India, with a population of 1.2 billion, is a diverse country with Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups coexisting peacefully for the most part. India is also the largest democracy in the world, having held free and fair elections for the past sixty-six years, ever since the country became independent from British rule. The Indian Constitution is loosely modeled after the British parliamentary system. Members of Parliament (M.P.) are elected from each state in the Union to represent that state at the central government. MPs are similar to Senators in the US. The leader of the political party which gets the majority of MPs, will become the Prime Minister, the chief executive of the government, similar to the American President. India has a President, but this is only a titular position because the President acts only at the advice of the Prime Minister. The next general election for MPs is scheduled to be held this summer.
Narendra Modi, 63, is the Chief Minister (equivalent to an American Governor) of Gujarat State. He is one of the longest serving Chief Ministers in India, and very popular in his state. His economic policies have benefited his state, resulting in a high annual growth rate of about 10% for the past ten years. However, he is a controversial figure in the rest of India as well as internationally.
In 2002, Hindu mobs were marauding the streets, pulling Muslim men out of their homes, raping their women, torching their homes and businesses. The police simply stood by and let Hindu mobs have their way. All this murder and mayhem was in retaliation for the death of a few Hindu worshippers at a train station. It appeared that some of those Hindus taunted some Muslim vendors at the train station and pulled at their beards. It was alleged that the Muslims set fire to a couple of rail cars and the Hindus were burnt alive. The violence in Gujarat could have been prevented either by the state police or army, but it became very clear that neither the state nor the central government, both controlled by rabid right wing zealots, was willing to protect minorities, and prevent such an extensive loss of life and property.
Some estimates put the death toll at two thousand, with hundreds of thousands rendered homeless. It was shameful that the administrations, both at the state as well as the center, allowed such carnage to take place. It was shameful such a thing could have happened in secular India. Hindu-Muslim riots are not uncommon, but most of the time, they are quickly brought under control by the authorities. That Mr. Modi, at the helm of affairs in Gujarat during that pogrom, did not bring to bear his full powers to immediately stop the bloodshed, to say the very least, is very disturbing. Also, that he belongs to the rabid right wing political party, known for its animosity to the minority Muslim community, raises serious questions about his inaction.
According to current opinion polls, Mr. Modi’s party might garner a majority of MPs, and therefore, being the leader of his party, he might become the Prime Minister. Many people feel that this might be a disaster. It will be similar to Scott Walker or Rick Perry becoming the next US president.
Mr. Modi was denied a visa based on America’s domestic law on the issues of “severe violations of religious freedom.” In other words, the US State department doubts Mr. Modi’s veracity when he says he had no role in the Gujarat riots. The fact that no one can prove his involvement is not sufficient in itself. Against this backdrop, the much publicized recent meeting between the US ambassador to India and Mr. Modi is very troubling. It suggests that the American government is set to pave the way for better relations with Mr. Modi, who might become the Prime Minister of India. This is unfortunate, immoral and intolerable. How can we tolerate the blatant overtures of our government to a person who has blood on his hands, however smart, however savvy, however efficient, however pragmatic he may be. This infamous meeting between the American ambassador and Mr. Modi is completely unacceptable to all Americans of all stripes who believe in religious freedom. Unfortunately, we the American public, as always, are kept in dark by our venal corporate media.
Rahul Gandhi is 43. By virtue of his genealogy, the son of a former Prime Minister (who was assassinated when Rahul Gandhi was in college), the grandson of another Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who was also assassinated when Rahul Gandhi was a child), the great-Grandson of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. With such illustrious ancestors, Rahul Gandhi, however reluctant he might be, has no choice but to lead the country. His political party has reasonably decent secular credentials, and he is known for his liberal views. Also, the mantle falls upon him as there is no other leader in his party who is as well known throughout the country. If he works hard, puts his heart and soul into it, Rahul Gandhi might be able to stem the tide of the right wing and save the country from total disaster.
Dear Mr. Gandhi:
I am compelled to write to you as I am dismayed at the recent overtures of the Americans to Mr. Modi. This development is extremely alarming because it suggests that the Americans are betting that Mr. Modi will be the next Prime Minister of India, and they don’t want to be left behind. Already European leaders have made their own pilgrimage to confer with Mr. Modi. Mr. Modi was never convicted by any court of law of wrong doing in the Gujarat riots. However, that does not absolve him of moral responsibility as he was the head of Gujarat state during that gruesome period. But, to the dismay of many, big business feels that it’s time to sweep all those concerns under the rug and rehabilitate Mr. Modi.
Now, after the much publicized meeting between the US Ambassador and Mr. Modi, who was denied a visa to enter the United States, will now be given a red carpet welcome, and even a State Dinner with all the fixings, including the bajra roti, a poor man’s delicacy in Gujarat. Mr. Modi will have a photo-op with a few prominent Indian-American Muslims, to show that there are no hard feelings. Followed by the platitudes of our pussyfooting President.
Now you may inquire, what’s all this hullaballoo to do with me? Mr. Gandhi, I am sure you are aware that, as the scion of the Great Dynasty, and as the great-Grandson of the fearless freedom fighter as well as the first Prime Minister of Free India, you are our only hope to preserve a secular India, a prosperous India, a tolerant India, an India where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others can live in peace and harmony, work and live side by side. So you need to fight the good fight, be more aggressive, more vigorous, more articulate.
First, please get rid of that beard. It may look good on a Bollywood heartthrob, but it’s not suitable for the leader of the world’s largest democracy. Can we think of any other world leader with such an unseemly stubble. The only two that come to mind are Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat, but they are hardly suitable role models. But, my point is, it’s very unbecoming of a future Prime Minister to sport a beard, however attractive it might be to the fair sex.
Speaking of which, I strongly advise you to get hitched in the next month or so. Please find a good God-fearing woman, get married, take her around the country, let her help you with the campaign. There are scores of universities all over the country where such articulate women bestowed not only with brains but also beauty can be found. In this regard, please follow the time-honored Indian tradition. Meet the girl, exchange a few words, and if everything matches, announce your wedding day. This simple gesture will go a long way in reassuring the conservative populace that you believe in the same family values. If one can believe the right wing propaganda, you appear to be harboring some feelings for an unnamed European lady. That’s all fine and dandy. A man has his needs. But marry a suitable bride.
Next, please update your wardrobe. Your handlers might think that your present garb will ingratiate you to the common man. But the common man likes to look up to his leaders, respect them. He does not want you to be one of them. He wants to put you up on a pedestal and worship you, just like he did your great-grandfather. Please take a look at the photographs of Mr. Nehru, see how stylish he was, always in a spotless jacket with a red rose in the lapel. No wonder that Mountbatten woman was all over him.
Finally, please get rid of all those aging sycophants that swarm around you. You have been embarrassed time and time again by the bad advice of these toadies. It’s time for new blood. It’s time for bold action. It’s time to roar the war cry. It’s time for the battle royale. Please hire a few good speech writers. Do your homework.
Stand in front of a mirror, practice your stump speech, including those pregnant pauses and poignant parables. Please look at clips of Ronald Reagan’s speeches. For a complete airhead, he knew how to deliver his lines. Mr. Gandhi, please no extempore stuff. We all know how it went when you tried it the last time around. Stand tall, look tough. Show you can take on Mr. Modi and his right wing mafia, not to speak of the American armada, their FBI, their CIA, their money bags.
Last but not the least, campaign relentlessly, all across the country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kakinada to Karwar. Give them hell, Rahul!
Rudy Ravindra, Ph.D.