Guest post by JYOTI PUNWANI
What is it about Narendra Modi that makes people suspend disbelief? Ashutosh Varshney in his Modi’s Ambivalence, Indian Express, June 28, actually considers it possible that the new Prime Minister has a chance of going down as “one of the greatest leaders of independent India”. Surely anyone qualifying for such a status must be acceptable to the majority of Indians? Last we heard, the magic of Modi had left almost two-thirds of the electorate untouched, not to forget the fact that he doesn’t exactly inspire respect among our largest minority.
Varshney makes some bewildering assertions in his evaluation of Modi’s first month as PM. From a “novel policy language for poverty alleviation” to a new acceptance of Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation, to his RSS-defying portfolio distribution, Varshney sees signs of a new Modi, quite different from the man cursed forever with the burden of Gujarat 2002.
But do these signs tell the whole story? Parliamentary declarations about enabling the poor instead of throwing crumbs at them would have been exciting indeed, had the actions of the PM’s trusted colleagues not sent completely contrary messages. Nitin Gadkari, who had to step down as party president in unsavoury circumstances, has been entrusted not only with multiple portfolios, but also with the responsibility of co-ordinating infrastructure-connected ministries. His first initiative has been to get the stringent Land Acquisition Act diluted. Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar has made it clear that environmental concerns will not be an obstacle to growth any longer—this was the clear message reiterated in a meeting between Javdekar and the ministers of coal, power and steel. To clear all doubts on this score, Greenpeace and other groups fighting peacefully against the “land- takeover-resource-exploitation” pattern of development, have been smeared as foreign-driven anti-nationals.
This is about as far as you can get from Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals, but who respects him in the new dispensation anyway? The only two references Modi made to Gandhi as Varshney himself says, were to his ideas of sanitation, and to his transforming the freedom struggle to a jan andolan. But that in no way implies that Modi approves of the kind of jan andolan Gandhi led. Taking care to avoid naming Gandhi and Nehru in his election campaign, Modi nevertheless made it clear that it was the Congress that was responsible for splitting the country, not just into two, but also into linguistic states. Had Sardar Patel’s ideas been implemented, he lamented, we would have had a strong united India. Modi’s idea of India came through loud and clear in his campaign speeches, and it was most certainly not either the Gandhian or the Nehruvian idea of the country.
Finally, in Modi’s choice of the finance and education ministers, Varshney sees a defiance of the organisation that propelled him to power. Again, this would have been cause for rejoicing had Smriti Irani not asked her ministry to study how our scriptures could be included in the curriculum, as soon as she took over. Nothing in her personality suggests that she would go against the RSS’ goals in education. As for finance, Swadeshi had been abandoned long back, under Vajpayee’s regime itself. And no less an ideologue than the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had declared six months back, after Modi launched his election campaign, that his organization was neither against liberalization, nor FDI. Within days of the new government taking over, RSS ideologue Ram Madhav clarified that they were not “economic fundamentalists”.
In all this – be they efforts to dilute laws and procedures that protect farmers’ rights and the environment, which the previous government had introduced despite stiff resistance from within, or be it open encouragement to saffronize education, the PM has followed his predecessor’s practice of maun vrat, after having mocked it in his election campaign. Is this ambivalence or simply proof that silence means assent?