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Asia’s Big Democracies Head to the Polls

Unity in Diversity is a motto for both India and Indonesia, and ongoing elections demonstrate that Asia’s two largest democracies have much in common, explains journalist and author Pallavi Aiyar. Election operations are complex and impressive, considering that India has more than 800 million registered voters and Indonesia has nearly 200 million. “Noisy political rallies, outspoken trade unionists, and a free and assertive press are part of the political landscape in both nations,” she writes. “But they are also equally afflicted by a tendency towards governmental coalitions that must confront deep-seated corruption, creaking infrastructure, yawning inequalities and unpopular economic reforms, all the while ensuring that the peace between majority and minority religions is kept.” Neither nation anticipates any one party or candidate to capture a majority of votes. So coalition governments may prevent India and Indonesia from acting decisively on major challenges like corruption, economic development or climate change. – YaleGlobal

Asia’s Big Democracies Head to the Polls

Democracy in India and Indonesia is exuberant – but coalition governance struggles to address challenges
Pallavi Aiyar
YaleGlobal, 17 April 2014
Get out the vote: India’s Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi campaigns with the image of a Hindu preacher (top); Indonesia’s Joko "Jokowi" Widodo of PDI-P campaigns with common man

JAKARTA: Although rarely hyphenated in the manner of India-China, India and Indonesia perhaps have more in common with each other than any other two countries. These similarities are largely invisible to the nations themselves and the world at large. And yet, the ongoing election season that has the world’s most populous and third most populous democracies heading to the polls invites unavoidable comparisons. Coalition governments likely to emerge in both elections may end up in equally ineffective rule.

Although Indonesia became independent of colonial rule two years before India, it is a relatively young democracy – only 16 years have passed since the downfall of military dictator Suharto. Nonetheless, Indonesia’s democracy has parallels to India’s, both on the surface, in the chaotic and exuberant timber of the campaigning process, for example, as well as in the deeper challenges that confront the nations. Noisy political rallies, outspoken trade unionists, and a free and assertive press are part of the political landscape in both nations. But they are also equally afflicted by a tendency towards governmental coalitions that must confront deep-seated corruption, creaking infrastructure, yawning inequalities and unpopular economic reforms, all the while ensuring that the peace between majority and minority religions is kept.

A shared national motto, Unity in Diversity, underscores their accomplishment in having woven together a multiplicity of ethnicities, religions and languages into unified national tapestries. However, while their territorial integrity may no longer be in danger of balkanization, both nations still have restive peripheries. Neither Kashmir and the insurgency-plagued Northeast in India nor Aceh and Papua in Indonesia are “resolved” to the satisfaction of New Delhi or Jakarta.

A shared national motto, Unity in Diversity, underscores accomplishments in India and Indonesia.

Indonesia’s is a two-step electoral process staring with the legislative vote for the parliament, which was concluded on April 9. Results are expected in early May following which nominations for the July 9 presidential elections will be filed. India’s general elections are a staggered, weeks-long affair that will culminate May 12, with results expected May 16.

The complexity of the electoral process in both countries is mind-boggling, given the vast geographic extent of each, much of which is remote and difficult to access. Transporting voting machines and ballot boxes along the thousands of islands that stretch 3,000 miles from west to east in Indonesia, is a feat only matched by India’s mammoth logistics. Law and order challenges, particularly in restive areas like Kashmir and Aceh, further complicate the task. 

The dramatis personae in this year’s elections also bear an uncanny similarity to each other, indicative of the kinds of vested interests that are a common feature of their democracies. Dynastic heirs, authoritarian strongmen, corporate tycoons and religious hardliners are par for the course in both nations.

The main opposition party in Indonesia, the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, or PDI-P, is led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the scion of independent Indonesia's founder, Sukarno. The PDI-P is in some ways Indonesia’s Congress Party, which currently heads India’s ruling coalition. The identity of both parties rests on independence-era nationalism embodied in a family name, Sukarno and Nehru-Gandhi respectively.

Dynastic heirs, corporate tycoons and religious hardliners
are par for the course in both nations.

The corrosive influence of political dynasty, where political office is treated as a hereditary piece of rent-generating real estate, is a cross that citizens of both countries must bear. In India, nearly a third of the 545 members of the current parliament have entered politics through a family connection. In Indonesia, regional political dynasties with a lockdown on power have sprung up since the country’s ambitious decentralization process in the early years of the millennium. These include the Choisyiahs in Banten, the Yasin Limpos in South Sulawesi and the Sjachroedins in Lampung, to name a few.

