Will the real Modi please stand up?

The Prime Minister of India tells voters in an election speech in Bihar that the alliance that the BJP is fighting against is planning to take reservations away from various backward castes and hand them to a “particular community”. But the BJP will not allow religion-based reservation, he promises.

During an election rally in Buxar on Monday, PM Narendra Modi said the BJP was fighting those who wished to take away reservation from backward castes and hand them to a “particular community”. Pic/PTI
During an election rally in Buxar on Monday, PM Narendra Modi said the BJP was fighting those who wished to take away reservation from backward castes and hand them to a “particular community”. Pic/PTI

Is this the same prime minister of India, who only a short while ago told us, the people of India, that we should listen to what the President of India said (three times now) on respecting India’s plurality and diversity? Is this the same prime minister who said that Hindus and Muslims should fight poverty together and not each other? Is this the same prime minister who said people should ignore controversial remarks made by politicians?

Or is this Narendra Modi, the Hindutva emperor of Gujarat and the holder of all Hindu hearts, a title he appropriated from the late Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena? Is this the Modi who fought an election on the development plank but allowed members of his party, his government and his larger allegiance to run amok with comments and actions which have created new rifts and reopened old fissures in our religious and social fabric?

We have been told over and over in the past two years that this Modi who will be prime minister of India is not the same Modi who was chief minister of Gujarat where one of independent India’s worst Hindu-Muslim riots took place. This was a Modi who would develop India the way Gujarat has been developed. We were told it was unfair to keep harping on riots that took place in 2002. We were accused of saying nothing when other terrible things happened in the country.

Unfortunately, for the development story, it is now being overtaken by the Hindutva story. The poor cow, often neglected in its old age as it wanders the streets and countryside eating plastic, is now the symbol of national and religious pride and violence. ‘Cow-killers,’ suspected ‘cow-killers’ and potential ‘cow-killers’ are killed and beaten up. Members of the central government and the ruling party threaten the general public if a cow is harmed. The prime minister remains silent on it.

A man was killed in his home based on a rumour of what meat he had eaten. But if anyone expects the prime minister to speak about this, think again. It is a law and order issue, which is a state subject, he says. Nothing though about the reason why the man was killed, the inflamed passions by the cow protection lobby of the prime minister’s own party and his larger ideological family. A minister says the death was an accident. And by just writing this, I have left myself open to attack for not writing a column when Babar invaded India. I am guilty. I did not.

If the man who spoke in Bihar about a “particular community” and the “sinful plan” of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav to steal reservations from the backward castes was the prime minister of India, then I am confused and I am not the only one. I knew the other man, the Hindutva icon. Which hat — and he is very fond of headgear, as we have seen —was he wearing at this rally in Buxar? Which constituency was he talking to? Was he the development-oriented prime minister who said ‘everybody’s progress with everybody together’? Or the election-winning chief minister of Gujarat who mockingly talked of “hum paanch, hamare pachees”, referring to a high birth rate amongst Muslims. Or maybe it is the Gujarat chief minister who always referred to the election commissioner of the time as “James Michael Lyngdoh”, so that the fact that he was a Christian and not a Hindu, sunk in with his pro-Hindutva audience?

We have been told repeatedly by admirers of Narendra Modi that he is interested only in the development of India. Sadly, even those who believed that are beginning to wonder: in which direction are we developing? And which is the real Prime Minister of India?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

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