Saturday, April 19, 2014

April 20, 2014

Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister-in-waiting!

M. Serajul Islam

When his supporters started mentioning his name as a possible leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 elections, very few thought he would come this way. The baggage he has been carrying for quite a while is not one to encourage many to think he had any chance of becoming the 15th Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi carries with him the stigma of being the Chief Minister of Gujarat when that state saw its worst riots in history, when 1000 mainly Muslims were massacred under his watch in 2002. He did not use his office to help the plight of the Muslims. Many Muslims believe that he instead collaborated to the systematic massacre.

The Americans also think so. The US Government has refused to grant him a visa to travel to its country because of “serious doubts” about his role in the “horrific” Gujarat riots. The US Ambassador recently travelled all the way to Gandhinagar and met Narendra Modi at his office. That visit did not result in any decision by the US Government to lift the visa restriction; it nevertheless led to the decision of the US Ambassador to quit her job. It however was great publicity for Narendra Modi as it gave Indian voters the impression that the Americans would have no problem accepting him as Prime Minister if Indians elect him to the position.

Narendra Modi has made it to the top of BJP’s leadership to become a pretender to the Indian Premiership because of his success in business and industry. As Gujarat’s longest serving Chief Minister, he has turned his province into a hub of economic development, attracting into Gujarat foreign investment that no other Indian province has matched. He has also championed anti-corruption as an issue. Indian voters are unhappy with the economy that has stagnated under the Congress leadership and extremely concerned with corruption in which the Congress led government has immersed in pubic perception. In fact, Congress lost Delhi recently to the Aam Admi Party, a group that no one knew not too long ago, just on issue of corruption.

Narendra Modi has emerged ahead in voters’ perception for being pro-business where they expect him to replicate at the national level what he has done in Gujarat. He has also not been tainted by allegations of corruption in running his state. There is a third factor going for Narendra Modi. Voters now know that the Congress failed to deliver because of poor leadership of Manmohon Singh; that in reality it was Sonia Gandhi who was the real power while Manmohon Singh pretended to be the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi has already established himself as a leader capable of giving India the leadership that it needs; that Manmohon Singh failed to deliver. Against him, Rahul Gandhi that the Congress has placed as its Prime Ministerial candidate has failed to attract the voters the way Narendra Modi has. Therefore for all the question marks on him for his questionable role during the Gujarat riots, Narendra Modi has earned wide acceptability as the next Indian Prime Minister because the BJP too has surged well ahead of the Congress as the party to take the largest chunk of seats in the elections. Nevertheless, the regional parties will give both BJP and Congress a run for their money and would take a significant number of seats to make both interested. For example, the Trinamool is expected to take up to 30 seats in Paschim Bangla, a number that could make it a major player in deciding the next government in New Delhi.

Nevertheless, polls in India after the elections started on April 7 (and will end on May 12) indicate that the BJP and its allies would be able to get up to 275 seats in which case it would be able to form government on its own. These polls show that the Congress may hit all time low in national elections and may not cross 90 seats. The foreign media however have predicted a less optimistic outcome for the BJP and Narendra Modi. Both the Washington Post and New York Times have indicated that the BJP will face significant opposition from the Muslim vote and will fall short of outright majority by a good margin. The two papers predict that the Muslims who constitute 14% of the Indian population are scared of both the BJP overtly Hindu fundamentalist agenda and Narendra Modi’s anti-Muslim stance and are likely to pull the BJP’s numbers down significantly. They believe that the Muslim vote could restrict the BJP from a landslide victory but not from forming government.

