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THE MORAL AMBIVALENCE

By Sanjay Jha

Public relations is a legitimate promotional tool, more so in a chaotic democracy where cacophonous imprints seem to dominate dialogue; mind-share is at best transitory but the insane desperation for it is befuddling. In the maddening conundrum, even highly suspect products make a momentary killing. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat is a perfect manifestation of this brazen hard-sell, in the luminous hope of somehow surviving a thorough scrutiny of his questionable attributes behind the dazzling razzmatazz. Ambition is an individual’s prerogative, absurd obsession with it can be egregiously embarrassing. “ The 15000 Himalayan miracle by Modi ” is an apposite example.

Angry Modi

It perplexes me about how our national moral pendulum has swung so dramatically , or perhaps conveniently. In 1975, the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi had to face the wrath of a “total revolution” no less from a massive organized political coalition , amongst other things, because of the Allahabad High Court judgment for misuse of official machinery. Fair enough!! But what exactly was her personal misdemeanor ? None ! They were , as historian Ramachandra Guha puts it ( India After Gandhi) “ trifling offences” that can best be described as a secretarial oversight done by external parties ! Her election manager Yashpal Kapoor’s resignation from his official government services although tendered on time received a belated approbation, and the second “ electoral malpractice”   referred to the “ height of the rostrum”  . On this technicality, Mrs Gandhi faced incessant acerbic criticism. She rightfully move the Supreme Court which reversed the judgment.  The tragic irony is that after the historic 1971 war win, forget Raj Narain, no one stood a chance against her in her home bastion of Rae Bareli. But notwithstanding that, Mrs Gandhi followed the legal process and yet was severely castigated. Now let’s compare that with Narendra Modi’s political conduct, the poster-boy of the Sangh Parivaar and the media’s latest 24×7 stand-by escort service.

Modi was the Chief Minister when Gujarat conflagration subsumed 2000 human lives, leaving charred bodies and a wrecked humanity. He did nothing to stop it. He “looked away”, for similar studious disinterestedness, Hosni Mubarak , former President of Egypt was sentenced to life imprisonment— an abrogation of duty in the midst of a gory bloodbath makes a leader a willful accessory. Human lives was just collateral damage;  Modi actually has the audacity to wax eloquent on “ governance” after his contemptible,  deliberate indifference to a brutal pogrom within miles of his personal official residence. And yet, Sunday champagne brunch columnists, foreign university professors with suspicious twangs and sundry corporate czars think he is an administrative genius; that’s frankly laughable. Even his current bete noire LK Advani acknowledged that Modi inherited a high trajectory state but could not give it a vertical lift. Other states have registered extraordinary growth; their leaders possess none of the obsessive compulsive disorder called “ give me PR , please”.  Fake encounters ( the needle of suspicion points towards him too in latest revelations as he is named in the Ishrat Jahan charge-sheet ) , conviction of close aide Maya Kodnani for instigating murder , the arrest of Amit Shah, police officers in cahoots with political masters , trials shifted out of state for fear of intimidating witnesses ,  Mr Modi is in a laundry-list of legal and criminal alphabet soup. And yet, he is cunningly projected to be above it all. And unlike Mrs Gandhi, no one believes that Modi should have resigned on moral grounds or taken political hibernation till legally cleared ( he is a principal co-accused in the Zakia Jafri case in which hearings are on ) . Why?? Why the moral and ethical ambivalence?

The brazen , bizarre 15000 number Rambo rescue act at Uttarakhand is got to be the boilerplate case-study in PR snafu , which has completely demolished the assiduously manufactured image of Modi, palpably a victim of severe megalomania, buffered by a desperate party plagued with no grass-root leaders.  But even in a banana republic , a cold-hearted leader would not perhaps exploit a human tragedy for political profiteering. This was downright scandalous, like US Republican Mitt Romney’s contemptuous dismissal of “ the other 47%”. Understandably, Modi’s social media army has sounded awkwardly sheepish of late.

The real intellectual subterfuge is the adroit packaging of a nebulous concept sold as Modi’s “ Gujarat Model”; pray, can someone tell me what that is??? Honestly, no one knows. But if you look at it carefully, it is baloney, non-existent.  Modi repeatedly talks of “ less government and more governance”; while governance is a non-negotiable universal truism for all dispensations,  it is on “less government” that Modi tumbles downhill. This is standard credo of modern capitalism, but Modi has been clearly oblivious of global economic happenings. Even rabid practitioners of free-markets have welcomed the return of state; how else can you explain Occupy Wall Street, the popular uprising against rising global income inequalities worldwide?  Mere growth in developing markets is not enough, redistributive justice will need active state intervention given poverty challenges . In India, even more so . Consider malnutrition, farmer suicides, poverty ratios, woeful education levels, and other social and human development indicators in Gujarat, and you know that it needs more government, not less.  Incidentally, public-private partnerships have gathered acceleration under UPA, it is not Modi’s unique panacea. Corruption rages in Gujarat, but is skillfully averted through dexterous media handling , even as CAG reports , delayed Lok Ayukta and an arrested Minister make intermittent headlines. Modi has been  abjectly inadequate, his irrational lopsided economic logic is pro-rich and lacks political vision. Surprisingly, few political commentators have challenged this fragile thinking, but then  many are right-wing RSS ideologues. As for  Modi, he is flying 36000 feet above ground realities.

For Modi , his development model is wasteful symposiums, investor road-shows, subsidized cheap freebies to super-rich corporates and crony capitalism. His frequent sojourns to CII/FICCI etc is to hoodwink the middle-class by his close proximity to corporate talking heads; the fact is that he is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The ordinary middle-class tax-payer is making the fat sugar daddy fatter. It is by far the cleverest ruse because he wants to position himself as the messiah of the middle-class, his action are totally to the contrary. Some corporates with deep pockets like a man susceptible to their grand plans and it also coincides with Modi’s personal goals. A perfect symmetry.

The truth is that there is no Gujarat Model. There never was. At business forums what you get is another “ fake encounter”. Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote is germane when thinking of Modi’s so-called “ Gujarat model”; “ You can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time”.  Truth usually prevails, even if belatedly. And that by itself restores , reassures sanguine faith in our great democracy.

Sanjay Jha is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. The views are personal.

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