Saturday, 26 April 2014

What does Modi tweet about?

This blog recently commented that what makes Narendra Modi stand out amongst right-wing demagogues is a particular confluence of factors: his history, his governance style, and above all the mass movement which holds him aloft, with its vast membership and its portfolio of political, religious, vigilante, and terrorist activity. These, combined with some successful image management, have brought him to the brink of national power.

This post is an attempt to see what Modi tells us about himself via his tweets. In particular his twitter feed from Feb 17th to April 26th 2014 is examined. In a previous post we met (in a virtual sense) some Hindutva tweeters. They provided insight into how the movement builds momentum with constant talk of victimhood and violence. They entertained us with analyses of caste, and women's rights and the economy. So what about Modi? He tweets many times a day, but about what? Sadly this story is a bit more dull, but maybe there are some lessons to be drawn from it.

He tweets publicity for his events: "I really look forward to addressing 3D rallies. Technology enables me to connect with so many fellow Indians & exchange ideas with them." (How, Modi ji, do your fellow Indians communicate their ideas to your 3D avatar?) He congratulates himself via his fans: "Thank you Karnataka! Was truly touched by the warm welcome during the 2 rallies in Davangere & Mangalore", "Thank you Varanasi. No words will describe the affection you have showered today. Truly touched". Everywhere, he receives warmth and love.

He sends festival greetings - in this period we had greetings for: Holi, Ugadi, Gudi Padwa & Navreh, Cheti Chand, Utkal Diwas, Ram Navami, Mahavir Jayanti, Baisakhi, Rongali Bihu, Mesadi, Puthandu, Vishu, Pohela Baisakh, Easter, Navroz, Gangaur. He mentions local heroes as he traverses the country: "Apart from being a brave warrior, Shivaji Maharaj was a torchbearer of good governance. His economic & trade policies still inspire us", "Remembering the great freedom fighter & tall leader from Uttar Pradesh, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant on his Punya Tithi".

His attacks on his enemies are frequent, but very focussed. There are a lot of tweets about "Madam": e.g., "Recently Madam addressed the nation by purchasing prime time space on TV, but what she said was full of lies!"; and "Shahzada": e.g., "Shahzada came to Rajasthan without informing their CM & rode on a bike belonging to a history sheeter. Perhaps he was inspired by Dhoom 3"; and Congress more generally: "For Congress all 365 days are April Fools' Day." Interestingly, he doesn't tweet about AAP - presumably his media machine has decided the best strategy is to ignore them.

There's some clever stuff about "3 Ds", and "5 Ts", and arithmetic, and chemistry: "Demography, Democracy & Demand...the 3 Ds are India's strength! No other nation is blessed with all 3 the way we are", "NDA will focus on 5T formula (trade, tradition, talent, technology & tourism)...", "2014 polls are not about arithmetic but people's chemistry with BJP. In arithmetic 1+1 is 2 but such is our chemistry that 1 & 1 becomes 11!" There's general self-congratulation on development: "Giving example of our successful effort in Kutch, talked about the priority NDA attaches to fast-paced development of our desert regions". He responds to his critics on Gujarat's development dismissively: "From dropout rates, debt to malnutrition in Guj, Madam tried her best to mislead people with incorrect facts. Thankfully, people are wiser.

He mentions his acolytes fondly: Ramdev ji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, Rajnath ji, @AnupamPKher, @chetan_bhagat, Jaitley ji, Parkash Singh Badal ji, Ramvilas Paswan ji, Uddhav ji, Munde ji, Athawale ji, Shivraj Singh Chouhan ji, Pawan Kalyan... there is a long list of "chamchas and yes-men". He remembers those who have passed with affection: "We miss Balasaheb. Lets ensure a grand victory for Mahayuti & defeat Cong-NCP. This will make Balasaheb proud".

