There I go again!
I had resolved to never write about Indian politics, but here I am.
I had pledged I would not watch Indian news channels again but I broke that pledge – today!
But, boy, was I glad I did. I stayed awake almost all night yesterday waiting for the Indian morning to dawn so election results could start pouring in.
After all, it was what I have called often, expected to be the start of the Indian version of the Arab Spring, with the new entrant Aaam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) threatening to run riot.
Elections were held in four states but I don’t think anyone looked at any other except Delhi where the Aap was contesting.
There were many who felt the fledgeling group would not be able to muster more than five to six seats, yet they have managed 28.
I, for one, had always maintained they would win “at least 20” and they exceeded my expectations.
The sad part is that the two major parties – the Congress and the BJP – tried every trick in the book, and out of it – to malign the “new entrant” as they called it, but failed.
They have now, reluctantly, admitted they goofed and never understood the public mood.
Anyway, it’s done and dusted now, almost. But, no, the war has just begun.
It’s Battle 2014 (India general elections) that will be the real test in six months from now.
That will be quite another story.
Here, though, at least now I can say, “What a performance, Arvindjee.”
The debate rages on in Indian politics. Modi or not, that is the question. And this question has no clear answer.
Unfortunately, the “frontrunner” in elections to Parliament around eight months away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has no clear “winner” in its ranks. The choice, unfortunately, has fallen on Modi, who is seen as a rallying point for all sections.
The truth, however, is that he has an image of alleged divisiveness that continues to haunt him and that is, perhaps, what BJP old-timers are looking at when they oppose his “nomination” as the Prime Ministerial candidate.
That is actually true because a very large section of the Indian voter will be “isolated” at Modi’s elevation if it happens. The whole country threatens to divide itself on religious lines and that the nation can ill afford.
The flip side is that in the absence of anyone else, the BJP is forced to “elevate” Modi, but what they do not realise (perhaps they do) that by this elevation, they will play into the hands of the ruling Congress which is, perhaps, waiting for only this chance to start playing its cards.
The BJP also has few allies as of now (they do not add up to anything anyway), and no one is expected to come. On the other hand, the Congress has a bunch of them, even though they are opportunists, but will be good enough to rustle up the numbers when it matters.
The bottom line is clear. If the BJP names Modi, they play into Congress’ hands; if they do not, they are “leaderless” and cannot hope to get anywhere.
The Congress is no better. There is already talk of the inexperienced, reckless and childish Rahul Gandhi being the Prime Minister if they win. That will be a pity.
That is the story of India. There is no clear leader. There is nothing to look forward to. The country may face yet another period of uncertainty in the months and years to come.
The choice is between an alleged fanatic and a confirmed fool. And that is not a happy situation!
In India, Narendra Modi is the talk of the “town” these days – be it for all the right – or wrong reasons. He may well end up being India’s new Prime Minister less than a year down the road.
I would, however, like to share a few thoughts, my personal experiences, on how deep-rooted a divide is between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat State, where NaMo, as he called now, comes from.
For two years, starting immediately after the Babri Mosque demolition and later riots in Gujarat, I was workingin Ahmedabad, the state capital.
I landed at Kalupur station on New Year’s Day 1993, just about three weeks after the mosque came down, straight into a curfew and walked to the office escorted by policemen and Hindu vigilantes who roamed the streets looking for “prey.”
A day later, I saw a stabbing where a young Muslim boy attacked a Hindu gentleman and ran into the lanes and by lanes of Teen Darwaza, police in hot pursuit.
I thought I had seen enough but a few days later. there was this incident where a respected Muslim elder was brutally stabbed, burnt and his burning body thrown out of his high-rise apartment in a posh Ahmedabad neighbourhood.
Things soon settled down and life became normal but as I worked on the News team, I increasingly became aware I was the only ‘neutral’ soul in the entire office, possibly the journalist fraternity – and could move around freely all over the city, sometimes with the family on a two-wheeler – and not be scared.
No Hindu dared go into the Muslim-dominated areas and no Muslim ventured into the Hindu areas. The motto was, stay away if possible! Such was the polarisation and it baffled me.
Two incidents in my office also proved beyond doubt there are daggers drawn between the two sides.
Once, I was accused by Hindu staff of having helped a “mian” – used in a derogatory sense for a Muslim – when I put in a word on his behalf to a police officer friend and at another time, a Muslim colleague accused me of being soft on a Hindu who had sought, and received, my help in another matter.
As far as I was concerned, I had only helped colleagues and taken some advantage of my position as a crime reporter who had friends in the city’s police force. But these incidents rattled me.
I became increasingly skeptical of both sides, a feeling that was re-inforced when the annual rath yatra took place.
The two camps were sure the other would start trouble and trigger disturbances but when nothing happened, the peace was attributed to the “strict steps” the government had taken.
But, yes, as the procession passed through Muslim areas, the participants refused water and snacks from some who had set up stalls to serve the devout.
Some among the processionists also appropriately changed their chants as they went through to give a ‘message’ to the minority community.
All this was devastating and deeply distressing.
Now, more than 20 years later, I have heard, things are better and there are now no regular riots.
But we have had a Godhra and a Gulbarg Society and an Ishrat Jahan as well as some smaller skirmishes since.
But, now, “Hindu Nationalist” Modi is going around the country espousing his merits as a leader and an administrator.
Has he changed? Has Gujarat changed? Will the country change?
Is India ready for a Prime Minister from a state that is so heavily polarised? Have the wounds healed? Have those times been forgotten? What if there are more Godhra’s? More Ishrats? And what will happen when every other person is looking over his or her shoulder all the time?
The Indian voter has to look at all that – and more – before he takes a decision on who is fit to rule.
The tragedy, however, is the Congress has done so much of so little in the last decade, what choice are we left with?
God, not Modi, Manmohan or Sonia, can help us.