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Pulling A Fast One

Pulling A Fast One

September 22, 2011

A three-day fast can not wash away the blood of a thousand victims.

It seems to be open season for fasting in India. After Anna Hazare’s dramatic and open-ended Ramlila Maidan fast, it was the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s close-ended convention-centre fast in the cause of sadbhavana. Even as he was fasting, his opponents in the Congress Party led by Gujarat Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela went on their own fast in protest of his fast, and at the end of it all, every one of them seems to have succeeded in pulling a fast one on the entire nation. What was originally a spiritual means of registering protest mastered by the Mahatma during the freedom movement has been effectively reduced to a cheap political gimmick, and what is even more tragic is that at the helm of this latest round of farce is none other than the Chief Minister of Gandhi’s own home-state.

Narendra Modi’s extravagant jamboree, however, begs renewed criticism for the sheer effrontery with which he seems to have pulled it off. A publicly-funded ego trip calculated to project him onto the centre-stage of national politics and clean up his image of a communal bigot, it was another instance of his blatant abuse of power. Together with the conspicuous full-page advertisements and the deliberate misinformation he is propagating about the Supreme Court giving him a clean chit on the communal question (when it has done nothing of the sort), the entire exercise reeks of Nazi-style propaganda. But try as he might, the fact remains that the wounds of Godhra are still too raw in the minds of people for him to hope that they will ever mistake him for a messiah of peace and harmony. It is but obvious to any keen observer of his actions that Modi has not mended his ways at all. He is still as intolerant and unrepentant as he ever was. The arrest and detention of peacefully-protesting riot victims led by Mallika Sarabhai exemplifies the highhandedness and unease with which he treats dissenting opinion. Even as we waited to hear if he would offer a modicum of apology to the nation for the communal violence and bloodshed that he actively facilitated, or at any rate did little to prevent while he was at the helm of affairs, he did not show a single sign of remorse. On the contrary, his entire demeanour conveyed the completely fictitious idea that Gujarat is and has always been a haven of religious tolerance and that the rest of the world was conspiring against him to tarnish the image of his beloved state.

It is as unrealistic to expect Modi to apologize for Godhra as it may have been to expect Deng Xiaoping to apologize for the Tiananmen Massacre, or Hitler for the Second World War. In fact, far from apologizing, he is so hopelessly defiant that he can’t even hold his own ground when asked simple questions on Godhra. One can see it in this 2007 interview with Karan Thapar from which he walked away thoroughly unnerved when asked why he had been unable to improve his image five years after the Godhra riots. That question may still be haunting him today, which explains his latest attempt for a makeover, but the ghosts of Godhra will continue to haunt him for more time to come.

To date, Modi has been hiding from these ghosts behind the cover of three arguments - his much-bandied-about ‘model of development’, his electoral victory even after the massacre and the absence of a criminal conviction. But the way I see it, none of these arguments hold water. If development of a state comes at the price of genocide, then the less said about that development model the better. As far as election results are concerned, they can hardly be treated as arbiters of a man’s character, and more so in India where there seems to exist a negative correlation between moral character and electoral popularity. Sometimes it makes one wonder if universal franchise was a good idea in the first place.

The third argument – that of an absence of conviction– has unfortunately to be put up with. The chronic problem with our system is that it takes an inordinate amount of time between the commission of a crime and the delivery of justice and the lengthy process can easily be waylaid by influential individuals. I for one am a firm believer in the philosophy that a person is innocent until proven guilty through established processes of law. Modi’s government, however, has been implicated in the 2002 riots by several rights bodies and enquiry commissions, including the NHRC and Amnesty International. Even the United States of America (whose Congressional report on Gujarat’s development he brandishes today as a certificate of his achievements) considers him unfit to tread on their soil and had famously denied him a visa for ‘alleged violation of religious freedom’. All suspicion points in his direction and conviction is now just a matter of time and the efficiency of the criminal justice system. Reserving judgment on his complicity in mass murder does not necessarily mean that we must continue to entertain his burgeoning ambitions to the extent that he may actually come to realize them in the near future.

I cannot help but extend the comparison of Modi with Nazi leaders a bit further. Obviously, the scale and context of the two are vastly different from each other, but the underlying motives and philosophies guiding their actions are the same. Robert Jackson described these motives in his opening statement for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials:

“They are living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power… They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names. Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”

In the person of Narendra Modi survive those unholy forces that can undo the fabric of our society. It is said that when the despotic Emperor Nero came to know that the Senate had declared him a public enemy and ordered that he be beaten to death in the Forum, he drove a dagger into his throat and committed a slow and painful suicide to escape the ignominy of a public beating.

