Monday, December 10, 2007



Since I got to India a week ago, it has been impossible to ignore that a bitterly contested election in Gujarat state is coming to a head. Voting starts today and will be completed and counted by Dec. 23. The main issue seems to be the controversial incumbent chief minister, Narendra Modi, of the far-right nationalistic party BJP.

The BJP is a classic right-wing political party, representing the status quo interests of the exploitative/owner class. In a thriving democracy like India, how does a party concerned exclusively with the welfare and prerogatives of .001 percent of the population, and espousing one prepackaged conservative nostrum after another, even hope to win votes? The BJP never needed Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove or the Southern Strategy to succumb to the siren song of the Dark Side's exploitation of social tensions, racism, xenophobia, religionist hatreds and-- it being, even here, a George Bush world-- fear of "Islamofascist terrorism."

Except here in India, that kind of talk can-- and has-- turned very, very deadly. In Gujarat over a thousand Muslims-- men, women and children-- have been brutally murdered, their homes and businesses burned and looted, just five years ago as a step on the ladder to Modi-power. This is called BJP-inspired Hindutva, sometimes called Moditva, in honor of his George Wallace-like encouragement for the mayhem.

Just last week Chief Minister Modi bragged about having suspected Muslim "terrorists" dealt with extra-judicially-- by having them killed. Sobrabuddin Sheik's wife was also hunted down and murdered after Modi disposed of the husband.

Last week, a day after Modi's outrageous justification of the murder of Sobrabuddin, I spent an afternoon at the home, now a revered national shrine, where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. He spent his last years, days and hours trying to tamp down communal violence between Muslims and Hindus as the British were forced, primarily through his own nonviolent leadership, to give up their colonial crown jewel. He watched in profound sadness as his beloved India was split apart. Meditating at the spot where the greatest man of peace the contemporary world has had was gunned down by a Hindu religionist fanatic, it was difficult not to realize that symbolically Narendra Modi is assassinating Mahatma Gandhi all over again as he spits on the universal ideals he promoted and on his life's work.

Even after the formation of Pakistan, India-- whose founding fathers were secular and enthusiastically embraced separation of church and state-- was left with the third biggest Muslim population of any country in the world. I'm guessing Modi is at least as interested in his party's vision of a "free market" development model as he is in stoking the flames of always tragic-- if politically profitable-- communal violence. But in a nation with as many desperately poor people as India, the political right can only win by playing divisive politics.

Gujarat is one of the poorest and most backward states in India-- think Mississippi-- in a country where over 2 million children under the age of five died in 2006 and where seven hundred million (700,000,000) people do not have access to sanitation. Muslims are Modi's and the BJP's scapegoats of choice; there are too few Jews left in India.

Let me get back to the social problems the BJP exploits to win elections in a moment and move to the heart of the party's agenda: unbridled vulture capitalism. All of India's robber barons back Modi. It is claimed he has created a development-friendly climate that vulture capitalists just eat up. And he has delivered electricity-- for those rich enough to afford it. Most cannot. "Development" for Modi and his party means Raj-level opportunities for the already rich and powerful and a slim-- very slim-- chance that there might someday be some trickle down for everyone else. Not much has trickled down so far.

Modi seemed intent to try fighting for reelection based on his development record, but most Gujaratis weren't buying it, because they aren't feeling it or seeing it. So like any right-winger worth his political salt, he turned to divisiveness and mud-slinging. (Headlines today were all about a Congress Party politician in Gujarat caught on tape in a compromising position with a woman he isn't married to. CDs were provided to all the media outlets in the state and in Delhi.)

But playing the religionist card is Modi's time-tested specialty. "The Congress [Party] questioned Lord Ram's existence in an affidavit submitted in court," he brayed to a small crowd of tribal Gujaratis yesterday. But if Modi sounds even more like a reckless religionist crackpot than Mike Huckabee or Bishop Willard Romney, he's as slick a politico as either of them. After making his emotional appeal to defend the veracity of Lord Ram's existence, he didn't hesitate to remind the audience to get their butts to the polls. "Please don't think I will become chief minister if you set out on a padayatra to Ambaji temple," unconsciously showing his own hypocrisy and contempt for religion. "I will not come to power if you recite my name 108 times a day. It will only happen if you come out of your homes to cast your votes for the GOP BJP."

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At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of disagreeing points here, Howie.

1. Gujarat is not a backward state. It's 2nd most industrialized state, after Maharashtra (neighbor). Plus, I hope you've heard of 'Potels', i.e, Motels in US owned by Patels. THey are from Gurajat. They own roughly 50% of all motels along freeways. They are furiously industrious people who happen to be from Gurajat.

2. There are, may be, 100 jews left in Gujarat. Not sure what they have anything to do with your post.

That said, as a member of BJP, I am extremely unhappy about the way folks like Modi have hijacked the party. Muslims form largest voting block in the country, and as a result, they have had complete control over domestic policy matters. Before anyone blames Modi, its important that he / she understand the incident in Godhra.


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