THE BLOG

Modi Betrays the Mahatma's Legacy

19/05/2014 12:55 BST | Updated 16/07/2014 10:59 BST

Securing social justice and upholding the rule of law across the globe is about to get a lot harder. Narendra Modi's rise to power in India should disturb us for many profound reasons, and yet he seems untroubled by scrutiny at home and abroad. Where are the questioning voices, the spotlight shining on his murky past, the viable alternatives to his dangerous brand of authoritarian populism? Honourableexceptionsaside, on the sidelines is where, timid in the face of a demagogue that threatens the very core of unity, progress and rule of law on which the modern nation of India was founded.

Economic miracle worker, people's champion and defender of Hindu morals - that's the picture Modi paints of himself. Commentators in India and beyond parrot these myths faithfully, ignoring or brushing off his economic, legal, and moral shortcomings. Their - our - failure to scrutinise his record has handed his Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) an unprecedented landslide victory, darkening the skies over India's fragile and hard-fought peace.

Not that you would know it from the majority of media coverage surrounding him - most people who have heard of Modi outside of India see him as India's great hope. Little surprise when so much of the UK-based commentary, led by the Financial Times, verges on the sycophantic. No doubt the scale of his victory will amplify the media's celebratory coverage. Yet if you look hard enough, the facts about his record in power tell a different story. Modi's claims to have worked economic miracles as Gujarat's Chief Minister crumble under the lightest of scrutiny, and his complicity in the death of around 2000 people - mainly Muslims - in 2002 is well established.

A recent rally in the House of Commons saw human rights activists including Baroness Helena Kennedy and Sir Anish Kapoor rehearse the case against Modi. They were joined by Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer amongst those attempting to expose Modi's role not just in the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots, but in a series of extra-judicial killings. While Kapoor was inspirational in calling for more voices to be speak out against Modi and the BJP, UK Parliamentary rallies are of little effect in themselves of course. Modi's juggernaut sweeps aside all critics and he will soon be India's Prime Minister, no doubt with the support of those attending an alternative rally the same night organised by Modi supporters, complete with corporate sponsors.

It's unacceptable that those with the responsibility to question him on these matters - India's global allies, domestic and international media, India's elaborate legal system and even his political opponents - have singularly failed to hold a mirror up to Modi and challenge him. Courts of law cannot bring Modi to book for his role in the slaughter of innocents, and the outgoing Congress-led government is powerless to halt Modi, actively undermining its own record with economic incompetence and corruption. Their collapse is testament to the political drought on the progressive left in India. The marginalised, the destitute, the religious minority - they will be the ones to suffer as Modi's BJP scales up its Gujarat project across the nation, while the elite gain from his patronage. And all the while markets will swallow the Modi myth, feeding the media frenzy at home and abroad.

Executing a complicated general election alone doesn't justify India's claim to be the world's largest democracy - Modi's accession is the predictable result of the judicial and political failings that show how far India is yet to travel. My grandparents fought alongside Gandhi to secure an India united by the ideal of freedom under the rule of law - it saddens me to see Modi betray that legacy, and to see the absence of scrutiny and viable political alternatives complicit in that betrayal.