The Washington Post story carried on April 14 was particularly interesting. It was headlined provocatively “As India votes, Muslims worry” and went on to state “many are suspicious of a leading candidate, a Hindu nationalist, because of deadly religion based riots in his province”. There is little doubt that Muslims will not vote for the BJP. Election analysts have identified 150 constituencies where Muslims constitute 10% of the voters; 35 where Muslims are 30% and 200 seats where the Muslim vote could affect the final outcome “somewhat”. Muslim votes, 180 million in all, will not go to the BJP. Unfortunately, as in the past, the votes would not go to the Congress either and regional parties will take away a good share of the Muslim vote. For instance, in Paschim Bangla that has 42 seats, where they can swing the votes towards the winners, they are likely to vote for Trinamool, no longer a Congress ally and likely to lean towards the BJP. Nevertheless, in this year’s elections, the Muslims and their plight have become a major issue and will no doubt stand in the way of a BJP landslide in a significant way.

That may have a beneficial effect on the plight of the Muslims despite the anti-Muslim plank of the BJP. The sensitization in the media of their current predicament will blunt “Hindutva” under Narendra Modi led BJP Government by making the “Muslim factor” a major factor in politics. For Bangladesh, such a possibility should be good news because one of the major issues of the BJP vis-a-vis Bangladesh, one that still can be seen in the party’s official website is the issue of “push back” of 20 million alleged illegal Bangladeshis in India. Unfortunately, the buck may stop there so far as Bangladesh’s good fortunes are concerned because Indian Muslims in general and their large concentration in Paschim Bangla are not well disposed towards Bangladesh because they believe its creation in 1971 weakened Pakistan that was an insurance policy for them. The Muslims of Paschim Bangla have expressed that dislike openly, one upon which Mamata Banarjee has cashed to woo the Muslim vote away from the Congress, which is also the reason of her animosity towards Bangladesh.

A possible Narendra Modi led BJP government could see a period of cooling of Bangladesh-India relations. For historical reasons, the Congress has looked upon an AL led government in Bangladesh with special favour. The AL led government has been particularly lucky to have in the person of the Indian President a strong backer of the interests of the Awami League that was seen the way New Delhi backed the last elections in the country. In BJP Government, the Indian President may not have the same power and leverage as before. Also, the National Security Adviser SS Menon, the architect of the way Bangladesh-India relations have developed the last few years, will also leave his post in a BJP Government. A new Adviser may not be that sympathetic to the interests of the Awami League and may see the interests in Bangladesh, beyond that party.

Finally, the Congress led government failed to ratify the land boundary agreement (LBA) because the BJP that has ideological and party interests, particularly of its constituents in Assam, to oppose the ratification. If the Trinamool becomes an ally of the BJP led government, then the Teesta deal would also go down the drain. Therefore a Narendra Modi led government in New Delhi cannot be seen as good news for Bangladesh and perhaps even less so for the AL led government.

The writer is a career Ambassador

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Saturday, 19 April 2014
Author / Source: M. Serajul Islam

There are many who used to remain awake till midnight and even after­wards to watch TV talk shows for one reason: to find out what their favourite person had to say on the issues of politics and society. That favourite person is no more. For them as for so many of the people of the country, the death of AMB Musa has been the loss of a national icon, the fastest depleting of the country’s scarcest resource, namely moral and ethical capital. On TV Talk Shows, he did not appear as smart or as savvy as most of his other fellow guests. He was not very articulate and with age so clearly showing on his appearance, he often looked hard pressed for breath. Yet he outdistanced and outshone most of the others, many of who jockeyed for attention of the two mainstream parties in ways not too subtle for the viewers. ABM Musa gave his views based on his integrity and never cared which party was being pleased or which one was annoyed.

He stood out like the colossus, in a class of his own, on the moral strength of his views and arguments despite his fading and dishevelled appearance.  He was really the star of stars. Watching him, I used to be reminded of something that I once heard in a lecture by the eminent jurist, writer and politician of Pakistan AK Brohi that I was lucky to attend. He delivered that lecture at the Civil Service Academy in Lahore, Pakistan after 25th March 1971 that was for a person of his calibre and integrity, one of Pakistan’s darkest hours. 

