Sunday, April 19, 2009

India's New Face: Narendra Modi in The Atlantic

Over the years, I have read many articles about Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state in India. Most of these articles are written by prejudiced reporters with a blatant (read unhidden, undisguised, obvious) motive to show Modi in a bad light. Despite their prejudices and motives, these journalists can't help reporting about the fabulous job Modi is doing in Gujarat and his highly efficient, corruption-free administration. In fact, Modi's governance is so clean and his quotes are so straight-forward, the reporters have to jump through hoops, indulging in mental and verbal gymnastics in their attempts to show Modi in a bad light. The result is that the journalists end up contradicting themselves within the span of a single article, revealing their own prejudices and casting a shadow on their own authenticity. The latest to join this line of journalists is The Atlantic magazine's correspondent Robert D Kaplan in his April 2009 edition article about Mr Narendra Modi: India’s New Face.

The Atlantic article about Mr Narendra Modi is no different from other articles which hold Modi responsible for the 2002 riots in Gujarat: unsubstantiated accusations and insinuations, with absolutely no evidence. To date, I have not read a single article or report which lays out in detail what it was that Mr Modi or his administration was supposed to do and failed to do, during the 2002 riots. Sure, there are overarching statements that Modi should not have let so many people get killed. But there has never been a detailed, chronological list in any article which says, Modi's administration should have done X1 at time-point Y1, and X2 at time-point Y2 and so on. Bear in mind that since India's independence in 1947, there have been numerous other riots - religious and otherwise, there have been countless other killings - by terrorists and criminals, there have been mass deaths of thousands and millions - by droughts, storms and other calamities both natural and man-made, and there has even been an ethnic cleansing - of Kashmiri pandits from their homeland. These things have taken place in every corner of the country. So, it is not as if India's central and state governments have had unblemished track records in preventing or handling these incidents. In fact, the track record of every administration in India has been pathetic when it comes to facing riots, killings and tragedies. Keeping this in mind, why single out Modi's administration alone, nay Mr Modi alone, as the instigator supreme of all communal riots? The irony here is that the initial provocation for the Gujarat riots was the burning of 57 Hindu pilgrims in a train at Godhra.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how journalists who set out to bad-mouth Modi end up contradicting themselves within the span of the same article. Mr Kaplan's article in The Atlantic provides some prime examples of this phenomenon, which I shall shortly demonstrate with quotes taken directly from the article. Perhaps, Mr Kaplan thinks that he is providing a fair and balanced perspective. Perhaps, that is what he set out to do. But the contradictions in his article do not appear fair and balanced precisely because he has let so much of his own prejudices and unsubstantiated accusations color the article.

Quote: He [Modi] said he wasn’t interested in talking about politics, just development. Of course, politics represents freedom, and his momentary lack of interest in politics was not accidental. Modi’s entire governing style is antidemocratic, albeit quite effective, emphasizing reliance on a lean, stripped-down bureaucracy of which he has taken complete personal control, even as he has pushed his own political party to the sidelines, almost showing contempt for it.

Since when did politics equate to freedom alone? And, not wanting to talk about politics equates to being anti-freedom? Is Modi using the power of the army or the police or anti-social elements to administer effectively? No. All his unrivalled administrative authority comes from the absolute trust and faith his citizens have in him. If this is not the very definition of the democratic zenith, what is? So, how can Mr Kaplan term Modi as "antidemocratic"? Due to the "stripped-down" bureaucracy of Modi's administration? When did a vast, blundering bureaucracy become an essential defining feature of democracy? This is the symptom of prejudiced reporting - term efficient administration based on the citizens' support as being antidemocratic. If Mr Kaplan had been truly neutral, he'd have praised Modi for doing what almost no other political leader in India's modern history has been able to do so far. As for the antidemocratic charge, Mr Kaplan himself goes on to say: Is Modi a fascist? Although episodes in his political career and his role in the events of February 2002 suggest as much, the answer is, ultimately, no.

