Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Mr Modi and the Idea of India

India thrives on absurdity.

An Italian-born Catholic widow is the de facto leader of the nation. In its most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, a young Chief Minister, newly-elected on a mandate of change, handed a known criminal the charge of the state’s Prison department. Early in the year, brouhaha erupted over the hurt thatThe Satanic Verses continued to cause Indian Muslims, preventing its writer Salman Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival. Last week Rushdie freely delivered the keynote address at a prominent conclave in the capital.

That was possible because the ruling Congress, which had fomented the ruckus with an eye on Muslim votes, was too busy licking its wounds after a stinging electoral loss. Indulging in competitive communalism has been the Congress party’s rallying card for several decades now - Mrs Gandhi, party leader and India’s longest-ruling Prime Minister, was its champion. Even as she maintained the facade of a secular nationalist party she divvied up the electorate along religious and caste lines, pitching the Congress as the secular alternative to a fundamentalist Hindu party.

It was one way to capture votes of the myriad minorities that account for roughly 20% of India’s population. But other parties, especially regional, have wisened up to the game, and the Congress has lost a crucial support plank.

Additionally, the middle class Hindu voter, disillusioned with the governing Congress coalition not delivering on economic reforms, is seeking to fill the vacuum it perceives in Central leadership.

Enter Narendra Modi, featured on the cover of the latest Time magazine with a ratifying caption: Modi Means Business.

Mr Modi has governed Gujarat for ten years during which the state’s GDP has grown at 11%, earning it the moniker ‘India’s Guangdong’. It is no wonder then that industry loves him. Gujarat is also India’s most urbanized state and its middle class has benefited most from the growth story. 

Frustrated with India’s endemic corruption and slow growth, people have begun to posit Mr Modi as the no-nonsense CEO who will fix India’s problems as Prime Minister come the next general elections in 2014.

A Gujarati friend emailed me snippets from the Time coverage: the iron fist of Mr Modi was waiting to ratchet up India’s GDP and lift millions out of abject poverty.

And yet, my friend added, neo-liberals such as myself with their belief in bumbling democracy were standing in the way of India’s economic galvanization that the business-minded Mr Modi would unleash.

Admittedly, I am cautious.

I grew up on the border between India and Pakistan, in a town suffused with stories of partition, which was declared a ‘hotbed of militancy’ during the Sikh separatist movement of the 80s, and went sullen after the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. It grew me up an old liberal who knows that there is no justification for communal carnage, whatever ‘Time’ it is in - 1947, 1984, 1992, 2002. Mr Modi oversaw the deaths of 2000 Muslims under his watch as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and he remains unapologetic about that pogrom.

But in a country infamous for its Hindu rate of growth he has certainly struck a chord. Let’s examine therefore the acclaimed growth story and how it has worked for minority Muslims, who form 9% of Gujarat’s population.

Tehelka magazine bared the truth in a detailed report in October 2011. Urban Muslims are 8 times poorer than upper-caste Hindus in Gujarat, twice the national average. While it is mandated that minorities get 15% of priority sector lending, Muslims in Gujarat get 2-3%. Out of 52,260 scholarships that minority students should have got in Gujarat, none have been given. The Muslim share of bank accounts in Gujarat is 12% but their loan amount outstanding is only 2.6%, implying they do not get loans.

Mr Modi’s beacon shines selectively. Yet, there are those who argue that it is time we give him a chance to run the nation - how much worse can it get?

If Mr Modi is elected Prime Minister, it’ll be the first time that a person with such an ignominious human rights record has gained the high office.

The present government is justly blamed for its shoddy performance. But India hasn’t seen a riot in the last ten years.

India is an unnatural nation. That a country riven by multiple axes of conflict, as the historian Ramachandra Guha says, could be bound into one nation was absurd. Yet, India was founded on the idea of a common humanity that would thread our language-religion-culture-class-caste diversity. It is a moral idea.

That moral idea, shaped as “a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”, is enshrined in the Preamble to our constitution. ‘Prime Minister Modi’ is inimical to that idea.

Mr Modi’s moral compass is clearly broken. It remains to be seen if India’s is.


  1. I agree with your last statement!

  2. sometimes some big mistakes turn out to be the best rights and vice vesa. we never know..
    if it's the way u mentioned, we might have a higher national earnings and growth. but in another decade, we might no longer be fit to call ourselves 'a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic'.
    it's for us to chose what we need to preserve and what to get archived in the book of historians. all i know is we need a change. a change for something really good, growth that strikes a balance and peace.

    1. True Leo Paw, in the case of coincidence, not in the case of considered opinion. Wrong intent rarely leads to right action.

      Indeed, it is time for every Indian to look within and do some soul searching: what is it that we want for India as a nation and for us Indians? We definitely need leaders of stature and integrity - but they won't arise form a vacuum now, will they?

  3. I do not know how much one can read into the small of bit statistics you have provided. 2.6% loan outstanding means less loans to Muslims- but most of the banks are nationalised and controlled by Central Govt. How do we blame Modi? Also everyone knows the bias of Tehelka and Shoma.

