Thursday 22 May, 2014
Modi – A Magic Wand?
Hameed Abdul Karim
I was with an Indian HR guy a few days ago and quite naturally the topic of Narendra Modi’s massive victory crept into the conversation. This Indian Bhai was quite ecstatic in his praise for Modi. ‘Already the stock market has hit a new record high’ he gloated and I thought to myself ‘Right: the capitalists are already raking in the shekels while the poor are wondering whether they will get the toilets Modi promised them’. But courtesy prevented me from giving expression to my thoughts.
More than 60% of India’s teeming population doesn’t have toilets and quite happily they resort to the great outdoors to defecate. Sometimes they do it quite openly and if this ‘exercise’ can be turned into a tourist attraction, India will be full of tourists without bothering about seasons. Don’t get me wrong. This exercise is not quite all that bad. Why, it provides employment opportunities. Over a million Indians make a living by carrying human excrement on their heads for disposal at some dump or another according to the celebrated social activist Arundathi Roy.
So Modi’s promise of providing toilets for every home was not at all misplaced. It may have brought in many votes, but then you will have to wonder how the million excrement carriers (and that’s old stats) are going to make a living in Modi’s toileted India!
Pardon me, did Modi say ‘homes’?
Those of who were ‘zombified’ by the various News Channels may have seen pictures of houses (fleeting though they may have been) in Gujarat. What passes for ‘houses’ were actually hovels and huts made out of scraps of polythene, cardboard and corrugated sheets. These ‘houses’ were so tiny that only a visionary like Modi can see the space where a toilet could be built!
The talking heads on NDTV and other pro Modi corporate owned media invaded Indians’ minds in the run up to the election circus in the ‘largest democracy in the world’ which happens to be India’s brand name. They made them believe Modi was a doer and Gujarat was a happening place. They didn’t need proof. What the media said they believed. Even the mass killings of Muslims in Godhra were dismissed as an aberration. ‘See, since 2002 Muslims, have been spared, now doesn’t that speak volumes for Modi’s kindness and compassion, huh?’ was the underlying message delivered ever so delicately.
I am sorry to strike a sour note but much of Modi’s claims are fibs. Facts are hidden elsewhere. The United Nations’ Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index in 2013 indicated that under Modi’s rule 41% of Gujaratis were poor and out of this number 18.5% live in abject poverty. Statistics can be misleading, I know. This figure suggests that 59% of Gujaratis are rich. But hang on a while, the Gujarat population is a little over 60 million according to 2011 stats which would mean that those living in poverty amount to nearly 25 million. Not an ‘achievement’ you can brag about! Oh, but I am getting ahead of myself. There is another thought that we have to chew on for a while. There is a Modi way to reduce poverty levels unique only to him. It’s not by increasing wealth but by reducing the poverty index levels. Modi’s BJP government calculated that if any Gujarati earned more than IR 10.80 a day he or she becomes disqualified for state benefits. Voila! There you are that’s Modi’s way of making Gujarat a rich state. Now ponder a while, how many of those who earn more than 10.80 a day constitute the 59% of ‘rich’ Gujaratis that we were talking about? But that’s too complex a calculation for our ‘televisionised’ minds to fathom out so let’s leave it to the pundits on TV, shall we?
By the way, I am told a beggar could easily rake in a minimum of IR 50 a day. So according to Modi’s thinking he would be classified as filthy rich.
Despite fantastic claims by Modians, facts on the ground indicate that poverty had actually increased in Gujarat under Modi’s watch. The number of poor families in Gujarat’s villages, according to the state government’s own data, had shot up by 30%. In April 2000 over 2.3 million families were categorised as being below the poverty line. The number increased to over 3.4 million by June 2012. But you can be sure ‘Modians’ will tell you some Walt Disney story or another to make you squirm and follow it up with yet another highly exaggerated feel good Modi story.
Narendra Modi literally spent billions of rupees on his campaign. One report said that as much as 100 million bucks were busted only on nomination day alone. The many parades and pageants we saw on TV were so colourful that they captured the imagination of those of us who were glued to the idiot box. For a moment we forgot what the circus was all about. In the minds of the many who watched with fascination all that was dished out on TV, Modi was the new messiah. He jetted around states like nobody’s business. Yet no TV pundit ever asked where the moolah was coming from. Social activists like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal or their supporters were conspicuous by their absence in the media.
The name of one of Modi’s financiers that cropped up once or twice was that of Mr. Gautam Adani. But in an interview on NDTV he said he would not like to comment on political issues thereby skipping the question rather adroitly. The anchor did not pressurise Adani like you would have expected him to instead he went on to ask questions, and innocuous ones at that, on issues like the environmental damage that his project in Katch might cost. He thus subtly deflected the crucial issue of campaign funding and managed to give the viewer the impression that his media outlet had given ‘both sides of the story’.
There is speculation that other corporate bigwigs bankrolled Modi’s campaign but you didn’t hear their names on TV or in the print media. This is because it’s they who own the vast media networks and its affiliates in Mother India. And big money wanted Modi in the seat of power for ‘business purposes’. Approximately 40 % of India’s children are malnourished and if huge corporations are going to rule the roost, like they were doing under Congress, you can be sure the figure is only going to rise – like the stock market in the first flush of Modi’s victory.
Recently a friend in Sri Lanka had visited Gujarat because this was where he was born and lived as a youth. To him it was like going to the ‘green green grass of home, old oak tree’ and all. The lure was nostalgia and that too in an era where even nostalgia is not like what it used to be. But he returned a bit disappointed. He told us that the story of Gujarat booming under Modi is a fib and the media hype about it all is just that – media hype.
As we speak we still see jubilant dancing in the streets, papara bands fully employed for a few days celebrating BJP’s landslide victory. But you can bet it won’t be long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi finds out that there are limitations to imagination and reality is a factor you have to contend with never mind what the HR guys say. Modi is no magic wand. But that will take time to come out.