Published On:09 November 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Narendra Modi: Long Siege At Pataliputra

How Narendra Modi got both his facts and his strategy wrong in making the Patna speech

By Arun Sinha

His Story Lessons

Separating the fiction from the Gujarat CM’s ‘facts’

Fiction: “Nehru did not attend Sardar Patel’s funeral”
Fact: PM Nehru and President Rajendra Prasad attended the funeral in Bombay on December 15, 1950

Fiction: “Alexander was defeated by brave Biharis on the banks of the Ganges.”
Fact: Alexander was turned back from Punjab

Fiction: Taxila was in Bihar
Fact: Taxila or Takshashila is in Pakistan

Fiction: India grew at 8.4 per cent during NDA rule
Fact: India grew at less than 6 per cent during NDA rule

Fiction: “Gujarat attracts the highest FDI inflow in the country.”
Fact: Gujarat received $7.2 billion FDI between 2000-2011; Maharashtra received $45.8 billion, Delhi $26 billion in the same period

Fiction: “China spends 20 per cent of its GDP on education but India doesn’t.”
Fact: China spends 3.93 per cent on education, NDA spent 1.6, UPA 4.04

Fiction: “People will get free electricity once Narmada dam is built.”
Fact: People of course will have to pay for the electricity

For months (rather years), both the supporters and opponents of Narendra Modi had waited to hear his first speech in Patna. But the speech that everybody expected to devastate Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and sweep Biharis away from his hold turned out to be a poor speech. It was as if he had walked into his most-awaited performance relying on tricks, not study or practice.

His ‘historic’ address proved clownishly unhistoric. His references to Bihar’s history included glories—such as thwarting the march of Alexander’s army and about Taxila university—that rightfully belonged to other peoples and parts of early India. And he picked Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan dynasty and grandfather of Ashoka, out of his dynasty and placed him in the Gupta dynasty of a few hundred years later.

Not long ago, he told a gathering of teachers and students of Fergusson College, Pune, that the first mention of a university convocation was in “our Taittirya Upanishad”. He cited this as an evidence of Hindus being the original source of all knowledge and creators of educational institutions which the world was to adopt later. “I am proud to say,” he went on, that of the 2,600 years of university education in the world, “1,800 years were centrally led by us.” It showed his total ignorance of history. First of all, there were no universities in the Vedic or Upanishadic period. Sec­ondly, the universities we are so proud of—Nalanda, Taxila, Vikramshila, Oda­ntapuri and Vallabhi (in Gujarat)—were not universities in the sense of universities that developed in medieval Europe, such as Oxford, but were centres of high learning. Thirdly, they didn’t exist for 1,800 years, but each for a few hundred years. Fourthly, most of them, including Vallabhi, were centres of Buddhist religious learning and not of secular education for arts and sciences.

Modi’s speech at the Patna rally, much like his speeches elsewhere, was very weak in study and facts: he mainly concentrated on wordplay, innuendo and hyperbole. He obviously ran a great risk of being found out, especially by the youth, whom he is going out of the way to court, for they are an iconoclastic tribe. Bihar’s youth might recognise his shallowness even more quickly, for this is a land of revolutions that has seen great visionaries and leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan in recent history.

Modi’s competition here was with Nitish, and people were looking for a speech in form and content that could beat the latter, but he disappointed them, reminding them more of Laloo Prasad Yadav. Much like Laloo, he has developed an oratorical language and style that would appeal to John Does. An evidence of this is the wordplay he flings about—“The one who betrayed JP, couldn’t mind deserting the BJP”, for instance, or “Gujarat offers no red tape, only the red carpet, to investors.”

He flaunted his humble origins, just as Laloo used to do; only we have a teaboy instead of a cowboy. His target obviously was the constituencies of the backward castes Nitish and Laloo share. (The great Hindu nationalist even appealed dir­ect­ly to the Yadavs, invoking their emotional connection with Krishna, who made Dwarka in Gujarat his home).

