The normalisation of Modi

Meghnad Desai

Economists make a distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. Things are as they are but they may not be as they ought to be. The reaction of most people to the news that the UK High Commissioner is going to visit Gujarat will be either joyous or scathing. The Indian political establishment cannot speak of Narendra Modi without getting into extremes. Yet Narendra Modi has made a significant move back to normalisation in the international sphere with that move. Whether it ought to be so is another matter.

The Gujarat riots of 2002 were horrible. We have recently had the Naroda Patiya judgement which left no doubt as to how callous some of the killings were. Perfectly responsible, normally quiescent Gujarati Hindus behaved in a bestial manner and have been duly punished. But the political establishment has been focussed on Narendra Modi and his culpability. For ten years there have been many people who have put in a lot of effort to secure a conviction for Narendra Modi for his part in the Gujarat riots.

These efforts have not borne any fruits so far. It may still be that something will turn up which will implicate him (After all, we are still waiting for the conviction of Congressmen, who were guilty of abetting murders in 1984 anti-Sikh riots). He himself seems pretty sanguine as he said in his interview with Nai Duniya. ‘Hang me if you find me guilty.’ He is defiant and lacks any remorse. I believe and have said so before that he should admit some sadness and some feeling of moral outrage at what happened on his watch. But that seems unlikely to happen. He is happy in his comfort zone where his hardened supporters applaud the massacre. I have met respectable middle class Gujaratis in Ahmedabad who after all these years are unrepentant.

Even so we have to register what has happened. The UK government has broken the ice and decided to normalise relations with Gujarat. This is still not a visa for Modi but that cannot be far off. Indian politicians especially the secularists who loathe Modi should have been prepared for this outcome. It has been in the air for some time now. I was spoken to by a MP, who knows India and is on the government benches, six months ago as to what could be done to normalise relations between UK and Gujarat. There is the question of investment and trade. There are also Gujarati Origin citizens of UK whose interests while in India have to be looked after by the UK High Commission.

In the end, money speaks louder than anything else. It is the investment and the trade which swung the balance. There is also a pragmatic calculation that the probability of Narendra Modi being a leading candidate for BJP leadership in 2014 is high. There is a non-negligible probability that he may be PM. Mid term polls show Congress losing up to 80 seats while BJP may gain some 20 or so. Modi is as yet ‘untouchable’ by many parties if it came to joining NDA. But as things develop, if Congress does not improve its act, the chances of BJP gaining ground are high. In that case if Modi has been ‘normalised’, NDA becomes attractive to many small parties. This is again an ‘is’ not an ‘ought’.

In 2007 Congress tried to play the riots card with the slogan ‘maut ka saudagar’. It did not work. It won’t work in 2012 either. Even before the latest move by UK, it was pretty certain that Modi would be re-elected; the only issue is the size of his majority. Congress has done nothing in the last five years in Gujarat to build up a serious opposition and Keshubhai is hardly news. So Congress ought to stop hoping that by reminding everyone of 2002 it will dent Modi’s strength. With this move by UK, Modi has become a serious contender for 2014 leadership unless his own mistakes or his BJP colleagues stop him.

The message for Congress is simple. Get serious about fighting 2014 on performance rather than playing the Muslim card or else suffer five years of opposition. The move by UK is a Foreign Direct Intervention (FDI) and is a game changer.

(courtesy : 'Out of Mind', "The Sunday Express", 14 October 2012, page 11)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Britain’s somersault on Modi

Dileep Padgaonka

What on earth possessed the British government to reach out to Narendra Modi when it has been treating him as an outcaste since the 2002 communal violence? It had justified its policy to ostracize him on the grounds that he had looked the other way when innocents, most of them Muslims, including three British nationals of Indian-Muslim origin, were massacred by the hundreds. A major diplomatic row between the two countries had indeed taken place after the then High Commissioner of the UK in New Delhi issued a statement blaming the BJP-led coalition government for the killings.

That Modi had handsomely won elections in the state twice in succession left the British authorities unimpressed. They continued to harp on the gross violations of human rights under his dispensation and sneered at his admirers, including, especially, in Britain’s small but affluent Gujarati community, who pointed to his skills as an able administrator and a development Tsar beyond compare. Modi’s critics hailed this stand as a vindication of Britain’s abiding commitment to the rule of law.

The latest development has quite naturally nonplussed them. But they should have seen it coming. The statement of the minister in charge of India in the British Foreign Office, Hugo Swire, is significant in this regard. Reaching out to Modi, he said “will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation, in line with the British government’s stated objective of improving bilateral relations with India.” On the 2002 riots, Swire said his government seeks justice for the families of the British nationals who were killed, and is therefore keen both ‘to support human rights and good governance.’

In off-the-record remarks to the media British officials spoke a less uplifting language. Britain, they said, had taken note of the ‘progress’ in the Gujarat riots cases. After this reverential salute to India’s judicial system, they went on to add that what attracted them to Gujarat were the ‘dynamic and thriving’ opportunities the state offered in business, science and education. Apart from Japan, China and South Korea, many western nations – Australia, Denmark, France and Switzerland – had engaged with Modi. Britain couldn’t afford to miss the bus.

These reasons are of course self-serving  though, yet again, they should not surprise anyone familiar with Britain’s record of double-speak. For one thing, while 200 people have been convicted by the lower courts for their criminal conduct during the 2002 riots, many more are yet to be brought to book. They include some individuals who formed part of Modi’s inner coterie. The chief minister himself is not entirely out of the woods. Add to this his persistent refusal to utter a word of remorse for the innocent lives lost both at Godhra station and in the post-Godhra period.

It is true that several western nations made a bee-line for Gujarat to explore business opportunities in the state. But here is the rub. More than any of them, it was Britain that claimed to be in the vanguard of the protests against the violation of human rights in 2002 and in the efforts to isolate the chief minister in the international community. It applauded the United States for black-listing Modi and for denying him a visa to visit that country. Now British officials are dropping stark hints that the US will follow in Britain’s footsteps and make their peace with Gujarat’s strong-man.

The question remains: why did Britain take so long to realise that it will have to do business with Modi? Why has it discarded the fig-leaf of its concern for human rights? Perhaps it has concluded that Modi is all set to win a third term in office. Perhaps it reckons that once he emerges triumphant again, he will be catapulted to the position of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections. Perhaps, too, its decision to reach out to him is a signal that the Congress, in its reckoning, is fated to lose in these elections. You never can tell.

Some might be tempted to compare the British government’s decision to reach out to Modi to prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s infamous Munich Pact in 1938. The appeasement of Hitler, ostensibly to ensure that he would be content to subdue the Czechs and spare Europe a devastating war, came a cropper. But to describe Narendra Modi as a Hitler, or to argue that David Cameron has acted like Chamberlain, or to suggest that today’s Gujarat can even remotely be compared to Nazi Germany is not very enlightening. Such comparisons are worse than odious: they are misleading.

What however the changed stance of the British government does suggest is a certain continuity in its foreign policy approach. It is Adam Smith who summed it up in ‘The Wealth of Nations’: ‘To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear as a project fit only for a nation of shop-keepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shop-keepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shop-keepers.”

In Narendra Modi Britain has finally acknowledged a soul-mate for, the people of Gujarat, too, are noted for their business flair. That the chief minister railed against ‘goras’ (whites) for wanting FDI in multi-brand detail only the other day is doubtless a trivial distraction in British eyes. Modi can afford to wear a condescending grin.

(Courtesy : 'TALKING TERMS' - blog; 'The Times of India")   

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features