What Now?

Meghnad Desai

What Now ?                                                                                                  Meghnad Desai


The Gujarat elections have put one question beyond debate. Narendra Modi is a person who can win elections even when the entire liberal ‘secular’ media and NGOs are against him. His record is examined with a forensic attention which no other chief minister is subjected to. This time even the Hindu fundamentalists were against him. The VHP, combined with Keshubhai and the RSS, was believed to be disenchanted.

From now till May 2014, there will only be one topic of political conversation—Narendra Modi as a likely PM. The BJP has a hot potato on its hands. The primary in the party is over much too soon. Narendra Modi is the winner. It is the losers who have to adjust their positions. They have to fall in line and find modes of co-operation. Modi was emollient in his victory speech and paid tributes to the party and the RSS and even apologised. The RSS will have to recant its opposition to him and fall into line. The slightly less than two-thirds score may have made Modi more accommodating than we expected.


Congress has the tougher job. It has been in denial for three elections now that Modi could win. The enormity of the 2002 riots led many people into branding Modi the worst chief minister under whose charge a horrid event happened. Never before has a communal riot been personally blamed on one person. It may yet be that someone somewhere will find evidence to convict Narendra Modi of an offence which will invite punishment. It would be a unique event for the Indian justice system. The Executive in India escapes punishment regardless of the political party in power.

But even more important than that question is whether Modi’s triple victory represents a watershed for the Nehruvian idea of India. For the first forty years after Independence, the hegemony of the Nehruvian vision was unquestioned. The Emergency did imply that there are challenges the Nehruvian consensus could not face. The Janata episode threatened to dismount it but failed. Ten more years and in 1989, the Congress hegemony ended but the ideological domination of Nehruvian ideas remained. BJP had gained respectability from having fought the Emergency and it consolidated its position by grassroots work against the dominant ideology. They began to criticise secularism as a minoritarian project. They entered schools in Gujarat where they began to tell children about the Ram Mandir. The BJP domination of the last five Gujarat elections has not been an accident.


The Babri Masjid demolition cost the BJP a setback in popular vote. It recovered but AB Vajpayee had to be almost like a Congress leader, avuncular and inclusive. Even so, 2004 saw a defeat for BJP. Now after two terms of UPA, the shoe is on the other foot. Bar a miracle revival of the growth rate and collapse in inflation, it is unlikely that the Congress will be back in harness. It would need at least 150 seats, which seems highly unlikely at present. The Gujarat project of challenging secularism is here. Modi against Rahul is no contest; Modi against Sonia Gandhi may be the only choice open to the Congress.

The Hindu Right has not won the cultural argument at the sophisticated level. Indian history has been written by Nehruvians and their Left fellow travelers. K M Munshi tried long ago via the History of India sponsored by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan to establish a Hindu view of India but it lost the ideological battle to the Left secular version. But the Left has wandered off to post-colonial studies and nothing new has come from the Nehruvians for decades.


The Islamist terrorism that Osama Bin Laden launched against the West included India among the enemy. Secularism thus faces a problem of redefinition. The practice of secularism has not materially helped Muslims in any case. They and other deprived groups know they can only gain by helping themselves if the economy thrives. Congress offers its programme of subsidies and reservations but parents want their children to do better than themselves. They want their children to learn English to escape poverty. They want rapid growth and modern infrastructure. Modi promises to deliver just that. Can the Congress stop Modi?

(courtesy : "The Sunday Express", 23.12.2012)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

In Gujarat, NaMo TV markets the chief minister 24X7

Radhika Bordia [NDTV]

In Gujarat, NaMo TV markets the chief minister 24X7

Reported by Radhika Bordia |

Updated: December 12, 2012 16:09 IST

Ahmedabad: On a Sunday afternoon, in Ghatlodia, a middle class Hindu neighbourhood, friends and family are glued to their TV screens. The most rapt among them are women. 

What commands their attention is not a soap opera or a Bollywood bluster, but the man who is seeking a third term as chief minister of Gujarat.

Narendra Modi, who has his own TV channel NAMO, appears to enjoy high ratings here. On screen, dressed in a saffron kurta and red bandhini turban, he lists his achievements before sharing a catalogue of potshots at his rivals in colourful, idiomatic Gujarati. 