He makes a cautious approach to a potential ally: "Birthday greetings to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa ji. I pray for her long life & good health" (this was on Feb 24th). But he doesn't mention his controversial or faltering allies: Pravin Togadia gets no mention; Amit Shah gets no mention; Ramdas Kadam gets no mention; Giriraj Singh is mentioned once, but that was before he said that those who want to stop Modi will have to go to Pakistan; Sushma Swaraj gets no mention; Advani gets one hurtfully neutral mention: "Will join Advani ji at Karyakarta Sammelan in Gandhinagar. Later, will accompany Advani ji to file his nomination papers." Following the recent epidemic of Hindutva hate speech the mainstream media, seemingly desperate to see Modi as a reformed character, picked up on two tweets: "I disapprove any such irresponsible statement & appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so", "Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP's well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development & good governance." Modi mentions no names or particular statements he finds objectionable. A very faint "tut" indeed.

He only hints at Hindutva. "My coming to Varanasi is like a child going to his Mother. I have come to this divine land on the call of Ganga Mata", "Digitisation of our ancient scriptures can go a long way in preserving & further popularising Ayurveda, particularly among our youth", "There is no place for infiltrators from Bangladesh who have come to further the votebank politics agenda of others. They should be sent back". Religion is almost never explicitly mentioned though Baba Ramdev gets warm mentions in 6 tweets and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gets a couple. Hindus come up only once: "Not Assam alone, but all states must accommodate Hindus coming from Bangladesh & offer them a life with dignity."

He avoids caste. Dalits are mentioned twice but only to attack Congress: "A Dalit won Vadodara Cong Primary but was asked to withdraw overnight. Shows Cong's lack of respect even for systems they themselves created"; and "Congress' Primaries were described as 'historic' but what happened in Vadodara signalled its pre-mature end & anti-Dalit nature of Congress."

There's a bit of fear mongering: "Kerala has become a nursery of terrorism", "Narcotics & lot of fake currency is entering through our borders but Centre is watching silently", "Congress is like a watermelon- green outside but red from within." (Communist within? Really?)

The tweets are clearly heavily managed by Modi's media machine - it is hard to pick out the man behind the facade. Yet subtly he reminds his supporters of who he is via his choice of icons - Bal Thackeray, Ramdev ji - his choice of cultural references - Ganga mata, Ayurveda and scriptures - and coded messages about "Bangladeshi infiltrators", a "nursery of terrorism", "red within"...

But what matters above all is what is absent. There is no mention of Gujarat 2002, or snoopgate, or fake encounters, or gas prices, or land give-aways, or human development indices, or big business, or marital status, or campaign funding, or style of governance. The silence is deafening.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Narendra Modi as prime minister of India: what will it mean?

Comparisons have been drawn in national and international media between Narendra Modi and Berlusconi, Putin, Abe, and a long list of other right-wing demagogues. The need for such comparisons is understandable (especially in articles in the foreign media trying to explain the significance of the Indian elections to a non-Indian audience). Often these comparisons are accompanied by comforting, but uncertain, noises to the effect that Indian democracy is strong, that even if he comes to power Modi will be "reined in" by the BJP's allies, that Modi has moderated his earlier discourse as he has come closer to national power, etc. You sense some journalists trying to convince themselves as much as anyone else. The reality is that right now we don't know what a Modi victory will mean. But Modi lies at a certain intersection which makes him fairly unique even among ultra-right demagogues.

Ethnic/religious nationalism. He is an avowed ethnic and religious nationalist. Moreover he is embedded in a "family" of chauvinist organisations, the Sangh Parivar, which is unique in itself - no country in the world boasts a comparable network of ethnic supremacist organisations. Their sheer number, the way they manage to reach different audiences from school children to the devout to urban youth, the way they converge when necessary, the way they include paramilitary and terrorist activities as a natural component of their "portfolio" - all are quite amazing. Occasionally a foot-soldier gets sacrificed to the law, but the top brass appear mostly to speak and act with impunity. They run tens of thousands of schools, have tens of thousands of "cells" (apparently 2000 new RSS shakhas have sprung up in the last three months), control tens of thousands of religious bodies, have their people in the judiciary, the police, the civil service, the military, and so forth... Having access to a pre-prepared network of organisations of this kind would make Modi the envy of many would-be dictators.