    1. You can read the entire article for more statistics - the gist, which is what I provide in the post - sums up the relative state of progress of minority Muslims in Gujarat.

      Nationalised banks account for roughly 52% of aggregate deposits in India. How do we blame Modi? This, for a man who oversaw the state police machinery as a carnage occurred in his state in 2002? A tad naive, don't you think?

      Tehelka is the only magazine in India which does serious investigative reporting. And yes, I detect a bias - in favour of upholding India's secular values.

  4. Interesting.

    There is only 1 point that i would like to react to.
    "The present government is justly blamed for its shoddy performance. But India hasn’t seen a riot in the last ten years"

    When this Govt was elected for the 2nd time, we did not expect Shoddy Performance. Infact we were banking on the Consistency Factor - to deliver.

    Naming Modi and Riots in the same line, sounds like a pro-Teesta statement, if i am allowed to say that.
    Why only Modi is singled out - Maharashtra, AP have seen Communal Violence - their CM's dont get named/blamed as easily as Modi.

    Let us give credit to the Man behind the Success of Gujarat. And if people & his party have faith that he can recreate Gujarat Magic for India- Whats wrong in it? We gave UPA a 2nd Chance, doesn't Modi- deserve one too?

    1. Modi and riots are inextricably linked, there's no way of getting around it. The reason he draws attention (and affirmation) is because of the magnitude of the pogrom he oversaw and his remorselessness.

      "give credit to the man" - but, of course; how else would he have got re-elected! Question is: do you want to give him enough credit to become the PM?

  5. Muslims or say pro-Hinduism has been the dark side of BJP. Now there is no Vajpayee like figure to cover that. Even Vajpayee could not cover it, when he said "Modi will have to go". He could have resign that time and may come in second term as an honest CM. But this didn't happen. The question remains who fit the shoes of AB vajpayee, Well, even if Modi comes there anyhow(though very little probability) he won't enjoy that kind of leadership as it will be a coalition gov. Yes, i agree... the data is misleading,

    1. Sure, Vajpayee was the moderating influence in BJP.

      What part of the data is misleading, and why? Curious.

  6. Not getting into the pros and cons of Modi-isms, I must say this is really well written article. You have brought out the vacuum in Indian politics and leadership brilliantly. As you pointed out, we are indeed at cross roads and it is to be seen how we move forward.

    1. Thanks Raj! We sure are at a cross roads as a nation and people...

  7. Very well put Manreet. Modi is indeed inimical to the idea of India.

  8. There is a piece in the recent issue of Outlook magazine that argues why Modi is not an ideal candidate for PM. The argument is pivoted around practicality. India for the immediate future will see only coalition governments and the author argues that Modi is pathologically incapable of managing a coalition where compromises and not blows with an iron-first dictate the play. Made sense for whatever have been shown off Modi.

    1. Will check the Outlook issue, thanks for alerting me to it.

  9. Wonderful raising such issues, too much of middle class India is blinded by Modi

    1. Thanks Anirban. Agree, Modi's drumroll is rising.

  10. Indian political system has thrown up dark horses as the PM for the last 30 years. If Modi appears so obvious a choice as the future PM then he certainly does not look to be making it for the term 2014. Modi has too much baggage making it hard for his style of functioning feasible at the Center.

  11. and i was one of the indians who till date thought (before reading this post) that Modi is the number one contender for PMship in upcoming elections !

  12. Nicely written Manreet!

    Mr. Modi remains a very controversial figure, as you will see from the number of responses you got to your post.

    Until India gets a presidential system of government, we will have to rely on prime ministers and presidents foisted upon the Indian people by party bosses. And so, in the next elections, we will most likely have to choose between two people -- a "prince", who seems to have no mass appeal and a "CEO", who has delivered as a chief minister, and who is a very divisive person, as you surely have noted. If I have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea, I am not very sure about which one it will be.

    I wonder who you would pick as the Prime minister if you had a choice? If the US model is to be followed, you would probably end up choosing a "governor" (chief minister) with a solid-track record. I can think of only two such people right now, and Mr. Modi seems to be one of them. So, why not?

  13. Communal violence has surfaced on multiple occasions in the history of India. I'm sure every one of those incidents could have been controlled if the government concerned had acted appropriately and effectively. In fact, the Congress party has been in power while multiple incidences of communal violence have occurred. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have a clean record in this regard.

    The question, as rightly pointed out, is what do we want for India? Do we want a government that has proven itself to be unabashedly ineffective, brazenly corrupt and even discretely communal? A government led by an economist who is too shy to speak to his own People?

    The BJP, on the other hand, in its term as the ruling party brought in the one change that all of the preceding Nehru-Gandhi governments had fought so hard to avoid. During that one NDA term, for the first time in Indian electoral politics did development, growth and accountability feature above religion, caste and freebies. And that, I believe, counts for a lot.