Is it an Evolved Modi 2.0, or an Evolving Tharoor 2.0?

Jun 6th, 2014 | By | Category: Articles

ITNM2OST2Dr. Shashi Tharoor, one of the few Congress candidates who managed to win the recently concluded general elections to Indian Parliament has written an article in which he describes how he is already perceiving a new version of the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. For a regular politician, it will take much more than a week, to evaluate a new Prime Minister and the new government. However, Dr. Tharoor not being the regular politician, but a lateral entrant to the power politics, has already chosen to go on record about the new Modi that he sees in the Prime Minister.

Congress party has already clarified that what Dr. Tharoor stated in his The World Post article is nothing but his personal opinion. However, Dr. Tharoor continues to be one of the official spokespersons of Congress Party and, therefore, his views expressed in a public forum are important for the general public and Congress workers. There is no doubt Congress workers are a demoralized lot, with the unprecedented setback in the elections, more so since this setback has catapulted their bete noire Narendra Modi, to power. There were many a Congress leader who found virtues in Narendra Modi even before the elections and chose to shift the camp. It is only natural to expect many more leaders to find new virtues in Modi, now that he has become Prime Minister with an absolute majority. For the already demoralized Congressmen who hardly get to hear anything from the top leadership of the Party as to the direction that the party is expected to follow, messages from articulate spokespersons like Tharoor become very important. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze Tharoor’s contentions in a little more detail.

Let us see what pointers indicate an evolution in Modi, to Tharoor. Firstly, Tharoor noted the success of Modi in overcoming the negative perception of “divisive, sectarian, authoritarian figure who had presided over the massacre of some 1200 innocents, mainly Muslim, as chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002” by “re-branding himself as an apostle of development and pointing to his successful record in Gujarat.” No doubt, Modi had used the plank of development throughout all his elections. However, when has Modi done anything to overcome the negative perception? If you look closely at various speeches and interviews during the campaign, Modi has only reinforced that perception, at least to satisfy his core constituency.

Tharoor also claims that Modi had relegated ‘Hindutva’ to the back burner, in his “brilliantly-organized, lavishly-funded election campaign.” In my opinion, reference to Article 370, Uniform Civil Code, discrimination between Hindu and other immigrants, and Ayodhya Ram Mandir were all part of the Hindutva agenda. I am sure it must not have escaped Tharoor’s attention when Modi made light of some very provocative speeches by his colleagues, or when he felicitated MLAs accused of instigating Muzaffarnagar riots, during the election campaign! Apart from these, what did Tharoor really expect Modi to say in an election campaign? That he will convert India into a Hindu Rashtra, within one week of his being elected as the Prime Minister?

Next, Tharoor cites the congratulatory tweet send by Modi to him, on his winning of the Thiruvananthapuram Loksabha constituency, as an example of Modi’s evolution. This “unexpected generosity” convinced Tharoor, “Modi and the BJP have eschewed the hubris and triumphalism they might have been assumed to have earned with their sweeping victory.” Congratulating “prominent adversaries” like Tharoor for a victory that is nothing but defeat, by the real and larger winner is not very surprising. After all, as the old saying goes, a man’s true character is revealed not in victory, but in defeat. I seriously doubt if Modi would have been as magnanimous, if he had lost the elections. I am reminded of the ugly accusations against Election Commission and its officials, before Modi was aware of the electoral bonanza that awaited him. It would also be interesting to see other ‘prominent adversaries’ whom Modi chose to congratulate!

Tharoor speaks about how Modi went out of his way “to avoid confrontational language, to omit issues and imagery that India’s religious minorities would find offensive, and to extend a hand of friendship to his critics.” Seriously? Will any Modi Bhakt accuse him of going soft on minorities or political opponents, during the campaign? I thought the choice of words against political opponents like Rahul, Sonia, and Manmohan Singh (some of the other “prominent adversaries”) will be still fresh in the minds of at least Congress workers!

When you want to support a person, it is possible to put a positive twist to anything that the person does. So, it is not surprising when Tharoor finds virtue in Modi rewarding BJP’s “brighter and younger professionals” with cabinet positions. To me, it looked like sidelining seniors who could challenge Modi’s leadership, and filling the Cabinet with yes-men who will never dare to challenge Modi’s dictates. I agree, both Tharoor and I may be prejudiced, but surprisingly in opposite directions. May be it has to do with the fact that I am not among the “brighter and younger professionals” like Tharoor, who could possibly be rewarded with cabinet positions.