A serious contender for president in Indonesia is Prabowo Subianto, the leader of a new party – Gerindra. A former general and head of the Special Forces under Suharto, Prabowo stands accused of widespread human rights abuses. However, his supporters project him as a strong and decisive leader able to whip the otherwise chaotic nation into shape. The parallels to India’s Narendra Modi, who many believe will be the next prime minister, are obvious – Modi is seen by his fans as a development-focused strongman capable of transforming a corrupt, decadent India into investment-flooded paradise. But, many also blame him for allowing, if not abetting, a 2002 pogrom against Muslims in the state of Gujarat, where he has been chief minister since 2001. Both Modi and Probowo face US travel bans.

The candidate most likely to be Indonesia’s next president, according to the polls, is a relative political newbie, the hugely popular governor of Jakarta, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Although a PDI-P candidate, Jokowi is not a long-time party cadre, and his popular appeal is independent of the party. The governor entered politics as recently as 2005, when he was elected mayor of Surakarta, a mid-level city in central Java. He lacks experience at the national level of government.

Jokowi’s rise to the pinnacle of political popularity is due to his anti-corruption crusading, his refusal of usual trappings of power like an official car, and his penchant for mingling with ordinary folk. He is most closely identified with his habit of blusukan – unscheduled, snap visits to local markets, slum areas and government offices to observe conditions firsthand.

When put like this, the description might as well be about Arvind Kejriwal, the founder of India’s Aam Admi Party, or Common Man Party, whose agenda developed out of an anti-corruption movement. Both Kejriwal and Jokowi represent a newly engaged electorate who sense the possibility of political renewal and a break from the tired, venal, dynastic politics of the past.

With coalitions in the offing, the big issues confronting India and Indonesia won’t be resolved “efficiently.”

The similarities, however, end there. Kejriwal’s are a politics of disruption born out of his activist past. Jokowi on the other hand has a credible track record as a mediator and political bridge-builder. He is widely credited with having transformed the fortunes of Surakarta as mayor. His style is consensual rather than combative, and he is working within the PDI-P, the most establishment of Indonesia’s political parties. Perhaps the greatest difference is that Jokowi could well be Indonesia’s next president while the possibility of Kejriwal as Indian prime minister is at best slim.

Exit polls show that the Jokowi magic has failed to produce big results for the PDI-P in the legislative election. In all probability therefore, even if Jokowi goes on to win the presidential election, he would only be able to run the country in coalition with allies who will demand their pound of flesh in recompense for support. A similar scenario is also likely to play out in India.

The ensuing horse-trading and compromises are familiar territory. Manmohan Singh and Susilo Bambang Yudhyono are after all two-term leaders of bulky coalitions that have been blamed for the policy paralysis of the last few years. Foreign investors who once flocked to India and Indonesia, lured by the idea of their youthful and growing consuming classes, have of late been disenchanted, consigning the countries to a set of “fragile five” emerging market economies.

Prospects of a Modi/Jokowi victory have seen stock markets in both nations rally, amidst hope that New Delhi and Jakarta might better steer their countries to stronger, more stable growth. However, given that coalitions are in the offing once again, none of the big issues confronting India and Indonesia will be resolved “efficiently,” notwithstanding Modi’s purported business-friendliness or Jokowi’s much admired decency.


Pallavi Aiyar is an award-winning Indian journalist and author. Her most recent book is “Punjabi Parmesan: Dispatches from a Europe in Crisis.” After stints in China and Europe, she is currently based in Indonesia.

Rights:Copyright © 2014 The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale

Comments on this Article

29 April 2014
R Jagannathan, 22 Apr 2014: One of the stupidest criticisms raised against Modi is that he is all marketing and no substance. Can a product that has been in the market for 12 long years, which has been tested in at least one major market, and which is still gaining popularity all over, be the result of just a marketing effort and nothing else? If this is so, marketing is something anybody should be able to do. All it needs is just resources and luck.
A bad product that builds up sales too quickly through sheer marketing will, in fact, fail faster. So if Modi was the product of pure marketing, he should have failed in Gujarat.
MJ Akbar, 23 Mar 2014: You cannot sell a track record that does not exist.
The networks involved in the instigation and perpetration of violence are patronage networks. Their capacity to instigate violence is related to their capacity to provide access to state resources.
If you are able to cause a really serious riot, the electoral victories are confirmed.
No law can fix that.
The chief minister’s official biography claims that it was his “administrative acumen, clear vision and integrity of character” that won him the state elections in Dec 2002.
The development story is an insidious cover: the credibility that he has among large sections of Gujarati Hindus for the genocide he oversaw and later in extra-judicial killings of Muslims, not for engineering a spectacular model of economic development.
Provision of State resources and economic development are not the real winning factors.
The first election he won in 2002 was based essentially on his inflammatory response to Godhra. In the by-election held in Gujarat barely a week before Godhra, BJP lost two out of three seats. And then in the election held for the entire Gujarat assembly in Dec 2002, BJP notched up its biggest ever tally of 127 out of 182 seats.
This was without any development rhetoric, which came much later.
Before 2002, BJP was badly losing all elections from Zilla Panchayat to Assembly by-elections and it was feared BJP would certainly loose 2002 assembly elections. The unprecedented genocide enabled BJP to win elections.
Losses in bye-elections and signs of Congress resurgence suggested the BJP’s need for “something spectacular”. A gory spectacle was offered by the tragedy at Godhara station on 27 Feb 2002.
Before Modi was para-dropped from Delhi in Oct 2001, BJP was staring at defeat. BJP's equity was at a low, and the Congress was waiting to grab power.
All that changed on this day 10 years ago. The BJP rode back to power, high on the saffron wave that swept the state through the genocide. It has never looked back since.
Godhra did not happen because tourists were killed: this was a train load of VHP activists. The simple chain – No Godhra, no Modi. No Ayodhya – No Godhra.
If Godhra had not happened, BJP would have lost the assembly polls in Feb 2003. And Modi would have been part of history by now.
Though the elections were being delayed, Modi was in a hurry to cash in on the sentiments that had come to the fore in the last few months.
Soon after riots, he dissolved the assembly and recommended early elections to cash in on communal sentiments prevailing at that time. This strengthen the allegations that more than administrative failure, 2002 was an example of communal politics.
Even as serious allegations of mass crimes surfaced, Modi was quick to capitalise on the momentum from the genocide. Elections were advanced and Modi secured thumping electoral majorities while thousands were still deeply traumatised, dispossessed or displaced including large numbers in refugee camps. In fact, if it were not for the Election Commission, elections would have perhaps happened even sooner after the genocide.
In state elections he ran an inflammatory campaign - littered with anti-Muslim innuendo - that won a clear mandate, even as thousands of Muslims displaced by the genocide continued to suffer in ghettos.
As the genocide raged on for weeks, they provoked particular alarm. While human-rights groups demanded Modi be tried for genocide, Hindu political parties, cultural groups and hordes of street demonstrators celebrated him as India's great defender.
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Amit Shah, Apr 2014: This will perhaps be the first Indian election in which people are voting only on the issue of development, let me tell you.
-Swami Vivekananda , , Anybody But Modi VI (a)
29 April 2014
No one believes that the accusations against Modi are unfounded. That’s why the Gujarati Hindus vote for him in every state election
The people of Gujarat know the truth. That is why they are electing him again and again.
He argued that subsequent electoral successes somehow absolved him, saying: “I have completed this examination and with distinction marks.”
There is a darker reading of those successes, though: nobody here thinks Modi is innocent. They know what he did and they are okay with that.
Voters do punish tainted candidates – this conclusion remains true irrespective of the specification (of tainted) chosen by us.
Mayors in the US are thrown out when too much snow clogs streets.
Modi let his streets be choked with blood and won election overwhelmingly.
Since the genocide, Modi’s political power has risen dramatically among the Hindu electorate of Gujarat.
In this reward lies, inadvertently, his indictment.
Meghnad Desai, 25 Apr 2014: No matter how many courts clear him, people who believe he is guilty will go on believing he is guilty.
Narendra Modi, 18 Apr 2014: I will never engage in divisive politics even if it means that I lose the elections. The country has been divided in the name of secularism. We are all fellow citizens and that is my firm belief. I have succeeded in Gujarat and I will succeed in India.
Narendra Modi, 18 Apr 2014: I won't be a part of such divisive politics. I am willing to lose this election if need be. Those who want to work on this plank can continue to do so but I will work on my own plank of development.