Quote: “There was no Kalinga effect on Modi,” Hanif Lakdawala, a Muslim who runs a human-rights NGO, told me. He was referring to a war fought in the third century B.C. by the Mauryan Empire under King Ashoka against the kingdom of Kalinga on the eastern coast of India. Ashoka’s forces slew 100,000 civilians. Yet the slaughter left Ashoka with so much guilt that he dedicated his life thereafter to nonviolence and the peaceful development of his empire.

In the very next paragraph, there is a contradictory quote: By all accounts, after the riots, he [Modi] manically dedicated himself to development, sleeping less than four hours every night, up at 5 a.m. to check his e-mail and read the local papers, visiting about 3,000 of the 7,000 villages in the state, and empowering the lowest reaches of its bureaucracy through his slogan, “Less government, more governance.”

In other words, after the 2002 riots, Modi did dedicate himself to the "peaceful development of his empire". There has not been a single incident of sectarian violence in Gujarat since the 2002 riots. Elsewhere in the article Kaplan writes, "Gujarat had experienced 10.2 percent annual GDP growth since 2002." This is a classic example of "peaceful development" that any state or country in the world (including the US with all its current economic troubles) would envy.

Quote: Whether it be the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat posed by Iran, possible chaos in Pakistan, or Islamic terrorism in Kashmir and in India itself, the global situation reminds Hindus—the overwhelming majority of Indian voters—how much they have to fear from Muslim radicalism, and how much Modi signifies a bulwark against it: not through any specific act nowadays, but through the whole aura of his no-nonsense rule.

So, Mr Modi provides a 'bulwark' against Muslim radicalism and terrorism by nothing more than a 'no-nonsense rule'. What? No middle-of-the-night arrests? No extraordinary renditions? No illegal tapping of citizens' phones? No torture of prisoners? No prison camps outside the borders? Nobody losing their habeas corpus rights? Mr Modi is able to provide a bulwark against radicalism and terrorism simply with a 'no-nonsense rule'? Shouldn't he receive high praise for that? Note that even Western governments including the ones in Europe and the United States are having to deal with Muslim radicalism and terrorism. If what Mr Kaplan writes about Mr Modi's no-nonsense rule is true, it would appear that the Western governments might benefit from learning from Mr Modi!

Quote: Sophia Khan, a human-rights worker, put it bluntly: “He’s a fascist man. We Muslims don’t exist for him. Our neighborhoods are called mini-Pakistans, while the Hindus live where the malls and multiplexes are.”

Another quote: His [Modi's] machine-like efficiency, financial probity, and dynamic leadership of the government bureaucracy have made Gujarat a mecca for development, garnering more internal investment than any other state in India. Migrants, both Hindu and Muslim, from throughout India have been streaming into Gujarat to find work at its expanding factories.

So, if Muslims are able to find jobs (and a better life) in Gujarat, how can someone claim that Muslims don't have good living conditions in Gujarat? The truth is that both Hindus and Muslims have bad as well as good living conditions in India. It is not a function of people's religion. And what do they mean by Muslims "don't exist" for Mr Modi? Do they mean that Mr Modi does not give any special considerations to Muslims or pander to them as a vote bank, like many other politicians in India do? He treats everybody equally and that is a good thing!

Quote: What I encountered in interviews with victims of the 2002 violence was not so much radicalization, but alienation from India, evidenced by their withdrawal into their own communities, their reluctance to venture among Hindus.

What Mr Kaplan does not seem to realize is that this withdrawal and ghettoization of Muslims does not have anything to do with Mr Modi or the Gujarat riots. This is a phenomenon that is observed in most countries where Muslims exist in substantial numbers, but are not the majority. They form ghettos and don't mingle with the other communities, don't take active participation in national life and discourses. This has been observed in UK, France and other Western countries also. Where is Mr Modi's influence in those countries? Was there a 2002 Gujarat riot in those countries also?

Quote: Modi demonstrates how the century can also go very wrong when charismatic politicians use modern electoral tactics and technology to create and exploit social divisions...

Contradictory quote: In fact, Modi has recently gone after the very Hindu nationalists who put him in power, arresting some members of a Hindu-chauvinist group.

