Narendra Modi’s re-induction into the Bhartiya Janata Party’s(BJP) Central Parliamentary Board, along with the inclusion of his confidant Amit Shah as the party general secretary, are clear indications that the BJP prime ministerial candidate debate is settled within the party. Modi, the only chief minister to make it to the party’s top decision making body, is also included in the party’s election committee, thereby giving him a say in finalising the candidates for the coming elections.

Modi’s elevation, as expected, was not received well by his critics and the Congress. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal was quick to respond with: “The re-induction of Narendra Modi to the BJP’s parliamentary board will cause self-destruction of the BJP.” Scores of editorials and op-eds emphasising why Modi would/should not be the PM of a diverse and pluralistic society like India, will follow in days to come. It is indeed a bit rich coming from those who endlessly cajole and implore a dynast to take up the most coveted job of the nation, to question the rise of someone who has climbed the ladder of political success through the democratic means.

Below are the top reasons cited by the media against Modi’s PM candidature, and my take on why they do not hold water.

 Modi’s appeal is limited to Gujarat/ India is not Gujarat

There is a never-seen-before public demand for making someone the prime minister of India, as is being witnessed in case of Narendra Modi. He regularly tops the nationwide polls as the people’s choice for the next PM, beating the Congress heir Rahul Gandhi by huge margins; this despite the relentless vilification and negative coverage by the main stream media.

Modi’s speeches are watched across India with great interest – even in South India where knowledge of Hindi is limited, and even by those who otherwise have zero interest in politics. Anywhere a Gujarati goes, people want to know about Modi’s development story.

His all-India popularity could be gauged from the fact that he is probably the only politician whose speeches are telecast live by the very electronic media that loves to hate him, because the channel’s TRP hits the roof every time Modi speaks.

His detractors fail to factor in that before he became the CM, Modi handled the responsibility of revamping and overseeing the BJP affairs in several states of India. For 35 years of his life, Modi was extensively traveling – that is something which has given him invaluable insight into the problems plaguing the nation and has helped him understand the pulse of people. He has stayed overnight in more than 400 districts of the country. Now, how many Indian politicians could boast of this?

The main stream media’s obsession with Modi has ensured that every person with access to the Internet, TV, newspaper or radio would have heard of him. Gujarat’s over 10-lakh strong migrant workforce that comes from various Indian states, take home the stories of state’s excellent roads, water, electricity, jobs, less corruption, and hold your breath, communal peace.

Add to this Modi’s humble background, which makes him extremely aware of the worries, needs and hopes of the poor. This gives him a genuine connect with the rural masses, as against those who shout garibi hatao when in the reality for generations they have never come remotely close to experiencing anything that is middle class, let alone penury.

Agreed that there are voters who carry the image of Modi-demon created by the media over the past decade, but even they are aware of Modi’s good governance and non corrupt image, and are more than willing to see behind the vilification veil. Not to forget that these are the people who are fed up of price rises and corruption in the UPA regime and want to give chance to those with better administration records.

Modi has shown during Gujarat elections that he is a tireless campaigner, by single-handedly covering more ground than his top three opponents put together. Then, there is his much discussed and popular 3D campaign, which could be unleashed on an all-India level. As an excellent orator, who connects well with his audience, it is only a matter of nationwide tours for him to underline UPA’s failures and his successes, and sway a large chunk of the undecided voters into his folds.

Another argument against him is that Indian Hindus are not as communal as the Gujarati Hindus and hence, Modi’s Hindutva appeal will have no takers beyond his state. Never mind the polls that suggest his immense popularity.

To think of it, if Gujarati Hindus are communal, why blame Modi for the 2002 riots? He, at the worst, can be called a product of the communal Gujarati society, not the creator of it.

Anyway, let us agree for the argument’s sake that peace loving Indian Hindus, unlike the “communal” Gujarati Hindus, do not prefer “bigots”; let us agree that the majority of Indians do not like Modi. In which case, what is the harm in letting Modi fancy his chance electorally? Especially when his critics are sure that he is doomed to fail?

He has blood on his hands and he is not sorry for it

First, Modi has repeatedly condemned the Godhra and post Godhra tragedies. If he is not crying and apologising every time his detractors bring up the issue, it is because they will project his apology as an acceptance of his culpability. These people have their own axes to grind, which is clear from the fact that they gloss over the Hindu casualties and involvement of some Congressmen in the 2002 riots.

Second, inability to say sorry, by no stretch of imagination, can be equated to being guilty. Moreover, it is not as if he has gone about apologising to the families of the Hindu victims.

Third, Modi stands innocent in the eyes of law. There are no cases, no evidences against him for the 2002 riots. If he is being denied political rise only because he was the CM of Gujarat when the unfortunate riots happened, going by that stringent standard, most, if not all, politicians of India would be rendered unfit for the top job.