The raped and maimed victims of the communal riots may well wish for such a poetic end to our ‘modern-day Nero’ (as the Supreme Court has called Modi) but the least that we can expect is a conviction that will clip his wings. Whether the institutions of our democracy are up to this task is the burning question of the day and the test of our times.

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  • Rahul Shayari
    Rahul Shayari
    10.12.12 09:14 PM
    Modi Really good person we have seen in indian politics.90% of indian politicians are currupted. Modi Name itself indicates "Man Of Development Of INDIA" Definitely Modi will next PM of INDIA. Modi as PM definitely india get changes
  • abc
    17.01.12 03:14 AM
    India?s unity is not geographical and never political but cultural.
  • abc
    17.01.12 03:13 AM
    The achievement of Political Unity depends on recognizing and respecting the basic Cultural Unity
  • Neetha
    04.10.11 10:15 AM
    A powerful article indeed ..
    The article and the comments that followed together make an interesting read !

    Everybody is talking about the Sikhs, the Kashmiri Pandits, the Maoists…..also about whose suffering is of the greatest magnitude….!
    Still they fail to understand them as fellow human beings who are at the receiving end.
    It’s unfair to bring in sectarian tendencies as it would never be of any help.

    As I was going through the article, I was beset by a doubt ( till I reached the 6th paragraph ) “ Why the author fails to see the dark forces in the society that made a modern-day Nero like Modi come to power, sustain him and eulogise the atrocities that he committed’’, for I strongly believe that in order to find solution to a problem one has to get into its very crux of it to find its provenance..

    Well written..
    Just want to add what Erich Fromm wrote in his work The Fear of Freedom,

    “ The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom throughout the last centuries.
    It will triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a FAITH that is the strongest the human mind is capable of; the faith in LIFE and in TRUTH, and in FREEDOM as the ACTIVE AND SPONTANEOUS REALIZATION of the INDIVIDUAL SELF.”
  • Bharat
    28.09.11 02:00 AM

    (This is rather stale, yet I feel the issue deserves a last try!)

    Context: Feudal Democracy in a country without national identity.

    Feudal Structure: Jagirs are given to political henchmen to rule over. They come to the 'king's' aid at time of war (elections). Citizens stay away.

    Common Strategy: Ensure only your community lives in your Jagir. Local 'minority' suffers. The minority in question is different in different regions - one thing in common - they are all Indians.

    Effect: Create kingdoms in Democracy.
    The local 'new' majority will vote you to power for eternity. So you don't have to develop them once your goal achieved. Local 'majority' also suffers (look at whole India - not just Gujarat)

    E.g.:Gujarat, Kashmir, NE, Bengal, Maoists districts, Telangana, Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Mumbai, Bihar

    Rest assured India is diverse enough to never let a single fundamentalist win.

    How Indian Problem is different from China/1940's Germany:
    (each contrast is evident in India)
    1) Misuse democracy to meet goal, so will never need to scuttle it
    2) Both majority and minority suffer
    3) No one true/false national id emerged
    4) Coalition in Center- weak not strong
    5) Everybody in country does it. Not isolated to particular caste, creed, race, religion
    6) Fragments nation, each region has its own majority. None overpower the other - eternal strife - civil war.
    7) Diversity becomes regional & a weakness, it is not been eliminated.
    8) Country falls prey to external forces, not other way round as you see in 1940 Germany or present China.

    So unlike China or 1940 Germany, the fundamentalists will succeed in fragmenting India, not convert it into Fascism. Fragmentation is our problem, not fascism. You can see it happen all over India. And that is why I think author's interpretation does more harm than good.

    Inadvertent Harm by Published Article:
    1) Polarizes communities further
    2) Generates hatred, sensationalism
    3) Labels as minority, majority. Not citizens
    4) Fractures national identity further
    5) In effect, perpetuates process instead of standing against it.

    How to report such events:
    1) Think, speak & act as citizens - with one National Identity : Indians
    2) Talk of all these regions together so we can talk how all Indian citizens suffer, even if they have different colors in different places.
    3) Comment on isolated regions and we only help the fundamentalists.
    4) Step away from the trees, and you can see the forest. It is also on fire!

    I agree with your conclusion: Vigilance is the eternal price of Freedom.

    But vigilant observations should be supported by the right analysis.