Modi got members of some Hindu group arrested? That doesn't sound to me like a person who wants to create and exploit social divisions. That sounds to me like a person who treats everyone equally.

Mr Robert Kaplan seems to have some confusing, theories about why there are any communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in modern India. One of his claims is that the globalization of India's economy and the opening up of the country to outside world is causing Hindus and Muslims to seek greater self-identity, which is in turn leading to communal tensions. Interesting, but WRONG. A full analysis into the Hindu-Muslim tensions in the Indian subcontinent is beyond the scope of this blog post and my meagre grasp of the matter. So, I will end this post with some quotes in Mr Kaplan's article which speak of the good things about Mr Modi and his administration:

- After taking over the chief ministership in the wake of a disastrous earthquake, in 2001, he has been reelected twice, becoming Gujarat’s longest-serving leader. During his visits to villages, pregnant women regularly touch his feet so that their newborn will be like him. He is so honest that gifts for him are regularly deposited in the state treasury—a far cry from the corruption and nepotism that are so routine in Indian government. Even those Indians who despise Modi’s politics acknowledge his skill and power.

- “I heard you were interested in development here, so here are your answers.” What he gave me was not the usual promotional brochures, but long lists of sourced statistics put together by an aide. Gujarat had experienced 10.2 percent annual GDP growth since 2002. It had eight new universities. In recent years, almost half the new jobs created in India were in Gujarat. The state ranked first in poverty alleviation, first in electricity generation.

- As Atul Tandan, director of the Mudra Institute of Communications, in Ahmedabad, told me, “You have to separate Modi’s political ideology from his management ability. Because there is not a hint of corruption about him, Modi is effective because people believe his decisions are only results-oriented.” Even many Muslims have come to respect Modi for cracking down on the gambling and criminal rackets that have infested some of their communities.

- "I have converted economic development into a mass-movement psychology.” His [Modi's] words echoed through the empty room. “I have a toll-free number where callers hear my recorded voice and can make complaints against the government, and the relevant department must respond within a week.”

- He rolled off his accomplishments: “modern roads, private railroads with double-decker containers, 50,000 kilometers of fiber-optic networks, 2,200 kilometers of gas pipelines, 1,400 kilometers of drinking-water pipelines to 7,000 villages, 24-hour uninterrupted power in rural areas, the first Indian state with private ports, a totally integrated coastal-development plan, two LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals and two new ones coming on line.”

And finally, the money quote: Vimal Ambani, a prominent, liberal-minded Gujarati businessman, told me, “At the end of the day, Modi still offers the best model for governance in India.”

The fact is that Mr Narendra Modi is the best leader in today's India. He has a proven record of economic development and corruption-free, efficient governance, which cannot be matched by any leader in India's democratic history. His self-less service is beyond any kind of doubts or aspersions. Similar rulers from India's ancient history are still celebrated in Indian folklore and history books. I see no reason why Mr Modi should not be given a chance to replicate his success in Gujarat at the national level, as the Prime Minister of India. BJP, Mr Modi's party, should have nominated him as their prime ministerial candidate in the 2009 general elections. They should have realized that Mr Advani is past his political peak (and, I don't mean in age) and he does not have anything revolutionary to offer to the country. Anyway, what's done cannot be changed now. But I hope to see Mr Narendra Modi at the helm of India's national government sooner than later.

Tailpiece: For another article which similarly sets out to show Mr Modi in a bad light, but can't avoid talking about his good points, read the two-part Rediff Special on The Talented Mr Modi.

Update: I learnt today that Mr Narendra Modi has recently started blogging. You can find his blog here - .


  1. very nice artical, every one wants be a good leader for nation, but the disadvantege of democracy is bad people will not get a good leader. if the people of nation are aware about his leader than must be nation will get a leader like modi.

  2. LL,
    I have heard so-called secularists talking about "fascism" when it comes to Hindus but keeping silent when Muslims perpetrate violence. So far I have only read biased accounts on Mr.Modi which hold him responsible for Gujarat riots...As you pointed out all these started with the Godhra incident.

    India is what She is only because of Hindu majority and Hindu tolerance and liberalism.

