Why do intellectuals hate modes

Narendra Modi - India's Redeemer?

Many Indians long for a strong leader. They deliberately overlook the darker sides of their idol.

«I will choose Narendra Modi. He's the only one who can still save India, ”says Girish Sharma with conviction. «The economy is down. All that the Congress Party has offered us in the last ten years are corruption scandals, ”complains the 26-year-old manager who works in a small IT company in Ahmedabad. He belongs to the urban middle class, which under Chief Minister Modi benefited greatly in the western state of Gujarat. Now he hopes that his idol will lead all of India into a better future.

A god for some

“In Ahmedabad, the power supply is reliable, the roads are better than anywhere else in the country, and there are enough jobs for young people like me. That's why we love Modi, ”enthuses Sharma. Around a dozen young business people who sit with him during their lunch break in front of an office building in the city center and drink tea agree with him. "So far, cricket heroes and Bollywood stars have been our role models," says the 24-year-old businessman Suresh Patel. “Modi is the first politician in decades who can inspire the younger generation. Many here worship him like a god. "

As chief minister, the 63-year-old Modi has made a name for himself as a business-friendly and incorruptible doer. He won three elections in Gujarat, making him the longest-serving head of government the state has ever had. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even has an absolute majority in the regional parliament. But Modi is not only one of the most popular politicians in India, but also one of the most controversial. Anyone who does not love him hates him at least as passionately.

Outside of Gujarat, the inveterate Hindu nationalist was long a red rag because of the questionable role his government played in religious unrest in February 2002. Over a thousand people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the state at the time. Muslim houses and shops were set on fire, mosques and tombs destroyed. Over a hundred thousand people were displaced. Many Muslims still live in ghettos today. Hindu fanatics fueled the hatred, the police stood idly by. To date, however, the head of government has neither apologized for the pogrom nor expressed regret.

A demagogue for the others

India's Muslims, who make up around 15 percent of the population, are unlikely to forget Modi's dark past anytime soon. They fear being socially marginalized or even politically persecuted by the Hindu hardliners. Liberal intellectuals also have reservations. You consider Modi to be a dangerous demagogue who will restrict citizens' freedoms and weaken democratic institutions.

The majority of Indians are secular and proud of the peaceful coexistence of various religious groups in their country. Just a few years ago, political observers therefore considered it impossible that such a polarizing figure could ever become prime minister. But today Modi is the clear favorite in the parliamentary elections, which last until May 12th. In order to appeal to broader sections of the population, Modi has tempered its religious chauvinism in recent years. Today he mainly talks about how he wants to develop the country economically and free it from endemic corruption. According to Manmohan Singh - a weak decision-making and ineffective prime minister - the rising Indian middle class longs for a strong leader, and many entrepreneurs also see Modi as their savior.

Kaushik Pandya, who owns an electronics store in Old Delhi and has so far been a loyal supporter of the Congress Party, also voted for Narendra Modi in this general election. The 52-year-old has never been to Gujarat himself, but he is convinced that everything is going better in the western state than in India. Wherever one speaks to voters these days, one hears similar assessments. Modi has promised to develop the whole country along the lines of Gujarat, and his well-oiled propaganda machinery has successfully spread the mantra. The "Gujarat model" has become a box office hit in the election campaign.

With a Twitter following of 3.7 million, Modi dominates the political debate on social media. The headlines in the local newspapers and TV channels also revolve mainly around the self-made man from Gujarat. Modi is running his campaign in the style of a presidential candidate. Everything revolves around his person. The party plays a minor role. Because Rahul Gandhi, the offspring of the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, can hardly keep up with Modi rhetorically, the leadership of the Congress party has not officially declared the 43-year-old as a candidate for prime ministerial office. Modi's opponents have hyped up the choice of a plebiscite against him and thus only made him more prominent.