Rajnath Singh - BJP president, 29 Apr 2014: There is no disparity between his words and deeds. What he says, he does. A politician’s biggest asset is his credibility. He has emerged as a credible face just because of this quality — that there is no disparity between what he says and does.
Ravi Shankar, 27 Apr 2014: Except that 2002 riots happened under Modi’s watch, there has been not a single communal incident in Gujarat.
What sets Modi apart from the BJP's other successful chief ministers is not his ability or achievements as an administrator, but that a whiff of the smoke of 2002 still clings to his clothing.
Though there is no evidence yet to prove Modi let the severe reprisals against the Godhra killings go on unabated, that’s what common folks believe.
His ‘Gujarat model’, he has quietly and subtly signaled, is not just about keeping the economy in place.
In 1985, when Dalits turned from battling upper castes to battling Muslims, it was the RSS’s engagement with caste in Gujarat that made this possible. One of the important players in this turnaround seems to have been Modi.
The genocide was not the first time that Modi had taken advantage of RSS-backed communal violence to ensure an electoral victory. It is those who keep hoping that it was the last who are selling us an illusion.
The development myth built up around Modi is simply adulation for him allowing the genocide. The only way Modi and the BJP can march ahead is by polarising people and then hope for a rich electoral harvest.
A party desperate for office, which needs 50 Lok Sabha seats from UP to be in striking distance of power in 2014, finds that the communal virus remains its most potent electoral card.
MJ Akbar, 27 Apr 2014: Have you ever wondered, amidst the manufactured debate about the Gujarat model of development, why there is never any talk of an "Amethi model"? No mystery there. Congress cannot talk about something that does not exist.
MochiNama, 31 Dec 2012: Gujarat itself was a tinderbox since the 1960s ever exploding into communal and caste riots after Indira Gandhi assumed power at the centre and Gujarat was ruled by her hand-picked chief ministers. Congress not only sowed the seeds of communal discord but also harvested several bloody crops from those poisonous seeds.
By contrast BJP tried harvesting only one crop—that too in collaboration with the Congress party. The difference is the Congress party has not learnt any lessons whereas Modi became far wiser from the blunder of 2002.
Ram Jethmalani, 27 Apr 2014: Judging from the consistent substance of what the Congress has been speaking, there appears to be high credibility in the whispers going around that their final weapon of mass destruction during or after the general election is to instigate communal riots in the country, especially in the Congress ruled states.
Corpse cultivation is important for us. It is somewhat sporadic still, but not infrequent.
And sometimes it leads to a bumper harvest. Like it did in 2002. Look at the fabulous returns it continues to give. It may even give us a Prime Minister this year.
Such meticulous corpse farming is not always possible, of course, but there was a spirited attempt in Muzaffarnagar last year. Let’s see what it yields this summer.
Communal riots rose by 25% in 2013. These clashes were concentrated in UP, Maharashtra, MP, Karnataka, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan — no coincidence that these are the battleground states which will determine the outcome of Modi.
Most recently, there were the riots that happened in Muzaffarnagar, which led to the displacement of nearly 50,000 people.
Saheb left his new residence in New Delhi, in a car with outriders and the new Indian flag, the tricolour with a trident in the middle. There were still many parts of India where people kept using the old flag, with the Ashoka Chakra. He wanted the Ashoka Chakra banished — after all, after the Kalinga massacre Ashoka renounced violence and turned to Buddhism and became a pacifist. What would be the point?
A dozen years after Godhra he was India’s prime minister. Now who was right?
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (a)
25 April 2014
Kinnari Gada: In Gujarat, I’ve seen the drastic improvements. Rallying behind Modi for the development work he has done in Gujarat.
2 Apr 2013: Modi knows only one strategy.
One that has given him rich dividends in Gujarat. That’s the strategy of whipping up communal passions and dividing society. Of making the majority Hindus somehow feel insecure of their own strength and get them to blindly vote for him; ignoring his several flaws and forgiving his penchant for claiming credit for things he has not done.
Modi knows that he has to revive BJP in UP. So a major conflict in UP is logical. Or he could equally stir up some major confrontation with Pakistan.
Modi expects that some of those who dislike his strong Hindutva pitch may fall for his development trick. And that’s a reason for the development story.
His development plank hardly cuts ice even in his own state.
If the BJP campaign has been able to generate considerable momentum this election, it is because of Modi's pro-growth image.
20 Sep 2013: Modi’s development plank had only one objective – to take the discussion away from 2002. That worked.
But Modi knows that isn’t cutting much ice any longer.
That is why, BJP’s main political plank has shifted decidedly towards aggressive Hindutva. The Muzaffarnagar riots prove how the strategy can help the party.
Joshua Keating, 22 Apr 2014: As polling nears its end, party members and friends veer round to sowing divisiveness and hate.
Modi, meanwhile, has disavowed the comments, saying “the mantra of my government is absence of fear."
Suddenly, the Hindu-Muslim divide has taken centre stage in the poll discourse. It would be naive to believe that the remarks were off the cuff comments.
He did not warn errant partymen and supporters to look sharp. No one indirectly reprimanded by him has expressed an iota of regret, and one has re-asserted his vile opinion. Modi was content to call what was poisonous “petty”, and is clearly keen to move on.
