Opinion: Narendra Modi is not the ogre he’s been made out to be

Published: May 13, 2014

India’s opposition leader could yet unite Hindus, Muslims and anti-corruption campaigners

DEAN NELSON
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Until February this year, Narendra Modi, the leader of India’s main opposition party, was an international pariah. As chief minister in the state of Gujarat, he was accused of being complicit in – or at the very least, untroubled by – the massacre of more than 700 people in 2002, when rioting Hindu mobs laid siege to Muslim neighbourhoods, raping women, looting homes and hacking to death or burning alive many of the residents.

Godhra Riots-development

Gujarat state Chief Minister and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Primeministerial Candidate, Narendra Modi smiles during a meeting in Gandhinagar. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

Yet on Friday, if exit polls are correct, Mr Modi will win a sweeping victory in the largest election in history, becoming prime minister of the world’s biggest democracy. It is a prospect that has struck terror through the ruling Congress Party, and the Indian establishment more generally.

The fear is that Mr Modi’s aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism will provoke new anti-Muslim riots. That it will foment disputes between the higher-caste groups that support his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the less privileged – not least the Dalits, the so-called “untouchables” who do all the dirtiest jobs. And that it will stoke new clashes with Pakistan, and see India turn away from trade and foreign investment to pursue an isolationist path.

Given this spectre, it is no wonder that Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, her son and heir Rahul and his sister Priyanka, has run a campaign focused almost exclusively on “stopping Modi”. They are entirely bent on convincing voters of the threat he poses to Nehru’s secular vision of the Indian state, rather than persuading them that Congress’s 10 years of government have been good for them.

Related Stories:

Yet there is another take on the Modi phenomenon, one voters are finding rather more convincing. Where his enemies see a xenophobic rabble-rouser, they see a presidential-style candidate who promises new dynamism instead of “policy paralysis”. The BJP campaign has highlighted not just Mr Modi’s anti-corruption platform, but his boundless energy: over the course of six weeks, he has covered more than 200,000 air miles, addressed just under 500 rallies and “appeared” at another 800 as a live hologram.

In his speeches, he highlighted his personal story: the childhood job helping his father as a tea boy on trains, a low-caste origin in striking contrast with the pampered privilege of the Gandhi dynasty. It has connected with the strong – but usually thwarted – desire for greater opportunity among India’s lower castes.

And even as Sonia Gandhi was urging Muslim leaders to “Stop Modi”, some of them were voicing their resentment at an attempt to terrorise them into voting for a Congress Party that has not fulfilled its promises. Muslim supporters of Mr Modi point out that he was recently cleared of involvement in the Gujarat riots by a court-appointed investigation, and that while concerns linger, the state has seen less sectarian violence since 2002 than elsewhere. One adds that while many thousands have died in such disturbances across India, Gujarat is the first state where the perpetrators are gradually being brought to justice – in contrast with the alleged involvement of Congress figures in the riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, when more than 8,000 Sikhs were massacred.

For the veteran newspaper editor M J Akbar, a high-profile Muslim and a former press secretary to Rajiv Gandhi, the most urgent need is for economic leadership – and Mr Modi is the man to provide it. India needs to create 20 million new jobs a year to employ its growing young population, which means its economy must grow at a minimum of nine per cent. It is currently below six per cent, thanks in part to corruption and weak government.

On the national stage, Mr Modi will be constrained by the coalition partners he will need to rule. Indeed, it is not guaranteed that he will be able to form a government: exit polls have a questionable record in India, and if his BJP does worse than expected in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, another figure might prove acceptable to potential coalition partners. A “third front” of regional and caste-based parties could cobble together a government, with Congress support.

But while the verdict of voters will be delivered on Friday, Mr Modi has already won over the toughest constituency – across the border in Pakistan. Earlier this month, diplomats there told The Telegraph that they were not concerned about the 2002 riots, and hope he will offer the leadership necessary for the old enemies to make progress in peace talks. It is just possible, in other words, that a man who can unite senior Muslims, Hindu fundamentalists, Pakistani diplomats, anti-corruption campaigners and low-caste leaders behind his campaign might not be the bogeyman of Congress’s nightmares, but the strong leader India so desperately needs.

