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'The Congress is no match for Modi'
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March 12, 2007
After debating the last five years of Gujarat after Godhra, Ahmedabad-based author, thinker and social activist Achyut Yagnik discusses Chief Minister Narendra Modi's contributions to the state in the second part of an interview with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt.

Part I: 'There is no civil society in Gujarat'

After 2002, what are the changes in the Muslim mindset?

Muslims have realised that they are second class citizens of Gujarat. They have seen the role of the state in the riots and they have accepted their demeaning position.

After 2002, intelligent Muslims think that education is the only way out to survive.

Muslim fundamentalists are also in the fray and playing their role. For the first time in Gujarat, you find that young girls in schools are using scarves to cover their heads.

Muslims are divided on the issue of language. They are debating whether they should stick to Gujarati and Urdu or move to English. In the process of globalisation, more and more are keen to opt for English medium schools.

Where is the Gujarat situation heading?

I don't think some answers can come from within. The Gujarati upper class and middle class is for globalisation, so whatever happens at the global level and particularly in the Western world is more important to them.

When the United States government refused Chief Minister Narendra Modi a visa, people became cautious. A question arose: Why is Modi persona non grata? For upper caste Gujaratis, America is the first home. Everyone looks up to going there. So, the answer should come from the Western world.

How do you look at Modi's leadership before, during and after Godhra?

Before the event in Godhra, when Modi was imposed on Gujarat by the central leadership, he was talking of the 'Unique Gujarat' theme. Then came the Hindutva theme during the riots.

And in the first elections after the riots, he talked about Gujarat's asmita, the great glory of Gujarat's history.

After the victory in the 2002 election he developed two other theories.

He banked on development in terms of the market economy and in the context of globalisation. He talks about foreign investment and SEZs (Special Economic Zones).

He is trying to develop the image of a vikas purush (man of development). He is saying, 'I stand for the development of Gujarat.'

In this development, common Gujaratis are not benefited. In the last survey, Gujarat is far behind in the child mortality rate. The same stands for mother's health during pregnancy.

Many areas of the Human Development Index in Gujarat continues to be poor after 2002.

Modi's development model is not helping the common man of Gujarat.

Another theory he continuously harped on after 2002 was the issue of security. He repeatedly talked about Gujarat being a border state, he is committed to its defence, and so on.

After 2002, he talked about four things; Hindutva, Gujarati provincialism, development and concerns for defence.

His concerns for security were exaggerated.

Thanks to his hype the newspaper-reading urban middle class is cautious about security and terrorism. They are buying Modi's theory that we are insecure.

Why are his theories not contested?

Gujarat has the two-party system. The Congress is a weak party and not a match to his propaganda.

They are not in position to counter Modi's arguments or propaganda because a large number of Congressmen in Gujarat also believe in soft Hindutva.

Congressmen in Gujarat have internalised soft Hindutva. Because of it they are not forceful in fighting for minority rights, (against) the marginalisation of the poor and other connected issues.

Even the Other Backward Classes leadership of Congress is not sympathetic to Dalits and tribals. The state Congress president is an OBC and the Opposition leader in the assembly is also an OBC. As far as the economic policy is concerned there is not much difference between the two parties.

The Congress is not in position to oppose the developmental model proposed by Modi.

How have the 2002 riots helped Modi reach where he is today?

Why shall we talk only about the 2002 riots? Earlier in the mid-1980s, when he was general secretary of the BJP and when he handled (L K) Advani's rath yatra, he was propagating hard Hindutva.

But there is an interesting change after the 2002 riots.

Modi is now realising what kind of damage he has done to his own image after 2002. So, one finds that after 2002, there are no big riots in any parts of Gujarat. The only exception was Baroda.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also under control. From 2003 onwards Modi is emphasising the development issue -- more than Hindutva. This is significant.

But when the elections come, Modi will harden his stand against Pakistan.

The fear in the Hindu mind helps him retain power.

The relation between Kutch in Gujarat and Sindh in Pakistan are as old as the Indus civilisation but Modi is not supporting the efforts of Pushpadan Gadhvi, his party's senior leader from Kutch, to bridge the gap.

Why is Modi a successful leader? What is his charisma?

His charisma is there because the Congress is no match for him.

Second, at the cultural and intellectual level, Gujarat is so poor that nobody is able to stand up to him. Gujarat's music and architectural tradition is the great fusion of Hindu and Muslim traditions. But nobody is talking about it.

You simply cannot write one paragraph in the Gujarati language without using Arabic or Persian words, but nobody is highlighting it.

Talk about our food or dress -- we have strong Iranian and Arabic influences. Modi and the BJP don't have to face the 'counterpoint' in Gujarat. Modi remains unchallenged in Gujarat. And that is the secret of his continuing charisma.

How do you compare the BJP and Congress infrastructure in Gujarat?

It is interesting to note that even though Congress is weak, it is getting a large number of seats -- but not the majority. Because the local power structure in Gujarat is very powerful.

In that power structure, the farmers' lobby and the upper class are all the time trying to monopolise their power.

In Gujarat you will find that an uncle is in BJP and his nephew in the Congress. Certain families control the local power structure. For these families, the party is not important. Their family's hold over power is important.

If they find that state BJP leaders in the BJP are not giving them benefit, they will shift to the Congress. Twenty to twenty-five per cent of Congressmen and BJP district level leaders belong to such power-seeking families. So, in the local power structure, the situation is fluid.

This factor is not taken into account at the national level. Gujarat and Maharashtra have these strong local power bases. This is important for Gujarat because we had white (milk), green (agriculture) and blue (fisheries) revolutions, which have strengthened the districts and village-level power structures. In coastal Saurashtra, Kharvas and other fishing communities are running the show.

How do you see Modi's short term and long term future?

I think in the next election (due in December 2007), Modi may win. But the 2009 parliamentary election will be crucial for him and the entire BJP.

I find that they are not coming out of the old agenda. The combination of Hindutva, development, security and Gujarat's asmita will get the BJP votes.

They are not talking about bhukh (hunger) or bhrastachar (corruption) because corruption is a part of their system and not outside the system.

Hunger is still there because as you know, one in every four Gujaratis is below the poverty line. In Gujarat, the old team of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) finds Modi flamboyant. They don't like the personality cult.

For the Gujarat BJP also, Modi is dangerous because he selects only those people who are personally loyal to him and not necessarily to the party. This factor will go against the BJP, eventually.

How do you see the massive secular movement carried out by Teesta Setalvad and scores of other activists against Modi, the BJP and the RSS? Their movement led to a legal confrontation and reopening of the riots cases.

The Supreme Court has helped the opening of some 2,000 cases but at the district level the systemic approach is not in place at many places. There is a lack of coordination amongst the social activists.

Secular activists are fighting their own limited battle. They have taken up a few cases but nobody is standing for the entire Gujarat.

Don't you think the secular movement reached a different height after the 2002 riots?

No, I would not say so. Unless Gujaratis themselves start reflecting, no amount of activism by people sitting in Delhi or Mumbai will help the people of Gujarat.

How do you fight the social boycott or the state bureaucracy? What to do about the local courts, the local media? And, what to do about the middle-class mentality?

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