With some 35 constituencies with 30% or more Muslim voters still awaiting polling when the deep communalists struck, it is an open question whether they aimed as part of a design to polarise and consolidate Hindu votes behind Modi.
How earnest was he when he tweeted his disapproval at the incendiary statements? Was this another instance of hiding his real intent in an attempt to tap the liberal voter?
The answers to these questions lie in the making of Modi. Let us go back to the night before the Godhra carnage. In Feb 2002, he was just another struggling Chief Minister of the BJP barely coping with administrative responsibilities that he had no experience of handling. He was elected just a couple of days before this to the state Assembly but this personal joy was marred by the defeat of BJP candidates in two other by-elections held simultaneously. Assembly polls were due in the state in Feb 2003 and a BJP victory appeared unlikely at that time.
It was not a very confident Chief Minister who received news about the Godhra carnage. The transformation of the man probably ocurred at Godhra as he went around the charred coach number S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. While at a personal level the carnage may have left a certain mark, even evoked a sense of anger, at a political level he would have quickly realised that a issue which had the potential to grant him political immortality, had been delivered on to his lap.
All he needed to do was to pick it up and make quick use of it. This he did in full measure.
In 1992, even as an insurgent BJP felt it had the construction of a temple at Ayodhya in its sights, there was no shortage of "voices of reason" suggesting fears about allowing "kar seva" at the 2.77-acre disputed site were overblown. A few devotees singing hymns - what could be wrong with that? And had not the leaders of the BJP undertaken to respect the order of the Supreme Court that no construction would take place on the site? Assuming the worst was fear-mongering, they insisted.
The supposed moderation and commitment to the Constitution of the BJP's leaders were revealed to be an ill-fitting mask.
Today, again, the BJP is insurgent - but it wears moderation even better now. The man who organised that Ayodhya campaign in Gujarat is today front runner to become prime minister. Everywhere he goes, he talks "development" and "governance" and "India first", even issuing statements once in a while to disapprove of some leaders' election speeches that target Muslims and resort to hate-mongering.
Once again, the BJP has imperfectly concealed its true nature behind a mask. Even Modi, always so careful, nevertheless gives the game away when he tries to claim that "growth" and "governance" are the opposite of "vote bank politics". Everyone knows what he means.
BJP has a history of deception about its intentions.
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (a)
24 April 2014
Chetan Bhagat, 21 Mar 2014: With over 80% Hindu population it is nearly impossible to eliminate the sense of majority entitlement.
In this context, a leader representing Hindu pride will find resonance. This is why many people do not ascribe much importance to the 2002 genocide when it comes to judging Modi.
For one, his role wasn’t clear (and legally has been un-proven). Second, to a section of people it felt like retribution.
Sandip Sen, 21 Apr 2014: India is the land of Ashoka the great, where even butcher kings turned inspirational leaders after the Kalinga massacre and was accepted as India's greatest statesman. Ashoka's proud legacy is our national symbol. We Indian's gave Ashoka a chance to show his statesman like quality and he found his inspiration in The Lord Buddha.
So why should we not give a chance to Modi who has been just perceived as anti Muslim by some politicians and activists.
Worse still, the supporters of this man come up with the specious and wholly indefensible argument that members of other political parties have taken part in riots too; inadvertently giving the game away and pointing to his culpability.
Note that there isn’t, as you might expect, an emphatic claim here that Modi did not do horrible things. There is merely finger-pointing in different directions. Thus what this argument boils down to is an implicit acceptance (“equally bad”) of exactly the criticism of Modi.
Point made by Bhagat, no less, and no doubt plenty more Modi devotees.
Modi is best known for (1) the remarkable economic growth and relative freedom from corruption of his home state, and (2) his alleged complicity in the genocide shortly after he became chief minister in 2001.
The prosperity of Gujarat is obviously a political asset for him. The problem is that his alleged religious extremism is also an asset in the view of his devotees. Indeed, that is probably why Modi has never expressed any regret or offered any apologies for the riots, an omission that many see as disqualifying him for high political office.
A BJP office-bearer close to the RSS, maintained that the only way the party could come to power was by polarising votes on communal lines. And, who could do that better than Modi?
The genocide gave him a distinctive identity that nobody else in the BJP could lay claim to. It also gave him the “Ayodhya connection” that he resented lacking — the kar sevaks who perished in the fire, and whose deaths were sought to be “avenged” in the genocide, were returning from Ayodhya.
So when people speak of “moving on” from 2002 — they are essentially asking for an erasure of Modi’s identity. Take away 2002 from Modi, and you get just another politician.
Which is why all the song and dance about what he’s done for Gujarat’s development will never sound as convincing, or command as much electoral traction, as a well-timed snarl at the minorities, and this is something that Modi will keep doing.
