Friday, July 6, 2012

Counting wrongly to 2014

Narendra Modi’s autocratic style and the continuing questions about his role in the 2002 riots make his prime ministerial ambitions unrealistic
There is something odd about the escalating row around Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions. First of all, it is curious that the man behind the build-up is Mr. Modi himself.
Over the past month, the Gujarat Chief Minister has chased after his detractors with the force of a typhoon, establishing his supremacy within the Bharatiya Janata Party, and making sure each conquest added to the chatter about his 2014 bid for Prime Minister. Mr. Modi first vanquished Nitin Gadkari who had mistakenly assumed that his dominion as party chief extended to Chhote Sardar. The result was the public humiliation of Sanjay Joshi whom Mr. Gadkari had appointed to a party post knowing he shared a bitter past with the Gujarat Chief Minister. Mr. Modi had Mr. Joshi removed from the post and the party, showing the party chief and his lieutenant who the boss was.
Spat with Nitish Kumar
Then unprovoked, he swung at Nitish Kumar, lampooning Bihar’s caste preoccupations and contrasting its backwardness with Gujarat’s material superiority. Of course, the Bihar Chief Minister wasn’t going to take the insult. A star in his own right, and the fulcrum around which the National Democratic Alliance is built, Mr. Kumar set the terms for who was and who wasn’t going to run for Prime Minister on the NDA’s ticket. Mr. Modi wasn’t because the candidate’s secular credentials were non-negotiable. Since then a full-fledged war has erupted between Mr. Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), on one side, and the BJP and the sangh parivar, on the other, over Mr. Modi’s eligibility to lead the NDA into the next general election.
Obviously, Mr. Modi’s larger aspirations are not going to go uncontested. Overawed as the BJP and its spiritual mentor are by Mr. Modi, they also know that his hegemony cannot be questioned and a party led by him will be a one-man show.
With all these complications, the question to ask is: Why is Mr. Modi so much in a hurry to settle who would be Prime Minister in 2014? Two years is an eternity in politics and it makes no sense to render yourself vulnerable so early in the contest. A more logical explanation is that Mr. Modi wants his national ambitions showcased for another election just months away — in his own State of Gujarat. A potential Prime Minister in a State Assembly election is a sure winner, and nowhere more than in Gujarat where the gaurav (prestige) of the Gujarati has been an unfailing electoral card.
It is not that Mr. Modi is under any grave threat in his home State. Indeed, with the Gujarat Congress acknowledged to be comatose, the Chief Minister ought to be home and dry. However, for the first time in many, many years, contrarian stories have begun to emerge from shining Gujarat challenging its status as a model for India as a whole to follow. In February 2011, economist Abusaleh Shariff established through multiple data that hunger levels in Gujarat were higher than in desperately poor Uttar Pradesh. He also showed that despite Gujarat’s bombastic claim as a red hot destination for Foreign Direct Investment, it was unsung Maharashtra that was the leader in this department.
In October 2011, the India Human Development Report released by the Planning Commission drew shocking attention to Gujarat’s child malnutrition levels : Gujarat ranked 13 among 17 States surveyed with 44.6 per cent of its children under five found to be malnourished.
The Economic Survey released ahead of this year’s budget placed Gujarat behind Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu in Per Capita Net Domestic Product (at current prices) for 2009-2010. Gujarat was also behind Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu on crucial indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy rates.

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