Backing of a mass movement. Modi has a huge mass movement behind him which is not necessarily affiliated directly to the BJP, or even to the Sangh Parivar. He is a charismatic leader who has shown he can control his own party by successfully sidelining elders of the BJP with little protest from the party or beyond. Many supporters who claim they are not ordinarily BJP voters support him in terms which are millenarian. A typical sentiment on social media for some not-so-light entertainment: "O son of Bhaarat,arise,awake and lead us till we achieve a India of our dreams..tis not merely d B'day of @narendramodi,tis dawn of New Era."

Political violence as a strategy. Modi is, of course, deeply implicated in the Gujarat violence of 2002. His role in encouraging this violence is well documented and commonly acknowledged even among his supporters - despite extensive work at a whitewash, which has involved subverting the (ongoing) legal process, and an intensive PR campaign. What Modi has demonstrated time and again, both directly and through his lieutenants such as Amit Shah, is that using political violence to gather votes is central to his political strategy. This is not new of course in India: several parties indulge in political violence on a large scale; but the BJP still stands among a very few whose existence in the political sphere can be traced almost entirely to violence. Never has violence as a strategy been more openly endorsed than at the present moment.

Authoritarianism and oratory. Modi is acknoweldged to be deeply authoritarian at a personal level. He never apologises, even when those he has promoted and guided such as Maya Kodnani have been convicted of serious crimes. He is open in his contempt for the judiciary, for minority rights, and for the democratic process. He speaks with contempt about liberals, about minority communities, and about people with disabilities. Again, this is part of his appeal - he is the man who speaks his mind, is not afraid to say it like it is, can by-pass regulation, cut red-tape and would retaliate appropriately to foreign aggression. His oratory is ultra-nationalist and populist. He presses the correct buttons in a skillful way: "strength", "pride", "honour", "nation" and victimhood. His political opponents are weak-kneed, dithering and indecisive, and would let India's enemies take control. After terrorist attacks in Mumbai, he suggested that as a strong leader he would have started a war with Pakistan, and this got him applause from the audience. (As we know, the BJP has indicated that if they come to power, they will review India's 'no first use' nuclear policy, and this is unlikely to meet much resistance from their allies.)

The support of big business. Modi has the support of a large section of big business who finance and back him quite openly. This has come as something of a shock even to the liberal intelligentsia, as big business has tended to hedge its bets, and has previously preferred a slightly lower profile when it comes to influencing the political process. Something is different this time round, leading naturally to comparisons with Nazi Germany where "helping to undermine democracy at important junctures produced high returns" for big business.

Middle class support. Modi has the support of a significant section of the "educated" middle class. This has been achieved via extensive and successful manipulation of the media, and also by riding on the economically rightist (anti-welfare, anti-tax, pro-business) sentiments which are widespread in this class. The myth of development in Gujarat has been very skillfully constructed, and he has managed to present himself as an economic moderniser able to bring growth and development to the country.

This list could go on, but in brief Modi is not just another right-wing demagogue. He combines support from powerful business interests and large sections of the middle class, ultra-nationalism, ethnic supremacism, the backing of a huge and diverse network of Sangh Parivar organisations, skill as an orator and great confidence. He has got away with Gujarat 2002, and successfully recreated himself as "Vikas Purush". Whether comparisons with German Nazism and Italian fascism are justified remains to be seen, but even a weak Modi-led coalition would dramatically accelerate the erosion of the fabric of democracy. Sangh Parivar members and sympathisers will be given positions of power in the judiciary, the civil service, the military, the police. We can expect an increase in the levels of political and communal violence. Liberal and secular voices in the media will face huge pressure to moderate their words, and those speaking out will do so at significant personal risk. Minority communities will be increasingly marginalised and fearful, with some being tempted to turn to their own most right-wing elements for protection.

What is still unknown is whether Modi has really managed to gain sufficient support amongst the rural and urban poor - the vast majority of India - to make his dreams come true. This question will be answered on May 16th.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Gujarat model of development - a summary.