Modi’s chance of becoming Prime Minister hinges on the support of two distinct sets of voters. The first is the group that has stayed with him from 2002 and admires him for his plain-speak, hard nosed aggressive stance towards social issues and no-nonsense approach towards religious minorities. His refusal to express regret for 2002 or not donning the skull cap is a communicative tool aimed at this group.
Modi's controversial handling of the Gujarat riots is not seen as a stumbling block, because “a sizeable population in the country wants Modi only because there will be no appeasement in his regime.
Modi’s primary appeal in the eyes of the RSS-led Hindutva forces, and their following among the public, lies precisely in the fact that he allowed Gujarat to burn in a communal cauldron for weeks.
Much of Modi's public-relations-burnished appeal is insidiously sectarian, predicated upon aggressive indifference, if not malign brutality, to minorities.
Look at who we consider our leaders.
What kind of people seriously considers as prime ministerial candidate a carefully crafted image of an ever-changing, mercurial politician who is a self-obsessed, sectarian mass murderer?
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (a)
24 April 2014
Narendra Modi, 10 Apr 2010: The country does not want a deaf and dumb, handicapped government, run by remote control, at the Centre.
The country wants a "sevak" (worker) to lead it to new heights.
R Jagannathan - editor-in-chief Network18, 3 Feb 2014: Among the major players vying for pole position at the centre, Modi personifies hope and fear – more of the former. To the 85% of Indians who don’t see themselves as minorities, Modi is largely about hope since he talks the language of development and governance.
Piyush Goyal - member Rajya Sabha and BJP national treasurer, 21 Jun 2013: We now need a government of integrity at the Centre that performs efficiently, eliminates poverty, creates jobs and meets the aspirations of a young India.
What the population wants is a clean, responsive and accountable government.
Modi’s vision of freedom is laughably petty. Just ask the Gujarat editor of India’s biggest English-language paper, the Times of India, who found himself, along with a correspondent and a photographer, facing five charges of “sedition” in 2008 for a set of reports indicting the police commissioner of Ahmedabad (a man hand-picked by Modi) in an “encounter killing” in the state. The Gujarat High Court dismissed the charges only last year, and it was left to the judge to remind the government that the reports criticized a person, and could therefore in no way be seditious, because “the state cannot be identified with an individual.”
Modi’s approach to dealing with his critics is generally to see if they can be harassed in some way, often by swarming all over them with the law.
Should he become prime minister, with a record like that on freedom, Indian citizens exercising their democratic right to dissent might require their own version of a Reaganesque Strategic Defense Initiative. This one, though, would offer protection from the overeager attentions of their own prime minister.
But David Cohen became the the darling of the Indian-American diaspora when he published the piece comparing Narendra Modi to Ronald Reagan.
Modi symbolizes the freedom from and irrelevance of morality and personal accountability. This freedom is not guaranteed in the Indian constitution but what some Indians fantasize about - power without responsibility and accountability. This is the kind of freedom Indians yearn for.
This is the philosophy that draws the crowds - you may be a bigot and culpable of various crimes but if you are able to keep a section of people happy then nothing else matters. To them the genocide is a non-issue, what is important is what he represents - standing up to authority and thumbing a nose at it; not being accountable even when facts demand otherwise and being able to strip those in positions of authority of all dignity with aplomb.
Modi’s rise would emphasize the fact that the Indian voter condones a lot in his politicians as long as he is enchanted by them. He is more fascinated by the politicians’ strengths than disgusted by their character flaws.
What enchants him is not really the politicians’ virtues but his own perceptions of these virtues. That is why in this vituperative campaign season nothing has diminished Modi, especially the facts.
Jaya Jaitly, 31 Mar 2014: Modi has managed to steer the debate away from 2002 to development in the public mind, notwithstanding the usual naysayers.
The BJP is fighting a dual battle: on one hand is the image-problem on its secular credentials that it has, compounded by Modi’s complicity in the 2002 riots; on the other hand is the promise of development it wants to hold out to the nation, a promise that is best kept vague and rhetorical.
Modi recently reiterated in an interview to ANI that there was 'no grain of truth' in the allegations about his complicity in the post Godhra riots.
This is disingenuous because, in the wake of all the details that have come to light through the SIT investigation, Modi has much more to explain now than ever before.
The recording of his testimony put him on the spot on why he had not intervened in the Gulberg Society massacre.
The existing material is more than sufficient to prosecute Modi and other high-ups of his regime.
In the prevailing political environment, the independence of the judiciary will be tested more than ever before.
He also admitted in that interview that he had stopped taking questions about the riots way back in 2007.
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (b)
23 April 2014
Chetan Bhagat, 18 Feb 2013: Nobody can deny what happened in 2002. It has happened. Why and how has it happened, that really is an opinion.
Narendra Modi, 23 Apr 2014: I have taken moral responsibility for any person killed in Gujarat since day one.
Narendra Modi, 23 Apr 2014: I was questioned by police for nine hours and till date no chief minister in India has been grilled for so long. I've been through a lot to prove my innocence.
