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23 May 2012

ANALYSIS: 'Much-hyped 'economic success' of Gujarat is nothing but a myth'

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani
  
Ahmedabad: It is sad to see Narendra Modi being projected as a progressive chief minister even after his failure in preventing the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat.


Modi has ensured economic prosperity for the state and that has helped him garner the support of the people. But the riots have rendered many people homeless and the families of the deceased are still awaiting justice.


However, a few of the perpetrators have been convicted, thanks to the proactiveness of the judiciary.


The much-hyped ‘economic success’ of Gujarat is nothing but a myth. Hundreds of people have been uprooted from their homes because of the Narmada project, and the Mahuva cement plant now threatens the livelihood of many.


What is the difference between Modi’s Gujarat and West Bengal under the Left Front’s rule? In the process of ‘developing’ society — which often translates into ensuring luxuries for the elite — the welfare of the rural poor always gets neglected.


Leaving aside the brutal pictures of ‘development’, Gujarat is still plagued by poverty, unemployment and hunger.


The percentage of underweight children in Gujarat is around 45 per cent. In the hunger index, the state ranks 13th among the major Indian states, with Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam faring better than Modi’s ‘advanced’ Gujarat. Economic growth in Gujarat has helped the rich and the upper-middle classes to prosper further while the condition of the poor has remained the same. Instead of flattering Modi, the media and the public should measure him solely by the yardsticks of humanity. Only then can there be a slim chance of Modi modulating his policies for the benefit of the minorities, the poor and the homeless.


However, I would like to disagree with Vajpeyi’s view that we cannot “account for our modernity” without taking into account the contributions of Gujaratis like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and K.M. Munshi. Jinnah’s call for a Direct Action Day provoked the Great Calcutta Killings, which culminated in the partition of the sub-continent, rendering millions dead or homeless overnight.


Even today, thousands of innocent people find themselves in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi prisons just because they had stepped on the wrong side of the international borders, which are often not properly demarcated. Jinnah may have acted piously after achieving his dream of a Muslim State by promising equal status to all Pakistanis, but that is certainly not enough to absolve him of the crimes he perpetrated against humanity.
In almost every discussion on Modi’s larger role after the SIT’s closure report, a common theme has been his alleged tendency to polarize. This is invariably premised in the context of Hindus and Muslims.


Electorally, however, the voting pattern of Muslims in Gujarat gives a different picture. In several local government elections, Muslim candidates contesting on the Lotus symbol as well as non-Muslim candidates have won in Muslim dominated areas. Can that be possible in a state led by a polarizer of Hindus and Muslims?


The basic explanation is that while communal passions last temporarily, the promises of governance and vikaas last generationally. For example, the results in Farukhabad constituency in the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh elections show that Mrs. Louise Khurshid, wife of the Union Minister for Minority Affairs who promised Muslim voters several goodies, finished fifth in what should have been a four-way race.


Contrast that with sound sustainable agricultural policies enabling a Muslim farmer to earn enough to invest and save for his children with merely three years of a good crop. Modi may repulse self-righteous members of the NAC, led by Sonia Gandhi, but that body has a lot to learn from Modi’s agricultural governance.


A clear pattern, therefore, is that communal considerations have been largely replaced by the combination of the individual MLA candidate, his/her ability to lobby the Modi government for his/her constituency and the government’s response to the particular needs of each constituency and general needs of Gujarat.


A varied argument is that Modi polarizes two sets of Hindus where the Hindu devoted to him looks up to him as a messiah of those Hindus whose chauvinism is bred in religious insecurities.
As explained later in that analysis, Modi has kept the fundamentalist portions of the Hindu Right organizations in check. His refusal to entertain VHP’s call for a bandh to avoid huge losses to Gujarat is well-known.


Having focused solely on development and governance, Modi is far from being a representative of the extreme Hindu conservative. Even if some think he is, such believers constitute a fringe. And, if it is about Modi’s endorsement of profound Sanskrit literature and texts, that is something even Amartya Sen – a person who has been vocal about his unwillingness to vote for the BJP – desires.


So, who really does he polarize? Is it the aam aavam of the Muslim community, or its religious and political leaders?


It would be dishonest to assert that Modi does not carry an anti-Muslim perception out of Gujarat. Being the chief minister during the first televised riots, the euphoria surrounding the 2002 Gujarat elections and his thumping victory, some of his speeches in the initial months after the 2002 riots and constant assertion of assumptions and biases as truth by NGOs have fueled that perception.


While he is proving his popularity in Muslim dominated areas in Gujarat with effective bottom-to-top governance, his popularity in Muslim dominated areas outside Gujarat is yet to be assessed. That outcome is difficult to assert with confidence today; however, the sheer importance of mobilized grass-root workers in the Gangetic plain cannot be emphasized more.
Equally, the intertwining between the interests of religious leaders and political leaders proclaiming themselves as secular (and, by a convenient stretch of logic, anti-Modi) has been a significant contributor.


The anti-Modi brigade, thus, bases its stance entirely on Modi’s anti-Muslim image. They reckon that Modi will destroy the fabric of secular governance which was India’s response to the creation of a separate Muslim motherland and which, according to them, has been carefully nurtured by secular parties to co-opt Muslims who chose to remain in India.


With each generation, secularism has undergone subtle transmutation leading to the creeping cynicism of skewed minority entitlements today for political dividends, thereby making any opposition to it directly proportional to the opponent’s ‘unacceptability’.


So, what are these concerns about destruction of India’s secular fabric? Is the anti-Modi group polarized on assumptions that Modi will endanger the security of Muslims? Will he stoke communal passions that result in riots?


Gujarat, a highly sensitive state, has not witnessed any riot after 2002 despite occurrence of events considered sufficiently provocative. This is due to strict maintenance of law and order, for which the Home Minister Modi must be credited, and an unwavering focus on roti, kapda and makaan for Gujaratis.


However, asserting that Modi is someone who has focused, and will continue to focus, solely on inclusive growth and development is a no-starter with this group.


Therefore, let us assume for the sake of argument that such fears are true. In that case, law and order being a state subject, which police can he control if he leads the nation except the Delhi Police and UTs? Moreover, with an ever so vigilant media headquartered in Delhi, one wonders how it can be possible.


Is the group also concerned about societal, economic or cultural ostracization of Muslims under his leadership? In that case, is the Sachar committee’s report on condition of minorities in Gujarat worthless?


Moreover, assuming Modi’s eagerness to do so, can ostracization take place without equal participation from state governments, local governments and the society? If eminent Muslims don’t get to buy homes in certain areas in Mumbai, surely Dr. Singh cannot be blamed.
The majority of the pro-Modi group, on the other hand, supports him for his strong, decisive and visionary leadership in Gujarat. Quite often though, a substantial section of the pro-Modi group gets needlessly enraged and belligerent when choicest abuses and adjectives are used for him, thus leading to further polarization through advancement of abstruse theories in his support.


Once baseless rhetoric on both sides is filtered out, what we have, in fact, is the demand for strong and decisive leadership on one hand and the clamorous bogey of ‘acceptability’ as the ultimate yardstick of leadership on the other, never mind the lack of decisiveness.
This idea of acceptability is often based on nebulous parameters which, when challenged, prompt the ever so convenient cling to the skewed concept of secularism, thereby transmuting it further into the unrecognizable.


And, if this divide is the substantive remnant of the polarization, India much rather have a polarizing leader than a non-polarizing adhesive often found clueless and helpless in governing India.


[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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