    Diversity is strength only if it allows us to harness a new common national identity - Indians. So always talk about all Indians. Never pick on one group individually.
  • Joseph James
    Joseph James
    26.09.11 04:28 PM
    @ Sourav Sengupta:-Strange indeed are the ways of Indian electorate. They will elect somebody like the late Phoolan Devi with a proven track record of crime, but defeat a scholar like Manmohan Singh. That he bit the dust in India's most educated constituency adds injury to insult. These aren't isolated cases. In India, what the voter looks for seems to be his short-term gain. Candidates with a criminal bend of mind seem to be better suited for this purpose. They will barge into any govt. office, intimidate the staff there and get your work done. Such go-getters are immensely popular since people are fed up with red tapism. Perhaps we deserve the leaders we get. This, of course, is an amateurish analysis. I wonder if any authoritative study has been undertaken about Indian voter's predilection for criminals. Maybe this could be the theme for your next post.
    To return to the Modi phenomenon, he really seems to be an enigma to me. For many, like Mr.Brahmbhatt he seems to be an avenging angel. During his early years, especially during the election campaigns, he used to breathe fire and brimstone. What we see today, is a more mature Modi, at pains to reinvent himself. He has also succeeded in winning the admiration of a sizable group of Muslims.
  • Sourav Sengupta
    Sourav Sengupta
    26.09.11 03:47 PM

    I am glad to know that you do not condone the riots, and I shall be gladder still to respond to your comment.

    I agree that neither Hitler nor Deng Xiaoping were democratically elected, but does that really make any difference to the context? Are you suggesting that winning an election gave Modi the mandate to carry out communal riots, or pursue a communal agenda that would at any rate culminate in communal violence? Imagining just for the sake of argument that he did have the mandate to wreak havoc in the state, does that still justify his actions? The point I have tried to make through this article is that regardless of the context in which it is committed, a crime is a crime, and we should be able to call it that.

    I am sure you are aware that when Hitler rose to power, he was an immensely popular leader in Germany because he appealed to wounded German pride. The Nazi Party itself came to prominence through the electoral route. It was only when things went out of control that the Germans realized they had created a monster, but by then it was too late.

    As far as investigations are concerned, the less said about their ‘independence’ the better. As I have already stated in the article, I am most willing to reserve judgment on Modi’s complicity, but that does not mean I should ignore the writing on the wall. The Germans ignored it and paid a heavy price for it. We need not necessarily make the same mistake.

    A more dispassionate reading of the article will reveal to you that, far from trying to sensationalize anything, my intention has been to make readers aware of the risks we are running by encouraging leaders like Modi to rise in popularity.

    And precisely because we are a democracy as you have so rightly pointed out, we shall have only ourselves to blame if we vest power in his hands today, and he decides to play havoc with it tomorrow.
  • Bharat
    26.09.11 12:54 AM

    I do not seek to condone 2002 Gujarat. I wish to provide the proper light (context) to understand the event, with balanced criticism and stem hatred.

    The regions/problems I quoted are comparable Indian events, not holocaust & a non-democratic country. The author's own commentary seeks to compare it to everything wrong with the world!

    Neither was Deng Xiaoping submitted to elections under an independent Election Commission post Tiananmen Massacre , nor did Hitler stand an eight year independent investigation.

    While I empathize with the repulsion the author feels, such comparisons are at best the questionable sensationalism of a journalist and at worst like the comments of perpetrators of hate the article wishes to condemn.

    In my view the treatment is not the studied analysis one would expect from the background the article comes from.
  • Sourav Sengupta
    Sourav Sengupta
    25.09.11 09:07 PM
    Thanks everybody for commenting. By and large I feel most readers agree with my views and I am happy about that. However, I should like to respond briefly to a couple of readers who seem to be offended with the piece (and one of whom has even taken the liberty to refer to my ethnicity and draw some sort of conclusion from that!)

    @Bharat: This piece was about Modi's latest fast and not a general commentary on all the wrongdoing going on in India. So would request you to take it in that light.

    @Brahmabhatt: You seem to be suggesting (among other things) that one requires a Gujarati domicile to apprehend the moral dimension of a state-facilitated killing. I fail to buy that logic. Also, as someone has pointed out, you have got your facts wrong. Suggest you do a more rigorous research before drawing colourful conclusions.

