Thursday, 6 December 2018

PM Modi's version of Rajdharma


A video on shows Vajpayee at a press conference in which in the context of the Gujarat carnage that led to the press conference he reminds the Gujarat government of its obligation to observe raj dharma. As Vajpayee makes the point, the Gujarat chief minister is seen interjecting with the claim that his government in its tackling of the episode had indeed respected the tenets of raj dharma.
Clearly, there was a divergence on what constituted raj dharma between the two members of the ruling party respectively heading the central and state governments. What Narendra Modi meant by raj dharma remains consequential and worth interrogation, if only because he is auditioning across the country for yet another five years in which to practice it.
In the Gujarat carnage, over a thousand died, with the unofficial figure being double. This was the formative event in the creation of the strong-man myth that has politically propelled Modi to power at the Center. Therefore, how Modi perceives his role in the event is key to understanding him as a person and leader.
It appears that understanding Modi has generated a cottage industry of writings, both complimentary and critical. Early in the course of the Modi era, a slew of books appeared making much of the so-called Modi doctrine. One strategic affairs stalwart has begun his latest tome by courageously admitting that Modi’s showing at the helm has proven him wrong in his earlier appreciation of Modi prior to the 2014 elections.
Given that many are disappointed with Modi’s performance, a flurry of perception management activity is likely impending. The first salvo has already been fired in publicity surrounding the soon to be released book by a right wing think tank and members of the NITI Aayog, reportedly objectively evaluating Modi. Since the idea behind the information war is to influence voters, voters need reminding alongside the manner Modi acquired and retained power.
The latest episode the ongoing saga going back to the Gujarat carnage has three judges recuse themselves from hearing a case in which an activist alleges that Judge Loya, the judge who died when hearing the Sohrabuddin case involving an alleged encounter killing of a gangster by a police official, DG Vanzara, an acolyte of Modi and his right-hand man, Amit Shah.
Developments in the case on the killing of Haren Pandya, a former party rival and minister of Modi in Gujarat, have it that he was allegedly killed on orders of the Gujarat supercop, Vanzara. The official narrative put out then was that he was killed by Muslim terrorists out to avenge the Gujarat carnage. The counter narrative has it that he was an early source of information in the open domain of the alleged meeting at Modi’s residence at which majoritarian extremists were given 72 hours of impunity to carry out the pogrom.
Modi in his interjection at his prime minister’s press conference during Vajpayee’s visit to the state made the defence that he had followed the precepts of good governance. Vajpayee was elaborating that the state cannot discriminate between citizens on any basis. Modi was making that claim that his police in stanching the violence was equally firm with both the communities.
It missed Modi that the Muslims, at the receiving end of mass violence, needed state protection and therefore were to be spared the equal treatment his police supposedly meted out. As Zamir Uddin Shah, the general commanding troops responding to an aid to civil authority appeal, points out, the police were selectively violent, reserving their brutality for Muslims. Modi was either ill-informed or being slippery.
This makes clear that Modi did not have in mind the raj dharma Vajpayee supporters attribute to Vajpayee. So, what exactly is the raj dharma Modi as chief minister was upholding and has likely practiced over the past four years at the national helm and is poised to replicate over the coming five?
Modi’s flock of devotees is not on account of his strongly putting down mass violence. Instead, it is their approval of his keeping the state off their backs while they were at it and in preserving them from the consequences. This provides a clue on Modi’s definition of raj dharma.
The raj dharma Modi was implementing was to turn India into a majoritarian democracy. This is the Hindutva project and Modi, a self-confessed Hindu nationalist, has been at its vanguard for the past three decades.
His early showing as a foot-soldier was in organizing his mentor, LK Advani’s yatra at the launch of the BJP’s Mandir campaign. Soon thereafter, his role in the bringing down of the Babri Masjid was in organizing the storm troopers from his state for the event. The seminal event was in his being placed at the helm in Gujarat, propitiously a few months prior to the Godhra incident. A lifetime opportunity was offered by the incident that Modi - well prepared – seized. It was his blow for rajdharma.
To him, propagation and self-perpetuation of Hindutva is rajdharma. If this was all, it would yet redound - if perversely - to Modi’s credit for ideological commitment. It also explains his lack of remorse for the deaths in the pogrom, likened inimitably by him when asked as to how he felt, to a passing mood resulting from a speeding car going over puppies.  
The question of seemingly inter-related killings beginning with Haren Pandya, going on through Sohrabuddin to end up in the alleged killing of Justice Loya, yet needs disposing off. To devotees, this would be justifiable as a small price to pay in pursuit of the larger project of rescuing Mother India from liberal, inclusive democracy. To the extent the allegations are plausible, this would prove Modi’s personal risk taking, called for by the higher ideal. It is to embrace without qualms the realism that under-grids politics.
By this yardstick, they were necessary to coverup the tracks leading back to the late night meeting the day the coaches of Sabarmati express caught fire. If the tracks were not swept over, the state apparatus could have gone down the rule of law route and upset the Hindutva applecart. Thus, in the imagination of believers, Modi has fearlessly rescued the Indian state, to deliver it for constitutional reengineering in the Hindutva image.
There is another possibility, that of Modi being an imposter, an opportunist who finding himself at the eye of a storm chose to get on the Hindutva tiger and is unable to get off. This is some what remote considering that he has had an infrastructure within the government to help along the route, that has included the likes of Vanzara, in the bureaucracy, the police and intelligence agencies.
A pretender could have attracted people with charisma, but not the close camp followers who have helped along the way to the ‘wave’, by participating, covering up tracks or looking the other way. The Supreme Court now readying itself to address a case alleging 22 fake encounters in Gujarat when Modi was making his image as Hindu Hridaysamrat by disposing off Muslim terrorists out to get him.
Neither possibility – ideology or the lack of it - is edifying. Modi is at a final hurdle, an election with make-it-or-break-it portents for the Hindutva project. It is no wonder his national security advisor, similarly motivated, has asked for a strong dispensation – presumably centered on his boss Modi - over the coming ten years.
Since the development promise will not figure high in electioneering, Modi’s version of raj dharma – a pathway to Hindu Pakistan – should substitute. Even if it appeals to many as an attractive end, the means should lend pause.