    Your quote from Kaplan:
    "Modi’s entire governing style is antidemocratic, albeit quite effective, emphasizing reliance on a lean, stripped-down bureaucracy of which he has taken complete personal control"

    Well this what managers in organizations do: take ownership of problems, and lead the leanest teams towards success. Too much democracy won't help - opinions need to be listened to but there is only one leader. Or else there is chaos.

    On an unrelated note you wrote:

    "..This is a phenomenon that is observed in most countries where Muslims exist in substantial numbers, but are not the majority. They form ghettos and don't mingle with the other communities, don't take active participation in national life and discourses..."

    And in countries where they form the majority, in general they try to convert, kill or otherwise marginalize the minorities - and impose Islamic rule on them.



  4. Muslims are not into public life? My friend's father is a high court judge and they are more into nation building then you are, for sure.

    Ghettoizing is a big part of a lot of Indian communities. Who is not insular? Isn't caste insular? For God's sake, either live in India or be a REAL journalist or stop talking. It certainly is your blog, but I really think that political debate is beyond the repertoire of people who are as bigoted as the other side is.

  5. When I posted this blog entry, I knew that I could expect some knee-jerk reactions. Only surprised that it took so long for one to roll in.

    Let me reproduce the part of the article where I talk about ghettoization:

    Quote from Kaplan article: What I encountered in interviews with victims of the 2002 violence was not so much radicalization, but alienation from India, evidenced by their withdrawal into their own communities, their reluctance to venture among Hindus.

    And I wrote: What Mr Kaplan does not seem to realize is that this withdrawal and ghettoization of Muslims does not have anything to do with Mr Modi or the Gujarat riots. This is a phenomenon that is observed in most countries where Muslims exist in substantial numbers, but are not the majority. They form ghettos and don't mingle with the other communities, don't take active participation in national life and discourses. This has been observed in UK, France and other Western countries also. Where is Mr Modi's influence in those countries? Was there a 2002 Gujarat riot in those countries also?

    Now my response to your comment:
    1. Is any of the above factually untrue? No doubt, there are thousands of Muslims who are actively engaged in Indian national life. And, there are certainly millions more Hindus (including myself) who are not. That still does not change the fact about people who withdraw into their own communities and then complain that they are not being included in mainstream life. THAT is the context in which this comment was made. This is a very real problem in many parts of the world where Muslims live. Not just in India. There are some Muslim ghettoes in UK and France and Australia where even the local cops are afraid to go alone late at night. These places appear less like UK, France and Australia and more like some backward middle-eastern town where honor killings still happen!

    2. My above comments about Muslim ghettoization do not preclude anybody else (for example Blacks, Hispanic, even Indians in UK & some parts of US) from the phenomenon of ghettoization. So, why even bring that up? In fact, my comment is less about ghettoization per se. It is more about the hypocrisy in keeping oneself away from mainstream life and complaining that one does not feel included. If Indians in the US withdraw themselves from public life and then complain that they are not included, I will call them out on that.

    3. The point is that, there is nobody specifically or systematically keeping a whole community of Muslims from developing and living a good life in India. I am sure there are exceptions to that, but there is no systematic bias or discrimination, that is comparable to apartheid in the old US or more recent South Africa. More to the point of Kaplan's article, 2002 riots or Modi are NOT the root cause for ghettoization of Muslims in Gujarat. Even your own comment admits that ghettoization is a more generic phenomenon.

    4. I don't know your friend's father, but I am certainly glad you bring him up. Muslims like him prove the point I am making above: "Don't whine, if you truly want something, just go out there and do it." When a John F Kennedy says, "Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for the country", it becomes a quote repeated across the world, over decades. Is anybody asking the people who whine about being excluded (be it Muslims or generic slum-dwellers or any other such countless groups in India) from mainstream life, what they are doing for themselves and their own families, forget about the country? No. Instead, such whiners get prime spots on the pages of newspapers and magazines, national and international.

    5. "Live in India", "be a REAL journalist", "people who are bigoted", "what are YOU doing for the country?" are all petty barbs not worth dignifying with a response. Debates are elevated by sticking to the subject of the debate. Not by getting petty and personal.

