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Narendra Modi – hated by minorities, loved by businesses

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By HEATHER TIMMONS

GANDHINAGAR, India – In a soaring, unfinished conference hall in western India, thousands of businessmen and diplomats from around the world gathered recently for an investment meeting. They were there to pay homage to a politician for accomplishing something once thought almost impossible in India: making it easy to do business.

The politician, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state of Gujarat, sat onstage, stroking his close-cropped white beard, as executives from the United States, Canada, Japan and elsewhere showered him with praise.


Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, spoke at a conference last month that was meant to promote business.

Ron Somers, head of an American trade group, called him a progressive leader. Michael Kadoorie, a Hong Kong billionaire, enveloped him in a hug.

“I would encourage you all to invest here,” Mr. Kadoorie, chairman of the Asian power company CLP Group, told the audience, “because it has been an even playing field for me.”

The coastal state of Gujarat, famous as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, has become an investment magnet. The state’s gross domestic product is growing at an 11 percent annual rate – even faster than the overall growth rate for India, which despite its problems is zipping along at 9 percent clip.

And Mr. Modi receives – some would say claims – much of the credit. The year before he took office in 2001, Gujarat’s economy shrank by 5 percent.

But critics of Mr. Modi, a Hindu nationalist, point to another legacy of his early days in office – something that has made him one of the most polarizing figures in Indian politics. Months after he became chief minister, Gujarat erupted in brutal Hindu-Muslim riots that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Despite Mr. Modi’s subsequent denials, he has not fully escaped a cloud of accusations by rival political groups, victims and their families, and human rights groups that he and his aides condoned the attacks against Muslims and – as one case now before the Supreme Court charges – may even have encouraged them.

A special investigation team formed by the Supreme Court has filed a 600-page investigative report on the riots, which has not been officially released. Numerous other lawsuits related to the riots are also winding through India’s courts. In 2005 the United States refused to grant Mr. Modi a visa, on grounds of religious intolerance. Meanwhile, environmental activists and local tribesman who have been protesting the construction of seven dams in Gujarat that will displace 25,000 people say they the protesters have been regularly jailed by the state police, charged with being Naxalites, a militant rebel group.

Mr. Modi, who has declined interview requests from The New York Times for several years, did not comment for this article.

Of the lingering controversies, a spokesman for Mr. Modi, Steven King, with the Washington public relations firm APCO Worldwide, wrote in an e-mail responding to questions: “The government has very highly developed grievance proceedings.”

Corporate executives, though, tend to concentrate on Mr. Modi’s pro-business attributes, which they see as something of an anomaly in an India where government bureaucracy, bumbling or corruption too often impedes commerce.

“In India there is a sense that efficiency is at such a premium because there is so little to go around,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell who has served as an adviser to the Indian government. “When people find an effective politician who can make things happen on the ground, they are willing to ignore the character flaws.”

Under Mr. Modi’s watch, the energy companies Royal Dutch Shell and Total have opened a major liquid natural gas terminal in Gujarat, and Torrent Power, an Indian company, has built a huge power plant. Meanwhile, Tata Motors, DuPont, General Motors, Hitachi and dozens of other foreign and Indian companies have built factories, expanded operations or invested in projects in the state.

When the Canadian heavy machinery company Bombardier won a contract to supply subway cars to the Delhi Metro in 2007, it needed a factory site, quickly. It found one in Savli, an industrial estate in Gujarat. Just 18 months later- when in many parts of India, the permit process might still be grinding away – the factory was built and operating.

“It was incredible,” said Rajeev Jyoti, the managing director of Bombardier in India, “and it was a world record within Bombardier.”

Compared with most other states, Gujarat has smoother roads and less garbage next to the streets. More than 99 percent of Gujarat’s villages have electricity, compared with less than 85 percent nationally.

In 2009, Gujarat attracted more planned investment than any other state in the country, about $54 billion by value of announced plans, according to Assocham, a trade association of Indian chambers of commerce.

Mr. Modi, who has no business or economics background, deserves praise for this, corporate leaders say. Before entering politics in his late 30s, he was a religious volunteer for the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which sponsors schools and provides aid during natural disasters, but has also been widely criticized as being intolerant of other religions and of secular Hindus.

In India, where corrupt politicians often seem to be raiding the public coffers to benefit their offspring, Mr. Modi’s success is sometimes attributed to his apparent lack of a family life. Acquaintances and local news reports say he was married at a young age but separated soon after from his wife. Mr. Modi has never commented on reports about his personal life.

