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Sat 21 Mar 2015 02:46 AM

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Has Narendra Modi already lost the plot?

Ten months after winning an historic election, the Indian prime minister’s honeymoon is well and truly over, says Anil Bhoyrul

Has Narendra Modi already lost the plot?

When Narendra Modi turned up to meet Barack Obama in a ludicrous pin-striped suit embroidered with his own name across it, most people just had a good giggle. Some thought he looked like a prat. The spokesman for the main opposition Congress party went further, saying: “The levels of megalomania and narcissism are unparalleled...it reveals a lot about the mind-set of the man”.

Whatever your views on the suit (I am in the “prat” corner), as India’s Prime Minister closes in on his first year in office, there is increasingly less to laugh about. Personally, I was never swayed by the Modi-mania that swept him into office as leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year. I always felt his strongest point was not being the other guy.

As Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, he oversaw the religious riots that left close to 2,000 Muslims dead, with to this day several questions on the role of his government in allegedly stirring up the violence still unanswered.

But nothing has ever been proven against Modi (even though for nine years he was banned from entering the US because of his alleged role in the riots), so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, given that he was elected by the world’s biggest democracy.

Almost a year on, just how has he fared? First, the good stuff. Modi’s first big budget last month had some strong points, notably raising the spending on infrastructure to nearly $12bn and a “universal social security” system. This should give poor Indians much-needed access to subsidised insurance and pensions. And the lowering of corporate tax, coupled with the announcements of some mega-power projects, are a big step in the right direction.

But as for the “big bang reforms” Indians were promised before he got elected, especially on infrastructure and power, changes to goods and service tax and incentives to boost manufacturing, it looks like they will have to wait another year.

By which time Modi’s position, and India itself, could be in a very different place. His government decided earlier this month to ban a documentary called “India’s Daughter”. Produced by Leslee Udwin, this focused on the horrific gang rape in December, 2012 of 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh.

Why the ban? According to parliamentary affairs minister, M Venkaiah Naidu: “We can ban the film in India. But this is an international conspiracy to defame India. We will see how the film can be stopped abroad too.”

That is staggering nonsense, and makes fools of the millions who elected the BJP. Make no mistake, this ban is an utter disgrace that completely shames Modi and his government. Coupled with wider plans to restrict internet freedoms, you can see why The Economist recently reported that Modi was “arrogant”, “high-handed and aloof”.

More worrying though is the eerie feeling that under Modi, India is becoming more religiously polarised. Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP Party last month took over as Chief Minister of Delhi, winning 67 of the 70 seats available in a local election. Modi’s BJP party suffered its worst ever defeat in the city, giving Kerjriwal the perfect base to take on Modi on a national scale.

The Modi honeymoon is over. That Delhi result is all the more significant because of the extremist undertones that marred the campaign, including an increasing number of attacks on Christian churches. One of the BJP’s ministers went as far as to call all non-Hindus “bastards”.  Another close ally of Modi, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, claimed all Indians were Hindus, stoking religious tensions even further. When it comes to religious polarisation, well, we know Modi has form. All the above, and the rising terror attacks in Kashmir since he was elected, do not bode well for a secure and stable Indian future.

It is of course early days into the Modi-era, and religious divides are nothing new in the country. Nor is gridlock when it comes to a radical economic plan and budget. But if I were to give Modi a scorecard for his first ten months in power, two out of ten would be generous.

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Rajendran 5 years ago

The article is poorly written with tons of prejudice. At the best it shows the author's desperation to come to limelight by taking up the name of Narendra Modi on the wrong side!

Tim Take 5 years ago

Anil Why don't you focus on the hypocrisy in the Arab world first.
Why women cannot drive, why the Arabs are so intolerant to ALL non-Muslims.

As for Modi and the so called riots, it seems to have been lost in your pathetic calculus, that it was the Radical Muslim fanatics who started the riots in burning Hindu Pilgrims.
Modi for his part, tried to stop the riots and calm the situation. Much to your chagrin and propaganda machine.

You are the kind of buffoon that still likes to see India as a land of snake charmers. Why don't you instead focus in educating the Muslims to be more tolerant of non-Muslims and open some Churches, Temples, Synagogues all over their lands first!

Rajiv 5 years ago

The problem is there is no decent opposition. I agree with some of the issues you raise but what is the opposition doing to keep him in check ?

ahmed 5 years ago

1. Generalizing on the so called 'hypocrisy' is factually incorrect
2. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind
3. Educating ? - we need to keep our eyes open to see what's happening around us.
4. Tolerance - that's something that seems to now be disintegrating even across the 'developed' world?

Food for thought!

FAhmed 5 years ago

one word for you: tahelka. besides various other sources.
"so called riots"
propaganda indeed.
there are churches, temples and synagogues all over the arab world. get an education.

Steady 5 years ago

Narendra Modi never had a plot! The only plot he has is to stay in power and keep the past from catching up.

He got a clear majority with a pathetic 31% voteshare in a perfect storm of the fear of Rahul becoming PM, minorities ditching Congress and an aspirational educated I know it all middle class tilting the scale just enough.

He knows the least important aspirations are the Middle class development one's he needs to deliver first on the corporate and communal agenda's to stay in power and keep the Dilliwala's on a tight leash.

Ann 5 years ago

Tim - if you cant take his views, please do not read it. He is correct about the current "modi-ism". High time everyone called off their honey moon with him. When he was CM he orchestrated the killing of so many of innocents - if not why didn't he stop it? In such circumstances the CM is not meant to sit on the wall - he should have got off and controlled the situation. These comments are more anti-"religious" than anything else!!!
Yes in the Arab world, may be there are some flaws - so what? One doesn't like it - leave it and move on. You cant have the tax-free salary alone. It is a package of the good and bad!

umas 5 years ago

Do something for your country instead of giving an overview from outside the country. This article does not have indepth view of the policies announced. That is for sure.

Gaja 5 years ago

Anil Bhoyrul has lost his plot. Please concentrate on the middle east and no need to comment on the worlds biggest democracy.
All should respect that Modi is the elected leader and not born into royalty .

Charles 5 years ago

Modi was elected just because the earlier govt was corruption ridden and a mess.Add to it their insistence on rahul Gandhi leading who is nothing but a joker.Modi is just a frontman. All this economic reforms were just an eyewash. The real agenda is to implement their hindu nationalist agenda which means to negate the constitutional safeguards of freedom of religion and protection to minorities. The recent attacks on churches is no surprise.Whenever a BJP govt has come in power this has been the routine.The only difference it has the full backing of the govt which wants to look in the other direction. That he was megalomanianc and and authoritarian is well known.The other ministers on his govt are just incomeptent people many of them who dont even have college degrees.