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Prime Minister Modi? The idea is inevitable

April 11, 2012 19:59 IST

With the Special Investigation Team's closure report finding no case to be made against Modi on Zakia Jafri's complaint, the public debate has once again returned to The Narendra Modi Question, says Shashi Shekhar.

In January 2011, the proceedings in the Supreme Court were witness to an unusual reprimand, with the highest court expressing displeasure against activists and NGOs well known for Left liberal activism on the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The specific reason for the court's displeasure was a report written by the Left liberal activists to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the proceedings of the 10 cases related to the Gujarat riots being monitored by the Supreme Court.

More recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, made a trip to Gujarat that included meeting the usual suspects from the 2002 riots activist ecosystem of Left liberals and NGOs.

If the Express News Service is to be believed, the agenda in Gujarat included in-camera testimonies and a document video dump with the express intent of influencing the rapporteur's report to the UN Human Rights Council.

The intervention of the rapporteur is significant for two reasons.

Firstly, in 2011, the Left liberal activists continued to lobby the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights even after the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure.

In a protestation filed under the heading 'Generic Torture' on the OHCHR's Web site on March 28, 2011, the special rapporteur wrote to some authority within the Government of India, expressing concern on what they called 'the restriction placed by the Supreme Court of India' on 'Ms Setalvad's freedom of expression.'

What is worse is the fact that the letter from the special rapporteur went further to demand a response on the 'steps taken by the Government of India to safeguard the rights of Ms Teesta Setalvad.'

Secondly, on April 3, 2012, Frontline magazine carried a report on fund raising by the same NGO; it also mentioned that the said NGO received 'since 2010, a partial grant from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations.'

From making complaints against one's own courts to foreign agencies, the Left liberal activists' scorched earth tactics have ensured there is no safe middle ground that anyone can occupy on the debate on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

It has become fanciful within the thinking classes to describe Modi as a polarising figure. It is amusing that an Internet poll by Time magazine that was hijacked by hackers also finds its way to this debate on Modi's polarising persona.

But the reality is the extreme lengths to which the Left liberal activists have gone in undermining even the highest courts of India. In the process, any debate on the 2002 riots and Narendra Modi is conducted from the polar extremes.

With the Special Investigation Team's closure report finding no case to be made against Modi on Zakia Jafri's complaint, the public debate has once again returned to The Narendra Modi Question.

A sampling of the many debates raging on social media has a story tell of its own on the inevitability of this question.

Much gratuitous advice is doing the rounds within both social and mainstream media on what Modi should and should not do.

It is anybody's guess at this point as to what shape national politics will take and what specific role Modi will play, now that his sights are clearly set right on the state assembly elections later this year.

That, however, has not stopped speculation about whether Modi is acceptable enough to draw enough allies to make a bid for power for a hypothetical government after a future election to the Lok Sabha.

Rather than engage in a speculative exercise, any serious and sober analysis should focus on the current electoral reality and lessons from past elections.

The electoral reality for the BJP is far from sound, having failed to break new ground in key states.

Instead of trying to find an acceptable prime ministerial candidate to lead the NDA, the BJP needs to focus first on bringing a strong and decisive leadership to the helm so that purposeful changes are brought to its platform and agenda, thus making it a fighting force in key states.

Without such a leadership leading the charge from the front, no amount of feel good acceptability of a prime ministerial aspirant will be of any electoral consequence.

We also often underestimate the collective wisdom of the Indian voter. In election after election, the Indian voter has made a near decisive choice, if not always with a clear legislative majority in favour of that choice.

Two aspects of this collective wisdom of the voters are relevant to this current debate.

The first is that the voters almost always have made a choice in favour of the option that is perceived to be relatively more credible. This 'perceived credibility differential' and not some abstract 'acceptability' is what we need to pay close attention to.

The second aspect is that the voters have almost always given thumbs down to any kind of ganging up by political parties in Parliament to make someone an untouchable.

It is this propensity of parties to once again practice untouchability in Parliament that we need to pay close attention to rather than some mythical 'unacceptability.'

Ultimately it will be these two factors -- the 'perceived credibility differential' and the 'propensity to practice untouchability in Parliament' that will determine the contours of the next government in Parliament, its longevity and the candidate likely to emerge as prime minister after its premature death.

Either way, the idea of Narendra Modi is inevitable. It is about time New Delhi's punditry and the thinking classes got used to it.

Shashi Shekhar is a social media commentator on Indian politics and public policy. His blog can be found at

Shashi Shekhar