Mr. Modi’s administration has brought novel solutions to some of India’s most tenacious problems. Corruption became less widespread after the state government put a large amount of its activities online, from permits that companies need to build or expand, to bids for contracts. To plow through a multiyear backlog of court cases, and prevent day laborers from losing income, Mr. Modi asked judges to work extra hours in night courts.

Mr. Modi uses a chief executive style of managing the bureaucrats who work under him, according to associates and business executives in Gujarat. He gives promising people positions of responsibility, sets goals and expects people to meet them. Nonperformers are pushed aside.

It may seem an obvious way to administer a state with more than 50 million people and a budget in the billions of dollars.

But this approach runs counter to India’s tradition of cronyism. In a recent reshuffle of India’s national cabinet ministers, for example, the minister of highways who substantially missed targets for road-building was made minister for urban development, a crucial position for a rapidly urbanizing nation struggling to build livable cities.

Even in another state considered pro-business, Tamil Nadu in the south, the ruling party, D.M.K., has been dogged by accusations of corruption.

In Mr. Modi’s case, the accolades once would have been unthinkable. After the Hindu-Muslim riots a decade ago, he was considered a liability for his political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. But these days, with Gujarat’s soaring economy, Mr. Modi is sometimes mentioned as his party’s most likely candidate for prime minister in 2014, when the next general election is expected.

Despite his lack of executive experience, Mr. Modi’s supporters credit him with a politician’s innate sense of marketing. Images of Mr. Modi were plastered on billboards throughout Gujarat during the investment summit meeting, proclaiming the state’s support not only for investment but for social programs like support of girls’ education – a particularly important subject in India where there is a large literacy gap between men and women.

Within Gujarat, which has a centuries-old reputation for business acumen, even Mr. Modi’s fans sometimes grumble that he and his image makers may be taking outsize credit for its economic growth. And they say that the headline numbers that Mr. Modi’s government trumpets can be misleading.

For example, the $450 billion in “memorandums of understanding” – essentially, pledges to do business in the state – that the government says were signed during the January investment summit meeting double-count some deals, according to businessmen in attendance, because they include loans and investments for the same projects. Mr. Modi’s spokesman confirmed there might be some redundancy in the $450 billion figure, but said it was impossible to break out the loans from the investments.

Yet, no one disputes Gujarat’s rapid growth. And Mr. Modi’s supporters say India’s economic success will depend on each state’s adopting many of the same measures he has employed. India’s central government may apportion budgets and write overall laws, they say, but it is the states that are responsible for overseeing everything from land allocation to electricity distribution.

“If you are an investor in India,” said Mr. Somers, of the United States trade group, “Gujarat must be at the top of your list.”

Narendra Modi: Travails Of Travel Abroad

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By Ram Puniyani

While law of the land is trying to catch up with the acts of commission and omission in the Gujarat carnage, another set of laws, the global ones have been very clear about permitting the entry of a person like Narendra Modi into their country.

Recently (April 8, 2010), a group of German MPs justified the denial of visa to Modi. They advocated a ban on his visiting Europe. This parliamentary delegation was on a two day visit to the city of Ahmedabad to study the state of minorities in Gujarat. It concluded that the European Union (EU) decision not to grant visa to him was justified. They went to the extent of banning his trip to Europe in near future. They pointed out that “the Chief Minister of Gujarat has a radical tone to his politics and is described as dictatorial. He has a wrong perception of religious freedom.” This four member team has been closely following developments in the Gujarat riot cases.

One member of delegation pointed out that he was shocked by parallels between Germany under Hitler and Gujarat under Modi. Incidentally in Gujarat school books Hitler has been glorified as a great nationalist. Modi, in response to this has written to Prime Minister to seek apology from the German delegation for tarnishing the image of democratically elected head of state. The Congress Government endorsed Modi’s view and clarified that the EU had put a ban on Modi’s visit in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage but that has been withdrawn. Also that it was not an official delegation. Whatever that be, the opinion of the members of the delegation does reflect a deeper truth of our political phenomenon.

That apart, this is not the first time that such a thing has happened. Modi was earlier denied visa to US. On March 18, 2005 in a severe rebuke to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the United States denied him entry to America. US Consular division had taken a strong stand against Modi, the Hindutva icon. They denied him diplomatic visa apparently holding him responsible for communal carnage of 2002. In addition, his tourist/business visa which was already granted was revoked under a section of US Immigration and Nationality Act since he was not coming for a purpose that qualifies for a diplomatic visa.

