Modi: Goodwill hunting, but should he get it?

Nations can sometimes be found grappling with an odd political dilemma: should controversial leaders be praised when they get things right?

Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is doggedly turning his state around. Industrialists fawn over his business-friendly manner. Foreign investments come chasing him. Mukesh Ambani, a fellow Gujarati industrialist counted as one of the world’s richest, almost has a man crush on him.

Elsewhere, investors still run into bureaucratic walls, but they are instantly cleared in Gujarat.

Ratan Tata, the head of Tata Sons – India’s second-biggest conglomerate that earns nearly 65% of its revenues from business abroad — loves to recall how he was offered a manufacturing place for the world’s cheapest car in just three days, after being driven out from Communist-ruled West Bengal.

Gujarat makes up for 5% of India’s population, but accounts for 16% of its industrial production, 22% of exports, has a literacy rate of 79.8% and is growing at 11% (above the national GDP of 8%). It produces more power than it needs and in 2009, contracted FDI worth US $ 243bn by signing over 800 MoUs.

Gujarat is moving fast on socio-economic indicators, although they are not the best in class. In India, good teachers are a scarce national resource. So, from children in village primary schools to would-be doctors in medical colleges, students in Gujarat are taught extensively using satellite-based EDUSAT modules. Now, Modi has grander projects. He has offered a location for India’s first geospatial technology park.

Few states can think of matching these benchmarks. Europe and the US, which still consider him a diplomatic pariah, are rethinking on doing business with him.

Today’s Gujarat serendipitously matches up against Germany of the Forties.

In 1929, stung by an economic depression, America rolled back its foreign loans, which ruined Weimar Germany. Its unemployment rose to 6 million. The government was helpless; the economy lay in tatters and middle-class Germans frustrated. This helped the Nazis to come to power.

Germans who suffered a great deal during the First World War and the Depression welcomed Hitler’s rejuvenating economic policies. Jobs were back. By 1939, unemployment in Germany was nearly wiped out. Public works were efficiently organised. Industrialists backed Hitler with money and investment.

A scheme was devised to allow workers to buy a Volkswagen Beetle for small weekly installments. Ordinary Germans could now buy a car and drive one on gleaming autobahns, much like the road from Ahmedabad to Surat.

The Nazis set up the SdA (Beauty of Work) to help Germans see dignity in work. They abolished trade unions and gave more power to the industrialists. Then came the Autarky — an attempt, though unsuccessful — to make Germany self-reliant.

There was also the KdF (Strength through Joy), which rewarded good workers with entertainment facilities and free holidays. There were so many good things about life in Nazi Germany. In a nutshell, Germany was strong and successful, much like our Gujarat.

Does history allow praise for Hitler for all that he achieved during his demagogic rule? It doesn’t, due to Hitler’s devilish extermination of millions of innocent Jews.

Modi’s fate is somewhat similar. US still hasn’t lifted a travel ban on him. “Do we want Indian demagogue in Canada?” said the Toronto Star recently, following an invitation sent to Modi to visit the country.

Despite his achievements, Modi’s troubled past ensures he remains a polarizing figure. In late January, Maulana Vastanvi, the current head of Darul Uloom, the seat of Sunni Islam in India, suggested that Muslims were benefiting from the state’s progress. That sent Muslims, who saw the remarks as endorsing Modi, gunning for the cleric’s scalp.

Nine years ago, in his state, Hindu-Muslim riots claimed more than 1,000 lives, three-quarters of them Muslims, dying at the hands of Hindu mobs. Modi has been accused of not preventing the killing of Muslims deliberately.

A team appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate charges against him has indicted him for trying to “water down” the seriousness of the killings and even justifying them, according to leaked media reports. The team however is said to have concluded that there is not enough evidence to try Modi.

Modi, however, is not doomed like Hitler. He has the option of reaching out to Muslims in a more obvious way. We have heard praises for Modi from Muslims, but haven’t yet heard Modi even remotely regret the killings of 2002. The onus of moving on should not lie on Muslims alone.

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