//Aditi Phadnis: Priority Gujarat

Aditi Phadnis: Priority Gujarat

Aditi Phadnis / business-standard.com/ New Delhi June 17, 2006
Chief Minister Narendra Modi will use any trick in the book to get Gujarat its due.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi accompanied Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to Israel last week — possibly the only foreign country that will host him now, after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Modi managed to establish an impossible connection between India and Israel — that of water. “You are a desert and so are we. So we have the same sorts of problems, whether in the field of agriculture or food,” he said. The Israelis were ecstatic, the Gujarat government would have us believe.
To the critics of Narendra Modi — and there are lots and lots — Israel’s endorsement of Modi cannot come as a surprise. Israel a military industrial state, pogroms, anti-Muslim, Modi… (geddit? geddit?!). But for those of us who are uncomfortable with labels like pseudo-secular, communal, secularist, and so on, it is galling to admit that Modi represents a challenge. He needs to be deconstructed to be understood fully in context.
First, his administrative record is excellent. His critics in the Gujarat unit of the BJP may say that Gujarat has got investments only worth Rs 500 crore and that his claims that Rs 70,000 crore had been invested in the state since he came to power is rubbish. You could also say that phrases like economic freedom for which the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies ranked Gujarat among India’s best administered states, mean little for an entrepreneurial state like Gujarat and had nothing to do with Modi in any case.
But on some counts you have to give Modi credit. One, based on anecdotal evidence it would seem corruption has come down significantly in the state. The way an industrialist tells it, he paid a minister in the Gujarat government and Modi came to know of it. He asked if bribes had been paid. The industrialist first demurred and then, greed getting the better of him, admitted (possibly in the hope he would get his money back) that he’d paid Rs 10 lakh. Modi telephoned the minister, informed him that the industrialist was sitting with him and asked when the Rs 10 lakh was being deposited with the party. This was the clearest message to investors — if there was to be any corruption, Modi had to know about it.
Second, Modi is unequivocally, totally, passionately devoted to Gujarat. He will use any trick in the book to get Gujarat its due. During the recent Narmada Dam controversy, Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz who was appalled at the way rehabilitation was handled by Madhya Pradesh, tried to stall Gujarat from raising the height of the dam so that he could secure some kind of deal for the oustees.
Modi came to Delhi for secret talks with Soz where Soz virtually begged him to postpone the decision. “I will issue a public statement saying you are India’s greatest statesman,” Soz told Modi, possibly expecting that an endorsement from a Kashmiri Muslim would help Modi wash away some of the Godhra black.
The only statement I want, Modi told Soz, is from the people of Gujarat. He then returned to Ahmedabad, made public the fact that Delhi wanted him to cut a deal that he refused and challenged the Gujarat Congress to tell the state where it stood — with the UPA at the Centre or with Gujarat? MPs and political leaders from the state cutting across party lines rushed to Delhi to tell the PM not to punish Gujarat for it had committed no fault. It was Modi’s initiative all the way.
You could argue that this is politics and that it has nothing to do with administration, but there is a direct link between the two. In Gujarat, historically, Hindu mass organisations such as the RSS and VHP have had a base that has deepened after the decline of Ahmedabad’s textile industry. Having been a pracharak in the RSS, Modi is intimately acquainted with the politics, ambitions and goals of all three.
If there is such a strong, communally polarised populace in Gujarat, who do you reckon they would vote for — Gujarati VHP leader Pravin Togadia or Gujarat leader Narendra Modi?
Conscious that voters have a choice, Togadia and Modi have tried to steer clear of each other’s path. The Trishul movement launched by the VHP found resonance in Rajasthan, not in Gujarat (although recognising the dangers, the Rajasthan government had Togadia arrested and jailed).
Modi is more than familiar with the lifestyle of VHP leaders and how it is supported. There was a time during previous BJP regimes that the Gujarat government used to pay VHP workers’ salaries. No longer. Modi tells his colleagues clearly that if industry is to be brought to heel, he will do it — he doesn’t need the VHP’s help.
The VHP had to vent its frustration very publicly recently when after L K Advani’s remarks about Jinnah, it undertook a “shuddhi” of a road the BJP leader had inaugurated in Gujarat. Modi watched all these contortions quietly and from a distance. By contrast, when he supported anti-Aamir Khan protests, it was over an issue that had at its heart, the interests of Gujarat, not Hindutva. Those who know the leader were also surprised when of all the second-generation leaders in the BJP, he emerged as the only one to support Advani during the Jinnah episode. This was because for most of these leaders, the discrediting of Advani by the RSS represented an opportunity. Only Modi was farsighted enough to see it as a threat — of the RSS exerting more control over the BJP.
When a spokesman of the RSS was unwise enough to hint that behind the circulation of compromising CDs featuring RSS leader Sanjay Joshi, he saw the hand of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi called intermediaries between the BJP and the Sangh to say he was willing to hand over the whole matter to the CBI — but then that would reveal everything and everyone. The statement was quickly contradicted by Rajnath Singh.
Modi’s position is: Gujarat first, everything else later. He is the only mass leader the BJP has. Paradoxically, this owes to the tension between the branches of the Hindutva family. Logically, this will propel Modi into the presidentship of the BJP. What will happen then is anyone’s guess.