 

Tags: , , , ,





Featured

india flag2

Sporting fans disappointed as Indian flag depicted upside down in Commonwealth Games promotional video

VANCOUVER DESI India is already making headlines as the Commonwealth Games officially kick off in Glasgow – but not for sporting-related reasons. In an official…
Continue Reading »

CABS1

Heaving, hurling taxi patrons will now be charged a $75 cleanup fine

THE CANADIAN PRESS If you’re feeling queasy, step away from the cab. That’s the advice from taxi drivers across British Columbia after the province’s Passenger…
Continue Reading »

INDIA_RAPE_PROTEST_217126232

Angry villagers mob alleged suspects after another girl found hanging from tree in India

KOUSHIK DUTTA HINDUSTAN TIMES A 7-year-old girl was found raped, murdered and hanging from a tree in West Bengal on Thursday, resurfacing horrific memories from…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

CABS1

Heaving, hurling taxi patrons will now be charged a $75 cleanup fine

THE CANADIAN PRESS If you’re feeling queasy, step away from the cab. That’s the advice from taxi drivers across British Columbia after the province’s Passenger…
Continue Reading »

Homicide investigators are on scene at a stabbing in Surrey.

Homicide investigators on scene of stabbing in Surrey

VANCOUVER DESI A man is dead following an early morning stabbing in Surrey. Surrey RCMP were called to the 10600-block 135A Street in Whalley shortly…
Continue Reading »

Vancouver restaurateur Vikram Vij poses with Barinder Rasode at his new South Surrey restaurant My Shanti at an event Thursday night. Submitted photo.

Will Vikram Vij’s ‘support’ be enough to push Barinder Rasode into Surrey mayoralty ring?

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Still yet to officially announce a bid for mayor this fall, Surrey city councillor Barinder Rasode had an endorsement party of…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

child abuse

Indian kidnappers agree to handover boy to parents on condition of swapping him for his sister

CEN AGENCY In a bizarre demand, parents of an Indian boy who has been kidnapped, were told that they could have youngster back if they…
Continue Reading »

232-teeth tumour gum

Indian teen boy gets 232 teeth removed from “very rare” tumour in his jaw

VANCOUVER DESI A 17-year-old boy in India underwent a seven-hour long operation on Monday to have a whopping 232 teeth removed from a “very rare”…
Continue Reading »

basketball

Indian minister criticizes ‘no-headgear’ rule after Sikh basketball players told to remove turbans during Asia Cup

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW DELHI — India’s sports minister has criticized the ‘no-headgear’ rule of basketball’s world body FIBA after two Sikh players on the…
Continue Reading »

Greece

Tipsy British tourist asked to leave church after mistaking it for a disco

CEN AGENCY A tipsy British tourist had to be asked to leave a church in Crete where he started dancing after local kids told him…
Continue Reading »

Surrey-weight lifter-Commonwealth Games-Glasgow

Surrey weightlifter Parm Phangura bound for Commonwealth Games

MICHAEL BOOTH SURREY NOW FLEETWOOD — 163+205=368. That stark equation scrawled in the top corner of a chalkboard means little to a casual observer, but…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra fought with professional boxers while shooting Mary Kom

IANS Mumbai  – Actress Priyanka Chopra fought with real boxers in Mary Kom, a biopic on the five time World Champion boxer. She says it…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood

Akshay Kumar to host dance reality show Dare 2 Dance

IANS Gurgaon  – Bollywood action hero Akshay Kumar, who has played host of TV adventure reality series Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi in the past,…
Continue Reading »

INDIA-ARTS-CINEMA-BOLLYWOOD

What stunt scared Jacqueline Fernandez the most while filming Kick?

IANS Mumbai — Superstar Salman Khan has done a lot of action and stunts in Kick and the film’s leading lady Jacqueline Fernandez says that…
Continue Reading »