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Modi versus the Mahatma: What is Gujarat's message to India?

Last updated on: December 21, 2012 14:05 IST

Narendra Modi; (inset) Mahesh Bhatt'Unless he engages with the darkness within, unless there is remorse for what happened within his rule, I don't think he is going to be my leader,' says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in his forthright style.

The fact that Gujarat has gone the way of the Bharatiya Janata Party is hardly a surprise. That was preordained even before the first vote was cast.

No one should grudge Narendra Modi or the BJP their moment of glory, even though the final tally of 115 is much lower than 145, the figure projected by exit polls. This may have been a bit of a dampener, but there is no denying the BJP has triumphed once again.

What message is Gujarat conveying to the rest of India by re-electing Modi?

Is India going to be the India of the middle class (which voted for Modi in urban pockets)? Is the middle class only interested in earning more and enjoying more comforts?

The middle class don't question the mindset of the ruler. They don't challenge the hardline posture his party takes because everybody knows that Modi, to put it mildly, is an authoritarian figure.

It is obvious that the maximum votes for Modi have come from the cities and from those areas where development seems to be taking place.

The nouveau middle class is very clear. They want to better their lives. They want to amuse themselves endlessly.

A leader promises them development, progress. He says he will better their lives, they will get their pay cheque, their bank balance will increase... Do they ask: At what cost?

There is apathy towards the fate of the others. Take Ahmedabad -- one side lives in abject poverty, filth and squalor while the other side rules.

And why just Ahmedabad? This has been the state of India... There are a few oases of affluence and the rest are suffering. The clock seems to have frozen; nothing has changed there.

Modi is not the only one guilty of this.

For some reason, India in the 21st century continues to be dominated by the feudal mindset. We as people want to prostrate to one symbol of power...

A so-called charismatic, all-powerful, leader may give you an illusion of security and safety and delude you that he is leading you into some kind of promised land, but we are not seeing the period of darkness that is left behind. This is not my opinion, this is history.

For me, Gujarat will always be the land of the Mahatma who led us to freedom and who himself was a Gujarati. He was perhaps one of the proudest sons of Gujarat. It was the Mahatma who repeatedly said that Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of the nation.

The grouse that people like me have -- that Modi did not field a single Muslim candidate -- overtly spotlights that there is a strong Muslim bias in place. Let me repeat, I do not grudge Modi and his party the sweep in the state.

But the mother of all questions is: Is this the kind of India we want to build, an India without its secular core?

Yes, this time, Modi did not overtly take what is called an anti-Muslim posture. But there was a very clever use of the word Mian before Ahmed Patel's name, who is Sonia Gandhi's political advisor.

He also played the anti-Pakistan card by introducing the Sir Creek dispute a few days before polling began. He created a huge drama where he wrote to the prime minister and demanded that we should not hand over Sir Creek to Pakistan. He alleged that (Pakistan's interior minister) Rehman Malik was in India to negotiate the handover.

Modi was clearly replaying the tune that had given him successful results in the past.

The prime minister made it clear there was no such move. Finance Minister P Chidambaram went on record, decreeing the claims were a figment of someone's imagination.

But, in Gujarat, where such deep biases are firmly entrenched, the harm was done; the votes swung to Modi's side.

The Election Commission should have questioned these tactics there and then.

We can't just measure progress by roads, by development, by infrastructure and refuse to acknowledge the deterioration of the spirit. Any economic leap without a cultural renaissance is dangerous, according to me.

India needs to confront where we are going at this stage. Are we going to follow the ideals of the Mahatma and his vision? Isn't that going to be the lodestar? Is the moral compass of the Mahatma going to lead us in the times to come?

I would leave Modi and his people with a few questions:

What kind of development are you talking about when the Muslims have become poorer and even the riot victims have not been rehabilitated? There is no drinking water, nor roads or municipal facilities in the Muslim areas.

Respectable Muslims cannot get a place to stay in elite areas of Ahmedabad. The poor have been marginalised. Even the tribals have not benefitted.

India's middle class is going to be the major force that is going to lead India into the 21st century. But what happens to those desperately poor, the poorest of the poor whom we have spoken about at length? We have done nothing to change their lot. Is this a healthy sign?

This is also a failure of the Congress. The Congress couldn't take these issues that were staring every secular Indian in his face; the Congress couldn't confront this in the Gujarat election.

Naturally, the path to victory for the BJP became easy because the Congress did not do what it should have done. It is a pity that people had to choose between the BJP and the Congress which had not taken a stand.

It is time for like-minded Indians to get together. Of course, you need to rid the nation of the corruption that has been the hallmark of the ruling party. We cannot pretend to be completely untouched by the issue of corruption.

As we stumble and fumble into the second decade of the 21st century, I re-dedicate myself to the vision of the Mahatma, which can be the only moral compass that can steer this nation through, which can be the only lodestar.

All talk of progress means a tinkle's damn if there is no spiritual and moral awakening.

Societies which have a lot of money and no cultural depth or spiritual depth or emotional depth are dangerous countries. Look at the Arab countries. You want that kind of a country? The answer is perhaps no.

We must remember real leaders are those that engage with the darkness and the age-old biases which are entrenched in the hearts of the people they claim to lead.

A real leader engages with the backward, regressive tendencies of his people. He doesn't play to them to get votes and stay in power. Even at the cost of losing, you need to do that. But that's perhaps being too idealistic.

That's why, perhaps, there was only one Mahatma Gandhi in this country.

Projecting Modi as prime minister...

I have no interest in the internal politics of any political party. I am just talking about an India which is supposed to be ruled by the Constitution which says there will be no discrimination on the lines of caste, language or faith. We are all one; we are the children of Mother India.

When I see huge sections of our society still trapped in a time warp because of their faith, I ask what kind of a progress is this?

And then you dazzle me by statistics. You bring your wordsmiths and you very aggressively buy the media and you create an aggressive campaign. You create a smokescreen.

You ridicule people who raise questions, who won't prostrate at your feet, who are not mesmerised by your claims of glory. You call them pseudo-secular or toadies of the Congress; you attribute motives to them.

I don't give a tinkle's damn... I'm not a subject of the ruling party. I hold them equally responsible for not making the vision of the Mahatma walk tall in Gujarat and in Assam and in Maharashtra.

There is, however, a slight distinction. One party at least pretends to adhere to the path of the Mahatma; the other side does not even do that. It says that this is the way.

There is one charismatic leader and you think he's going to, like Moses, lead you through the sea of difficulty; that he will make the seas part and lead you towards the promised land.

Just forget it. It's not going to happen. Either all of us make it or none of us does.

Why Modi should not become prime minister of India

Unless he engages with the darkness within, unless there is remorse for what happened within his rule, unless there is a willingness -- like it was demonstrated in Nelson Mandela's South Africa -- by civil society to confront the evils within, I don't think the person is going to be anywhere close to being my leader.

A leader is one who turns the torch inside and makes people face their inner monsters. He does not allow them to sleep and says I will narcotise you with opiate and give you entertainment and give you goodies to amuse yourself with... as long as you do well, why should you care about others?

I don't believe in that kind of a leadership. I am not dazzled by economic progress. India's evolution has to be symmetric; the progress has to be the progress of the human spirit.

Narendra Modi image: Courtesy narendramodi.in; inset: Mahesh Bhatt

As told to Savera R Someshwar

Mahesh Bhatt