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Showing posts with label governance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label governance. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Namo hype tour

Roll up, roll up…for the Namo Hype Tour that is dying to take you away…from reality, from conciliation, from tolerance, from grace, from the Constitution. Roll up, the Namo Hype Tour will provide strong leadership, bring in investment, chant Hindu mantras, and oppress poor and middle class Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Never mind that, he will give you, if you are rich and powerful, preferably Hindu, electric power, water, roads and tax breaks.
Er…he has little support outside of Gujarat. Never mind, his global public relations agency has subdued even the television reporters who exposed his complicity in the post-Godhra riots in 2002; that was when he leashed his police as Hindu mobs fell upon Muslims and slaughtered thousands of men, women and children.
I have this on good faith from a friend in Ahmedabad, who is neutral about Modi. He affirmed a story I heard while in Gujarat about a bunch of Hindutva thugs, who chased a car because they had determined it was carrying beef. They seemed to have had intelligence…no, information, because intelligence is not part of the Hindutva worldview, only bigotry.  They chased this butcher but he managed to escape into Sarkhej, a Muslim neighborhood, where they dare not venture.
Policing in Gujarat is outsourced to Hindu and Muslim thugs.
To herd Muslims into ghettos is very much part of Modi’s agenda. I heard it time and  again from many people in Gujarat, all of them Hindus. Some lament it; others think it’s good. “We know where they are should any trouble arise,” a Modi supporter told me disingenuously.
That’s the Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts) part of Modi’s platform. That’s not gone very far because his share of seats in the assembly has declined steadily since 2002: from 126 seats then, to 117 in 2007 and 115 in 2012.
Modi is now projected as the governance icon with a “Gujarat model.” His ideal is not that different from a raft of Latin American, Caribbean and African dictators, who sold their countries to local and international business interests. His PR people have sought to create an image for Gujarat that is truly fantastic…a veritable haven of governance and development.
And so it was I arrived at Ahmedabad airport recently, fully expecting a Singapore-style experience. Aside of the jetways, a modern and much-needed convenience that beats taking a bus from the ATF-choked tarmac, the Ahmedabad airport has an air of moffusil desolation…at least for ordinary citizens.
Upon landing, the non-VIP must walk through a garbage-strewn pathway to the parking lot to get to the car and then drive on a standard Indian road that is nowhere near the Singapore experience. Or even Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But we must not talk about these UAE airports and roads because they are Muslim; else you risk being attacked by Hindu fundamentalist goons, who are Narendra Modi cultists.
So what is the ground reality in Gujarat? The simple answer is: unsustainable development. A drive from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar and back tells the story. There are scores of real estate developments, residential and commercial. It looks impressive, especially if you are a xenophobic NRI or a member of the World Economic Forum.
A closer look reveals most completed projects are empty and many others unfinished.  Dig as you may, statistics are hard to come by from the Modi government.
The word is the celebrated automobile venture that shot Modi into prominence, the Tata Nano project in Sanand, just outside Ahmedabad, is floundering because of poor sales and a misbegotten marketing strategy.
Propaganda plays a big role in the Modi campaign, initially for chief minister, now for the prime minister. His PR handlers specialize in hype as a strategy and often fudge issues with smoke-and-mirror tactics.
The manner in which his machine hyped the recent visit of a few fringe Republican members of the US Congress seemed to suggest Washington has absolved him of the charge of “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” that in 2005 led to a denial of a diplomatic visa and revocation of the B category visa he held.
Sources in the US State Department say the US government will follow the judgments of Indian courts. Despite the pressure of the Hindu lobby, the US administration stands firm in its assessment that there is enough evidence to show Modi was complicit in the 2002 riots. Many Western diplomats point to the life sentence handed out to one of Modi’s ministers, Maya Kodnani, as a damning indictment.
Modi propagandists proclaim the European Union reached out to him after a decade-long boycott. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sources in the EU say the boycott continues and its diplomats are under instructions to have no official contact with him.
In the end, my sojourn in Gujarat convinced me Modi’s “Gujarat model” is a mutant that is alien to the inherent decency, fairness and above all moderation of the people in the state.

