The Blog

The Enigma of Modi

The world's largest democracy, India, will hold its 16th national election in 2014. On the one hand is the creaky old 'secular' family firm, the Congress Party. On the other is the party of 'Indianness' or rather 'Hinduness', the BJP, which does not like crown princes. Denying them clear majorities are a plethora of regional, communal and caste based parties in 'secular integrated' India. The 2014 election looks to run around 'demonising' BJP candidate Narendra Modi instead of important issues like poverty, economy and corruption. His invitation to UK has already attracted adverse media attention.

Modi is accused, not convicted, of complicity by negligence, or failure to act (Res_ipsa_loquitur) in one of India's numerous communal riots, the infamous 2002 Godhra riots of Gujrat.

Godhra riots occurred following some Muslims allegedly setting fire to a train full of Hindus coming from another flashpoint, the Ayodhya Mosque demolition site. 58 Hindus burnt to death. What followed is modern India's recurring pattern of mob justice. After 65 years the Indian State has still not configured preventative measures.

Cops and communities turned on each other. Approximately 720 Muslims and 250 Hindus died according to official figures. Shops were looted and houses burnt. About 100000 Muslims and 40000 Hindus were rendered homeless.

There have been some 249 convictions; 65 Muslims and 184 Hindus including Maya Kodnani, a minister and close aide of Modi.

Since the riots, there have been three National level Enquiry Commissions. All exonerated Modi and found little state complicity. But Modi remains accused by Indian secularists, human rights organisations and the west which refused him Visas.

It should not be forgotten that India has a record of politically orchestrated communal violence allegedly instigated by the ruling Congress Party, particularly in the organised massacre of Sikhs in 1984 after the death of Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Gandhi. More than 4000 Sikhs were burnt, bludgeoned or axed to death by a mob armed with kerosene, tyres and addresses of Sikhs.

Nine major Commissions have sat on Delhi 1984 massacres duplicating police work, but not asking why riots occur recurrently in India. Most Commissions implicated the Congress Party, the police and the administration. Some even named senior Congress leaders. 30 years later no senior Congress member has been convicted.

In all the major communal riots, no senior Indian leader (especially Congress leaders) has been persistently accused let alone vilified by the Indian media and political class. Except Modi. Why?

Modi is accused of negligence in the Godhra riots. No similar accusation have been made against Congress leaders of 1984. Mrs Gandhi's son, Rajiv Gandhi, dismissed the riots with, "when a big tree falls, the earth shakes". He became PM. The then Home Minister, Narasihma Rao, whose responsibility it was to direct the police and call in the army, not only has never been accused of Res_ipsa_loquitur but become Prime Minister too. No 'ethical' western country flagged his negligence let alone refuse him visas.

Modi has been different say his friends. He maintained meticulous record of official instructions in the post Godhra incident. He even moved court for death sentence for Kodnani, his minister. This disturbs the political class.

In the ten years he has been in power, Modi has reached out and taken decision steps to prevent recurrent communal riots in a state where riots were common. In contrast, communal riots are commonplace in the rest of the country (77,565 public order crimes comprising riots and arson in 2011, Indian Home Ministry pp 51)

His economic achievements disturb other politicians. Modi is running a successful economy in his state whereas India's national economy is faltering and the Indian Rupee fast losing value.

But what is scaring other parties is that Modi is offering Indians an identity, something that to date has been confined to a passport and territorial boundary. He says he is a Hindu and wears it proudly on his sleeve. But he says he respects all faiths. Many ordinary Indians, including many Muslims in Gujarat, prefer him to the secularists who insist people put their religion in their pockets and pretend that faith does not matter in Indian Statecraft.

Modi is a renown strategist and has yet to play his cards. He remains an enigma. As the Congress party makes Godhra riots a central issue in the next election to harvest Muslim votes, perhaps Modi can throw in the Congress party orchestrated 1984 massacre of Sikhs in the ring. This will finally offer Sikhs a national debate.

The 2014 elections will determine India's ideological future, between more of the communal riots infested 'secularism' (668 incidents in 2012 pp69) or an allegedly communal but pluralistic politics led of BJP by Modi who has already established a riots free record after Godhra.

As for the 'ethical' west and its visas. Ethics is a noble virtue in western democracies. But a nobler virtue, as Obama eloquently stated on Egypt, is 'national interest'. EU and Britain have lifted Modi's visa restriction.