Nitish’s main base is among the ext­remely backward castes, whose population is over 40 per cent of the total, the Mahadalits, and of course Kurmis and Koeris. But flaunting the teaboy image might not help Modi gain the sympathy of the underdog in Bihar for three reasons: one, the poor in the state might find it difficult to relate to him in terms of caste rankings that are specific to the Gujarat context; two, he does not come from a socialist or communist background, whose leaders and workers are oriented towards the poor; and three, he is more famous for keeping company with rich investors than for communing with people of the huts.

However, Modi could see the rally as a ‘success’ for some reasons. For example, the serial bomb explosions at the Gandhi Maidan. Muslim fanatics, and the ‘secularists’ who defend them indiscriminately, have helped him tremendously in achieving the titanic status he enjoys today. Had Godhra not happened, Modi would not have emerged as a pol­itical giant. Already, Muslim partisans and secularists have jumped in to say the suspects taken into custody after the rally blasts are “innocent children”.

Modi’s camp too has gone into overdrive. They have declared those who died in the blasts as “martyrs”, paid their families Rs 5 lakh each as compensation (matching Nitish’s grant) and are going to instal their statues in the villages they came from. They are propagating the idea that the target was Modi. They are going to milk as much Hindu sympathy from the blasts as possible in the run-up to the 2014 elections.

The second thing for Modi to be happy about was that the rally was very huge. Much of it was RSS-BJP mobilisation, but the thing to worry for Modi’s rivals could be the presence in the crowd of those from outside the Sangh parivar. The challenge for Nitish is posed not only by the loss of the committed Hindu vote on account of the split with the BJP but also a possible, incremental enlargement of that vote from non-traditional sources.

This potential enlargement owes to the situation across the country, the economic circumstances especially, that are today in Modi’s favour. In a crisis, people look for a ‘strong’ leader. Two sections have already endorsed Modi as a strong leader: the business class and old Sangh loyalists, both for different reasons, of course. Busin­ess­men admire him for downsizing government to one; Hindu nationalists love him for putting the ‘pampered’ minorities in place. Whether they are the effect of one and the same instinct or not is a moot point—in the current situation of economic crisis, they are threatening to fuse into a cumulative notion of ‘strength’. What may make this fusion lethal is the addition of a large number of rural and urban middle-class voters.
Today’s situation has some parallels to the economic crisis of the mid-1960s, caused by growth-stunting Nehruvian policies. Then also a boom—in economic opportunities in the first flush of growth after Indep­endence—was followed by a bust. Job and business opportunities shrank, and for the first time major communal riots took place, especially in cities where Hindus and Muslims competed for scarce openings. Towards 2014, Hindu consolidation might happen more distinctly in such towns in Bihar and other states.

Modi has harnessed two horses, the development horse and the Hindu nat­ionalist horse, to his electoral chariot. He has become quite adept at using a seemingly odd, dichotomous pair after successfully driving them in three ass­embly elections in Gujarat. The question is whether he can repeat the feat in Bihar. His inherent qualities and the favourable context would help him cover some distance, but it doesn’t seem possible for him to go the full length.

In India, one can safely venture that an overwhelming majority of sufferers of the economic crisis are Hindus. In times of economic stagnation, hostility and rivalry grows among social groups for scarce jobs, subsidies and shrunk markets. Hindu aspirants under such circumstances, one could assume, would tend to support a man who has a proven record of favouring Hindus. Modi brings them hope of a double benefit: one, he holds out the alluring promise of developing Bihar and the rest of India as he has developed Gujarat, thus creating many more opportunities than the Congress could provide; and two, unlike the Congress, he would not be seen dead ‘appeasing’ the minorities in the distribution of the spoils of development.

The RSS’s strong, if grudging, endorsement of Modi suggests they see him as their champion missionary on the basis of his heroic deeds in Gujarat, and have high expectations from him in carrying out their project of enforcing uniculturalism and making India a Hindu nation. Recently, when Modi proudly described himself as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ to a media interviewer, the danger bells of the liberals began to peal out, but the RSS was elated. It reflected, an RSS leader said, the “ideological commitment of a person who is likely to reach the highest office of the country”.

