Interview: Narendra Modi has marginalized his own party – Jairam Ramesh
By Frank Jack Daniel, Jo Winterbottom and Mayank Bhardwaj
Jairam Ramesh, the rural development minister in the Congress-led government, told Reuters on Tuesday that Narendra Modi’s career reminded him of the rise of the Third Reich, the strongest comments yet by a minister of his rank on the Bharatiya Janata Party leader.
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Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
Where do you feel public sentiment is at the moment?
If you look at the social media, the sentiment is in one way. If you travel like the way I do to remote parts of the country where social media footprint is very very inconspicuous, the sentiment is some other way. We are going through the noise phase of the election campaign … Sentiments change, by the way; there is no such thing like a permanent sentiment.
The Modi campaign has got a lot of momentum and the perception is that the Congress campaign lacks that momentum.
Modi-entum, not momentum. The BJP is a master of hype. I have seen them now for 20 years closely and they are the world’s greatest experts at hype. And very soon they come down to earth because they begin to take their hype very seriously. When you start believing that hype, then you run into serious trouble. This is what happened to the BJP in the past. India Shining was a good example of that hype.
I think a time will come when Mr Modi will begin to get judged differently. But India right now in 2013, I would say, we are going through what Germany went through in 1932. The classic symptoms, I am beginning to read all my old books about how the Third Reich came into being, how fascism overtook parts of Europe. Because, look at Mr Modi’s — what are the three principles of his ideology? Political autocracy, social divisiveness and economic liberalism. This is sort of Mr Modi reduced to three dimensions, the 3D Mr Modi. This is exactly what created the autobahns and Volkswagens in the 30s but also created the disaster of Germany.
Don’t you think it’s a bit over-the-top to compare Modi to Hitler?
It’s not. It’s certainly not. I didn’t compare him to Hitler, by the way. I never took the word Hitler anywhere. Mr Modi has demonstrated in 12 years that he’s been in power. He runs a one-man show in Gujarat. It’s a one-man political party. He has marginalized not only us, he’s also marginalized his own party. Yes, he is industry friendly. But whether he is crony-friendly or market-friendly, I don’t know. Mr Modi has demonstrated a singular incapacity to abide by rules.
Is the Congress party doing enough and what is the Congress going to do to prevent his rise?
The RSS is the ideological fountainhead for Mr Modi and it is the vision of the RSS that is in conflict with that of the Congress. Let’s put it this way, it is people who were inspired by the RSS ideology who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. This was an ideology that led to the assassination of the father of the nation. It’s extraordinary that the same party and the same leader is now seeking to reclaim the Gandhian legacy or the (Sardar) Patel legacy. Patel was the man who banned the RSS following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
There is the perception of a certain defeatism within the Congress party.
Congress party is a giant elephant. It moves slowly. The BJP is a jackal, he can sniff, move here, move there quickly. But the Congress party is a 125-year-old institution. Many epitaphs of the Congress have been written which have proved to be premature. So I have been saying to my friends who are Modi-friendly, remember what Mark Twain said once: the reports of my death are largely exaggerated. So don’t write off the Congress so soon in the game.
There is a generational change going on with Rahul (Gandhi). That doesn’t seem to be going very smoothly.
No generational shift is smooth. The fact is that Mr Gandhi is bringing about a generational change. His big-bang, high-drama, high-octane intervention on the ordinance is an example of that. Even I was defending the ordinance. But here comes across this man who says this is all nonsense. That’s the way he should do.
Does the Congress need an election defeat to come back stronger?
If Mr Modi loses 2014, his story is over, his balloon is burst. If Mr (Rahul) Gandhi does not do well in 2014, he is still going to be around. My frustration is that he is too forward-looking. He is talking of structure, systems; he’s talking of building up Congress in the long term whereas we are now faced with fighting an election in the short term. Certainly, Mr Modi is somebody whom we have to contend with. We can’t just airbrush him aside.
But he has been attracting investments in Gujarat.
Has he? That’s not what the data shows. Gujarat is the second most industrialized state of India. But unfortunately for Mr Modi, it was second most industrialized state in 1990, in 1980 and in the year 2000. Gujaratis take to business and entrepreneurship like ducks taking to water or Bengalis taking to politics. Mr Modi inherited a vibrant enterprise, he didn’t inherit a Chapter 11 bankrupt company and turn it around. I would like to see Mr Modi turn around Bihar, if he had done something like that, I would have said he did a great job.
It would seem that India wants somebody aggressive at the moment.
I don’t know what India wants, but which India wants, that’s a separate issue. Parts of the social media may be wanting. But I am not sure when I go to Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal, Assam that Modi has any resonance there. Our biggest challenge is to cut through the hype. And what are the facts, what does he stand for? Mr Modi, by the way, never engages in interactions with anybody. Only bully pulpit. He only gives speeches. He comes, he says what he has to say and then he leaves.
And nor does Mr Gandhi, to be fair?
So far Mr Gandhi also has not been very communicative, sure.
(Editing by Shashank Chouhan, Tony Tharakan and Aditya Kalra; This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)