Narendra Modi and Indian Democracy

India has had seven prime ministers in the last 25 years i.e. VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narsimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HD Devegowda, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh since 1989. Of these seven PMs no one except Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM candidate before elections for the next ruling party/coalition. It means people had no clue about whom they were voting as Prime Minister when they voted for the ruling party in the respective Lok Sabha elections.

The circumstances in which VP Singh became Prime Minister sowed the seeds of his dethronement within a year. After the 1989 Lok Sabha election, both Chandrashekhar and VP Singh wanted to become Prime Minister. Apparently a compromise was reached and they both agreed on Devilal’s name. In the Parliamentary Board meeting that was convened to elect the leader of the Janata Dal, VP Singh proposed the name of Devilal and it was seconded by Chandrashekhar. However Devilal proposed the name of VP Singh which was then accepted by the Parliamentary board. Chandrashekhar felt that this was a conspiracy hatched by VP Singh and he deserved to be the Prime Minister. This, despite the fact that VP Singh had become a bigger mass leader than Chandrashekhar, because of Bofors issue. VP Singh could not even complete one year of his term when Chandrashekhar split Janata Dal and became Prime Minister with outside support of the same Congress Party, against which he had won elections. All this probably could have been avoided if the Janata Dal had gone with a Prime Ministerial candidate in the elections and there would have been no confusion within the ranks of the party and common voters.

After 1991 election results, when Congress emerged as single largest party and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the party chose P V Narsimha Rao to become Prime Minister. Again, people of India had absolutely no say in who would become their Prime Minister. It was decided after the election results by the Congress Party. In 1995, BJP declared that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be its Prime Ministerial candidate. This decision was actually taken unilaterally by Lal Krishna Advani without even discussing with top leaders of BJP. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was shocked to hear LK Advani’s announcement from stage in the party’s Mumbai adhiveshan. Till then it was widely believed inside and outside the party that if BJP ever comes to power, LK Advani would be the Prime Minister. LK Advani could take such a decision and announce it without discussing it with anyone as he was at the peak of his power within BJP. Since then no other leader, not even Vajpayee, has enjoyed so much power and confidence within the party.

The announcement was a positive milestone in Indian democracy. Though the decision of nominating Atal Bihari as PM candidate was not a result of any democratic exercise and Vajpayee was probably not even among the top two most popular leaders within BJP, at least the voters had a clear idea who would be India’s Prime Minister if BJP comes to power. After the elections which were held less than a year after the announcement of Vajpayee’s PM candidature, BJP came into power for the first time, though only for thirteen days, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was made the Prime Minister.

After BJP could not prove its majority as no other party apart from Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Samta Party supported it, H D Devegowda became Prime Minister with the outside support of Congress. Other leaders who were in fray after the elections to become Prime Minister were Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Yadav, Biju Patnaik etc. Again, H D Devegowda was not a Prime Ministerial candidate before the elections and he could become PM because there was least resistance to his name among top Third Front leaders and CPI (M) had committed the ‘historical blunder’ of not making Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister. H D Devegowda’s main opponent in Karnataka was Congress and he found nothing wrong in becoming Prime Minister with Congress support. Sitaram Kesari who became Congress president after PV Narsimha Rao withdrew support from the third front government led by HD Devegowda and made it clear that he would support third front only if they replace Devegowda with someone else. The third front meekly agreed and chose IK Gujral as their leader. The reason for Devegowda’s replacement is still a mystery today. Sitartam Kesari did not bother to give any strong valid reason for his withdrawal of support.  After 1998 election Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was NDA’s PM candidate before the election, became Prime Minister. By now he had become the most popular leader in the country not only among BJP supporters but was also rated as top PM choice across all parties.

In 2004, when UPA came into power Manmohan Singh was made Prime Minister just because he enjoyed confidence of Congress President. There was no discussion about his name even among top Congress leaders let alone UPA. Sonia Gandhi just decided on his name and the rest meekly accepted. Before 2009 elections, Sonia Gandhi announced that Manmohan would continue to be Prime Minister if the party comes back to power. However there were also talks that there would be a smooth transition and Manmohan would be replaced by Rahul Gandhi.

Circumstances other than popular public support have made six of India’s last seven Prime Ministers. In a mature democracy, people should know who all could become Prime Minister as a result of their votes. The argument that India is a Parliamentary democracy does not hold water any more. Britain too is a parliamentary democracy and India has adopted its West Minister model but in the last British general elections not only the three major parties announced their PM candidates but also had pre election debates among them.

Narendra Modi has emerged as the most popular candidate for the post of Prime Minister in every Opinion Poll conducted in the last few months. He is not only the most popular BJP leader but the most popular leader across all political parties. This despite the fact that he has been a state Chief Minister since last ten years and has not held any national position within the party or the government since 2002. In 1996 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was declared the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, he was not even the most popular leader in the party (forget being the most popular leader across all parties). Lal Krishna Advani was the most popular leader at that time and one can argue that Murli Manohar Joshi was not less popular than Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It took three years, a disastrous performance by a third front government and most importantly projection by BJP as PM candidate for Vajpayee to become the most popular leader in the country. Narendra Modi has achieved almost the same level of popularity as Vajpayee had in 1998 & 1999 despite the fact that he has not yet been named as party’s official PM candidate. One can only imagine his support when he is officially declared so.

If that happens, it would be another milestone for Indian democracy. For the first time, a national party would have to appoint someone its PM candidate who has risen from grass roots and is not a Delhi based leader, someone who has earned this position not because of circumstances but because Delhi based leaders had no choice but to adhere to popular public choice. It would be better than what BJP did in 1995 by declaring Vajpayee as PM candidate because this time BJP would be backing someone who is already the most popular choice in the country.

