Watching the Modi show

Much has occurred since my last post. I expected that the NDA would win, but I did not anticipate the scale of the win, or that the BJP by itself would get a majority in the Lok Sabha. In retrospect, while various people named in my previous post can be blamed for Narendra Modi not being held accountable for what happened under his watch in 2002, that does not by itself explain the scale of his victory. And I emphatically disagree with those on the left (like Nirmalangshu Mukherji in Kafila) who are trying to somehow delegitimise his win by looking at vote share or localised thuggishness. If those arguments are to be made, they need to be made for every election since independence; and if there were strong-arm tactics for the BJP in UP, there were for the TMC in West Bengal too. And if, like Mukherji, one objects to the result in UP or Bihar, the fact remains that, even without the massive sweep in those two states, the BJP is still the largest party by far. For now, like it or not, Modi is here for at least five years.

So far the signs are mixed. I find it promising that among his first actions, even before being sworn in, was to reach out to our neighbours and invite them. Several news items have called it unprecedented; relatively few have pointed out that Nawaz Sharif invited Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in ceremony, but the latter declined. Modi handled it well by calling all SAARC heads and not singling out Pakistan (and not singling out Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa, despite the opprobrium with which he is held in Tamil Nadu). There seemed to be genuine warmth between Modi and Sharif in particular.

On the economic front, Modi has the mandate to bring in reforms and can hopefully over-ride the protectionist instincts of the RSS. At the same time, news items suggest that he will preserve and re-vamp the social programmes of the UPA government such as the MGNREGA. There is cause to be optimistic on some fronts. But how much socially progressive legislation will be enacted is unclear. And there is reason to worry about the environment.

I am also unenthusiastic about Modi’s silence on acts of vandalism that have occurred since his election, or the threats of arrest, and actual arrest. Still, he has only just been sworn in, and it will take time to know what he actually does about these things, and — most importantly, given his past — how he handles communal tensions.

One thing is clear — with this mandate Modi has no excuses like “coalition dharma” to fall back on: he needs to perform, and to provide a clean government. Any minister who attracts scandal needs to be thrown out immediately, not kept on as in the UPA because of the pressure of allies. If he does not perform, the sweep of 2014 (which, even now, did not include most of the south or the east) will not be repeated. But if he does, his party may make inroads into new states.

The reason Modi was elected was not just his own quality, but the quality of his opponents, and the topic of arrest naturally leads to Arvind Kejriwal, at the moment in jail in Delhi for refusing to pay bail in the offence of allegedly defaming Nitin Gadkari of the BJP. As usual, Kejriwal makes an important point: there are thousands of people awaiting trial in jail for petty offences, who have already served more time than their sentence is likely to carry, but are unable to pay bail. This system needs reform. But the AAP is the biggest disappointment of 2014. They came from nowhere in months, got enough seats to form a state government on Delhi, but then remained in protest mode (blocking the streets to demand, of all things, direct control of the Delhi police), and finally resigned on an issue hardly anybody understands (the merits of their preferred Jan Lokpal bill as opposed to the centre’s Lokpal bill). They could have provided a working government in Delhi and used that credibility to persuade voters in other parts of the country that they were a serious alternative. Instead, after reverting to street-fighter mode, they contested over 400 seats and lost nearly all of them.

The Congress can have hope for its future only when the dynasty and the sycophants accompanying it are history. Sonia Gandhi proved herself to be a good leader; her son is not. Party people recognise this but the response is to call for Priyanka to join politics. I do not see much hope for the future.

The main opposition to the BJP in the future is likely to be a coalition of non-BJP, non-Congress parties. The AIADMK, BJD, TMC won sweeping victories in their home states and, put together, are already a much more significant opposition than the Congress in the Lok Sabha. The 2019 elections will be of interest. vIn the meantime, we can only sit back and watch the Modi show.

[edit]There are a few eyebrow-raising ministerial appointments (though it is true that the BJP has very poor bench strength). On the plus side, B S Yeddyurappa — against whom there are corruption allegations — is excluded. On the minus side, Nitin Gadkari — against whom Kejriwal alleged corruption, resulting in jail for Kejriwal, though he was not the first to make these allegations — is rewarded with a jumbo ministry that combines surface transport, shipping and ports. Then there is Smriti Irani for human resource development: a relatively untested politician for a ministry of such importance is an interesting choice, to say the least, but maybe fresh faces are needed in such ministries. But, worst of all, there is Sanjeev Baliyan, riot-accused in Muzaffarnagar just months ago: rewarding him with a ministerial position so soon would tend to confirm the worst fears of minorities in India.

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Trepidation

Now that the Indian general elections have come to a close, who’s to blame if a man who presided over a mass-murder in his state, took no action, victimised honest police officials and NGOs, and refuses to express any contrition over it, becomes the next prime minister of India?

There are plenty of people to blame. There is Atal Behari Vajpayee, PM at that time, who was saddened by the riots but not enough to actually take action. There are L K Advani and Jaswant Singh, who did not speak up then and are consumed now by the man that Jairam Ramesh called “Bhasmasura”. There are the corporates like Ratan Tata, Sunil Bharti Mittal and others, who took the man’s free gifts of land and resources and sang his praises in return. There is the media, which has been relentlessly bombarding us not just with the Messiah’s alleged inevitability but with how he would achieve Gujarat-level prosperity for India (never mind that indices suggest Gujarat is not doing much better these days than earlier, and is lagging other industrialised states on most social metrics — it’s the sensex that counts!). The Times of India here literally sold out its front page to the anointed one for weeks before the TN round of elections. Arnab Goswami showed that he can be a kitten when he wants to be one.

But most of all, I think, one has to blame R K Raghavan.

This man (a “family friend”, whom I have met a few times) chaired the Supreme-Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) which found no evidence of wrongdoing against our possible next prime minister. The spectacular shoddiness of his job is exposed in Manoj Mitta’s book “The fiction of fact-finding”. Excerpts here. Dilip D’Souza’s review here. Several other reviews on the net. I intended to write one myself (I bought the book a couple of months ago) but feel it would be redundant at this point.

But, basically, the SIT asked the man all the right questions, then swallowed all his answers even when they were contradicted by the public record, asked no followups, looked at no other evidence. And there is much else. Mitta persuasively argues that fact-finding commissions, SITs, etc, function — probably by design — to bury such cases, not to bring them to justice. (Mitta’s previous book, which I haven’t read, was about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. He cannot be accused of having an agenda.)

Mitta portrays Raghavan as incompetent in his previous investigation of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination (to the extent of allowing a vital piece of evidence, Haribabu’s camera, to be removed from the scene without doing the paperwork or informing his colleagues — the investigators saw the crucial photos for the first time in The Hindu!) But what he did as SIT head seems worse than incompetence.

If Raghavan had done his job as a halfway-competent police officer, this man would not have been able to brush off his past as he has done and we would not be faced with the prospect of a fascist, supremacist prime minister who is comfortable with the mass massacre of thousands if they are of the “wrong” community.

We will know in a few days who our next prime minister will be. As Arun Jaitley remarked, it will be either NDA or an unstable coalition. If the former, well, those who expect development will be disappointed. Those who argued that a history of overseeing the worst riots of the 21st century (with credible evidence of having, at least, condoned the riots) doesn’t matter because we need “development” will have to live with their consciences. And then there are those who actually subscribe to this man’s ideology. I think and hope that they are a minority.