"He speaks so well and has made Gujarat strong" is the repeated refrain. 

In the 2007 assembly elections, women took the lead in voting for Mr Modi and today, in constituencies like Ghatlodia, where the BJP has won continuously since 1978, it's women who are NAMO's most loyal viewers.

The new 24-hour channel, funded by the BJP, was launched to coincide with the state elections and is already being beamed into approximately two crore homes across Gujarat. 

"Modi's rivals have launched a fallacious campaign to bring him down so we felt the need for a channel that would project the truth - give voice to the BJP workers and highlight the immense work that the chief minister had done for his homeland," reasons BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya. 

It is not uncommon for the BJP to project Mr Modi as a victim of his own success, eliciting calumny by critics jealous of Gujarat's development and a determination to check the ambition and progress of the entrepreneurial Gujarati.   

The channel often uses the emotional tagline of "Gaurav Gujarat" coupled with programmes that often have the word 'vikas' or development in them - 'Vaat Vikas Ni' (Development Talk), for instance, has a huge following. In many of its episodes, you see the chief minister out on the streets, at times picking up a broom to clean garbage, or sitting amidst new mothers telling them what to feed their children. 

Mr Modi, renowned as an astute and gripping orator, excels as a television personality. He is on the channel 24x7.

Away from the studios of NAMO, kept out of bounds from those curious like us, in many other sections of the Gujarati media, there seems to be a whisper of change.

After the riots of 2002, in which 1200 people were killed, the Gujarati media was criticised for speaking in one voice - the chief minister's. 

The extent of this was apparent when publications in their English editions in Mumbai would condemn the state for not containing the riots, while their Gujarati editions would insist the riots were the result of a spontaneous outburst of justified anger.

"After a decade of horrible insulation, finally in 2012, despite paid news and other such stuff, it has become possible for the media to question Modi. I am not sure how much depth there is in this criticism but now that Modi can be criticised, the space to think of alternatives has only just begun." 

When a veteran journalist like Prakash Shah makes this statement, any talk of a change in the Gujarati media has be taken seriously. 

In his white kurta-pyjama and thick black-rimmed glasses, Mr Shah is an institution in himself. He's the editor of a historical fortnightly called Nirikshak, or Observer, which reflects a rare tradition of Gujarati intellectualism that has managed to stay afloat. Nirikshak's founding members were men like the great Gujarati writer Uma Shankar Joshi, educationist Purshottam Mavalankar and HM Patel, India's Finance Minister after the Emergency. 

"These men were also politicians, came from different political traditions but worked together, surely that's the tradition of vibrant Gujarat we need to remember," points out Mr Shah. Ask him how he keeps the publication alive and he responds with hearty laughter and this: "I feel small publications like Nirikshak or Bhoomika have miniscule circulation but can help lead the debate on alternatives for Gujarat, where development does not have to come at the cost of intellectual growth or social justice. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel worked with some consensus, we need to perhaps revisit that to find some answers, not constantly try to pit them against each other." 

Nirikshak may be a radical world apart, but Prakash Shah's observation of a subtle shift in the media is an opinion shared by many on the ground. One reason for this is that a city like Ahmedabad is waking up to many new players in the print media. "When there is competition, reporters are forced to hunt for original stories, which often takes them to different sections of society. Inadvertently, that sometimes leads to a greater representation," argues Alamdar Bukhari, joint editor of Gujarat Today. 

At the Gujarat Today office on Shah Alam Road in Ahmedabad, the entrance has an open glass cabinet that prominently displays the awards the newspaper has received, primarily for fostering communal harmony. 

"We don't eulogise any leader nor do we go after anyone, which is why I think even the present government has recognised our work. And as a voice for the Muslims we are responsible not to use emotional or religious rhetoric but to stick to agendas of development and political empowerment," says editor Yunus Patel. 

Among the election stories of the day, a report on the absence of Muslim candidates in the elections is followed by an editorial by Bukhari on the same theme: "Out of six crore Muslims, the BJP could not find one suitable Muslim candidate and the Congress only eight. I wrote a column asking the BJP some tough questions on how they plan to explain this, given their thrust on Sadhbhavna (communal harmony)."

Just the fact that these tough questions can now be asked and debated, in itself becomes a story in Gujarat.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features