Narendra Modi's career provides a
classic example of how a kinky ideology can thwart political
ambitions in a pluralistic society. Yet, when the same ideological
outlook enabled him to scale the heights of political power by
winning the 2002 assembly elections in Gujarat, the chief minister
must have presumed that even greater successes were in store for
What he hadn't taken into account were the imperatives of a
multicultural country. Till the 2002 elections, Modi was operating
within the parameters of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) world
view based on the concept of cultural nationalism or one nation,
one people, one culture.
The obvious similarity of this slogan with Nazi Germany's ein volk,
ein Reich, ein Fuehrer (one people, one nation, one leader)
underlines the fascistic basis of the idea. But neither Modi nor
the BJP was bothered. They believed they were on a roll at the
However, it was the jolt of the defeat in the 2004 parliamentary
polls, which woke them up to the realities of Indian
Moreover, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's belief that the 2002 Gujarat
riots were responsible for the BJP's defeat two years later might
have also induced both Modi and his party to mull over their past
Hence, the chief minister's new emphasis on development for all
the people of Gujarat. There was no more mocking of the minorities
by him as when he crassly described the camps of riot victims as
child-producing factories or took care to pronounce the then chief
election commissioner's full name of James Michael Lyngdoh to
stress his Christianity, which, according to V.D. Savarkar, is a
religion alien to India, like Islam.
But none of it has helped Modi, the man who was described by Ashis
Nandy as a "textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer,
perhaps even a future mass murderer". The social commentator was
prescient, for the last phrase was used by journalists for the
chief minister after the riots.
Indeed, this is the charge he still faces and even after his
latest exoneration by the Supreme Court-appointed Special
Investigating Team (SIT) - the Nanavati commission had earlier
given Modi a clean chit in its interim report - the public
perception about his complicity continues.
Because of this belief, even the SIT's report has aroused
disbelief with a prominent Muslim resident of Gujarat, J.S.
Bandukwala, calling it "compromised".
Of course, no final word has yet been said about Modi's role. Even
the SIT report was only about the mob violence in the Gulberg
housing society where the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, was
killed. The report will now be considered by the trial court while
the views of the amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, are yet to be
However, the point is not the prolonged legal battles, but the
fact that Modi's strenuous attempts from the post-2004 poll
results to put the riots behind him haven't cleansed his image.
It has been said that one of the reasons why the outbreak, which
he callously described as "stray incidents" although 1,200 people
were killed, continues to haunt him is that he has never expressed
remorse, as Manmohan Singh has done about the 1984 anti-Sikh
However, even if he does say sorry at some point, it may not make
much of an impact for two reasons: one is that the BJP itself
remains committed to its "one culture" ideal for India, which
emphasises the country's Hindu character to the exclusion of all
minority cultures, as in a theocracy.
The other reason is that Modi represents, perhaps because of his
grim visage, the type of person who can be expected to implement
this sectarian vision. This is the reason why he is a hero to
large sections of the saffron brotherhood and is persona non grata
to liberals and also groups and individuals in the BJP-led
National Democratic Alliance (NDA), who are aware that elections
cannot be won without accommodating the minorities.
Modi, then, is fighting a losing battle. Moreover, he has fallen
between two stools. He can no longer resurrect his
minority-baiting self which he flaunted from the time of the
anti-Christian disturbances in Gujarat's Dangs area, where the
present terror suspect, Assemananda, was an activist, to the 2004
And he must have realized by now that all his 'sadbhavna' fasts in
aid of social harmony, and all his success in providing bijli,
sadak and pani (electricity, roads and water) to the voters, which
help other politicians, will not enable him to play a national
role, which he apparently intends to do.
The riots, for which the Gujarat high court has castigated the
state government, and the demolition of the Babri mosque 10 years
earlier, were the fallout of the Hindutva camp's virulent communal
propaganda. While the 1992 act of destruction helped the BJP to
attain power at the centre, the 2002 outbreak made the party lose
it. Evidently, the square peg of communalism cannot fit into the
round hole of a secular democracy.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at email@example.com