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India: Project Modi Inc.

by Bharat Bhushan, 29 November 2013

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Asian Age. Nov 28, 2013

How does one understand the electoral project of promoting Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party? If “Project Modi” presents a candidate who is a champion of development and efficiency, it also portrays him as a corporate-friendly flag-bearer of aggressive Hindu nationalism. His image is contrasted to the ruling Congress Party’s, which is seen as effete, corrupt and dynastic.

“Project Modi” is first of all a personal project. Mr Modi has systematically ousted or marginalised all opponents within the party before emerging as its “tallest” leader. Organisational coups and expulsions left Mr Modi as the sole leader of stature in Gujarat. When his ambitions began to be directed towards Delhi, he managed to show up L.K. Advani as an aging contender unfit for the Prime Minister’s job. The second-rung central leaders of the party have either chosen to fall behind him or are nursing bruised egos unable to check his rise. The foremost priority of “Project Modi” is, therefore, Mr Modi himself and his campaign strategy reflects this. Coarse abuse and personal insinuations are used to diminish challengers — from within the BJP and outside.

Mr Modi, however, is also a middle-class project. The mass agitations against corruption and for public accountability, led essentially in the metropolitan cities by social worker Anna Hazare and yoga guru Ramdev, helped create the political conditions for rise of a Bonapartist figure speaking for the vocal middle classes. Mr Modi fitted the bill by taking up the rhetoric of wiping out corruption.

The urban middle classes, especially the youth, have rushed to embrace the image of Mr Modi as a strongly nationalist, straight-talking leader of grassroots origins. This is countered by the image of Rahul Gandhi, whose nationalism is suspect because of his Italian mother, and whose dynastic upper-class origins make him out of touch with reality. No due diligence seems necessary to Mr Modi’s youth supporters for the communal carnage which took place under his watch in Gujarat in 2002; nor even for blocking the appointment of a Lokayukt for eight years. For the middle classes there is little room for criticism of Mr Modi’s past or his ideology.

Mr Modi’s talk of the “Gujarat model” of development goes down well with the relatively rich urban electorate which has benefited disproportionately from economic reforms. Its premise is that high levels of economic growth will automatically pull even the poor out of poverty. The middle classes see state intervention in health, education, nutrition or housing for the poor as wasteful subsidies, the burden of which is borne by taxpayers like themselves. Mr Modi’s development model captures the yearning of urban India to virtually secede from the poor of this country.

It also endears “Project Modi” to corporates who oppose subsidies for the poor. But they are eager to accept the enormous subsidies Mr Modi promises to deliver to them as incentives and stimuli for growth. He has shown willingness to alienate state-owned natural resources at throw-away prices to corporate enterprises.

Public land has been transferred in Mr Modi’s Gujarat to businessmen at lower rates than the cheapest cloth in Ahmedabad’s department stores — land was allocated to the Adani Group at rates of `1 to `32 per square metre for the Mundra Port and Mundra Special Economic Zone; Larsen & Toubro was allotted 80 hectares at Hazira at `1 per square metre; Tata Motors were given 1,100 acres of land at a rate of `900 per square metre when the market rate was `10,000 per square metre; about 65,000 square metre of land belonging to Navsari Agriculture University in Surat was handed over, despite the university’s objections, to a private hotel group; 20,8000 sq m of coastal regulation zone and public forest land was allotted to Essar Steel and so on.

Even while he has accused the Manmohan Singh government of corruption, he has not said a word against the crony capitalists to whom the Singh government handed over coal mines for free and telecom spectrum at throwaway rates. Mr Modi’s closeness to the corporate world makes him behave like the Indian police who arrest the prostitute but let the client go free with his honour back in his pants and head held high.

Among the heaviest investors in “Project Modi”, however, are the Hindu ideologues of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Having been banned twice since Independence, its leaders fear another ban, and worse, the prospect of being jailed. Recent developments have intensified such fears. Hindu extremist groups have been found to be involved in the terrorist attacks on the Mecca Mosque in Hyderabad, at Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s shrine at Ajmer (also known as Ajmer Sharif), and on the Samjhauta Express. Several RSS members (since disowned) have been arrested for their involvement in these terror plots. The heat of the investigations threatens to singe some top RSS functionaries.

The RSS is normally against promoting personality cults. In April this year, it had reportedly removed the editor of its official publication Organiser for promoting Mr Modi. Yet it joined the Modi bandwagon a few months later because it is, at this moment, willing to do everything to get rid of the present dispensation in New Delhi.

Mr Modi is now obliged more than ever before to promote the RSS agenda — of equating India with Hinduism and, in their perverted vision, represent Hinduism itself as nationalism.

Militant Hinduism though would in any case have been a key part of Mr Modi’s electoral strategy. He was likely to replicate a strategy that has worked for him in the past. The parading of ashes of those who died in bomb blasts in Bihar this October was yet another attempt at communal polarisation. As a talented ideologue of the RSS, Mr Modi is well-versed in using Urdu words to decry his opponents, playing upon communal resonances latent in language.

The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

P.S.

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