  6. Oh, I didn't say I was part of any debate. You seemed to imply you were.

    I can't respond to everything here because clearly I made the choice not to be a "real" journalist either, but perhaps someone else will defend me? My charge was of bigotry and you just prove it by calling an entirely community (some of them invested as much in government and national building) who are nevertheless insular (like all other minorities or castes, or communities) "whiners." I certainly do not disagree that Modi's work has been undermined. However, to use the "whiners" card as a counterargument is hypocritical. There was a massacre and yes, the minority vote has always determined who gets into power and so there is bound to be coddling. But, you forget that some people actually witnessed the Bombay riots and have first-hand experiences. And the idea of alienation from the "mainstream" of course, in this case, clearly refers to you and me-- i.e. the elite. If you actually spoke to an on-field journalist (whom I do happen to know and can put you in touch with and was a former Sanghi), you'd know that more nation building happens in chai shops in Bihar than on blogs and that includes Muslims and Dalits.

    And, those "barbs," btw, are completely true. Journalism doesn't consist of lifting quotes out of context, responding to them, and weaving a bigoted argument out of them. It consists of first-hand on-field experience. Journalism school does teach you that.

    You'll probably dish up the same drivel again in response, so I'll rest my case. You're free to think you've made your point, which you have anyway.

  7. I just want to quickly respond to some of your points.
    1. In your original post, you mention that no one has clearly come out with "what it was that Modi and his administration" were supposed to do over the course of his riots. Well, he sure wasn't supposed to say even as the riots were unfolding: "every action has an equal and opposite reaction." -- . This is well documented as you probably know. So, you are right--there's never been a clear account of what he could have done to prevent the riots, but unless you have an unforgiving bias, you will agree that that's not simply callousness; it's a murderous statement. Just to conclude this point, your call for proof will likely never be met -- it's the standard of proof that results in most rape and murder cases remaining unsolved. So, my point is simply that people in authority who make such remarks during the course of the violence need to be held accountable.

    2. I think you make good points about Narendra Modi's performance in terms of development. I agree it's unfortunate that it's not discussed as much as it should be. I'll be honest and admit that I don't know enough to comment on his performance. But I've heard good things, so you are probably right.

    3. You write: "This is a phenomenon that is observed in most countries where Muslims exist in substantial numbers, but are not the majority. They form ghettos and don't mingle with the other communities, don't take active participation in national life and discourses." What's the evidence? In fact, recent research suggests(I'm actually unable to get my hands on the latest report) that Muslims are well-integrated in the US. In any case, you can take a look at this. This is a slightly older report.
    Sure, there are issues in other parts of the world--in England, for instance, research suggests that Muslims aren't very well integrated. However, at the very least you've got to admit that your statement is a dangerous and naive generalization that doesn't help in the healing. If you read the history of the first 10 years of this country--read the Constituent Assembly debates for instance--you'll be stunned at the wisdom with which India's major leaders built the country. There was a lot of give and take and that's what ensured India remained a democracy. It's probably what we need today.

    4. You want Muslims to 'get on with it' {at least that's what I understood from your response to one of the comments-- "Is anybody asking the people who whine about being excluded (be it Muslims or generic slum-dwellers or any other such countless groups in India) from mainstream life, what they are doing for themselves and their own families, forget about the country?"}. I have Muslim friends in India and I don't think any of them really need to be told to 'get on with it'. I think they manage just fine. They do take care of their families, more or less, and they do what the average Ram or Hari does for the country. I know you probably would defend yourself saying that you aren't necessarily only pointing the finger at Muslims, but the tone of your entire piece seems to suggest otherwise.

    5. There's a couple of other points that I would like to add, but I'm out of time. Keep the posts coming.

  8. RM & Visitor,

    There seems to be a misunderstanding about my post and subsequent comment - my statements are not about an 'entire community'. My statements are specific to people who have 'withdrawn into their communities' as the Kaplan article put it, and feel that they are not included in the mainstream life of the state or nation. Wasn't that obvious from the context of the post?