He had said in that lecture that when a society suffers from deep moral dilemma, people in it drift towards destruction like stuffs drift in a deluge without the ability to swim against the current and save themselves from perishing. In such a society, there are always few individuals with courage and integrity who do not allow themselves to drift away in the deluge and stand against the tide. When that society hits rock bottom and yearns to come back, the individuals who refuse to be carried with the tide become islands around whom it finds its moral and ethical moorings again and returns back from the cold. 

Musa Bhai, as many lovingly called him, was that island of AK Brohi’s imagination for the people of Bangladesh in its current predicament where it is in a deluge being swept towards moral oblivion. His courage to speak the truth without fear knowing what he was saying was not being liked in the highest seat of power in the country was exemplary. Such men can today be counted on the tips of the finger. With him, we have lost one island where we have so few to retrieve our way back from sliding to moral oblivion. 

One occurrence concerning his courage will remain fresh in the memories of his admirers forever. His selfless courage in pointing to the faults of the ruling party had incurred the wrath of the Prime Minister who ridiculed him by stating in public that he was speaking in talk shows against the ruling party because it had denied him the permission for a TV station. Even the pro-AL media did not spin the accusation. Musa Bhai came out of it with his in integrity even more enhanced. The Prime Minister ridicule that would have sent many into fits of fear did not affect him in any way from speaking what he believed was the truth.

His death was witness to how desperate the society is for individuals like Musa Bhai to return from being swept away in a deluge towards moral nothingness. The media took the lead to show this desperate need as it forgot the deep division within it on party lines and wept at his death like children do when they lose a father.
One editor who hosted Musa Bhai on innumerable occasions in his talk shows articulated the nation’s loss by referring to as the “National Guardian” while covering the news of his passing away as the lead story of his newspaper. The outpouring of grief was spontaneous and widespread that cut across party lines and other divisions in the society.

AMB Musa died after a life of fulfilment in every sense. His achievements have been many. He was a journalist of an era now fading if not gone altogether that took up the noble profession of journalism to serve the “fourth estate” loyally.  He was an outstanding columnist who held his readers captive by casting a spell with his words and style where precision and objectivity were of the essence. He held important positions in leading the “fourth estate” and was President of the Press Club before it slipped into moral degradation by dividing on party lines that is undoubtedly the antithesis to the profession of journalism. 

He worked in Bangkok in ESACP that recruited him based on his outstanding abilities as a journalist at home. In 1973, Bangabandhu Sheik Mujibur Rahman acknowledged his outstanding qualities and  he  became a Member of Parliament. He was a freedom fighter and recipient of the Ekushey Award.It was therefore sad to see that even in death against the outpouring of love and affection for the man, there were people within the ruling party who could not rise above their pettiness and join the nation in honouring an icon and send him to his eternal rest with the respect and honour he so richly deserved. 

He was denied a Janaza at the South Plaza of the Parliament that all former members of parliament are entitled. He was again denied the Gun Salute to which freedom fighters are entitled when lowered to their final resting place. He saved the government the embarrassment of a place in the graveyard of intellectuals by wishing himself before he passed away to be buried by the side of his beloved mother.

It was therefore pitiful to see an Adviser of the government defend the denial of the Gun Salute in a TV talk show because he was not a gazetted freedom fighter as required by the regulations. His explanation was quickly dismissed by another participant who said that he had attended many funerals of well-known individuals in public life who had been honoured by the Gun Salute without bringing the issue of the gazette. 
A third participant in the same talk expressed his frustration that a great man was not honoured in death on technicality. Both these participants have no connections with the opposition with one, well known for his pro-AL sympathies.
AMB Musa was denied the honours for reasons of politics because those who could have given him the honours assumed that they would annoy the highest powers in the country by doing so. The Adviser who could have granted the Gun Salute to anyone else of the background of Musa Bhai defended the denial on technicality so that he also would not annoy powerful individuals. In the same way, those who denied his Janaza at the South Block of the Parliament did so to avoid questions from powerful quarters. In his death, Musa Bhai underlined the pettiness in politics that is pushing the country fast towards moral degradation.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is The views expressed above are the writer’s very own not necessarily shared by this paper

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