    Finally, much as I appreciate dissenting remarks, I wish they were more decorous, at least to preserve the health of this forum.
  • Meera
    25.09.11 11:16 AM
    You are right. Modi is nothing short of a modern day Hitler! It is however surprising when people like Anna Hazare praise his administration. Why Anna even the US congressional research committee has praised Modi and his administration. I wonder if a Bigot like Mody can wash away his sins so easily with three days of fasting? Really silly if people are falling for this nonsense!
  • Mary
    24.09.11 02:54 AM
    What makes you more learned all of these people who have been studying history and trying to stop the one that is looming large on he future of India? It is not the time to dig out past stories to justify old stories but to stop a new one from happening.... Truth will prevail and all said and done, that day if it ever come,(I know it won't) will be the beginning of the end of secular socialist democracy of India!
  • Anju K J
    Anju K J
    24.09.11 12:09 AM
    @ T Brahmbhatt:- Don't include Rajdeep Sardesai in the Bengali Brigade? He's a Maharashtrian. Why did you leave out Mallika Sarabai and Teesta Setalvad?
  • T. Brahmbhatt
    T. Brahmbhatt
    23.09.11 01:46 PM
    One more foot solider in the bengali brigade of rajdeep sardesai, barkha dutt, prannoy roy and likes in their tirade against modi. The article is plain rhetoric which has been around for a decade.

    I would love to see the day when this brigade will talk about killings of Sikhs in Delhi, Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri pandits or about innocent Hindu pilgrims burnt alive in Sabarmati Express which in first place triggered the riots.

    Communal riots have taken place in India since independence (and before that). And if you look at the history of it, most of the times it were Hindus who were at the receiving end with CONGRESS at the power. Gujarat has never seen a decade without communal riots except under rule of modi barring the 2002 riots the reason behind which likes of you have conveniently forgot. I am not sure if you have ever visited or lived in Gujarat and witnessed communal riots and sufferings of Hindus. As someone who was born in Ahmedabad and has witnessed worst communal riots in walled city of Ahmedabad and atrocities of the so called minority community over hindus, I feel sorry for the pseudo secular morons like you blowing their trumpet from far corners of India without knowing any ground realities.

    In spite of this crusade against him, modi has strengthened from time to time and god willing someday he will be the prime minister of India. I would love to see the same brigade prostrate and frothing at their mouths before the same man whom they have been demonizing for decades.
  • Mary
    23.09.11 09:59 AM
    Modi is the symbol and pillar of ignominy at this point and taking him out will make it clear that all progress does not make up for his bloody past! No politician can get away with murder however good his administration! That is precisely the point! I rest my case!
  • Bharat
    23.09.11 03:42 AM
    If licking ass leaves a bad taste, so does biting it. Can't solve anything if v ignore the context.

    Consider this: V remove Modi from the scene. What will change in India?
    Both feudal democracy and Victims will continue to generate hate.

    Fight the board, not the person!

    And therefore this article accomplishes nothing.
  • Mary
    23.09.11 02:36 AM
    I knew there would be another Modi ass licker.... His actions are in question right now and we r referencing him in the context of the all the history you have referred to. But none as blatant and obviously sick as his stratagem!
  • Bharat
    23.09.11 01:51 AM
    While all critique maybe valid, the article is unfair to single him out.

    1) For even if he is guilty, Gujarat is then just another place where attempts are on to create kingdoms in Indian Fuedal Democracy- kashmir, NE, Bengal, Maoists districts, telangana, hyderabad, tamil nadu, karnataka, maharastra, bihar etc

    2) and even if he is guilty it is unfair to other such victims, to not speak in the same breath about a hundred other peoples who have borne similar atrocity- kashmiri pandits, delhi sikhs, Gujarati muslims, orissa christians

    And therefore, this article is but herd mentality and unbalanced.
  • Ariana
    22.09.11 09:15 PM
    Very well written peice. Kudos that some people in India still have rationale, common sense and a sense of justice free of religion.

    an agnostic NRI
  • Sriram.C
    22.09.11 08:35 PM
    Obviously one can't afford to see Mahatma Gandhiji's weapon called 'Ahimsa'used in an ignoble way for personal motives. If at all possible, such politicians must stay out of their usual busuness but that's never going to happen as India is the breeding ground for corrupt law makers who break laws at their own will and wish.
  • Amarendra Bandla
    Amarendra Bandla
    22.09.11 01:48 PM
    This is a serious joke. This fasting has reached such a level that we might see all future public meetings by politians started by doing a x days fast. No need to talk about what you are going to do next. Just fast and make people feel good! Period!
  • Mary
    22.09.11 07:57 AM
    I love the crisp rendition of the piece and concur on all counts with the perspectives you put forth. It is not easy to put all of these ideas in front of a panel of ppl who are not open to hearing anything against Modi... I was even surprised that there were ppl from my state Kerala who spoke for Modi and then I realised that they were RSS spokespersons! They populate all blog and fora and subvert any well meaning responses by using devious means and insult!

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