By Saraswati Ali
By the time this piece is published, the Indian election results will be fully out. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken over 31% of the vote and the clear majority of the seats. No other party even reached 56 seats in order to form an official opposition. In some letters to the Caribbean press, Narendra Modi has been hailed as a “man of the masses,” who will “finally unleash the true potential of India.” Let us take a closer look at Narendra Modi,and this force that has swept him into unchallengeable power.
Modi first shot to infamy in the world and national media for his putative role in the 2002 state-sanctioned massacre of close to 2000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat where he was Chief Minister. The U.S. denied him a diplomatic visa for a number of years. Modi, in turn, denied his involvement, and counter- attacked and charged the numerous persons who were attempting to piece together the copious evidence against him. In 2012, a Special Investigation Team appointed by the courts cleared him, and the U.K. was quickest to restore his diplomatic status. Yet, Modi’s biographical roots in fascist, upper-caste Hindu ideology (from the age of 8) and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) speaks for itself, and is indeed the wedge issue which gives him so much political capital. At the same time he has caused rifts in his own party, which one can only hope deepens.
Since 2005, Modi spent hundreds of millions of rupees (there is no cap on campaign funds in India) in re-branding his image, and clearly, successfully so. He became touted as the Chief Minister hailing from the successful business state of Gujarat who could promise ‘development’ to all Indians. Once again in history, glittering monuments of amnesia were built over bloody battlefields so as to erase the unpleasant past. While this sounds like rhetoric on my part, let it be widely known that for Modi-defenders it is no big deal that thousands of Muslims were brutally massacred, raped, and displaced in those horrific days in 2002. They label you as a “liberal”, or as “not realistic”, or even “Pakistan lover” if you show your sympathy. Meanwhile, the courts, that quintessential liberal institution where two sides are debated, are unable to handle massacres in India. Nobody has yet been convicted for the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. In Gujarat, social activists claim that the evidence on the 2002 massacre has been suppressed.
And as for development, according to a Labour Bureau report of October 2013, the wage rate for unskilled male agricultural labour in Gujarat is the lowest in the country – (US$2) Rs 129/ per day. More than ninety five percent of villages practice untouchability in Gujarat, and in more than sixty percent of villages, dalits are not allowed to use common water resources. In other words, business, which is thriving on division, hatred, and exploitation, is being touted as a great development achievement, whereas it is nothing of the sort. It is a rapid conduit of increasing inequality in India to mega-proportions. The news alone of Modi’s expected victory caused India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani – whose 27 storey residence in Mumbai is one of the most expensive ‘houses’ ever to be built – to gain billions of dollars.
The corporate houses in India and abroad backed Modi to the hilt for the 2014 elections, corporate media capitulated to him, and Modi’s party, the BJP, spent more on the elections than Obama did for his last electoral run,, in a country with 32.7% people living below the international poverty of $1.25 a day. India continues to be home to a third of the world’s poor, and a third of the world’s slave population, according to one calculation.
Truth, justice, and “democratic development” are not the only victims of the 2014 elections. Critical editors of major English language media outlets, such as The Hindu and Open magazine, have been fired for critical commentary on the Congress Party and the BJP in the past year. Intellectuals with a critical orientation are being surveilled and may be picked up at any time. Last week, a left-wing Delhi University professor, Dr. GN Saibaba, who is afflicted by polio and uses a wheelchair, was arrested without charges, whisked away, and will likely be denied bail if he is charged. Authors of a book Gas Wars, which documents the fixing of prices of natural gas by the Ambani empire have been served legal notice. The wagons are steadily closing.
So, seeing Modi as “a man of the masses” is really to cover up many stark, ugly and disturbing truths. To expect him to deliver true development is a sick dream. And when he fails, the reasonable fear is that he will distract and cow the general population through violence, grand gestures, and spectacles of greed. As writer Pankaj Mishra noted in an essay in last Friday’s London Guardian, “The electorally bountiful pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, too, now seems an early initiation ritual for Modi’s India.”
In this context, we have to remember that this was also an election that saw a new political formation called the Aam Admi Party (AAP) which breathed fresh air into the electoral air through speaking the highly popular language of anti-corruption and pro- basic needs such as water, electricity, roads, and food.
The AAP shot to prominence when it got the second largest number of seats in the Delhi legislative assembly elections in December 2013 where it formed a minority government, ousting the BJP. In the general elections, the BJP and the AAP went head to head in the famous city of Benares in central India, as leaders of both parties directly faced off there. Across the country, many loved social activists (as well as Internet Technology – IT – successes and business people) contested on AAP tickets, and campaigned for a revival of the kind of politics that only a few decades ago made India really great – the politics of the pro-poor, pro-justice and pro-people’s democracy.
While the AAP won only 1 seat at the national level, it is to these kinds of hopeful political developments and principled stances, to the fact that 60% of the electorate did not vote for Modi, and that people’s struggles continue to grow around issues of the environment, nuclear power, the rights of the commons, rights of workers, rights of women, rights of prisoners, that we should all support and encourage if the ordinary Indian’s life is not be further destroyed in the name of progress for very few.