Narendra Modi is painted as a defender of the forward caste Hindus by those secularists who see themselves as the conscious keeper of the nation. They paint Modi as an enemy of the Muslims and indifferent towards the Dalits. This secularist breed is worth understanding, for it articulates public opinion, influences policy and sets norms of behaviour for politicians. You meet members of this breed on TV, at IIC seminars and in English language dailies. It thinks it anoints the country’s rulers. This secularist brood makes the mainstream public opinion by their near monopolistic control of the print on the visual media.
Yet it is worth analysing Modi’s recent as well as past public speeches and actual policies toward two communities: Muslims and Dalits.
He made a major public statement on the Muslims in an interview he gave to William Antolis on 16 March 2012, eight months before the state election of December 2012. Then there was no talk of Modi as a prime ministerial candidate of the NDA coalition and the general excitement that precedes a national election was wholly absent. There was no electoral compulsion on Modi to make a public reference to the Godhra event, and that too to a foreign institution. He told `Antolis, (Managing Director of the highly influential Washington-based Brookings Institute) that he felt “pain for the families who had suffered”. Then he told Anoles that “I have made mistakes, and my government has made mistakes.”
Antolis says that Modi himself raised the Godhra issue. There is an implicit apology for what happened at Godhra in February 2002. There are his numerous casual remarks and public gestures that come close to saying sorry, without saying so in those words. On his Sadbhavana missions he amply expressed his goodwill to the Muslims. He went on a Sadbhavana mission to Godhra also. Has the Chairperson of the Congress Party ever said sorry publicly for what the Youth Congress toughnecks did to Sikhs in l984?
But goodwill apart it is easy to express it and ignore it in practice—let us see the Modi government’s policy record on the issue of communal peace. There have been no cases of communal clashes since the tragic one of Godhra; that’s ten years of peace. Few states can rival Modi’s record on this score.
Muslims have prospered in Modi’s rule. A serious scholar at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, Ms. Madhu Purnima Kishwar, has collected data to show how well Muslims have done in Gujarat. She takes zakat, a tax a pious Moslem voluntarily pays for the welfare of the needy. Zakat is an indicator of the per capita group of a Muslims: suppose a Muslims pays a zakat of Rs. 2500/- in say the year 2011-12, then his gross income is Rs. 100,000/-. Next year if he pays a zakat of Rs. 5000/- his wealth is Rs. 2,00.000. Zakat has been continuously rising in Gujarat year after year. In fact, 50 per cent of the zakat of madarasas across the country comes from Gujarat. If Modi had persecuted and discriminated against the Muslims, their share of zakat should have fallen, Kishwar asks.
Her careful study based on solid ground work in Gujarat reveals a picture of the state that is just the opposite of what the government-fed left secularists present. Their picture of Gujarat is one of gloom and doom. Muslims live in mortal fear, and Christians, tribals and dalits survive at the sufferance of Modi. And who is Modi? a Hitler, say the secularists. Their comparision of Modi with Hitler betrays woeful ignorance of Nazism. One such secularist said once in a TV programme that Hitler like the Hindu nationalists of today was a believing and practicing Christian. The former was a militant atheist, say. 31 per cent of the Muslims voted for Modi in the last state assembly election. Presumably Modi’s terror apparatus, his equivalent of the Hitlar’s SS, compelled them to vote for him, the secularist would say. As for the Dalits, Modi sees them as the oppressed and the deprived people. They are a historical victim of the Hindu caste order, and he firmly believes that it is the Hindus who must atone for the injustices done to them.
He squarely addressed the problems of the Dalit community in a speech he gave at a mutt of Sree Narayana at Sivagiri, Kerala. It is a constituency of the backward OBCs and Dalits and Modi chose it to propound his views on the Dalits. He spoke there on April 24, the occasion of the saint, Sree Narayana golden jubilee Sree Narayana Dharma. There he said, `one caste, one religion and one God for men’.
He sees Sree Narayan in line of the important religious reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries : Swami Ramdas, Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati. He does not mention the most revolutionary of the reformers, Gandhi, though he has often spoken of him most reverentially. In placing this Kerala spiritual man, Sree Narayana Guru, on the lines of the religious reformers of the past, Modi is explicating his views on the present situation of the Dalits. All past religious reformers inveighed heavily on the caste inequality, and some like Dayanand Saraswati rejected caste altogether. They were all greatly imbued with the idea of equality. Modi sees this Kerala seer as an emancipator of the Dalits from the inequities of the caste system.
Modi’s views on the Muslims and the Dalits clearly fall in the liberal fold. Contrary to the image the secularists present of Modi as a die-hard Hindutva ideologue, Modi is a liberal.
But he is quite aware that both the Muslims and the Dalits are still not fully integrated in the mainstream Indian society. For various historical and sociological reasons, both communities came to be alienated from the mainstream Indian society, the hierarchically organised caste society. Modi wants to dissolve varnasharam by modernisation,
His strategy for their integration is modernisation. He thinks the future of the Dalits lies in their rapid economic advancement. In fact he would wholly back what the Dalits themselves call, `Dalit capitalism’. There is now a Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry based in Pune and there are several hundred Dalit millionaires. Long ago the most cerebral of the Dalit leaders, B.R, Ambedkar said that it is only modernisation that would wash away the curse of untouchability that afflicts the Dalits. The richer they get and the faster they rise in the social hierarchy, the better they will integrate themselves in the mainstream society, Modi would say. In his address at Sree Narayana Mutt he repeatedly said that India today is a youthful country where 65 per cent of the population is under the age of 35.
For the Muslims too, he sees their becoming entrepreneurs the only way to their integration in the rapidly modernising Indian society. His remark at the time when the quotas for the Muslims were established `two years ago, that economic and not religion should be the criterion for quotas is indicative of his larger thinking on this issue. Government out of the economy and more into governance is the prescription he is offering at various fora in the country since he decided to step on the national scene after his brilliant victory in December 2012 election in Gujarat. He is decidedly a moderniser and not a Hindutva reactionary.
By Bharat Wariavwalla