Recently, I got into a verbal spat with a friend who thinks Modi is the reincarnation of the devil himself. Another friend thinks Narendra Modi is India’s only hope as the Prime Minister. There is a whole range of people between these two extremes. Every time there is a flare up of NaMo related subjects, there are strident voices on both sides trying to teach me what to think.
I follow Narendra Modi’s account on Twitter. To some, it is enough to brand me as a “supporter of genocide”. To others, it is some kind of proof of my support for the man. It is neither. I follow the account because it tweets very upbeat information about Gujarat. I have no intentions of marrying the man, I don’t think I’d feel tempted to vote for him.
I think it might be useful to state where I stand on that big subject.
Let me begin with saying that I don’t know if NaMo is guilty or not of ordering massacres or inaction on them. Frankly, it sounds like an outrageous thing to do and I would be surprised if a direct order by a politician in power of this nature would happen to a group of people. That is not to say it didn’t happen either. Many outrageous things happen. I don’t know. That is my truth, and no matter how much one tries to convince me to either side, I am unlikely to change it without convincing proof. The ground theory is that a man is innocent till proved guilty, thus, until proof, I do not consider him a mass murderer.
This is not about supporting him, but about refusing to lynch him. I think India has a very bad tradition of mob pressures for their version of justice, and it has only harmed the country’s interest by making problems fester and hobbling justice with concerns of unrest. I will not play this game. I will trust our court’s judgment in the absence of very clear proof of his complicity. It is a choice I am making to remain disinvolved with both brands of mob justice. This doesn’t make me a supporter of genocide, rather makes me someone trying to prevent further genocide through emotional claims based on loyalty or contempt rather than proof. Failing my own capacity to assess available information ably, I am putting my trust in our justice system. This is not a crime.
However, in my eyes, he is responsible for the riots anyway, and the BJP line that Congress is also responsible for a lot of riots doesn’t excuse him in my opinion. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the riots happened, he is responsible for the breakdown of law and order on his watch. It may not be a crime, but it definitely is dangerous incompetence. I may not lynch him, but I would be wary of putting him in charge of the well being of people of the entire country.
I do appreciate that he has done a lot for Gujarat, and he has. I also think, if there was any callousness intended toward minorities during the riots, he certainly got a shock and he has worked hard to turn the state around. I know Muslims from Gujarat who voted for him. So somewhere, he is convincing in his commitment to the state. Whether this is what the country needs, by making him a PM or by learning state level lessons and replicating processes is another matter. I think the kind of work he did happens best at a state level, so creating it all over India will require different states to learn from Gujarat and adapting useful ideas to fit their realities. That doesn’t take Modi being PM, but I do think there needs to be more acknowledgment of his work where due and openness to sharing useful processes between states regardless of political affiliations.
There is another reason I don’t want Modi to be PM, which has nothing to do with him as a leader and everything to do with his hot headed supporters. Whether Modi supported the Gujarat riots or not, the fact remains that the perpetrators felt that they could get away with it under his rule. A lot of the extremist, angry and aggressive Hindutva crowd believes that he is their leader because of his views. I would be very uncomfortable with such elements in society thinking that the leader of their country thinks like them – whether true or not. Modi doesn’t have to be like that. It is enough that people think he is, for them to feel validated in their punitive perspectives. That, I think would be very dangerous to society.
Along with his reinvention of his own image, perhaps Modi could have disowned those perspectives enough for the visible support to drop, but that hasn’t happened. Whether it is because he is in agreement, because he doesn’t want to alienate those supporting him, or because he actually believes in them is unknown, but the fact remains that Hindutva guys believe that their golden era to challenge all wrongs on Hinduism will come under him – and THAT is something I see as dangerous for society. So yeah, I’d be happy to see him throw his considerable expertise to education, law or such ministries – heck, he could probably deliver a much needed miracle for agriculture, but not as the Prime Minister or Home Minister or any other place where he is in charge of the physical or emotional safety of people.
On the other hand, he has a lot of capacity to initiate and sustain action and change. He is able to motivate people and get results. He usually engages in straight talk, even if it is not liked. This kind of directness would be a big addition to the political landscape of today. Much needed, where garbage rhetoric obfuscates everything and tangles up even simple things that seem evident. He would most certainly be a refreshing influence on a political climate of pretending results and ignoring realities.
About the Gujarat riots, I think the activists have done the people a disservice by trying to trap Modi in the case. Please note that when I use the word trap, I am not using it to deny that Modi is guilty, but to deny that individual cases were influenced by him. He may have well done what he is accused of. I don’t know, but it is unlikely he had a hand in individual killings. The cases for individual riots should have proceeded fast and culprits punished and the case against Modi, or anyone else they thought was complicit behind the scenes without a physical presence should have been done separately. By including them all together, the cases have dragged on and justice denied to immediate victims. If Modi was complicit, his wrong wasn’t just against those killed or injured but the entire state or the entire population of Muslims for putting them in danger, regardless of whether they were hurt or not. It is a different scale.
But it is familiar. This also happens in Kashmir, where the rape of a woman becomes about Azadi and credibility of forces, and justice gets delayed because even openly accepting and freely investigating becomes the equivalent of crediting a secessionist movement. The soldiers may even be innocent, but the political climate becomes one where the reluctance becomes a part of the case. A paralyzing conflict of interests develops. So, politics pretending to be protector ends up denying justice to the victim because of the political goal rather than the focus on the culprit. The same happens for a lot of festering problems in India. The Babari Masjid thing – straightforward destruction of property and vandalism became eclipsed with religious politics and minority issues and what not, and the whole thing is on hold. Why? I’ll be blunt here – because the mobs wanted to become larger mobs by banding under the largest identity religion in the country. The collective threat forced an accommodation of perspective at the loss of the country’s integrity. It seems we are not able to see shades of gray and we are not able to see beyond politics to people. We end up with the same battle everytime – the battle for the halo – no matter what the issue.
No person is wholly evil, no person is wholly good. If Arundhati Roy undermines the well being of the country with her strident rhetoric, she also has a very nuanced insight into grassroots democracy. If Anna Hazare woke up the country and gave them his integrity to come together under, he is also challenging a pillar of the democracy itself. If Narendra Modi used to be a Hindutva hot head and led the state when Muslims got butchered far more than Hindus, he has also served with enduring commitment to change the face of the state and create more security. If Sonia Gandhi leads a party of the corrupt and may be misusing her power, she also powered the RTI through when politicians would have stalled it – a direct fight against corruption. Mahatma Gandhi himself may have mobilized our freedom struggle, but he was also a hideous misogynist whose views of women have consolidated moral judgments and suppression. No one is wholly good or evil, and only criticizing someone or praising them should be seen as an intellectual warning of inability or refusal to see the larger picture beyond what they have already decided.
Such thinking is small minded and diminishes national interest rather than strengthening it. We do not need a person to be totally good to support them, and we don’t need a person to be totally evil to not like them. These decisions are individual opinions rooted in what we think is more important, but it is important that we see our decision as our own choice rather than a complete picture of the person.
As for me, I will continue to praise what I like, and criticize what I like, and remain free to think as well as change my mind if new information requires it. That is my freedom.