If India’s next Prime Minister is someone who is the most popular leader in the country and does not owe his position to circumstances and palace intrigues, it would be a great leap forward for Indian Democracy.


Narendra Modi and Rajiv Gandhi

The last few days have seen a lot of prominent voices in support of Narendra Modi as future Prime Minister of India. Since NDA has declared LK Advani as its Prime Minestrial candidate, these voices are not relevant at least in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. However, the onslaught of secularists against supporters of Narendra Modi exposes their hypocrisy. One could have understood their discomfort with the Chief Minister of Gujarat if they have had similar opinion about Rajiv Gandhi who was ruler of India during the 1984 Sikh riots, the worst ever riots after partition.

In fact the 1984 violence was so one sided that it was not a riot but a pogrom unleashed on the Sikh community by workers of the ruling Congress party to avenge the assassination of their leader Indira Gandhi who was killed by two Sikh terrorists. Very little is known about the extent of 1984 killings as there was no internet and no 24/7 news channels in those days.  Khushwant Singh, then the editor of The Illustrated Weekly Of India and a Gandhi family loyalist had called up President Gyani Zail Singh, a Sikh, for protection during the riots. The President, who also happened to be commander-in-chief  of our armed forces advised Khushwant Singh to take shelter in a Hindu house. Neither the Police nor any Government Department but a good Hindu friend was the suggestion by the then President to a fellow Sikh who had called up for help. We may be baffled at this helplessness of the President but he knew what he was talking for it was not a Hindu – Sikh riot and hence the advice to Khushwant Singh to take shelter at any Hindu’s house. The President also knew that the pogrom was being carried out under the watchful eyes of Delhi Police and hence did not advice Khushwant Singh to take the help of Police. In fact the day after Indira’s assassination, when the pogrom had just begun, a peace march by some residents of Lajpat Nagar, a Delhi locality was stopped as participants did not have official permission!! In many places Police took away kirpans from Sikhs and made the job of Congress workers much more easier.

For three days, killings continued unabated in the capital and around 3000 Sikhs were killed. But the national television did not show any footage of the riot (Doordarshan was the only Television Channel in those days).  All that the state run TV channel showed was the dead body of Indira Gandhi and her mourners. It was as if the city of 9 million people was in the somber mood of mourning. The world was totally unaware of the happenings in the capital of India. People did listen to some Congress workers shouting Khoon Ka Badla Khoon Se Lenge (We will avenge blood with blood) well within the earshot of new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi but were unaware of the extent of the bloodshed as it was totally blacked out by the only Television Channel in the country.

The official toll by the Government immediately after the riots put the death toll at 425. Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was then the president of BJP contested the official death toll and asked his colleagues to collate figures. BJP’s total added up to 2800. The Congress quickly branded BJP as an anti-national party. Later the Ahuja Committee, appointed by the Government to compute the number of deaths, put the death toll as 2,733 in Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi and his Government never apologised or regretted for the bloodshed. Instead he defended the pogrom by saying, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” Editors of national dailies rationalised the killings. Girilal Jain, editor of The Times Of India explained that the Hindu cup of patience had become full to the brim. N.C. Menon, editor of The Hindustan Times wrote of how Sikhs had clawed their way to prosperity and it was about time. When Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Bhushan award, Vinod Mehta, current editor of Outlook magazine and a shining jewel of the secular pack , wrote that when it came to choosing between a Sikh and an Indian, Khushwant Sikh chose to be a Sikh!!

During the Lok Sabha elections of 1984, Congress ran a hate filled campaign which included advertisements and posters that had a picture of a Sikh Taxi driver with the caption Kya Aap Ek Sikh Taxi Driver pe Bharosa kar sakte hain ? (Can You trust a Sikh Taxi Driver?). In Amethi, where Maneka Gandhi was contesting against her brother in law Rajiv Gandhi, slogans like Beti hai Sardar ki, Qaum hai Gaddar ki (She is the daughter of a Sikh, a community of traitors) worked and so did the hate filled posters in the rest of the country. Congress got 401 seats in the Lok Sabha; a feat which not even Indira Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru had achieved. Of course for a congress sympathetic mainstream media, this victory was result of a sympathy wave.

Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, HKL Bhagat who actively took part in the killings continued getting Lok Sabha tickets in successive elections. Jagdish Tytler was even made a minister in the UPA government. PV Narasimha Rao who was the Home Minister during the pogrom, was severely censured for his connivance with the killers, by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, hero of 1971 war, in his affidavit to Nanavati Commission . Not only did Rajiv Gandhi made him a cabinet minister again after the 1984 elections but he was also made the Prime Minister after the death of Rajiv Gandhi. Even today mainstream media criticises P V Narasimha Rao more for the demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya, in which non one was killed than for the 1984 massacre of thousands.

Now compare this with the Gujarat riots of 2002. According to UPA Government 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the riots. Now if it was a state sponsored riots against Muslims how come 254 Hindus lost their lives ? Gujarat is the only state where many rioters have been convicted by courts whereas the first conviction in anti Sikh pogrom happened in 1997. Even during the riots a lot of rioters (both Hindus and Muslims) were killed due to police firing. The state has progressed a lot since the 2002 riots and hence Modi’s popularity has soared not just in Gujarat but in the entire country despite the fact that he is still held responsible for the riots unlike Rajiv Gandhi who was darling of the same section of the media. This double standard is unfathomable.

People who hold Modi morally responsible for the riots would be probably justified in doing so if they apply the same yardstick to Rajiv Gandhi and Congress regime of 1984. When they dont do that, they expose the hollowness in their secularism.