Psychologist Ashish Nandy was ‘shaken’ when he interviewed a far right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteer in the 1990s while studying the aftermath of Babri Mosque demolition and the anti-Muslim pogroms it sparked. The interviewee was among thousands of RSS workers who had participated in the movement to demolish the mosque. He reflected the prevalent mood when he explained "a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India" demonising "every Muslim as a suspected traitor".
His rambling interview left the psychologist stunned, leading Nandy to conclude he had in him found a "textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer".
The volunteer, Narendra Modi (63), is now the highflying chief minister, who dreams of becoming India’s next prime minister. He learnt the ropes under his onetime mentor L.K. Advani’s tutelage.
Modi travelled with him as he led the violent campaign for the Babri mosque demolition which whipped "Musalman kay do he sthan -- Pakistan ya Qabristan" slogan shouting RSS volunteers into anti-Muslim frenzy throughout India. The movement catapulted RSS’s political wing, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to power by late 1990s on the promise of building a temple in place of the mosque.
Modi concurrently worked his way up through the BJP to become Gujarat chief minister in 2001.
He vindicated Nandy a year later when hordes of Hindu nationalists rampaged through the streets of Gujarat. They hacked and burnt Muslims to death and violated women for days while police looked the other way or joined the killers.
Modi justified the carnage and described it as a reaction to the burning of a train. He continued making inflammatory speeches, using metaphors emphasising dehumanised anti-Muslim stereotypes. He described relief camps for carnage survivors as breeding centres and made snide anti-Muslim remarks like ‘ham panch hamaray pachis’.
In this, he was drawing on the xenophobic nationalist imagery of Muslims as a fast multiplying and threatening minority.
His tirades against ‘Miya (former Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf’ mischievously emphasised the BJP’s pernicious propaganda that portrays Indian Muslims as fifth-columnists in cahoots with Pakistan. This followed a witch-hunt and a series of extra-judicial killings involving innocent Muslims. Many of Modi’s blue-eyed police officers remain in jail for carrying out these cold-blooded murders at the behest of his confidant, Amit Shah.
The Hindu nationalist has refused to apologise for the pogrom even after the Supreme Court (SC) censured him for being ‘the modern-day Nero’ in 2004 and shifted many cases related to it out of Gujarat. The court was vindicated when rioters and prosecutors were caught on hidden camera in 2007 boasting about raping, hacking and burning Muslims alive besides gloating over Modi’s role in subverting justice. His ministerial colleague, Maya Kodnani, was convicted of leading a mob that had butchered around 100 people. She has instead spent most of her time in the luxury of a hospital.
On the contrary, many police officers like Sanjiv Bhatt have been hounded for questioning Modi’s role in the pogrom. Bhatt filed an affidavit before the SC, saying Modi summoned top cops and ordered them not to save Muslims and let "Hindus vent out their anger" against them.
Modi has avoided his crass anti-Muslim rhetoric since he began nursing national ambitions. But his refusal to apologise for his role in the violence has amplified his appeal among his Hindu nationalist supporters, who admire him for "putting Muslims in their place".
Modi has added to his appeal by reinventing himself as the sole man behind Gujarat’s ‘extraordinary’ development although the state has a long history of prosperity. His corporate friendly and crony-capitalist policies have got him the backing of India’s biggest tycoons.
The authoritative leader, who the US has repeatedly denied visa for violating religious freedom, bulldozed dissent within his party to have it name him as the prime ministerial candidate last year. His apologists’ tom-tom the supposed ‘clean-chit’ he got from the SC-appointed panel exonerating him from any role in the pogrom as a proof of his innocence.
But journalist Manoj Mitta’s book, The Fiction of Fact-finding, exposes the ‘clean chit’. He argues it is riddled with deceptions and contradictions and glosses over crucial evidence to shield Modi. The mainstream media has predictably ignored the book as large sections of it have perpetuated Modi’s myth of being India’s ‘only hope’.
At least three editors have lost their jobs for being critical of him.
Receptive crowds have turned out in big numbers to listen to him. Opinion polls attest to his popularity and tip him as the next prime minister after April-May polls.
Modi has excelled in blowing his own trumpet. He has convinced a large segment of the electorate that his ‘Gujarat model’ is worthy of replication nationally and stonewalled questions regarding his role in the 2002 pogrom with an American PR firm’s help.
Modi has shown his contempt for free speech. He has banned many books including that of his party colleague, Jaswant Singh, for praising Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Theatre owners in Gujarat have refused to screen films like Parzania based on the pogrom under pressure from Hindu nationalists. Aamir Khan’s films faced a similar fate after he earned Modi’s wrath when he supported activists opposing his plans of constructing dams.
Modi’s half-hearted attempt to reach out to Muslims blew up in his face after he refused to wear a Muslim skull cap at a public event. Modi has since sported all possible headgears wherever he has been for his campaign.
The Hindu nationalist has rarely spoken to the media since he walked out of a tv interview in 2008 after facing tough questions. In a rare interview last year, he provoked outrage when he compared the pain of a car occupant when a puppy comes under the wheel on being asked whether he regretted the violence.
Modi’s politics is influenced by his lifelong association with the RSS, which prepares volunteers for creation of majoritarian Hindu state, Hindu Rashtra, with no place for minorities. M.S. Golwalkar, who headed the RSS in 1940s, saw Muslims along with Christians and Communists as "akin to the demons" of the Hindu mythology. He described Hindus as "avenging angels who would slay them" to restore the "goodness and the purity of the Motherland". Golwalkar drew inspiration from Nazism and sought to replicate it in India. He advocated unreserved Hindu domination and asked minorities to either merge themselves "in the national race" or live at its mercy or quit the country.
This explains the genetic defect in the BJP, which the RSS remote controls. The party owes its extraordinary success in the 1990s to its stridently anti-Muslim agenda. It was after all built on the rubble of Babri Masjid and the corpses of those slaughtered at the altar of Hindu nationalism. The RSS seeks to keep the BJP focused on the pursuit of Hindu Rashtra. In Modi, the shadowy organisation has its best bet. It is reflected in the great sense of anticipation that Modi’s imminent elevation to the top post has generated among Hindu nationalists. They have tasted blood by coercing the publishers of Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism to pulp it for being offensive to them in perhaps the most significant sign of what lies ahead.