Rasheeda Bhagat

Indian middle-class ‘very different from Gujarati’ counterpart

Achyut Yagnik, founder of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action - Rasheeda Bhagat

Modi’s development model is focused on big industrialists and corporate houses.

Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi is using a “cocktail” of strategies — Hindutva, Gujarati pride, attack on the UPA Government — to return to power. Though he might win the Assembly election comfortably, becoming the Prime Minister of India is another matter altogether, Achyut Yagnik, social activist and founder secretary of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, told Business Line in an interview.


What are the election strategies of the BJP and Congress this time?

Narendra Modi is attacking the UPA Government constantly and not talking about Gujarat because he is now thinking of his own future. The Congress is focusing on ground issues such as high unemployment, education, etc.

So is the BJP likely to retain the 121 seats it has now?

His getting 121 seats (out of 182) is out of the question. Inner circles of BJP put the number at 105. And it is not only the old guard in the BJP who are against Modi, even Sangh Parivar outfits such as VHP, a section of BKS, etc, are against him. They say we are against both his sheel (integrity) and shaili (style). Modi’s development model is focused on big industrialists and corporate houses and Patels, who have diversified their taxless income into the SME sector, are very unhappy with him.

But the Gujarati middle classes are very happy with him and want to see him as Prime Minister.

Sure but one should also realise that his objective is Hindutva. He was responsible for 2002…

Do you really think so?

There is no doubt in my mind about it. But when he became Chief Minister in 2002 he said aapnu Gujarat aagvu Gujarat, our Gujarat is unique Gujarat. He emphasised on Gujarati pride, but developed that only slowly; vibrant, golden Gujarat was the slogan in 2007. In his first five years (2002-07) he was with Hindutva, talking about Pakistan and Mian Musharraf. After 2004 he started attacking the UPA, said the Central government is doing injustice against Gujarat and cultivated Gujarati parochialism. Later he became vikas purush

Not Loh Purush?

Of course he thinks of himself as loh purush!

But isn’t it all about his image being cultivated with such great care and detail? Our in-boxes are flooded with mails about vibrant Gujarat!

He is a master propagandist, and without a match; there is no doubt about it. And he uses modern technology. Whenever I speak against him in interviews, immediately there are a hundred letters criticising me, calling me a comedian, pseudo secularist!

So it’s a very carefully crafted strategy…a combination of Hindutva, Gujarati parochialism and development?

Absolutely… as also attacking the UPA, getting Nano to Gujarat… it’s a cocktail.

Coming to Muslims, Bohra businessmen tell me they’ll vote for Modi.

As also Khojas and Memons, which are also mercantile communities. But Gujarat has 87 Muslim communities; only three are mercantile. The rest are not well to do and don’t support Modi… particularly the fishing communities in coastal areas where so much land has been given to big industries affecting their livelihood. Then 30 of the 87 Muslim communities — artisans, fisherfolk, etc — are in the socially and educationally backward list, but the lower bureaucracy, mostly Hindu and supporters of Modi, will not give them certificates. So these people feel alienated and victimised.

Another important angle is about tribals. Expecting a possible upset in Saurashtra because of Keshubhai, now Modi is cultivating tribal areas. In the eastern tribal belt from Maharashtra to Rajasthan, the tribal population is 15 per cent.

And the RSS has does good work among the tribals?

Yes, to reconvert them through shuddhikaran (purification) of those who had been converted to Christianity. Now when the Scheduled Castes are converted, their SC status goes away, but not for Scheduled Tribes, whatever religion they follow. But the bureaucrats tell even tribals that by your conversion you’ve lost your status. The problem at the lower level is one of entitlement and this affects both Muslims and tribals. Such sections are likely to vote for Congress.

But the Congress is struggling to put up credible opposition to the BJP. Has Sonia Gandhi given up on Gujarat?

Not really; compared to 2002 and 2007 the Congress has become very active and aggressive and has less factionalism.

But Modi is a middle class hero…

Yes, and in urban Gujarat. Compared to the national average of 32 per cent, the urban population of Gujarat is 43 per cent, and every 20-30 km, in any direction, you’ll find a town so you have to factor in the influence of towns to the surrounding areas. But now the Gujarat BJP is a one-pillar party; Modi is not only no. 1, but also, 2, 3 and so on till 10. Then there is the no. 11 fellow. Except for finance, all important portfolios, including industries and home, are with him. M G Vaidya, an RSS ideologue, has come out against him.

So after Modi who, is the question. Many Sangh outfits, be it VHP or BKS, are not with Modi, and there is fear psychosis in the middle class. Very few people openly speak against him, unless you have some kind of standing. Also, most of the bureaucrats are subservient to him. Those who were not were sidelined and this is true of the judiciary too. The Lok Ayukt case is going on…

Are there any qualities of Modi that you admire?

I told you he is a master propagandist, created a one-pillar party, and uses modern technology to cultivate his image. These are not qualities you admire.

But isn’t he a good administrator?

No, he is a one-man show. Either you are with me or you are out…

How do you see the outcome of 2014? So many people want to see him as PM.

In my mind, as I see it, you cannot compare the Gujarati middle class to the Indian middle class.

If you want to become PM you have to take with you not only the middle class but people from different sections on the basis of language, religion and so on. And no way is the BJP going to get absolute majority. It will have to depend on the allies. What will happen then?

For the development of Gujarat, does credit go to Modi or the hardworking, enterprising Gujarati people?

I have written in my book on Gujarat; first of all it is the mercantile ethos of the Gujarati people and their entrepreneurial spirit. Second, the modern industrialisation of Gujarat is 150 years old. The first textile mill was established here in 1861. Gujarat’s industrialisation is older than many Asian countries. So Gujarat’s development began much before his reign.

But why has a section of farmers turned against him?

Because you have built a dam but not the network of canals; without canals and sub-canals you cannot distribute the water. What you are drinking in Ahmedabad is Narmada water ... and for 10-15 years. The scheme was for irrigation but the cities are benefiting. Many development projects happened during the Congress rule also. When Madhavsingh Solanki was CM in 1980-85, he was talking about turning Gujarat into mini Japan.

How worried are you about communal polarisation in Gujarat?

Ahmedabad is a divided city. We have not only Muslim but also Dalit ghettos now that there is a sizeable Dalit middle class. In this area, Navrangapura, within a radius of 5 km, forget Muslims, no Dalit can get a house either on rent or ownership. So now we have separate Dalit housing societies!

> Rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in

Published on November 23, 2012

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