Fourth, if India could have Rajiv Gandhi as its PM despite 1984 Sikh riots and even celebrate him as “Mr. Clean”, why not Modi? Unless of course, we consider the blood of Muslims thicker than that of the Sikhs.

 Muslims will not feel safe under him and will vote against him en bloc

There are 60 lakh Muslims in Gujarat, who are not only living safely, but are also prospering and increasingly leaning towards Modi’s “no appeasement, only development” approach. In the December 2012 state assembly elections, the BJP won 24 constituencies that have more than 15% Muslim voters, of which four seats had one-third Muslim voters.

It is silly for the non-Gujarati Muslims to dismiss those Gujarati Muslims who support/vote for Modi, as the latter are more aware of the ground realities of the state. It is sillier to argue that development has bypassed Muslims of Gujarat; excellent infrastructure, spill over effects of new factories, river front, are for one and all.

In February, Maulana Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, acknowledged the positive turn in the Modi-Muslim narrative by saying, “In Gujarat, Jamiat workers on the ground have told me that in several Assembly segments, Muslims voted for Modi. There is a perceptible change of heart and circumstances are different now. Muslims in Gujarat are economically better off than in several states which have so-called secular governments in power.” Jamiat is the political offshoot of Darul Uloom Deoband that influences millions of Muslims in the subcontinent.

Former vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband seminary Muhammad Vastanvi, who was ousted in 2011 because of his comment that Modi’s development has had positive impact on Gujarati Muslims, said this March that if the country elects Modi as the PM, there is no reason for the minorities to have any objection. Of course, any Muslim speaking in favour of Modi is instantaneously labeled as “sold” and/or “not representative of the larger Muslims of India” by those who have self-appointed themselves as the sole voices of the minorities.

The fact is that the Gujarat riots cases have seen more convictions than any other riots in India. In all, there have been 250 guilty verdicts so far, including 28-years rigorous imprisonment to Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Modi government. Modi has presented himself for inquiry by the Supreme Court appointed-SIT, and has been exonerated by the same. He has asked for harshest punishment if found guilty. If the grouse against Modi is that the “well-wishers” of Muslims have unearthed no legally admissible evidence against him in eleven years, the “well wishers” should be asked to focus more on nailing Modi than on collecting funds in the name of riots victims and/or political benefits for spouses.

As far as Modi is concerned, he will never indulge in appeasement or symbolism (no skull caps for him; even President Obama had refused to visit the Golden temple for the fear of being caught on camera with a covered head and bringing focus on his Muslim origins – nobody called him communal!), but he can bring jobs and bring about a positive shift from entitlement to empowerment.

Modi does not have the American acceptance

The American approval seekers are probably ignorant of several facts. First, an American visa is not a pre-requisite to become the PM of India. Second, compared to the human rights records of the despots America has befriended/supported across the world, Gujarat riots were nothing. Third, American blacklisting of a democratically elected Indian CM, who stands exonerated by the apex court appointed body, is an insult to Indian democratic institution and judiciary.

The approval seekers happily ignore the US Congressional report that had praised Modi for his excellent development record. For them, America is right in denying Modi a visa, but wrong in appraising his administration favourably.

After the British and EU détente, the American meltdown of its stand on Modi is bound to happen. Hopefully then, the approval seekers will take the US visa stamp as the proof of Modi’s innocence, the way they are taking the denial of US visa as a proof of his guilt.

 He is not a Team Player/ He cannot sustain coalition

Modi was not considered a CM material either. In 2001, as a greenhorn in administration, he was handed over a state that was reeling under the impact of a cataclysmic earthquake. Many Gujarat state BJP leaders were extremely unhappy over his appointment. Even his supporters never expected him to survive the massive reconstruction/rehabilitation challenge and the rebels in the party, and to succeed in turning the BJP’s fortunes in the state. Eleven years and three huge election victories later, Modi has established himself as an excellent administrator, with his governance and development records being positively noted by those very people and nations that once shunned him.

Modi is a survivor and has a knack of winning against the odds. He loves to prove his critics wrong. His recent speech at the BJP conclave, where he showered praise on other BJP CMs for their good works, shows that he is making amends to his “too lost in his own world” image. Modi also shares excellent personal relations with some of the regional satraps, including the extremely hard-to-please Ms J Jaylalitha.

Indian politics is not new to making strange bedfellows. Some of the regional parties easily swing from the UPA to NDA and back. Those who are today holding on to the Muslim votebank by saying that they will not let communal forces win, could easily be in the NDA fold tomorrow citing that Muslims have voted for the BJP and that they choose to be a part of the BJP-led central government to ensure minorities’ interests. Modi and the BJP need not worry about such parties; they function in a self-serving fashion and will join ranks with Modi/BJP the moment it becomes beneficial to them.

