Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Despite his recent efforts to shake off the stigma of the 2002 riots by reaching out to Muslims, Narendra Modi still sees no place for the community in his vision of a polity


Ten years ago when the Babri Masjid mosque was demolished, psychologist Ashis Nandy decided to study perceptions and problems at Ayodhya. Nandy’s curiosity led him beyond the facts of the demolition to discover what later he isolated as the classical clinical case of a fascist personality. He was an ordinary RSS pracharak whose sense of order and whose approach to difference sent a tingle down the observers’ spine. Nandy was almost delighted that he had found a pure type of a variant of the authoritarian personality. The pracharak as a pure fascist was not yet well known. His name was Narendra Modi. The next ten years saw the blossoming of this personality.
    A fascist is a man who defines reality in a particular way. The particularity of his definition is that he denies that reality can be defined in any other way. He perceives differences whether classified as aliens, minorities, dissent as “dirty”, as matter out of place. For the fascist as pracharak, matter out of place must be displaced, or relocated, or reworked.
    Narendra Modi’s map of the world has to be understood in terms of the coordinates of space and time. For Modi, as RSS pracharak, history is an act of cleansing, and ethnic cleansing is merely a way of restoring what the fascist regards as normative and normal. For Modi, the old pracharak, Muslims were “dirt”. They were an irritating reminder to the Hindu majority that minorities still defined the polity. Like many Hindus, Modi actually believed that electoral democracy makes a majority feel deprived, guilty about the way it feels about minorities. Such a majoritarianism feels that too much attention and privilege is paid to Muslim minorities. For such a group, democracy becomes a source of stress. What is worse, secular arrogance makes such a majority feel guilty and embarrassed. Modi understood these majoritarian sentiments, shared them and harnessed them. He created legitimacy for communalism. He used communalism as a vector to return to electoral power.
    The violence that occurred in Gujarat in 2002 was atypical of a riot. The frenzy created a life cycle of riots beyond the normal length of a riot. Riots return to normalcy within a week. But sociologically the Gujarat riot was anomalous. The riot spoke of exterminism. It sought the elimination of the minority not its ghettoisation. The riots tended to see the partition as a model and areas in Ahmedabad were dubbed as “Pakistan”. Thirdly, Gujarat was the first example of a state which refused to accept responsibility for victims. Modi in fact suggested that to administer such camps was to accept responsibility for the riots. Fourthly, one must recognise that many Muslims did not return to their homes. Of the 13 districts for which we have data, 79,000 people have not returned to their homes. Many a Muslim Lari wala could not return to work in his locality, because the Bajrang Dal hung around threatening him.
    Modi celebrated this carnival of anger. He realised that this wave had helped him back to power. Modi realised that Hindutva was a comforting Linus blanket but could not be a long-range wager. He realised that the stigma of 2002 could not be allowed to taint him. Narendra Modi needed a new image and a new definition of this constituency.
    Modi and the BJP were shrewd. They entered Muslim dominated constituencies and launched an instrumental campaign. The BJP at Godhra realised that a lot of young Muslims were in jail for several years after the Godhra carnage. Journalists report that the BJP offered to release these young men or at least get their cases relooked if the families voted for them.
    Modi, meanwhile, crafted a more durable policy towards the Muslim minority. He had captured a new technocratic terrain. He had become “Mr Development”. As Mr Development, Modi tacitly and then more openly offered them a different bargain. Modi claimed that ghettoisation and ethnicity created reluctance towards development. An ethnic sort resisting development was seen as a reluctant citizen. Modi challenged the Muslims to join mainstream India. There was a corollary to this. Muslims had to forget about justice and memory and move beyond 2002. Development, Modi style, becomes an invitation to erasure. They had to forget and even forgive. Peace activist Professor Bandukwala’s public request that the Hindu majority apologise to the minority fell on indifferent ears.
    As Modi flexed his technocratic muscles, wooed investors, allowed commissions to continue like an old stegosaurus, he realised he was going to survive. Semiotically he had worked himself into being seen as a modernising chief minister, as Mr Public Policy. His tactics had captured a middle class, the majortarian space and yet Muslims still acted as a hurt minority.
    On his birthday, he decided to launch the Sadbhavana Yatra. He spoke like a king announcing a durbar. He could not ask for forgiveness so he convened a search for consensus. An acclamation, but Modi’s body language betrayed him. When a local imam offered him his skull cap, his sense of bravura shrank. He shrugged him off, sending a message that was difficult to forget. For all his propaganda, Modi was still the pracharak at heart, a man who had no place for Muslims in his polity.
    Modi is now clear that he wants to be prime minister. But a PM represents a nation, its democratic consensus. He has to have a sense of minorities and marginals. Modi lacks that sense. His unease about Muslims extends to dissenting imagination in general. To ask such a man to lead a people boggles the mind. It asks us to divorce governance from democracy. Modi’s track record tells us clearly that this is an ethical position that is difficult to hold.