Next point that disarmed Tharoor is Modi’s invitation to the eight neighboring state heads, to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. While I personally welcome such a gesture and its reciprocation by those neighbors, we cannot be oblivious of what necessitated such an unprecedented step. Modi had continuously attacked India’s neighbors, merely to score points against the previous government, which wanted to cultivate friendly relationship with them. Manmohan Singh government could not proceed even an inch forward, due to the very hostile reactions from BJP, Modi, and the Media is a fact that cannot be forgotten within a week of forming the new government. Those countries were obviously alarmed at the prospect of Modi coming to power, and it was only prudent for any government to make amends so that the added negativity and mistrust are overcome. However, I do not find it a great quality of statesmanship when a leader creates hurdles for the incumbent government in matters related to international relations, and then takes up the same steps when he assumes power. To me that indicates a very narrow and selfish mindset, which does not care anything about the larger national interest or consensus. Therefore, it would be prudent to wait some more time before judging Modi government and its diplomacy.

Dr. Thaoor, in his eagerness to praise Modi, had chosen to ignore many discordant notes that accompanied the government in its first week. The very day when results of an overwhelming majority was declared in favour of Modi (May 16th), the apex Court of the country had pronounced its judgment in the Akshardam terror attack case. This judgment of the Supreme Court had criticized and directly blamed the then Home Minister of Gujarat state who happens to be none other than Mr. Narendra Modi:

“The prosecution had failed to prove that the sanction was granted by the government either on the basis of an informed decision or on the basis of an independent analysis of fact or consultation with the Investigating Officer. This would go to show clear non-application of mind by the Home Minister in granting sanction. Therefore, the sanction is void on the ground of non- application of mind and is not a legal and valid sanction under Section 50 of POTA” (para 77. Emphasis by me).

Tharoor, in his eagerness to not end up being seen as churlish, might have ignored this damning indictment, even though that non application of mind by Mr. Modi had resulted in grave injustice (including a decade long life under the shadow of death penalty, for three innocent men from a religious minority) to some of the citizens of India. This case had projected Modi as a decisive leader, contributing to his ascension to the Prime Minister’s chair. So far, we have not heard anything from Modi 2.0 on this.

Another fact that escaped Tharoor was the silence of Mr. Modi when it was found that one of the “brighter and younger professionals” appointed by him to the Cabinet had, on two occasions, lied under oath! So much for the transparency of the new government! Neither did Tharoor find anything amiss when one of the accused in Muzaffarnagar riots was appointed a Minister, by the same Modi. There is also no mention about how the first legislative action by Modi government was passing an ordinance to do away, retrospectively, with a provision that was enacted to ensure independence of regulatory authorities. Such retrograde ordinance was passed merely to benefit a person selected by Modi, as his Principal Secretary, shows the disdain for the legislative process. The dictatorial tendencies are also visible in many instructions being issued to the bureaucracy (as in asking secretaries to deal directly with PMO, bypassing the concerned Ministers), but obviously not apparent to Tharoor. No need to mention the so many U-turns including increase in the price of diesel and increase in the level of FDI in key sectors, as Tharoor might justify those U-turns as part of the evolution under Modi 2.0.

Yes, I agree it would be churlish if the opposition members try and create obstacles to prevent Modi from taking any good initiatives, like BJP did throughout the period of previous Loksabha. However, it would foolish for the opposition MPs, to close their eyes to the alarming indications and start praising the Prime Minister on flimsy reasons like the ones cited by Tharoor. Already there is enough blind support for Modi government, from a very pliant mainstream media that is giving a positive spin to every news. Opposition MPs need not join this bandwagon. They should perform the duty of constructive criticism of the government, and that does not include showering praises on a Prime Minister who has not completed even a month, in his office. Behavior such as from Tharoor will only help in further demoralizing the party workers who had fought to the best of their abilities, to prevent Modi from coming to power.

As of now, contents of Mr. Tharoor’s article indicate a possible evolution of Tharoor into Tharoor 2.0, than any presence of an evolved Modi 2.0.

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Jayasankar is a Lawyer by education and is currently working as a Director in one of the Corporate Finance advisory companies, heading the Legal and Compliance functions. A product of Indian Air Force, he has done his LLB from the Panjab University, Chandigarh, Masters in Business Law from NLSIU, Bangalore and Masters in Business Administration (HR) from IGNOU. He is an avid reader and a keen observer of current affairs and politics. He blogs at Thoughts and tweets @jay_ambadi.

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