There have recently been several good articles discussing and critiquing the "Gujarat model of development", which has become a key battleground in this election. The discussion centres around theoretical and empirical questions, relies on analysis of data provided by government and NGO sources, and can appear quite complex. However the main conclusions seem to be quite simple. Below is an attempt to summarise these conclusions as briefly and accurately as possible. The original articles are all listed below.

1) Gujarat performs well by some economic indicators. However, almost always, it performed well by these indicators for decades before the BJP came to power. Infrastructure, for example, was already good, and Gross State Product (GSP) was already high. In general, the performance under BJP rule followed the trends of earlier performance. Projection based on earlier data is not an exact science and so there is room to present these findings in different ways; but the overwhelming conclusion seems to be that where Gujarat performs well, this continues earlier trends, and Gujarat's trajectory is comparable to, or weaker than, that of other states such as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

2) Even by some traditional indicators of economic performance, Gujarat's performance is often dwarfed by other Indian states. Also, Gujarat's increasing Gross State Product (GSP) has been accompanied by spiralling per capita debt. This is connected with the fact that public money and other public resources - notably land - have often been generously offered as "sweeteners" to encourage investment in the state.

3) On the basis of human development indicators, such as levels of malnutrition, sex ratio, and infant mortality, Gujarat's performance is often mediocre or poor. This seems consistent with the fact that Gujarat's development has been geared towards big business and encouraging investment. Other casualties of this development strategy have been labour rights and the environment, with Gujarat topping the list for some of the most polluted regions in the country. Land allocation to industry has displaced many farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, and agricultural workers, with those displaced often belonging to marginalised groups such as Dalits and Adivasis.

4) Although the Gujarat model has seen mixed success at best, it attracts some strong support. The support appears to be driven by:
  • a well-constructed propaganda drive by Modi's powerful and vast PR machine, whose operation and financing is far from transparent. This machine has worked by (i) selecting some figures and ignoring others; (ii) choosing carefully how to present figures, for example without providing contextual information on other similar states, or historical performance pre-dating BJP rule; (iii) sometimes fiddling the data directly, for example presenting pledges of investment as actual investment (it has taken RTI queries to get some of the true data).
  • the vocal support of sections of the wealthy and business communities which have been served well by the Gujarat approach, benefitting directly from the transfer of public wealth to private hands; 
  • sections of the new middle-class in Gujarat with an aggressively neoliberal perspective, who see GSP growth as the only indicator of development which matters, even if it is accompanied by high levels of inequality, poverty and malnutrition. 

A Look In The Mirror, Maitreesh Ghatak and Sanchari Roy, Outlook, March 31, 2014.
The Gujarat Model of Development: What would it do to the Indian Economy?, Rohini Hensman, EPW, March 15, 2014.
Decoding Gujarat, parts 1 and 2, Hemantkumar Shah, The Statesman, April 4, 2014.
‘Development’ and the Indian General Elections, Subir Sinha, SOAS blogs, April 9, 2014.
BJP’s money-festo - Modi-festo's Understanding of Environment, Rohit Prajapati, SACW, 8 April.
Gujarat's development pre-dates Modi considerably, Reetika Khera, NDTV blogs, April 8, 2014.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

India 2014 - tactical voting to save democracy (two short videos)

With voting beginning tomorrow, a key question is: how do we minimise the strength of a Modi-led BJP/NDA government or even stop it? There are many constituencies where the majority will vote against fascism, but an NDA candidate will win. The answer is quite simple: if you agree that a Modi-led government will be a serious blow for democracy, and if preserving democracy is the first priority, then it may sometimes be necessary to vote for the strongest non-NDA candidate, despite deep ideological differences and differences of principle. At the very least, Congress supporters may need to vote for AAP and vice versa depending on the local dynamics in their constituency. To put it bluntly, this is not the time for party loyalty. This line will be deeply unpopular with some people who oppose Modi... But it has to be said.