eat or how it should dress. The essence of Nazism – the forcible inclusion of people into a single, defined straitjacket – is impossible in Hinduism. This is the main reason why the Hindunazi project has always failed in India, and will continue to fail.
This also meant that, outside Gujarat, the Modi pogrom was met not with approbation but with general revulsion. Also, though Modi handily – and predictably – won the elections in Gujarat, he no longer had the protection at the federal level he’d been used to. In 2004, the NDA was kicked out of power (not because of the pogrom, but because of staggering incompetence and levels of corruption which were unprecedented at the time), and the Congress-led alliance, the UPA, took over. For a few short years, it even tried to govern with relative even-handedness. Judicial commissions were set up to examine the pogrom. Genocide victims began, hesitantly, to testify. One of Modi’s top ministers, Harin Pandya, who had been neck-deep in the genocide and since fallen out with the Heart Emperor, also testified about the great man’s complicity in the pogrom. (Remarkably, he was soon murdered, allegedly by Islamic terrorists – to whom his value alive would far have exceeded his value dead.) Modi was on the back foot.
He responded in a manner which has since become a complete trademark. Declaring that the “campaign” against him was an “insult to Gujarati pride”, he turned himself into a purely Gujarat-centric politician, clinging on to his power base in the state, and threatening the federal government that he’d cut off Gujarat’s dues to the national exchequer if the so-called “anti-Gujarat” policies (meaning policies to bring him to book or at least clip his wings) continued. Even the conservation of lions (Gir Forest in Gujarat is the last place in the world where the Asian lion still exists in the wild, and the Supreme Court has ordered some of them to be relocated to other sanctuaries to preserve them from catasatrophic epidemics or natural disasters) was denounced as an insult to Gujarati pride.
At the same time, his former colleagues and co-genocidaires (to use the handy Rwandan term for genocide-perpetrators) began to fall away one by one, realising that they’d been used and marginalised. Even Gordhanbhai Zadaphia, the former Home Minister who’d had some of the actual killers released from prison, turned against Modi. Cases began to pile up in court, as well, as some of the victims and their relatives began taking what legal action they could.
At this point, Modi was also steadily being shunted aside by the BJP’s national-level leadership, which was – and is – as much a collection of competing, egoistic self-promoters as the Congress leadership is full of sycophants worshipping the Gandhi dynasty. Even internationally, he became a persona non grata, with the US putting him on a visa blacklist because of his genocidal proclivities (shades of irony there). Suddenly, then, “Islamic terrorists” began to try and kill him – just as they’d allegedly killed the minister who’d testified about his involvement in the pogrom. As remarkably, none of these “Islamic terrorists” ever got close enough to actually attack or harm Modi in any way. In each and every case, they were “killed in encounters” with police, who also – in each and every case – got away scot free, without a scratch.
It won’t be a surprise by now to learn that none of these “Islamic terrorists” were quite what they seemed. In each case, as the facts came out, they turned out to be Muslims arrested, framed, and bumped off at leisure by corrupt policemen acting at Modi’s behest. The most infamous of these was the Ishrat Jahan case, where a young woman was picked up along with her boss (or possibly boyfriend) and killed along with two others. That case has recently come back to bite Modi in the ass, but there are several more.
Meanwhile, though, the climate in Delhi had changed. The Congress-led UPA didn’t take long to betray its early promise, and sank into corruption and incompetence so deep that it made the previous BJP regime look honest. Despite that, it still won a second term in office in 2009, basically by playing to the greed of the Great Indian Muddle Class, and helped along by the internecine squabbling of the BJP. This defeat was a surprise to the BJP’s supporters, incidentally; before the election, they’d been assuming they’d win, and win big. One online poll on the Rediff website, I remember, had given it 412 seats in the Lower House of Parliament – about an 80% majority.
In its second term in office, the Congress, which had actually improved its seat count, then became so much more corrupt and incompetent that the first term began to resemble a golden age. By 2012, with skyrocketing prices and corruption, unemployment at record levels, the complete collapse of the so-called Indian “economic miracle”, and the utter inability of the so-called, unelected “prime minister” (a Gandhi family rubber stamp with no political base, as I’ve pointed out many times before) to even pretend to govern, the Congress was doomed.
Now, in India we as yet (and fortunately) don’t have a two-party system. With the eclipse of the communist parties, which are now “communist” only in name, however, we have basically a choice of two right-wing alliances, both comprising deeply unsavoury core parties surrounded by opportunists and fair-weather friends out for what they can get. Therefore, with the Congress’ prospects crumbling, the BJP began to prepare for its “inevitable” return to power. Immediately, the question arose as to who would lead it to its inevitable victory.
