New Delhi: Narendra Modi was favourite to become India’s next prime minister but it would be wrong for a man “who has thrived on division” to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India, The Economist magazine has said.
In a lead piece in its April 5 issue, the highly regarded magazine said that though there was much to admire about Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, it cannot bring itself to back him for India’s highest office.
The article is also critical of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi over his perceived diffidence but said his government “was a less disturbing option.”
The Ecomomist said India was teeming with problems but a decade under a coalition led by Congress had left it rudderless.
“Reforms go undone, roads and electricity remain unavailable, children are left uneducated ….The business of politics, Indians conclude, is corruption. No wonder that the overwhelming favourite to become India’s next prime minister is Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi,” it said.
“Mr Modi is a former teaseller propelled to the top by sheer ability. Mr Gandhi seems not to know his own mind – even whether he wants power. Mr Modi’s performance as chief minister of Gujarat shows that he is set on economic development and can make it happen. Mr Gandhi’s coalition is tainted by corruption. By comparison Mr Modi is clean.
“So there is much to admire. Despite that, this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi for India’s highest office. The reason begins with a Hindu rampage against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, in which at least 1,000 people were slaughtered…Mr Modi had helped organise a march on the holy site at Ayodhya in 1990 which, two years later, led to the deaths of 2,000 in Hindu-Muslim clashes.
“A lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group in whose cause he has vowed lifelong celibacy, he (Modi) made speeches early in his career that shamelessly whipped up Hindus against Muslims. In 2002 Mr Modi was chief minister and he was accused of allowing or even abetting the pogrom,” the magazine said.
It said that arguments put in defence of Mr Modi were “too generous.”
“One reason why the inquiries into the riots were inconclusive is that a great deal of evidence was lost or wilfully destroyed. And if the facts in 2002 are murky, so are Mr Modi’s views now,” it said.
It said Modi could put the “pogrom” behind him by explaining what happened and apologising but he refuses to answer questions about them.
“By refusing to put Muslim fears to rest, Mr Modi feeds them. By clinging to the anti-Muslim vote, he nurtures it.”
“If Mr Modi were to explain his role in the violence and show genuine remorse, we would consider backing him, but he never has; it would be wrong for a man who has thrived on division to become prime minister of a country as fissile as India. We do not find the prospect of a government led by Congress under Mr Gandhi an inspiring one. But we have to recommend it to Indians as the less disturbing option,” the magazine noted. .
It said if Congress wins, Gandhi should make “a virtue of his diffidence by stepping back from politics and promoting modernisers to the fore.”
“If, more probably, victory goes to the BJP, its coalition partners should hold out for a prime minister other than Mr Modi.”
“And if they still choose Mr Modi? We would wish him well, and we would be delighted for him to prove us wrong by governing India in a modern, honest and fair way. But for now he should be judged on his record – which is that of a man who is still associated with sectarian hatred. There is nothing modern, honest or fair about that. India deserves better,” the magazine said.