Nobody would have thought in 1975 that Indians would ever accept Indira Gandhi again; but she was elected to the PM’s office in 1980. The BJP strongman Advani – unacceptable as the PM in the 90s, is now preferred over Modi by those very people who opposed him a decade and half back. Sonia Gandhi, whose Italian origin became a major talking point in 1999 and a cause of revolt in her own party, now reigns supreme in India and her “foreignness” has ceased to evoke strong emotions in common Indians. These cases clearly show that there are no permanent political untouchables in India.

Even if we consider that Modi may find it difficult to manage a coalition, there always are trouble shooters in the party who can do the job. Also, haven’t we had enough of feeble leaders acquiescing all the time to sulking coalition partners to continue being in power at the cost of policy paralysis?

Modi is authoritarian

This allegation mostly comes from accounts of those who have interviewed someone who knew someone who has worked with Modi. You get the drift, right?

So far, the only threat to the Indian democracy has come from the Congress stable. The Congress And The Making Of The Indian Nation, a book partly edited by Pranab Mukherjee, current President of India and a veteran Congress leader, opines on the emergency days of 1975-1977: “Powers of judiciary were reduced drastically. Unlimited state and party power was concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister.”

When Indira Gandhi presided over a state of emergency, cutting off power supply to newspapers and arresting her opponents, a 20-year old Modi was busy running a newspaper Satya Samachar, which published censored materials to create mass awareness against Mrs Gandhi’s authoritarian policies and suspension of constitutional rights. There was a warrant issued in his name by the government for the same.

While Modi may stand accused of saying hum paanch hamare pachchis for Muslims or not doing enough for the Muslim ghettos of Juhapura and Citizen Nagar, he has neither carried out a drive to clear these ghettos, nor forced compulsory sterilisation on people. It was again the Indira Gandhi government during the emergency days that drove 250,000 Muslims of the Jama Masjid slum in Delhi out of their homes, and caused a mass terror amongst men by forcibly performing vasectomies.

Indira Gandhi was infamous for not tolerating any dissenting views. Rajiv Gandhi left out Indira acolyte Pranab Mukherjee in the cold because he showed ambition for the top job. Sonia Gandhi’s word is gospel for the Congressmen.  Not even senior most leaders in the party have the guts to propose any other name for the Congress PM candidate, even when Rahul Gandhi openly declares that he is not interested in the job. No wonder they show so much enthusiasm in discussing the BJP’s PM candidate. Add to this Jawaharlal Nehru’s “number one or nothing” tantrum to make Gandhi sacrifice Sardar Patel and pave the way for Nehru’s PMship. Is Modi being accused of all/any of these traits that the Gandhi family has displayed for generations? In which case, finger pointing in one direction, while ignoring the other, is wrong.

Contrary to what is said about him, Modi is not devoid of warmth and affection. Those who have followed his speeches in Gujarat would know how comfortable his audience feels in interrupting him and communicating with him in the middle of his talks. He is approachable to the common man and is available to them 24*7 – something that one would not get to see in a power-hungry dictator. His steely demeanour is only reserved for those who are out there to demonize him.

In India, where a Congress union minister’s son got a man arrested for a tweet against him, the most abused leader in India has neither invoked Section 66A of the Information Technology Act on anyone, nor has filed defamation suits on media houses and public intellectuals who spread lies about him and use terms like Hitler, Nazi, mass murderer to address him. Very unbecoming of a dictator, isn’t it?

Lastly, if Modi ever treads on the undemocratic path, the Indian populace will throw him out of power, the way they dethroned Mrs Gandhi in the elections after the emergency.

Modi as PM candidate will divide the BJP and help the Congress

This one is as silly as it gets. If Modi’s ascension is likely to divide his party and help the Congress gain a third term at the centre, what is the problem? Isn’t it a win-win for the Congress if Modi’s name as the BJP’s PM candidate would polarise the referendum and make people overlook the UPA’s pathetic record in governance and corruption? The Congress should in fact encourage Modi’s elevation, isn’t it?

The fact is that his opponents know that the Modi-factor is going to greatly enhance BJP’s prospects in the 2014 parliamentary elections and that the Modi-fear is non-existent and is not going to automatically bring the Indian Muslims and “non-communal” Hindus to the Congress. The fact also is that the NDA plus is a clear possibility.

While his own party has been slow in coming to terms with the same, the obsession of Indian media, politicians and analysts with Modi has been a dead giveaway that the Modi juggernaut is unstoppable – because if 7, Race Corse Road was indeed out of reach of Modi, as is being continuously suggested, we would not have been endlessly discussing and dissecting the man and why he should not be the PM.

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Semu Bhatt

Semu Bhatt is a Mumbai-based independent strategic analyst and author, with an ability to write on a range of subjects. She particularly enjoys writing on geopolitics, governance and security issues. She is highly experienced in strategic conflict assessment and scenario planning. She is the co-author of The Cost of Conflict between India and Pakistan, an internationally acclaimed study on the costs of India-Pakistan hostility, and The Cost of Conflict in Sri Lanka, a report commissioned by the Norwegian foreign ministry.

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