Gujarat is NOT Equal to Modi
Gujarat is a state that has experienced more than its fair share of devastation. The genocidal carnage of 2002 decimated the city of Ahmedabad. Political and religious tensions continue to simmer. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, came to power in 2001. As the chief minister at the time of the carnage, it is believed by many that Narendra Modi sanctioned, if not designed, the violence. Nevertheless, Modi was reelected, not once, but twice. NB In 2001 Modi was not an elected Chief Minister – he was brought in as a replacement of Keshubhai Patel, who was held responsible for his party’s (BJP)humiliating defeat in the by-elections. He was elected in December 2002 and again in 2007.
There are however, myself included, a huge number of Gujaratis who vehemently oppose Modi’s divisive right wing politics, hate speech and violence. He has an uncanny ability to convert anything against him and his government as a statement against the people of Gujarat; in this way, he has successfully created a feeling in Gujarat that ‘if you talk against me, Modi, then you are talking against 5.5 Crore (55 million) Gujaratis’. That is his strategy. A lot of Gujaratis have fallen for this and therefore feel that when human rights activists criticize Modi’s right wing politics, they are also criticizing the people of Gujarat. In brief, Modi’s polarizing stance is saying ‘Modi = Gujarat; you accuse me, you accuse Gujarat.’
Interestingly, many human rights activists seem to be playing another politics of polarization, which is Gujarat is equal to Modi. There are several examples of how the rights activists have done this; one is the reaction to the current advertisement promoting various tourist destinations in Gujarat and featuring Amitabh Bachchan. This advertisement has generated multiple accusations on both sides. The human rights activists seem to feel that Bachchan has committed a major crime by appearing in an advertisement that promotes Gujarat and their point is, ‘doesn’t Bachchan know better than to promote Gujarat’. The right wing is obviously saying ‘what is wrong with Bachchan promoting Gujarat?’
Now, in spite of Bachchan’s opportunistic politics, he has, I think, not done anything wrong by appearing in an advertisement which promotes Gujarat’s tourist destinations (although the ad itself is a pathetic – it is nothing creative – it is simply shots of beautiful places with Bachchan in flowing kurtas). Regardless of whether or not Bachchan was paid to appear in the advertising campaign (the media suggests he participated for free) – the question is; why do activists feel that Bachchan did wrong by promoting Gujarat? Are they saying that the entirety of Gujarat should not be promoted or talked about in a fair manner; that everybody in Gujarat is a clone of Modi? Talking of clones, Modi, for the first time ever in the history of elections in this country distributed masks of his face in 2007 and many were happy to wear them. Going by the activists’ reactions to the Amitabh Bachan ad, it looks like this branding exercise was a success.
This controversy also brings to mind a phrase made popular by the media – ‘Modi’s Gujarat’ – another very problematic supposition. It is not without a reason that Modi has kept the reins of Tourism Ministry (along with Home, Mines, Industries, Energy, Ports, Petrochemicals, Information & Broadcasting, Narmada (dam) and Science & Technology) with him and not appointed independent Minister in his cabinet for these portfolios.
As I said earlier, Modi believes ‘me is equal to Gujarat’, in other words, ‘I am the only one that knows what is best for Gujarat’. And some activists are playing into that by saying the reverse ‘Gujarat is Modi’ which in fact, means the same. They are playing into each others power/polarization politics which is ridiculous and dangerous.
The question here is – why do activists forget that the promotion of Gujarat, just because Modi continues to be the Chief Minister, should not be the point of attack. Because I for one, the person who is writing this blog, am a Gujarati and there are millions of people like me who have not voted for Modi. We are not talking about hundreds, we are talking about millions of people who did not vote for Modi in both the elections. He does not represent me or millions of people like me and I would not do anything that would suggest he represents me, forget he is me.
So I think we human rights activists need to be extremely cautious of not continuing to play the politics of polarization. We should have attacked that ad for the merits of that it, which are few. Let us not reduce a whole state (and its people, history, struggles and aspirations) to a single man. Doing that is only contributing to the creation of a fascist.