The Supreme Court had seen the video footage of his interrogation and proclaimed my innocence.
I have proven myself on these fronts and will continue to do so in future as well.
Chetan Bhagat, 14 Jun 2013: Modi needs to deal with 2002. Not in an awkward, avoid-at-all-possible-costs manner, but take it head-on. This will require some personal risk and introspection.
The answers will have to come from within. Tough questions need to be answered.
Chetan Bhagat, 21 Mar 2014: Modi is a straight talker and people like that. They want a PM who has opinions, even if they are not the most polished.
Jagdish Bhagwati: If Modi had spoken at the WIEF and been questioned by the UPenn petitioners, he would have wiped the floor with these opponents because he is a brilliantly articulate person who has been examined and cross-examined for more than a decade over 2002.
Modi, who wants to be India’s prime minister, is not a man who can survive a question session he cannot control.
Undoubtedly, he is a man of extraordinary political acumen, who can turn adversity to his advantage, often just by maintaining his silence on controversial issues.
The Godhra riot in 2002 is the most obvious example of this.
Narendra Modi, 16 Apr 2014: I was not silent, I answered every top journalist in the country from 2002-2007, but noticed there was no exercise to understand truth.
I have said what I had to say. Now, I am in the people's court, and I am waiting to hear from them, and their verdict.
His stump speeches promise growth or development and jobs, especially for young people. Modi is an authoritarian figure with no clear plan to back his pledges beyond his personal charisma.
In every other way, he is a highly flawed candidate: for starters, there is the infamous 2002 pogrom; he repeatedly derides the constitution for its special accommodations for the religious minorities that some of the ardent Hindus in his base despise; equally troubling, his tenure as chief minister has been marred with extra-judicial killings in staged encounters with alleged Muslim terrorists; his administration has also been trying to fend off "Stalk-Gate"-- a scandal involving the use of the state police to stalk a young woman.
Modi is desperately trying to play down the many court cases which implicate him and those closest to him. These include not only the cases arising from the Gujarat massacres but the stalking of a young woman through the surveillance machinery of the Gujarat state at the behest of Modi himself.
If this is not considered damaging, there are other, far more sinister, cases going through the courts too, among them the abduction, torture in a private farmhouse, and murder of 19-year-old college student Ishrat Jahan and three others in a so-called ’encounter killing’.
Modi has been guilty of many crimes since he became Chief Minister of Gujarat. The massacre of thousands of Muslims in 2002, encouraging terrorist acts against the minority as admitted by the undertrial Swami Aseemanand, and the killings of Ishrat Jehan and others by Gujarat police in staged ‘encounters’ undoubtedly with his knowledge, are just a few of his more egregious acts.
Modi himself has managed to escape legal retribution for his many acts, through a combination of luck, bureaucratic ineptitude, and political and legal timidity at indicting the chief executive of a state. Each time he has managed to escape legal punishment, the media, whose moguls are now thoroughly behind him, blare that he has “been given a clean chit” by the judiciary, as if escaping judicial penalty by hook or by crook is an attribute that should be applauded in someone who aspires to the position of Prime Minister of India.
After Manoj Mitta's book on the Gujarat riots and the subsequent subversion of justice, after Cobrapost has caught leading Sangh Parivar activists talking about how they brought down the Babri Masjid, no one should have the excuse of saying later that they did not know.
Be prepared for plenty of high-decibel doublespeak in the months to come as an unshackled BJP pushes its agenda.
why is it more important how a person comes across in a contrived projection during an election campaign than how he behaved in real life?
Perhaps because like a selfie, it tries to mask from public perception the warts, the knowledge that Modi has already hung and quartered his critics - police officers and social activists - who tried to expose the complicity of his government in the most well-organised communal riots in the history of independent India.
The election campaign is presenting one candidate as a Mr Clean with the implicit suggestion that this outweighs any possible complicity in the mass murders of 2002.
Perhaps some of the 140 million debutant voters of 2014 will look back in 2044 and wonder if they collectively did the right thing.
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (b)
23 April 2014
Claims of vision are not made by visionaries, but by myopics. Claims of strength are not made by the strong; they do not need to.
Jagdish Bhagwati, 2014: You need someone who is providing a vision of somewhere where you can go. If he doesn’t come into power, I am not optimistic about India.
“What India needs right now is a benevolent despot.”
They describe a yearning for restoration of control, and the hope that it will translate into growth.
R Jagannathan, 12 Mar 2014: This election is not about 2002, or morality, or ethics. It is about success. Indians don’t want to be stuck with losers and excuses anymore.
This election is substantially about Modi and little else. Forget the economy, forget the scams, forget secularism, this election is often about defining where you stand vis-à-vis Modi.
Claims about administrative efficiency, good governance and high growth rates — themselves empirically dubious — are presented as satisfactory alibis and valid substitutes for an outright threat to minorities.
When we vote, we don't necessarily go for the best candidate that would be fair, give us justice and provide a transparent administration. Fairness and justice are decided based on what we personally gained or lost.
