Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Dec 13, 2017

Modi’s desperation

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems like a worried man. State elections in his home Gujarat do not appear to be going well for his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While verbal excess by rivals during election campaigns is nothing new, this time Modi has outdone even his own conspiracy theory bent. Floundering amidst the tide seemingly turning against the BJP in Gujarat, Modi has come up with the fantastic claim that Pakistan is colluding with the opposition Congress Party to defeat BJP in the state. And what proof or evidence does Modi adduce in support of his outlandish claim? A meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house attended by the Pakistan High Commissioner, a former Pakistani foreign minister, former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, et al. In addition, he quotes the Facebook post of a retired Pakistan army officer hoping for a Congress victory to construct his elaborate but shaky structure of an argument. As if all this were not enough, he accuses Aiyar of putting Modi on a hit list to ensure peace between Pakistan and India. Naturally the Congress Party has hit back to rubbish this conspiracy theory. And as often happens in such matters, attempted to show Modi his own face in the mirror of holding a ‘soft’ corner for Pakistan. Quite appropriately, our foreign office, while rejecting Modi’s airy fairy accusations, has requested that Pakistan not be dragged into India’s domestic electoral battles.

When Modi was elected in the 2014 general elections as prime minister, the expectation widely held by the electorate was that he would replicate on a countrywide basis the Gujarat ‘miracle’ while he was the state’s chief minister. Three years anon, the ‘sheen’ on the Modi economic ‘miracle’ in Gujarat has faded. The main factors in this regard are the imposition of GST and the controversial demonetisation measures of his government. Even those could perhaps have been forgiven had Modi performed up to expectations in boosting investment, development, and the people’s welfare. The other factor in Modi’s seeming dwindling political fortunes is the free play he has given to, if not colluded with, the growth of Hindutva-driven developments. The beef eating row that has led to Muslims being killed by mob vigilante action, the attempted rewriting of history with a Hindu fundamentalist tinge, and even the quixotic campaign to rename iconic monuments such as the Taj Mahal as a Hindu heritage site have all worked against Modi. In Gujarat itself, Modi’s name is no longer an automatic guarantee of electoral success, especially since the rise of activist Hardik Patel as the Gujarat Congress leader. Modi’s entire political persona has been built on the demonisation of Muslims. His turning a blind eye to, if not being complicit in, Hindutva activists attempting to turn India’s diverse history and traditions into the narrow confines of their distorted views has revived memories of his role in the Gujarat communal riots in 2002 when he was chief minister. Modi appears to be in trouble in Gujarat and has therefore fallen back on the age old ‘foreign hand’ trick, with Pakistan centre-stage as the bogeyman, to distract from the increasing unpopularity of his government. Modi may be teetering on the brink of a defeat or at least a weakened showing in his home state. Ironically, while his stint as Gujarat chief minister propelled him to the highest elected office, it may well turn out that it is Gujarat that proves the beginning of the decline in his political trajectory. Modi therefore seems to have fallen victim to the weight of expectations of the electorate, the incumbency factor (India being a huge country with equally huge problems), and reminding people through his Hindutva policies of his role in the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 on his watch.

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