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Open letter to Modi: You have failed as a healer

By Shiv Visvanathan
April 22, 2014 16:38 IST
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Narendra Modi

Dear Mr Modi,

'I see you as a man who has split the nation into two. Vajpayee or even Advani would hold it together. One senses you cannot do this. To heal, to apologise, and to glue together a nation seems beyond you, Shiv Visvanathan tells the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

I guess you and I have not really met or been in dialogue and yet I feel I have to address this letter to you because democracy demands that transparency, the courage to say no openly to you.

You seem to be in sight of victory as the Modi wave and the Modi juggernaut rolls its way to Delhi. At your moment of inevitability, one has to challenge you, not because you are Canute's tide but because certain issues remain unresolved.

As a member of an informal opposition, I want to list out some reasons why you cannot be prime minister. Such an argument does not need comparisons with A B Vajpayee or an equivalence with Jawaharlal Nehru. What I want to challenge is your worldview, your behaviour and the way you have responded to the world.

Firstly, I want to say that one is surprised by the bully-boy attitude you have. You showed great dignity about your child marriage -- both the dignity of silence and restraint. One wishes that as a potential PM you would extend that dignity to your opponents, to your enemies, to dissent in any form.

I can understand that as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak that you wear uniforms. The sadness is that your concepts too march in uniformity. It creates a violence of concepts. Think of how you define secularism as the highest patriotism, the ultimate loyalty to the nation. Secularism separates religion and State. By allocating patriotism as the religion of the nation-State, you blur categories.

For the RSS and for you, the nation and society are one, but by making society and nation coterminous, one is destroying the social, the little socials of the nukkad, the village, the tribe, the community, civil society. All disappear in your loyalty to one organism, the nation masquerading as the nation-State.

Concepts are crucial and life-giving. Your definition of secularism destroys diversity, syncretism and in doing so, you damage the polity more than any pseudo-secularist. Concepts need to breathe. They are ways of life and they need to exist on irony, paradox, ambiguity and laughter.

You seem to prefer official languages to the joys of dialect, and that saddens me. Often tyranny begins in uniforms. The marching orders follow inevitably.

Your friends often call you a victim of 2002, claiming you have been insulted and maligned. They insist that the Special Investigation Team has cleared you. The question I want to ask is, what the difference between guilt and responsibility is. To use a less Newtonian metaphor, the riots were spontaneous combustion. Does that mean that you are indifferent to the fires created, to the lives lost?

Is there a responsibility for the aftermath of the riots or will Gujarat go down in history as the first state which refused to respond to the victims of a riot, claiming camps should be closed down as they are breeding grounds for minorities and dissent? Is that the asmita (pride) you are talking about? How can a decent society not accept responsibility for victims of violence?

You did wonders with rehabilitation in the Bhuj earthquake. Are riots merely gross inversions of that world? For one got you the Sasakawa award. Should the other get you the Orwell prize for the decade? The list of missing and displaced is high and the normalcy that exists shows that people have never come to terms with that violence.

You have failed as a healer, and healing and inclusiveness are skills of a statesman. You are a politician who does not know to apologise or forgive. What then are your claims or dreams of an inclusive society?

You talk of your origins with pride and you reclaimed them with a double vigour after Mani Shankar Aiyar idiotically called you the chaiwallah. Chai is a beautiful drink and chai dhaba is a great place for conversation and friendship for the panchayats of democracy. Drinking chai is an act of sharing creates a sense of equality. It is good to be proud of origins, create publicity around the chai shop.

But your chai dhaba with its patented single window caters only to the Adanis, the Tatas, and the Ambanis. No wonder businessmen across the world want to have tea with you. Is that tea different or is it only a way of covering the fact it is the corporations who sip tea with you? As PM, are you going to be chaiwallah for the Ambanis? You have to clarify this. Will your regime mean business as usual for the Ambanis and Adani? What happens to the small man and his tea shop then?

It is like your talk of development as a panacea. Development is a method and a problematic one at that. It has shadows, costs, it displaces people; it can be a form of violence. One has to ask what kind of a gift of development you are offering. Modern India has to be a new social contract between the tribal, the craft, the agricultural and the industrial societies.

How does each choose their way of life? How do each of them engage with the other while choosing their way of life? Being a real estate agent for corporations hungry for land does not make for development. You will need to institute a social and ecological audit of the Adanis, the Tatas and the Ambanis. Parading them as your stakeholders shows little thought of the costs of development.

Professor Amartya Sen and a wonderfully pragmatic Pakistani economist called Mahoob-ul Haq elaborated the idea of Human Development. Read the report and tell us where Gujarat really stands. Gujarat is home to some of the great tribal, nomadic populations and some of great craft societies. What will happen to them when development occurs?

I see you as a man who has split the nation into two. A Vajpayee or even L K Advani would hold it together. One senses you cannot do this. To heal, to apologise, and to glue together a nation seems beyond you. I have other questions but this could be a gentle start to a conversation. I wonder if you will allow this when you permit so little in the party itself. I would be grateful if you would reflect a bit on my questions.

Yours sincerely,

Shiv Visvanathan

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