We don't mind injustice to others as long as we gain in the bargain. We want every one around us to contribute to our personal well being.
It is a new battle for India. If India doesn’t get it right, the world will remain a place that is unacceptable.
What kind of an India do you want for yourself? What India do you want your children to grow up in?
An India where the Constitution will be artfully subverted to keep the Hindu interest foremost in mind?
What people should want is a government that is accountable, responsible, and effective in moving India further into the modern world.
The electorate must remember on the voting day, those words of Gandhi, “Your future depends on what you do today.”
Finding out the ‘right choice’ may not be easy, but it is well-nigh possible. Just apply your emotional intelligence, be objective and do not get carried away. Elect a person, whose hands are “as clean as they are empty” — the words that are used to describe American Statesman Thomas Jefferson.
Here's hoping the pragmatic new Indian electorate doesn't bring to power an old-fashioned demagogue pretending to be something else -- and that voters, having voted, hold the next government strictly to account for its promises.
Away from somewhat apocalyptic predictions of an India uniformly awash in feverish Hindu majoritarianism, and while recognising that yes, Hindu mobilisation is at a peak at the moment, it is also worth noting that for many voters, Modi is simply a pragmatic cost-benefit calculation from the choices available.
Since I yield to no one in acknowledging the duty of the citizen to cast his vote, I went to the polling station and with a heavy heart pressed the NOTA button.
You should study the political scenario deeply. Use your vote in a manner that preserves and protects the democratic polity of the country and keeps open scope for discourse, debate and dissent.
Under the circumstances, what is needed is collective national response to the clear and present danger ahead.
That’s where plenty of us are today: left with no national political alternative to choose from. But it does also leave me with this certainty: I won’t vote for the BJP.
Given the near inevitability of Modi’s elevation to the prime ministership, and the seeming inevitability of his larger-than-life projection of himself taking over, what is the voter to do?
My solution is simple: if NDA is going to win, so be it. But it’s in the national interest to keep Modi in check.
Voters should organise strategic voting in each constituency for the anti-Modi candidate who is most likely to defeat the BJP. An all-out campaign against Modi and the BJP and formation of an electoral alliance against them is the most urgent need of the hour.
This strategy is focused on the elite and middle class while the masses remain out the realm of this discourse.
The focus is to split the opposition vote to ensure that Modi remains the only alternative for people to vote for: it’s a Modi versus all campaign. Which means that anyone who is not with BJP is fighting Modi directly.
The strategy has the sanction of the RSS bosses and has been crafted by Modi and the Sangh in tandem.
Narendra Modi, 20 April 2014: I am thinking of ways to solve their problems but they are finding out a solution for Modi.
Narendra Modi, 27 Mar 2014: There have been elections earlier also in which opposition parties would come together to defeat the government. But this is the first election in which alliances are being built to prevent Modi from coming to power.
-Swami Vivekananda , Anybody But Modi VI (c)
23 April 2014
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The sickening, brutal arson, rape, murder and displacement in 2002; gutted homes, traumatised survivors; Ahmedabad charred and disfigured, as documented not only by countless photographs, but also recorded and mourned in paintings, sculptures and poems.
Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patiya, are scars on our collective conscience that would be slow to heal — and that cannot even begin to heal without some gesture of acknowledgement, howsoever oblique, a tacit ownership of responsibility, an apology, be it belated and muted, from Modi and his lieutenants who are ruling Gujarat.
If such a heinous genocide could happen once under Modi’s watch, what guarantee is there that it will not happen again? How can we trust that justice will be done, when no one is willing to own up to what happened?
With a history of fraught inter-community relations in India and the discovery by Modi and his party over the years that, if necessary, mobilising fear and hatred among the majority community can pay good electoral dividends, it is not clear how merely the periodic electoral check of democracy can tame a leader who is equally adept at playing the development and the communal cards.
Facing roadblocks on his way, he can turn either way. One, of course, hopes this will not happen, but Modi’s history and background do not comfort us.
Modi is far less likely to act on his anti-pluralistic, socially regressive tendencies if he can actually deliver the growth he's been promising.
Can India's likely next prime minister unleash his country's economy without allowing his Hindu nationalist base to run free?
Modi is eager to have his political palette identified with white for peace, and green for economic development. But, at heart, this remains Hindu nationalism’s poster boy.
This leopard is not likely to change his saffron spots.
Modi is playing the role of BJP superego while the party's RSS id boils away underneath, peeking through only at inopportune moments. If Modi becomes prime minister, the mask will fall away, revealing the autocratic Hindu nationalist beneath.
Maybe that's hyperbolic, but it's hardly absurd. In any case, Modi has played his role so deftly that India, and the world, are probably going to have a chance to find out the truth before long.
-Swami Vivekananda , Why is Narendra Modi Popular? Between Ia and Ib