In response to the query that he was already holding a tourist-cum-business visa, the Consulate pointed out that the “existing tourist/business visa has been revoked under Section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” According this section any foreign government official who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religions freedom” is denied the visa. The decision of US authorities was based on the observations of India’s National Human Rights Commission findings and other independent Indian sources.

The observation of German delegation raises one additional major point about the state of Gujarat being similar to that of Germany under Hitler. Who will know it better than Germans who have suffered the political tragedy of fascism for bad many years? Modi’s point that he is an elected person again matches so well with Hitler. One recalls, Hitler came to power through democratic means and then he gradually eroded liberal-democratic norms from inside to bring in worst type of fascist state. The parallels are unmistakable. There are some differences from German fascism here but all the same the basic phenomenon is the same. Fascism is a politics where the liberal democratic space is abolished in the name of targeting some section of society for the supposed cause of National interest. In case of Germany the process was accompanied by a cultural paradigm shift and political aggression against communists, then trade unionists and then the Jews. Millions of Jews were subjected to the gas chambers, one of the greatest tragedies of the human history of twentieth century.

The politics of Hitler, and his clone Mussolini was praised by M.S. Golwalkar the ideologue of RSS, the organization where Modi has been indoctrinated and trained. Golwalkar’s formulations of aggressive nationalism and relegating minorities to second-class citizenship are being actualized by Modi and company in different ways.

While the similarities with German case are so glaring, there are some differences as well. The German fascism began to take social roots after the economic crisis generated in the aftermath of First World War. The cultural offensive in the field of arts, music, literature and the ‘glorification of ancient past’ picked up rapidly. In one of the major assaults on democracy, the fire at Reichstag was attributed to having been done by Communists, and physical violence was unleashed against them. Analogies with Godhra train burning are unmistakable.

Here the ascendance of Modi comes on the background of the economic crisis of the decade of 1980s, the adverse effects of globalization picking up, the loss of jobs of the downtrodden due to closure of textile mills, the attacks on the dalits OBCs in the name of anti reservation riots. The cultural manipulation began with Ram Temple movement, and spreading of hate against minorities, Muslims first and then the Christians, who by now have been relegated to second class citizenship in Gujarat and some other states and the trend in other states is going in that direction.

While in Germany whole of the Nation came under the grip of fascism, the saving grace in India is that the electoral face of ‘Indian fascism’, BJP, has not been able to come to absolute majority in the center by itself. That’s not to say that fascism is not marching. In Germany the defeat of Germany in Second World War led to the collapse of the nation along with the edifice of fascism with the fascist-in-chief committing suicide. In India here it has gripped Gujarat in full, while in other states like Karnataka, Orissa, MP its presence is getting strengthened by and by. At national level though BJP might have faced two electoral debacles, the infiltration of fascist ideology through the pores of Indian democracy is going on in various ways. The phenomenon is creeping slowly though section of media, communalization of education, and infiltration of the followers of this ideology in different section of state. The gradual attempt to erode the liberal and plural values is a dangerous portent for democracy. Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit’s alleged involvement in Malegon blast may just be the tip of the iceberg. The judicial pronouncements that ‘Gita should be our national book’ are also reflective of the same phenomenon.

Indian fascism is a slow growing one, capturing different aspects of society one by one. It is not for nothing that Modi is the darling of big capitalists, who stand to gain maximum from the fascist type set ups. One can label Indian phenomenon as a chronic fascism, going in a step ladder pattern. Those of us relived because of electoral debacles of BJP at center need to wake up and realize that fascism is marching, irrespective of BJP’s electoral debacle in last two general elections.

The incidental observation from German delegates report is that since Germany went through such a painful period of history, many Germans realize and can sense the symptoms of fascism so easily. Same applies to many Japanese joining anti-Nuke protests and campaigns against Nuclear weapons. Who knows better than them as to what a nuclear weapon can do to the society?

So while here in India the justice to Modi ilk is elusive, globally there are norms which do recognize the nature of incidents happening here, the politics which abuses religious identity to come to power is in essence a variant of fascism whatever be its other characteristics.

