Narendra Modi, a man with a massacre on his hands, is not the reasonable choice for India
It looks likely that Modi will be India’s next prime minister. But his apologists can’t dismiss the facts about his rule as chief minister of Gujarat
The world’s biggest election began yesterday: one in which more than half a billion Indians are set to turn out to vote over the next six weeks. Polls suggest that the Congress party will take an unprecedented pummelling – which makes Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, frontrunner to be India‘s next prime minister.
Modi bears a responsibility for some of the worst religious violence ever seen in independent India – but there’s nothing like looking like a winner to attract apologists. And the standard apology for Modi comes in two parts. First, there is normally an acknowledgement that the chief minister of Gujarat bears some vague responsibility for the orgy of killing and rape that engulfed his state in 2002 – but, um, wasn’t that all a long time ago? And hasn’t he behaved himself since – or, as the FT put it yesterday, done his best to “downplay tensions” between Hindus and Muslims? This is followed by pointing to Gujarat’s rapid economic development and an appeal: shouldn’t the rest of India enjoy some Modinomics? Or, as Gurcharan Das, the former head of Procter & Gamble India, put it in a piece for the Times of India last weekend: “There will always be a trade-off in values at the ballot box and those who place secularism above demographic dividend are wrong and elitist.”
Given the enormity of the allegations against Modi, this is frankly pathetic. First, the Gujarat massacres have not safely been consigned to the past; whatever the claims of his supporters either in India or over here (such as the Labour MP Barry Gardiner who invited him to Britain last year), there has been no “clean chit” for Modi. Courts in India are still hearing allegations against him. And second, the much-talked about Gujarati model may have brought lots of money to the state, but it has ended up in relatively few hands, without yielding improvements in health, infant mortality, or even workers’ wages.
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