This article appeared on Times of India website on April 16, 2013.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Let's Take India Back

Enough of the Moffusil Madness

Sabina was a dear friend. She lived a large and full life until she died in the terrorist attack at the Taj in Bombay. She may have survived if the authorities had responded promptly. But Indian politicians and bureaucracy are a dysfunctional stew of mediocrity and incompetence. She never had a chance. It took the commandos of the elite National Security Group ten hours to get to Bombay and the state police forces that can’t even deal with the thugs of the various fascist senas were completely unequal to the task. The three top officials of the state’s anti terrorist squad were gunned down in a single attack. We were left with the sorry spectacle of pot-bellied cops armed with World War Two vintage 303 rifles trying to deal with terrorists equipped with modern weapons.

Then there’s my friend Lawrence Ferrao, a Jesuit priest, who heads the Xavier Institute of Communications, located on a campus that houses our alma mater, St Xavier’s High School and St Xavier’s College. He wrote an account, “An Eyewitness to Terror,” in which he described seeing two terrorists run past the campus to a nearby hospital and their killing spree. “Within our college stone walls, surrounded by hours of bloody violence, someone surely was watching over us. That same someone is now prodding us to work harder…to bring about change; to make a difference in our beloved India,” he wrote. For sure it wasn’t the Maharashtra govern-ment and its corrupt and inept police forces!

I also heard from Schubert Vaz, a pianist who played in the lobby of the Oberoi. He was saved and he believes it is a miracle. “Bombay suffers from two kinds of terrorists: the terrorists who come from outside the country and our political terrorists within the country. Our problems started with the Rath Yatra (conducted by Lal Krishna Advani) and the destruction of Babri Masjid. We are Indians; it does not matter whether we are Hindus, Christians, Muslims or Sikhs,” he wrote. He was cowering inside the hotel’s computer backup room while Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, was outside, swaggering in front of television cameras, trying to score cheap political point at a time of national distress.

Meanwhile the thugs of the various senas, who terrorize the city with sporadic violence, were nowhere to be seen. They are back now, intimidating lawyers who seek to represent the sole captured terrorist. As such, they are militating against the finest traditions of our constitutional de-democracy. They are a reminder of the soft state with its weak-kneed politicians and venal bureaucrats, who run our seriously flawed system of gov-governance.

Even after three weeks, the political class is still unmindful of the distress of citizens. The Congress Party dithered over the replacement of the ineffectual Vilas Deshmukh and is now tying itself up in knots on how to deal with the “senior” leader from Maharashtra, A R Antulay, who suggested that the state’s top anti-terror official may have been killed by Hindu nationalists. For its part, the BJP fumbled on support of the bill creating the National Intelligence Agency until the redoubtable Arun Jaitley got into the act. The incorrigible Left shot itself in the foot again when its suave ideologue Sitaram Yechury foolishly said the Bombay events were a re-sult of the Indo-US nuclear deal

Meanwhile, unfocused citizen anger can easily be diverted. Indeed this is beginning to happen as the media and the privilegentsia are now pushing for a military conflict with Pakistan. That way questions about governance and calls for reform of the system are averted. Indeed, public anger needs to have a focus. To start with, let us ask that our heritage be liberated from the moffusil clutches of government. Politicians, bureaucrats and the media buy into populism while ignoring substantive issues of pol-icy. They have been quick to propose and accept, for example, the change of place names. Starting with Bombay, they have changed other names including: Victoria Terminus, Flora Fountain, Crawford Market, Queen’s Road and a hundred others. This supposedly is their notion of national-ism: tilting at colonial windmills.

Bombay has a history that predates the Shiv Sena, the BJP and even the Congress. When they changed the name of the city, its main railway sta-tion, its airport, its major roads and its many public institutions: the roads still remain pathetic; the airport is still a mess and the railway stations still chaotic. It’s time to challenge the chauvinists, who have terrorized Bombay.

Bombay’s slide started with the rise of moffusil populists in the 1950s. The Samayukta Maharashtra Samiti, precursor of the Shiv Sena, forced the division of the erstwhile Bombay state into Maharashtra and Gujarat. That‘s when the rule of thugs took over the city.

The terror attacks won’t change any political equations. No party cares about human lives. Don’t expect any serious efforts to reform governance. They would rather have a confrontation the failed state of Pakistan than change things internally. The only way to hit them, Congress, BJP, or Shiv Sena, is to strike at the roots of their populism. Let’s demand that the city be called Bombay again and the railway station and airports re-vert to their old, authentic names. It’s a seemingly small but symbolic first step that will upset their diversionary applecart that seems headed straight into a fourth war with Pakistan.

copyright rajiv desai december 2008