Vain and hard-working

Modi should enjoy the media hype, he is considered to be downright vain. The 63-year-old likes to brag about his impressive chest size and has a reputation for being one of the best-dressed politicians in the country. He prefers to wear the traditional Indian kurta pajamas in orange tones, the color of the Hindu nationalists. But Modi doesn't just impress with its exterior. He's also a gifted speaker and hard worker. Since being named the top candidate in September, he has traveled tirelessly across the country to mobilize the masses.

So far, the BJP's sphere of influence has been limited to Gujarat and some Hindi-speaking states in the north of the country. Modi now hopes to be able to win votes in the south this time too, in order to achieve an absolute majority of the 543 seats in the lower house. Most experts do not trust him to win such a clear victory. In most constituencies, the BJP not only competes against the ailing Congress party, but also against strong regional parties, and traditionally, voters in India vote less for a party and its top candidates than for a local MP from whom they benefit in their constituency promise. However, the BJP hopes to break up this voting behavior with its unusually popular draft horse and to take power again in Delhi after a long dry spell. If Modi won over 200 seats in parliament, he would be incontestable in the party for the time being. But if the BJP fared worse, he could come under fire.

Modi is not a team player. He prefers to make decisions independently. The party headquarters in Delhi has lost influence in recent months, and some high-ranking BJP members have been bypassed in filling the electoral roll. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, who recently published a biography of the politician, writes that Modi has a very authoritarian streak. He doesn't like to hear other opinions and demands absolute submission from his people. Modi appears to be one of the most undemocratic politicians in India, the biographer noted.

Authoritarian traits

Many in Ahmedabad can confirm this. But hardly anyone dares to take a public position against Modi. "Anyone who criticizes the chief minister is branded an enemy of the state," complains a journalist who does not want to be quoted by name. “There is a climate of fear. Because nobody dares to report critically, nobody knows what is going on behind the scenes in our state. "

Gujarat is a one-man show, says former chief minister Suresh Metha, who left the BJP in protest. Besides Modi, no one in the state has been able to make a name for himself politically in recent years. Ministers and parliamentarians are only there to implement the decisions of the head of government. Critics would be threatened or silenced with lawsuits.

But Delhi is a different place. The media there are relatively free, the police and the judiciary independent. In addition, the next prime minister will probably have to rely on a number of coalition partners whose demands he cannot simply ignore. If Modi wanted to hold together a huge country like India, he would have to change his style of government, says a young MP in Delhi. Indira Gandhi was also very popular before she undermined the democratic system and declared a state of emergency in the mid-1970s. For this she was punished by the electorate. The young politician is convinced that Modi will face the same fate if he does not curb his authoritarian tendencies.

Another question is whether the religious polarization will intensify under a Prime Minister Modi. Mukhopadhyay believes that this too will depend on the majority in parliament. If Modi wins clearly, he will probably give in to his anti-Muslim instincts. But if he is dependent on the support of secular coalition partners, he will hardly take the risk and concentrate entirely on the recovery of the economy.

Questions about the "Gujarat Model"

Most commentators in Delhi believe that for pragmatic reasons, Modi will try to put his past behind him. Political scientist and writer Omair Ahmad is convinced that at the age of 63 he was still young for an Indian politician and certainly had long-term plans. Modi don't be stupid. He knows that the religious platform that made him popular in Gujarat will hardly work at the national level. Ahmad believes that religious peace in India is hardly at risk for the time being. But it is to be feared that the democratic structures would be weakened under Modi.

Economists, however, are skeptical. In her opinion, the Gujarat image that Modi sells is heavily embellished. The state owes its economic success above all to its geographical location on the Indian Ocean and the proverbial efficiency of its population, argues the economic historian Dwijender Tripathi. Even before Modi, the state recorded above-average growth rates. Other experts also say that Gujarat's upswing has little to do with Modi's politics. The model can therefore not simply be transferred to other regions.

Scientific studies also show that the situation in Gujarat is not quite as rosy as Modi's party wants to lead one to believe. Despite the high growth in recent years, the state has performed worse than many others on social indicators such as malnutrition and child mortality. But such arguments from skeptics miss most voters. The desire for political change is so strong that many Indians simply cling to the hope that everything would be better under a Prime Minister Modi.

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