01 - 06 - 2020

Magic of ‘Indian of decade’ in danger of slipping away

Narendra Modi is my choice for ‘Indian Man of the Decade’. He won two Lok Sabha elections for the BJP single-handedly. You may say that he was aided by a superb propaganda machine and a huge war chest manufactured by electoral bonds, not forgetting the army of committed RSS workers whose discipline is legendary. But Mr Modi’s oratorical skills, his communication abilities and his innate political sense make him simply unbeatable at the moment!

A faint glint of uncertainty did crop in recently when hordes of protesters poured on to the streets to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act and the extension of the National Register of Citizens to the rest of India beyond Assam. For the first time, Mr Modi was on the back foot but very quickly bounced back to announce NRC’s precursor, the National Population Register, thus confusing us even more!

There was a time when Mr Modi was told he was not welcome in the US and other countries of the West, but after he assumed office as Prime Minister, promising economic reforms, he was greeted warmly by numerous heads of state with whom he was soon on a first-name calling and back-slapping terms! If ever an Indian leader wove a magic wand, it was Narendra Modi.

I met him again a couple of years later when I called on him to plead for action against those who breached the copyright of members of the Indian Music Industry. In Gujarat, everyone seemed to want to become rich at the least possible cost! Mr Modi was polite and very receptive but I did not think there was much improvement noticed. What surprised me was that he did not mention a word about my dealing with the riots which had plagued Ahmedabad for nearly six months in 1985 and my part in resolving the issue.

The entire Gujarati community knew about my role in putting down the riots which had damaged the economy of Gujarat.

My thoughts on Mr Modi are partly based on what my junior colleagues in Gujarat Police told me. Today, he has become the undisputed leader of this country. Indians have always favoured strong leaders though they have sometimes done things which ‘argumentative Indians’ have not appreciated. Besides, Mr Modi has always taken quick decisions, right or wrong, and we Indians are very happy if decisions, any decisions, are taken by the leader. For example, in the police, I have noticed that a wrong order, but taken spontaneously without any waste of time or even logical thinking, is appreciated by the people at large. So, one has to be very careful before taking such decisions, even if it invites approbation, like demonetisation initially did.

Mr Modi during his term in Gujarat had many admirers. He still has the backing of nearly half the country or more. But stories about his ruthless behaviour with those who offend him are heard quite consistently in Gujarat.

After the 2002 riots, I went to Ahmedabad to find out why the police had failed. I asked the DGP why he allowed Mr Modi to put one minister in his control room and another in the Commissioner’s control room. I told him that I would not have allowed it and he, in turn, told me, ‘your days were different’. In short, Mr Modi had scared officers out of their wits!

That magic is in danger of slipping away because the CAA makes the bias of the Hindutva forces stand out like a sore thumb. Many in the country doubt his intentions and abroad most have seen through his thinly veiled ‘goodwill to all’.

Yet Mr Modi continues to top the popularity charts in India. But he has reason to beware! If the poor are deprived of the promised goodies because of the dip in financial health, he will have to devise other means to shore up his standing.

I first met Narendra Modi at IIM, Ahmedabad. He was the main speaker at a session on ‘corruption’ and I too had been invited to speak. I sat quietly on my designated chair and did not exchange any pleasantries with Mr Modi till the end of the event. He seemed well disposed towards me, I thought. After all, I had been DGP, Gujarat, for four months in 1985 and the Gujaratis had appreciated my efforts to bring peace there.

When he came to power in 2014, I told my friends that India will not be the same again. And I have been proved right. Mr Vajpayee was a man with a conscience and he would hesitate to throw his weight around. Mr Modi, on the other hand, has a hatchet man who he uses very liberally to do the things that are not quite kosher.

If Mr Modi had stuck to the development agenda which he had promised and used to repeat at every opportunity, I think the country would have prospered immensely. Unfortunately, the first thing he allowed was the fringe elements to go on a rampage and we had the ignominy of so many lynchings.

Mr Modi would have been good for India as a strong leader who was interested in the advancement of his country and its people. It is unfortunate that this capital is being wasted.

Julio Ribeiro