Doodh aur daaru ki amar kahaani

I still recall how many people jumped on me when I described Anna Hazare as a loose cannon during his anti-corruption crusade at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi a few weeks ago. Still fewer cared for my observation that he was impressionable and wont to quicksilver changes of mind.

But Gujarat Chief Minister Narenda Modi was quite thrilled and flattered when Hazare held him up – along with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who, I am sure, would not have been flattered to be bracketed alongside him – as an example to the rest of the country. He even wrote a letter thanking Hazare for his praise.

He might as well have held his breath. The world may be surprised but I and other reporters in Maharashtra who are familiar with Hazare’s propensities are not: in a few short weeks, the anti-corruption crusader has changed his mind once again. Now he considers Gujarat as among the most corrupt states in the country. “I never knew until I got here how much corruption prevails in Gujarat,” he has said. “I advice Narendra Modi to set up a Lok Ayukta immediately.”

Well, if Modi had wanted a Lok Ayukta, the institution would have been set up long before now. I have always insisted that his Gujarat is not as vibrant as he makes it out to be – but that he needs that myth to cover up his other sins, notably that of allegedly ordering the mass massacre of Muslims in 2002 that still keeps him persona non-grata in so many enviable circles.

The myth of his being the only person who could achieve development in India was busted after Nitish Kumar swept the elections in Bihar – after pointedly keeping Modi out of that campaign. Shows you can win elections on the development plank even without having to kill a single Muslim, doesn’t it?

Modi’s vulnerability was apparent when he campaigned in Maharashtra during the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. He promised to turn Maharashtra into another Gujarat if the people voted for his party. He was rebutted on that by Sharad Pawar, Ashok Chavan and others who said they would rather have “(Mahatma) Gandhi’s Gujarat than Modi’s,” with even the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi saying publicly that he had lost his previous LS election only because he allowed Modi to campaign in his constituency. That effectively shunted him out of the state for the subsequent phases – even BJP candidates wanted him nowhere near their constituencies for fear that Muslims angry with the Congress and looking for alternatives might still vote for the Congress if he campaigned for them.

But now Anna Hazare has gone one better than all of them put together: more alcohol than milk flows in Gandhi’s Gujarat, Hazare says. I think that quite insulted Mahatma Gandhi. For this is Modi’s Gujarat now, no longer Mahatma Gandhi’s: had it still been Gandhi’s Gujarat — forget the alcohol — so much blood, in the first place, would not have flowed in the state a decade ago.

Then, again, why should Hazare have been surprised? For years, people have known how to secure alcohol in that state where prohibition pre-dates Narendra Modi. On my frequent visits to Gujarat, not once has a hotel manager failed to try luring me to the special rooms they have where they serve liquor out of sight. I got taken in the first time. After that I have always politely turned them down, saying I am a teetotaler and a nimbu-paani would do just fine (that’s my defence to not spend more money than I care to in Goa, too, where liquor is served quite in the open air)!

But Hazare’s statement brought a sense of déjà vu to me. Several years ago, when I asked a source in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), albeit a disgruntled one, why he was leaking stories from within to me – certainly not known to be a BJP sympathiser – he had said, “You do not know what these people are. Doodh ki dukaan se yeh log daaru bechte hain (They sell liquor from milk bars).” There was more in the same vein though his statements were more allegorical. Hazare’s are more literal – because that is what his mind is, simple and unable to grasp the complexities of the situation.

So, if earlier he found something praiseworthy about Modi, I am sure those angry with him for that statement have now got to this Gandhian. He has been ‘convinced’ of all that is wrong with Modi’s Gujarat for him to now declare it as the most corruption-ridden state in India. Now it is neither Gandhi’s Gujarat, nor is it Modi’s Gujarat. It is ‘Ghotalon Ka Gujarat’ (A Gujarat full of scams).

So what will Modi do now? Write another letter to Hazare to make a clean breast of things? But, I must say, for all that I take Anna Hazare’s pronouncements with fistfuls of salt, Modi had it coming. So isolated does he feel in this country that is rapidly marginalising the saffron forces, that he finds it very expedient to jump on situations not of his making to extract from them the maximum political mileage. The last example that comes to mind is that of 26/11 – that situation had nothing to do with Gujarat or its chief minister and yet he was there to sympathise with the victims, even as commandos were battling with terrorists, to see what he could extract out of the situation. As Nitish Kumar was to do unto him a few months later, he was booted out by families and friends of the victims waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones. Even then I wondered what business Modi had to breach protocol and arrive at the spot where the cops had kept even the state’s Chief Minister and Home minister from visiting before the battle with the terrorists was over.

Of course, a day later, Delhi and Rajasthan still voted the Congress and Maharashtra followed suit a year later, effectively keeping Modi’s party out of government wherever they had hoped to cash in with some display of opportune crocodile tears.

And now his letter to Hazare is coming back to haunt Modi. I remember he had warned Hazare that he might be harangued by people not quite on the same wavelength for heaping praise upon him and wanted to prepare Hazare for the worst in this regard. But even Modi might not have expected such a turnaround from the Gandhian.

Clearly, it is not easy being Narendra Modi — to know that one is unwanted and unwelcome anywhere outside Gujarat. And now even that Gujarat is under attack by people considered the beacons of anti-corruption, hell bent upon destroying the Gujarat myth.

Takes away from the vibrancy, doesn’t it?

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