Mr. Modi And The Ghosts Of Gujarat 2002

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By Dr. Shah Alam Khan,

I don’t believe in ghosts. I think they are the folly of a fearful mind. But yet I find ghosts to be funny characters. They hound you at the most awkward of hours and at the most awkward of places. Having said this, some ghosts are not funny, they can make life miserable. Ask Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is alleged to have mastermind or rather orchestrated the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots. It was this orchestration of communal massacre which earned him the title of modern day Nero by the Supreme Court of India. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 keep returning to him. The more he tries to ostracize these nefarious characters, the more they return with new force and vigor. Ghosts of young men & women, small children, pregnant mothers and even the little Caspers, the fetuses who were torn out of the cozy comfort of their mothers’ bellies and thrown into soaring infernos. All are back. Some ghosts are obstinate, pigheaded to get justice for getting them into this indiscernible state by Mr. Modi and his riot manufacturing machine which runs on human blood.

I am sure these ghosts will accompany Mr. Modi on March 27th 2010, when we are made to believe,

that he presents himself to be questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India to probe the Gujarat carnage. It is important to note that Mr. Modi will be testifying only in the case of Mr. Ehsan Jafri who was murdered, sorry, dismembered, in the Gulbarg society carnage in Feb 2002. I am amused to imagine that as Mr. Modi will sit in the big leather chair in front of a tight lipped committee of polished bureaucrats, there would be a thousand eyes popping over his shoulder, jostling to get space, pushing and elbowing each other to make their presence felt. The SIT interrogation room will be full of ghosts. Frail elderly ghosts, who will be pushed further back in the chaos, the naughty little ones who will dodge their mothers to go and pee on Modi’s white starched kurta and the pregnant ghosts, the most difficult to control; they start cursing and bellowing at the top of their voices whenever they see Mr. Modi. Probably they were too much in love with their babies-to-be the day they were raped and cut opened. Then there would be those who are unnamed, unidentified – the faceless ghosts. These are the ones who resided in bodies which were charred beyond recognition in the spring of 2002 across different locations of Gujarat. Bodies scorched so badly that even their spirits are now faceless.

It will be interesting to note how these ghosts will react as Mr. Modi is put through what I feel will be scratchy questions. Well surely uncomfortable for people with a heart and soul! I had always felt that Mr. Modi should be invited to an episode of Sach ka Samna, the popular Hindi version of a more suave Moment of Truth. Seeing him answer moral (and immoral) questions in a true or false pattern would be fun. In fact it might be much easier for him as well; at least he will not have to give bizarre and whacky explanations which make us judgmental on his intelligence and astuteness. So, if the host asks, “Mr. Modi you ordered the best bakery carnage – True or False?” he, with all the straightness of face (resembling the election face mask he distributed in 2007) will answer, “False”. The not so always accurate lie detector machine says: False. No more explanations, no more shame. Well, no more shame particularly for Mr. Modi and no more shame for us, Indians, in general.

History has a peculiar knack of catching up with its characters. On March 27th India’s history will catch up with its most pernicious of politicians. In the company of three thousand invisible yet tangible ghosts, Narendra Modi will undergo a scrutiny of his deeds. His acts of commission and importantly his impotence of omission, everything will go under the scanner. And all this in the presence of those to whom he owes an explanation. He owes an explanation to all of us. To me, to you, to those who love our freedom and our country. To those who bow before the god a bit differently and also to those who bow in the same way as he does. He owes an explanation to the nameless ghosts who wander through the land of Gandhi awaiting their moksha and to those who were left alive and mourn the dead.

I am sure Mr. Modi will perspire as the SIT questions get difficult and will sigh as the easier ones follow. Watching him quietly in the room with three thousand ghosts will be a smiling Ehsan Jafri in white kurta-pyjama; still soaked in blood. His body was dismembered, but his spirit is cohesive. He has identified his killers. He has recognized the perpetrators. His death has not gone waste. His wailing from that fateful day in Gulbarg society haven’t gone unanswered. The Day of Judgment is closing in. He does not want to blink. He wants to capture each and every second of this hearing into his fluid state. The pain of getting dismembered by a crowd of assassins must surely be not greater than the pleasure of seeing Narendra Modi in the spot light. The spot light of shame and ignominy.

Narendra bhai Modi, as he is popularly called, has a task cut out. Either he faces the SIT to answer questions he has been evading since February 2002 or he continues to live in the shadow of ghosts. His party feels that he is a popular chief minister who always respects law. It makes me laugh – law and Modi in the same voice? A sarcastic oxymoron for those who saw law raped in Gujarat in the 2002 carnage. An ironic antithesis for those who saw their children thrown in fire in the February of 2002. An iron-cold apathy for those who saw policemen betray their trust.

Mr. Modi, it’s not easy to live with ghosts. They create ruckus, they can be hysterical. They don’t let you sleep peacefully and above all they do not forget or forgive.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 29, 2010 at 9:15 am