Friday, February 8, 2013

Rudrangshu Mukherjee: DANGEROUS SIGNS - Conditions ripe for a retreat from democracy? Ramchandra Guha: The man who would rule India

History has a propensity to prove people wrong. In spite of this, historians and observers of current events take the risk of discerning trends in the way events unfold and then suggest directions towards which the future is headed. The fulfilment of those predictions is dependent on a range of other factors but this should not invalidate the exercise of analysing trends and what they portend. It has been evident over the last one year or more that there is a growing disillusionment with the present government. It is perceived as being too passive and indecisive. One consequence of this is a clamour for a political leadership that is more assertive, more performance-driven and perhaps even more charismatic.

Another wider function of the disillusionment has been manifested in the discontent voiced on the streets of Delhi off and on since last year. Prominent features of those demonstrations were a marked enthusiasm to bypass established democratic protocol and conventions and an impatience with the due processes of law. Corruption among officials and among members of the political class provided the occasion to articulate such demands. The most notorious of these was the attempt made by Anna Hazare and his cohorts to impose their will on Parliament and its conventions. Such protests gained a certain amount of credibility among sections of the urban populace because many politicians pay scant regard to the proprieties of parliamentary behaviour.

Ironically, the government that is often flayed for being inactive and indecisive has a track record of infringing upon the liberties and the rights of individuals. The imprisonment of Binayak Sen, the charge of sedition against Arundhati Roy, the growing number of undertrial prisoners across the country (the numbers are so large in Manipur that a judge of the Supreme Court asked if there was a civil war on in that state), the reports of encounter deaths, the activities of vigilante groups in Chhattisgarh — these are all various instances in which the State has either violated the rights of individuals or has subverted the rule of law.

The challenge to democracy and its institutions has thus come from both within and without the State, even though that same State is perceived by most people as being bereft of effective leadership. This infringement of democratic rights by the State has its complement in the growing culture of intolerance in various parts of India. Witness the treatment meted out to Ashis Nandy and Salman Rushdie, to take the two most notorious examples. But ordinary citizens have also been victims of intolerance on the part of the State, political parties and sections of society.

The clamour for a strong State, not surprisingly, has found an exemplar in the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. He has been held up as the political leader who epitomizes economic development and is known for taking swift decisions. Industrialists have flocked to Gujarat and have unanimously sung the praises of Modi. His electoral successes appear to be the testimony of his popularity. Many see Modi as a future prime minister of India. That Modi has a history of intolerance and communal violence behind him seems to his admirers and the proponents of economic development something that can be brushed aside or a small price to pay for a leader who is committed to economic development, is decisive and charismatic.  Read more:

The man who would rule India
by Ramchandra Guha 
Like Indira Gandhi once did, Narendra Modi seeks to make his party,his government, his administration and his country into an extension of his personality.

A journalist who recently interviewed Narendra Modi reported their conversation as follows: “Gujarat, he told me, merely has a seafront. It has no raw materials — no iron ore for steel, no coal for power and no diamond mines. Yet it has made huge strides in these fields. Imagine, he added, if we had the natural resources of an Assam, a Jharkhand and a West Bengal: I would have changed the face of India.”(see The Telegraph, January 18, 2013).

Tall claims
This conversation (and that claim) underlines much of what Narendra Modi has sought to do these past five years — remake himself as a man who gets things done, a man who gets the economy moving. With Mr. Modi in power in New Delhi, says or suggests Mr. Modi, India will be placed smoothly on the 8 per cent to 10 per cent growth trajectory, bureaucrats will clear files overnight, there will be no administrative and political corruption, poverty levels will sink rapidly towards zero and — lest we forget — trains and aeroplanes shall run on time. These claims are taken at face value by his admirers, who include sundry CEOs, owner-capitalists, western ambassadors and —lest we forget — columnists in the pink papers, the white papers, and (above all) cyber-space.

Mr. Modi’s detractors — who too are very numerous, and very vocal — seek to puncture these claims in two different ways. The unreconstructed Nehruvians and Congress apologists (not always the same thing) say he will forever be marked by the pogrom against Muslims in 2002, which was enabled and orchestrated by the State government. Even if his personal culpability remains unproven, the fact that as the head of the administration he bears ultimate responsibility for the pogrom, and the further fact that he has shown no remorse whatsoever, marks Mr. Modi out as unfit to lead the country.

The secularist case against Mr. Modi always had one flaw — namely, that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was preceded in all fundamental respects by what happened in Delhi in 1984. Successive Congress governments have done nothing to bring justice to the survivors, while retaining in powerful positions (as Cabinet Ministers even) Congress MPs manifestly involved in those riots.

With every passing year, the charge that Mr. Modi is communal has lost some intensity — because with every passing year it is one more year that the Sikhs of Delhi and other North Indian cities have been denied justice. (They have now waited 28 years, the Muslims of Gujarat a mere 11.) More recently, the burden of the criticism against Mr. Modi has shifted — on to his own terrain of economic development. It has been shown that the development model of Gujarat is uneven, with some districts (in the south, especially) doing very well, but the dryer parts of the State (inland Saurashtra for example) languishing. Environmental degradation is rising, and educational standards are falling, with malnutrition among children abnormally high for a State at this level of GDP per capita.

As a sociologist who treats the aggregate data of economists with scepticism, I myself do not believe that Gujarat is the best developed State in the country. Shortly after Mr. Modi was sworn in for his third full term, I travelled through Saurashtra, whose polluted and arid lands spoke of a hard grind for survival. In the towns, water, sewage, road and transport facilities were in a pathetic state; in the countryside, the scarcity of natural resources was apparent, as pastoralists walked miles and miles in search of stubble for their goats. Both hard numbers and on-the-ground soundings suggest that in terms of social and economic development, Gujarat is better than average, but not among the best. In a lifetime of travel through the States of the Union, my sense is that Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and (despite the corruption) Tamil Nadu are the three States which provide a dignified living to a decent percentage of their population... Read more:

Also see: Poornima Joshi: Sangh Singh Song