Modi has taken political, administrative and legislative measures to fulfil the mission in Gujarat. He has denied scholarships to Muslim school students; he has placed impossible conditions for inter-religious marriage; he lent administrative support to RSS campaigns against Christian conversions in the Dangs district; and he introduced a law making it compulsory for anyone making or seeking religious conversion to obtain prior government permission.

These measures were intended to con­vey an overt message to the followers of other faiths that being Hindu was being privileged and not being Hindu was not. Modi wouldn’t make a policy of positive discrimination to benefit disadvantaged Mus­lims and Christians. This tendency could work to his disadvantage in Bihar where Nitish has crafted several policies and programmes for social and economic development of backward (Pasmanda) Muslims. Modi’s claim at the rally that he believed in inclusive development had therefore no grain of truth. But from the rest of his speech, it didn’t appear that he was much worried even if it didn’t work.

The JD(U) and UPA are going to accelerate the incipient Hindu consolidation behind Modi by announcing measures for protection and welfare of Muslims—skill development, employment, subsidies, special helplines, warning to police not to implicate ‘innocent’ Muslims in terror cases et al. The Congress dalliance with demagogic puritans from the Mus­lim clergy has long supplied raw material to the Hindu communal factory.

However, that is not going to stop Nitish, who has been competing for Muslims’ votes with Laloo ever since he separated from him. Despite his all­iance with the BJP, the share of Muslim vote for the combine increased in the last assembly elections, largely owing to their faith in Nitish. Ground reports suggest support for him among Muslims has tremendously increased after his break with the BJP.

That much about Modi’s Hindu nationalist plank. Could his development plank possibly fill up the gap?

Modi is working to entice as much subaltern vote away from Nitish (and Laloo) as possible in order to compensate for the loss of that vote owing to the break of alliance. He is hoping his ‘vikas purush’ image will work among the poor, who are looking for employment opportunities. And here the clash of two development ehtusiasts might become very engaging. Who will the Bihar youth bet on for generating opportunities­—Modi or Nitish? So far they have believed in Nitish and despite a thousand complaints, credited him for creating emp­loyment opportunities, so much so that labour out-migration has reduced.

Bihar has been a labour-supplying state. It needs labour-intensive industries, whereas Modi is known for encouraging investments in cap­i­tal-intensive industries, such as petrochemicals. No wonder, total employment in Gujarat during 2007-12 remained stagnant. In the absence of employment, poverty reduction didn’t take place, increasing income disparity between the rich and the poor. The percentage of STs in organised sector employment was seven per cent in 1993-94 and it remained the same in 2009-10. For whom, therefore, is high growth in Gujarat?

The reality about high growth in Gujarat might or might not be known to the poor in Bihar, but the influence of Modi’s development propaganda notwithstanding, they would have to weigh great risks in voting for him. Development depends on capable and effective state governments, and 2014 is about central governance, not state governance. Will it be wise to vote for someone who might destabilise the government and development process in the state to settle his scores with the incumbent?

Nationally, Modi enjoys some distinct advantages: he has no strong challenger. Nitish is concentrating his att­ention on Bihar, and Rahul Gandhi sparkles on occasion but mostly offers damp squibs. Nitish will do everything possible to defeat Modi in Bihar. But across the country, it can only be Modi who might defeat Modi­—Modi the rea­lity submerging Modi the illusion.

The illusion has it that he alone has the secret mantra to beat all the global odds and bring India back on a high growth trajectory; he alone can take the country’s youth to El Dorado; he alone can put Pakistan and China in place; and he alone can liquidate Muslim separatism and drive them to such a condition that they will have no option but to join as members of this Hindu nation. What can beat an illusion but disillusionment?

[Arun Sinha, a senior journalist, is the author of Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar, a Penguin book.]

(Courtesy: Outlook)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on November 09, 2013. Filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on November 09, 2013. Filed under , , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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