Narendra Modi clean, progressive but equally divisive, polarising: The Economist

Leading English news daily `The Economist` has refused to back Narendra Modi as the future prime minister of India, saying that he thrives on communal hatred and promotes sectarian division.

Updated: Apr 04, 2014, 13:39 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: In what is likely to evoke sharp reactions from the main opposition party BJP and further ignite the political atmosphere just days ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, a leading international weekly has refused to back Narendra Modi as the future prime minister of India, saying that he thrives on communal hatred and promotes sectarian division.

In its strongly worded and highly explosive editorial titled “Can anyone stop Narendra Modi” published on Friday, The Economist has made a blistering attack on BJP`s prime ministerial candidate and even recommended that a new Congress government led by Rahul Gandhi would still be a "less disturbing" alternative for India.

Though acknowledging Modi`s highly successful track record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the brighter prospects of his accession to the prime minister`s chair, the editorial raises serious questions on his conduct during the 2002 communal riots in his state.

The article talks about Modi`s deep association with the RSS - the ideological mentor of the BJP and an organisation which champions the causes of majority Hindus - and claims that the man in question has no regret for the violence that claimed hundreds of innocent lives, mostly Muslims, in 2002, which was an offshoot of the brutal killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train by Muslims radicals.

Stating reasons why The Economist refuses to back Modi, the editorial says: The reason begins with a Hindu rampage against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, in which at least 1,000 people were slaughtered. The orgy of murder and rape in Ahmedabad and the surrounding towns and villages was revenge for the killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims on a train by Muslims.

Mr Modi had helped organise a march on the holy site at Ayodhya in 1990 which, two years later, led to the deaths of 2,000 in Hindu-Muslim clashes. A lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group in whose cause he has vowed lifelong celibacy, he made speeches early in his career that shamelessly whipped up Hindus against Muslims. In 2002 Mr Modi was chief minister and he was accused of allowing or even abetting the pogrom.
Mr Modi’s defenders, and there are many, especially among the business elite, point to two things. First, repeated investigations—including by the admirably independent Supreme Court—have found nothing to charge their man with. And second, they say, Mr Modi has changed. He has worked tirelessly to attract investment and to boost business for the benefit of Hindus and Muslims alike. Think, they say, of the huge gains to poor Muslims across India of a well-run economy.

On both counts, that is too generous. One reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed. And if the facts in 2002 are murky, so are Mr Modi’s views now. He could put the pogroms behind him by explaining what happened and apologising. Yet he refuses to answer questions about them. In a rare comment last year he said he regretted Muslims’ suffering as he would that of a puppy run over by a car. Amid the uproar, he said he meant only that Hindus care about all life. Muslims—and chauvinist Hindus—heard a different message. Unlike other BJP leaders, Mr Modi has refused to wear a Muslim skullcap and failed to condemn riots in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 when most of the victims were Muslim.

The editorial even questions the clean chit given to Modi by the Supreme Court saying that the reason as to why the inquiries were inconclusive was because a lot of the evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed.
The editorial, while acknowledging that Modi is `the overwhelming favourite` for the prime minister`s post as India readies for general elections, also states that corruption and big time scams have severely dented the ruling Congress` public image, which has also strengthened BJP`s prospects this time.

The article cautions that despite Modi`s `clean image` and humble beginnings as a tea-seller, the sectarian riots under him must not be ignored. While the article comes down heavily on BJP`s PM nominee, it also makes equally scathing remarks on Rahul Gandhi by saying that though the prospect of a government led by him will not be very inspiring but for the larger interest of the nation, it would still be a better option.

If Mr Modi were to explain his role in the violence and show genuine remorse, we would consider backing him, but he never has; it would be wrong for a man who has thrived on division to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India. We do not find the prospect of a government led by Congress under Mr Gandhi an inspiring one. But we have to recommend it to Indians as the less disturbing option, the editorial says.