Modi, of course, saw this as his time come round again. He had learnt a lesson or two, though, and realised that Indians wouldn’t vote only for religious demagogues, and the time for a Hindu Heart Emperor was past. Neither he nor the rest of the BJP could drop their Hindunazi credentials, because Hindu fascism was the core of their genetic structure. But they could, and did, try and redefine themselves as the “less corrupt” party, and the “party of development”. Said development was the (alleged) miracle story of Gujarat, where, according to the tale, Modi had created a First World wonderland. (It’s not a surprise that the truth is rather different – but when did Nazis ever care about the truth?)
This was accompanied by a carefully-orchestrated Modi marketing campaign. He continued to throw his co-genocidaires under the proverbial bus, such as one Mayaben Kodnani, a former BJP Gujarat minister who’d led mobs in the genocide. When she was sentenced to life by the court, Modi had the Gujarat government file an appeal demanding the death sentence. He had himself photographed with some carefully selected Muslims, began speaking in Hindi (he’d only speak Gujarati earlier during his Gujarat pride phase) and began to project himself as the natural NDA prime ministerial candidate. His supporters in the BJP began an orchestrated campaign to push him forward.
This pissed off Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, who was a non-BJP NDA leader and someone who had his own development tale to push; one at least a mite less illusory than the Modi myth. Besides, Nitish Kumar isn’t a Hindunazi – his party is at least formally secular – and has no genocide baggage. Nitish Kumar had thought he was the natural consensus candidate for the NDA leadership, being someone acceptable to all religions and far more centrist than anyone else either on the Congress or the NDA side. When he found that the BJP was pushing Modi, he broke off his links with the NDA and last I heard was making overtures to the Congress.
As I said, both sides of the alleged divide are full of opportunists and time servers out for the main chance.
The Modi rebranding exercise continues: thinly-disguised propaganda articles in papers like the Economic Times, dedicated to proving his greatness (he allegedly led rescue efforts for Gujarati people after recent floods in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand – if that’s true, why didn’t he help non-Gujaratis?), and the support of an online army of cheerleaders. These are the people I mentioned in Purkayastha’s Fifth Law, above; the supporters who keep talking about Godhra when challenged on the Gujarat genocide, and talk about the Congress’ own culpability in the 1984 Sikh genocide, as if one excused the other.
It’s a sad fact of Indian political life that so dirty are the hands of all political parties that nobody even pretends to innocence; the only defence is to claim that one’s hands are less dirty than the other side’s.
Now, remember that I said that the BJP top leadership is a competing snakepit of squabbling egoists. Modi has his backers, but he has his enemies as well. One of them is Lal Krishna Advani, the same man who back in 2002 was his defender and had stopped him from being removed and central rule being imposed in Gujarat. Advani - who has had eternally unfulfilled prime ministerial ambitions of his own – “resigned” from party posts in protest against Modi’s elevation. Advani has something of a history as a drama queen who keeps resigning, and being reinstated, and so it happened this time as well; but the message is that the BJP is full of people who are quite prepared to take Modi down.
A couple of days ago, Modi let a little of the carefully manufactured facade slip; in an interview with Reuters, he was asked whether he felt sorry for the Muslims killed in the genocide. Previously, Modi had either evaded the question or simply terminated the interview when asked it. This time, he responded that “whether you are driving a car, or in the back seat, if you run over a puppy you feel bad.” (I don’t know if this means Modi is experienced in running over puppies, but I shouldn’t be altogether surprised. And he didn’t use the Hindi word for puppy – pilla – either; he said kutta ka bachcha, son of a dog, which is a standard Hindi insult.)
Predictably, people across the spectrum were enraged – or at least pretended to be enraged, which comes to pretty much the same thing. More potential allies – like the former NDA component the Telugu Desam Party – have condemned Modi, and effectively scuppered the chances of a BJP alliance as long as the ex-Heart Emperor remains as the party’s leadership candidate. The Modi cheerleaders online have been reduced to claiming that “at least Modi feels bad” about the dead while, apparently, nobody else does. These are the same people who claim someone who thinks even lion conservation should be hostage to “Gujarati pride" can be a national leader of a huge and diverse country.
If I were slightly more cynical, I’d seriously propound the hypothesis that Modi is a Congress mole and saboteur in the BJP. He’s after all, successfully managed to alienate allies, divide the top BJP brass, and make sure the BJP under his command will never get the votes of Muslims, Christians, or liberal Hindus. The Congress must be praying that he remains the Hindunazi prime ministerial candidate; it’s their one hope of pulling off a victory from the jaws of inevitable disaster.
I’ll ask the Modi-worshippers this: how do you propose that someone who’s a self-proclaimed Hindu zealot, who is also a Gujarati chauvinist, and who has systematically betrayed his own criminal associates, will make an acceptable, let alone good, prime minister? Also, what makes you think he'll ever get the votes to win, any more than the BJP got last time, despite all your shrill online prognostication?
A genocidal egoist and chauvinist leading a feuding Hindunazi cabal on the one hand, and a hyper-incompetent dynastic kleptocracy on the other – it’s a poor outlook for Indian democracy.
But then there never was a genuine democracy here, of course.