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Book Review


Narendra Modi:
The Architect Of A Modern State

MV Kamath and Kalindi Randeri


298 pages

Teesta Setalvad

It is the title of the book that is apt. In this book, Narendra Modi, whom the supreme court of India has, in writing described as having the qualities of a “modern day Nero” (April 12, 2004) is equated with the credit for fashioning what is, according to the two authors, the ideal modern nation state. Recently published, and well timed with the ongoing fifteenth Lok Sabha elections it is designed to apply the final gloss on a vast and minutely planned promotional exercise.  

The term nation state, even without the sharply fascist edge given by Hitler has been controversial. The fact that the title of the book chooses this to define Modi’s project and not the Indian Constitution’s vision of a secular democracy is telling. Hardened commentators, if not academically qualifies political scientists, have chosen to define a nation state as a territorially defined entity principally of the same kind of racially compatible cultures and peoples. And therein lies the crux of the argument. Modi’s ideal state is a construct where the qualities of a state are defined by a thrust that is inimical to our Constitution.

Difference, dissent, accountability and transparency are simply not acceptable to a formula for governance that believes in half truths peddled through a screened and orchestrated effort, nationally at least. The attempt is to promote a persona to man such a state, who is not challenged, riled or ridiculed as his compatriots in the political class are, either through hard facts or informed criticism. Modi does not speak at accessible press conferences where the media can shout inane questions at him though even Advani, our prime minister in waiting, has to allow himself this indignity in the interests of democracy. He roars and threatens, euphoric with the crowd of his supporters at least 40 metres away. Now an iron railing will guard this self-declared architect of a modern state in case a chappal or shoe whizzing past blurs the image considerably. Through this his place in the nation state’s future is being carved. Little surprise then, that the stinging aggression of a Karan Thapar (July 2007) is unlikely to cause Modi to stutter again.

In large part this book enlists for the reader of the economic wonder that is Gujarat today. In the chapters that add the personal  touch, it is the magic of India’s toiling ascetic turned politician who was born to serve --not govern—that is woven by the authors, another attempt to shame his critics. Not just the tremors of the vibrant Gujarat summit and the Nano miracle that had the Indian corporate first family –the Tatas – join the Ambanis and the Mittals in the general backslapping of Modi, but the slogans of water water everywhere…….., jobs galore, and safety and security within the state are enlisted page after page for the fan to devour.

The book does not attempt any critical distance and while, In Gujarat, the print media continues its job, probing of the state’s claims to a glittering Gujarat, the book is a careful collation of the state’s press releases, uncritical and eulogistic. Look at this. While figures released by Modi in January 2009 (about the Vibrant Gujarat summits in 2005 and 2007) peg the total proposed investment inflow from the 229 MoUs signed during the 2005 VGGIS at Rs 106,161 crore, his own government has admitted (RTI applications sought from the Industries Commissioner) that investments, both commissioned and under implementation, totalled only Rs 74,019 crore. This means that while Modi boasted of  a spectacular success rate of  63.5 per cent in terms of implementation of proposed investments made in the vibrant summits of 2005 and 2007, the state has not been able to get even 25% of the so called MOUs implemented even in the primary stage. The Nano story is nothing short of scandalous. It was the Times of India, Ahmedabad  that exposed the twenty year VAT-free run for the Tatas indicating that this lollipop at the Gujarati tax payers expense, was the sub-text of the deal. The fine print of the MOU revealed that the loan of Rs 9,570 crore offered at a meagre 0.1 per cent interest will be repaid by Tata Motors only from the 21st year.  

The poor in Gujarat are not normally Modi’s concern and his exhortation of the five plus crore population of his state is meant to douse the rumblings caused by hunger, poor food security, joblessness and displacement by the all consuming flames of a hate driven hindutva. Only about 59.6 per cent of the rural children of Gujarat can read the standard one text book as against an all-India average of  66.6% (Indian Express December 21, 2008).  According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2008 Global Hunger Index, Gujarat (placed in the ‘alarming’ category) is ranked 69th alongwith Haiti, the nation infamous for food riots.   Similarly figures of electricity generation and food production dished out by the state have been disproved by its own official documents  and the CAG annual report exposes Gujarat’s  efficiency being none better than other states when it comes to implementing schemes.

State legislatures in functioning democracies exist as legislative bodies as also as deliberative bodies to question and debate a government’s policy. In Gujarat the assembly, in 2006 and 2007 met for just 23 days in a whole year, the lowest for the country. Journos are rarely allowed inside Sachivalaya’s dep[artments, confined to the canteen. None dare question the questionable in Gujarat.

What then is this well timed volume is all about?  At page 165 we have the raison d’etre of the Kamat-Randeri enterprise. The authors callously dismiss the fact that former parliamentarian, Ahsan Jafri made several dozen calls for help before he surrendered himself to a mob that butchered him, bit by bit. (Sixty nine others faced the same fate that day at Gulberg society in a massacre that lasted a whole working day; and a total of 2,500 persons, all Muslims over all of Gujarat between February 28 and March 3, 2002). In a chilling justification why none rushed to Jafri’s help, Kamath and Randeri write, “The common public can ask why help was not given at the time when it was needed the most…The plain answer is that anti-Muslim sentiments run deep in the hearts of most Hindus in Gujarat…..quoting from an editorial from the Indian Express that criticized Modi’s ways the authors gleefully say’ nobody in his wildest dreams could have imagined the kind of game that Modi was going to play. He has played his game, won the match and won it convincingly..’

This forced consensus around Modi that this public relations exercise promotes wishes us to forget not just the gory details of recent events but how this man, at the height of a euphoria in 2002 even dared threatened and bullied our media. “What insecurity are you talking about? People like you should apologize to the five crore Gujaratis for asking such questions. Have you not learnt your lesson? If you continue like this, you will have to pay the price’ is what Modi had boomed to Rajdeep Sardesai on December 15, 2002 in the first flush of his first post massacre electoral victory. Six month earlier, the Indian Express( June 11, 2002) has quoted him as saying that “ That journalists who cover Gujarat… may meet the fate of Danial Pearl…  Cover communal riots at your own risk.”

This then is the victorious, chilling sub-text of this biography. It is a book that seeks to sell to the Indian elite a man who has dared to re-model himself on a mini bloodbath. Over the chopped, brutalized and burned bodies of the state’s Muslims in what was post independent India’s ‘justifiable’ ethnic cleansing. A miffed Modi has on occasion has dared say that Muslims in general have even forgiven him; and he uses the appointment of SS Khandwawala as director general of police, as the totem that sells the tale. But here, in this book there is no need for the authors to even speak of the language of forgiveness or remorse since for Kamath Randeri and many of their supporters, this is a small price that India must pay.

For these architects of hindutva India needs to accept this heavy human cost if it needs to emerge, re-incarnated. The real tragedy is that our general culture of impunity to perpetrators of mass crimes committed with the connivance of the state finds for Modi otherwise politically incompatible bedfellows. No wonder then that those among his staunchest political opponents are therefore reluctant to puncture the Modi mirage.  

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