Sunday, 30 October, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
A significant political event has just passed in Indian politics. Gujarat’s Chief Minister has completed 10 years in office. He has won two elections, each very handsomely. Gujarat has also emerged as one of the successful states of India in economic development. Narendra Nath Modi is accepted arguably as the best CM of India.
All these have encouraged Narendra Modi’s supporters and the BJP in need of a national face to look at him to lead the BJP to power in the next national elections in 2014. Narendra Modi is himself projecting his case strongly and determinedly. Nevertheless, his past is also keeping pace with what he and his supporters and the BJP are attempting to do at the national level.
Most recently, he was in news for incarcerating Sanjiv Bhatt, an IPS officer who had accused the CM for his active role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 in which 2000 people of the state, mostly Muslims, were slaughtered in communal riots. The officer was incarcerated when a constable accused him of forcibly getting him to make statement against the CM for his involvement in the riots. The Chief Minister and his administration have been accused to have sided with the perpetrators of the riots by human rights organizations and an independent commission for which a case against him is still awaiting resolution in the Indian Supreme Court.
In fact, Narendra Modi is at the centre of these accusations. The US Embassy has refused to issue him a visa since 2007 for his role in the riots. The Supreme Court of India has compared him to the infamous character of history, the Roman Emperor Nero who “played the flute” while Rome was burning at his instance. In case of Narendra Modi, he watched while Muslims were butchered under his watch.
Narendra Modi is a champion of Hindutva, the philosophy that sees India as a land of the Hindus, where Muslims have no place except at the mercy of the Hindus. The Hindutva movement comprises all the extreme fundamentalist organizations of India such as the RSS and the Viswa Hindu Parisad. He is playing the communal card cunningly as he knows that in the power of the ballot, the Hindutva card cannot go wrong because the overwhelmingly majority of Indians are Hindus.
He has therefore repeatedly refused to be apologetic of his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002. In fact, he believes firmly as so does many in the BJP that it is his role as the champion of the Hindu religion that appeals to the people of Gujarat and it is this appeal that will take him from Gandhinagar to New Delhi as the overwhelming majority of Indians, like those of his state, are Hindus with fundamentalist leanings.
The phenomenon of Narendra Modi is an interesting one. It is putting to the litmus test India’s secular beliefs. In fact, the politics around Narendra Modi is putting to test whether India is the country built by the visions of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru or on the beliefs of the former’s assassin, Nathuram Godse.
The outcome of the tests notwithstanding, one thing must be said that till the unfortunate thing happens and Narendra Modi and Hindutva wins in India, India has been and continues to be a bastion of democratic beliefs and democratic practices. The Indian media is openly discussing the phenomenon of Narendra Modi with no holds barred and all his attributes and his defects. Among his attributes, is his clean breach from corruption. Among his many defects is his dictatorial style of doing politics.
Recently, an Indian journalist told me that the majority Hindus of India had sent the BJP out of power in 2004 mainly for Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 riots where even pregnant Muslim women were killed in grotesque ways. He also told me not to take seriously the prospect of Narendra Modi ever becoming the Indian Prime Minister and to rest assured that he would never have a chance at the national level. I told him that I would not want Narendra Modi to have a shot at becoming an Indian Prime Minister by a long margin and that I have too much faith in Indian secularism.
Nevertheless, I could not help flagging for this journalist the fact that Narendra Modi is being discussed as a possibility as the next Indian Prime Minister and the BJP leadership at the highest level is placating his candidature. In fact, I told the Indian journalist that on a TV talk show in one of India’s leading channels that I watched recently; BJP’s national spokeswoman praised his virtues as a potential national leader.
My interest in Narendra Modi is for a number of reasons. To me, if he ever becomes a Prime Minister for that chance cannot be dismissed off hand, his emergence will have a tremendous negative impact on Bangladesh as it will encourage Bangladesh’s still insignificant religious extremism to challenge the country’s unflinching faith in secularism.
The issue of Narendra Modi is also important for us to take lessons. Narendra Modi is the Indian face of the local collaborators of the Pakistani army during the war of liberation. Although in Bangladesh we have not yet succeeded in trying these war criminals, our resolve to do so have almost total acceptance and support among the people. These elements have been rejected politically and driven almost to the periphery of politics to the extent possible in a democratic country.
Yet the Indian media has wasted no opportunity to give us a bad name by overstating the issue of religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh mostly during the tenure of the last BNP government, 2001-2006. The Indian media’s reports have harmed the image of Bangladesh where we have been viewed by the outside world in a manner we are not. These reports have twisted the fact that in the history of South Asia, where other parts have seen and continue to see communal tensions, we in Bangladesh have not been subjected to communal riots or communal tension.
The emergence of BJP with commitment to Hindutva and ties with religious extremists like the RSS and now the possibility that an arch communalist Narendra Modi with a history of hatred towards the Muslims could become India’s next Prime Minister should convince many amongst us that there is a very strong and nakedly fundamentalist face of India, not just is well acknowledged secular face. India’s secular face is strong and vibrant. However its communal face is not a pass over. It is in our national interest that we have to take into account the duality that exists in India and against that appreciate our own strength instead of believing in Indian secularism and its strength and basing our hopes upon it.
In Bangladesh, we would like to hope that Narendra Modi is an aberration and would never emerge on the national scene. However, the fact that he is receiving serious attention as a possible contender to become Manmohon Singh’s successor is not a bad thing as it should help us understand the complex and not always so secular India.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.