India’s most notoriously incendiary journalist, Arnab Goswami, was uncharacteristically timid in early May as he interviewed prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, perhaps foreshadowing the landslide victory that would bring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to effectively uncontested power.
Each line of questioning of Goswami’s was deftly retorted by Modi, who both challenged the validity of the former’s research and information and reduced any criticisms of his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat in succinct simplicity.
In stark contrast to his opposition candidate, Rahul Gandhi, from the Indian National Congress (INC) who spoke to Goswami in January, Modi articulates concrete changes that are necessary for the nation rather than Gandhi’s banal platitudes that were emblematic of his party’s embarrassing defeat in the national elections.
In the largest act of democracy, five hundred and fifty million voters elected Mr. Modi and the BJP to 282 seats out of the Indian Parliament’s 543, a simple majority in itself. His coalition members, regional parties that form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), furthered the total to 336 seats, an unprecedented number in recent political history. Prior to Modi, the largest majority was held by Rajiv Gandhi of the INC in 1984. Despite significant criticism from the west and domestic intellectuals, Modi’s single party majority promises a stable government that can combat the systemic corruption and inefficiency that has defined Indian politics in the last decade.
Modi is criticized primarily for the 2002 Gujarat riots, a three-day period of communal violence in Modi’s state of Gujarat. Mass killings against the minority Muslim population for three months (the death toll estimated at 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus) was allegedly tacitly approved by Modi, whose membership in the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) further corroborated the claim that the pogrom was pre-planned and well orchestrated. Modi, however, maintains that he did everything in his power to stop the violence.
Following years of controversy and public discontent, the Supreme Court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in March 2008 to re-investigate Modi and his associates’ role in the deaths. In March 2012, the SIT submitted its final report and stated that there was no evidence against Modi in the case, thereby issuing a clean chit to the minister. Despite the judgement of the Supreme Court, many remain critical of the decision. Martha Nussbaum acutely summarized academic views on the riots as “a form of ethnic cleansing, that in many ways… was premeditated, and… was carried out with the complicity of the state government and the officers of the law.”
The perpetrators, however, have been dealt the hand of justice. Maya Kodnani, for
instance, a former minister in Modi’s government, was convicted for participating in the massacre and was sentenced to death, later pardoned and settled for time in prison.
With that in mind, it becomes increasingly clear that Modi’s apparent nationalist agenda is grossly exaggerated. In fact, India’s Muslim voters appear to have respected the Court’s decision and put aside their fears to back Modi himself, whose economic successes in his home state are nothing short of astounding.
Data provided by the Election Commission showed that in constituencies where the Muslim population was more than 20 percent, Modi had won nearly half. Supporting Modi’s election campaign based on secularity and development, many like Syed Md. Khalid, a Muslim leader in the state of West Bengal, state that “this is not a vote on communal lines [but] a vote for development and for jobs.”
Mr. Modi and the BJP primarily won the support of the masses in their platform of economic development, one modeled by the quantifiable successes in Gujarat in the past decade. Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, overall poverty in the state fell by 15.2 percent; the state also boasts the lowest levels of poverty for Muslims in rural areas at 7.7 percent. Combined with decreases in female infanticide, increases in primary education levels and ample foreign trade and investment, Modi’s economic successes cannot be ignored.
Nissim Mannathukkaren, writing for The Hindu (a prominent Indian newspaper), contests that as a result of the apparent advancements in Gujarat, “development becomes hollowed and is reduced to merely economic growth.”
What most fail to understand is that Modi has not perfected his state and does not claim to have done so. His economic policies, though, have yielded quantifiable benefits markedly greater than those of other Indian states. At the end of the day, when presented with only two options, the INC and its decade of economic stagnation on the one hand and Modi and his irrefutable successes on the other, it is hard to see why Modi is not the better of the two choices, if not simply the better of the two evils.
Chalmers, John, and Aditya Kalra. “Even in Muslim Heartlands, Modi Racks up Gains.” Reuters. 16 May 2014. Web.
“India’s Strongman.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 24 May 2014. Web.
Mannathukkaren, Nissim. “The Banality of Evil.” The Hindu. 22 Mar. 2014. Web.
Nussbaum, Martha Craven. The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s
Future. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. Print.
Panagariya, Arvind. “Here’s Proof That Gujarat Has Flourished under Modi.” Tehelka. 29 Mar.