    I am not quite so stupid that I'd paint 100% of any group the same color. But I was stupid enough to assume that my readers would know the most important rule of generic statements: exceptions are implied and 100% applicability is not. I did not think it necessary to list all the exceptions starting from ex-President Abdul Kalam to someone's friend's father to the hardworking Muslim family that was a tenant in the house I grew up in.

    As for me being a bigot - isn't that the classic response of pseudoseculars when one says anything unflattering about a 'particular community'? What next? Call me a chaddi?

    BTW, 'particular community' is the phrase many Indian journalists use to refer to Muslims in the media. Apparently, even calling them Muslims would be bigotted in the eyes of these eminent seculars. If these worthies had done their job right in the first place, I wouldn't even have had to publish this blog entry. The best episodes of The Daily Show are the ones in which Jon Stewart kicks mainstream media's ass from coast to coast, calling them out on their substandard reporting. If there was a Daily Show in India, it would be the same story, if not worse. 'Nuff said about Indian journos and the quality of their reporting.

    Oops! There I go again, making generic statements about members of an entire profession, ignoring great reporters like someone's friend's ex-RSS dhal-mate. Apparently, I will never learn!


  9. Gosh, many things to talk about, but for one,
    apparently, Jay Leno is an "informed" media commentator now. Too bad we were all on the wrong side of the world more than half our lives.

  10. Don't bother,

    Where did the reference to Jay Leno of The Tonight Show come from all of a sudden? What is the context? Were you confused by my reference to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show in the previous comment? Don't worry. Everybody makes mistakes - some more than others.

    As for why Jon Stewart is the pimp-daddy of all American journalists and why said journalists piss in their diapers when The Daily Show puts them in the cross-hairs, consider the following:

    Exhibit 1 - couple of typical journalists invite Jon Stewart to CNN's Crossfire show. Jon is so devastatingly effective in calling out their hypocrisy, shortly after this episode, CNN completely cancels Crossfire.

    Exhibit 2 - one relentless week in March 2009, Jon destroyed the credibility of CNBC's financial 'journalists' and their shows. He pretty much ran their asses through a meat grinder and handed it back to them. A few days later, MSNBC's Jim Cramer came on The Daily Show, acted like a complete pussy, licked Jon's shoes and crawled away.

    Exhibit 3 - the height of the US Presidential election campaign last year, Jon Stewart invites a bunch of prominent journalists (from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, The Associated Press and other important news organizations) for breakfast, tells them why they are a bunch of dumb hypocrites who are not doing their jobs well and they all listen with rapt attention, literally fawning on them.

    That's Jon Stewart for you. Consider yourself educated this evening.

  11. RM,

    You keep using the word bigot. I don't think it means what you think it means. Bigots don't talk about inclusion. Bigots don't want everybody to come together and participate in the national life. Bigots want to keep certain people excluded. If my blog post above sounded like I want to exclude Muslims or anybody else form the national life, there's some serious comprehension issues.

    Not that this is anything new. Those who advocate the equal rights for all citizens as spelled out in the Uniform Civil Code have been similarly labelled bigots by Indian pseudosecularists for several decades now. Perhaps you are continuing in the same mindless tradition of incomprehension.


  12. Some of the recent comments are taking the focus away from the subject of this post - Mr Narendra Modi. I regret contributing to that. Readers who want to call me names or comment about my opinions are welcome to do so on other posts on this blog. Let's keep the focus of this post on Mr Modi. Check out his recent 3-part interview on Impressive vision and articulation. Even more impressive when he presents the facts and figures about Gujarat's development. Comes across as a sincere, no-nonsense politician.

    Narendra Modi Rediff Interview - Part 1

    Narendra Modi Rediff Interview - Part 2

    Narendra Modi Rediff Interview - Part 3LL

  13. I like your display of understanding and confidence in the article ,dude/dudette.

    I am a hardcore Modi supporter,but,all said and done, I was pleased that you didnt blindly supported your views for Modi. You put up some really strong points .

    After such a long time,i have read & enjoyed a good piece of article.
    Cheers mate.


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