Young professionals in Bangalore favour Modi’s promise, shrug off riots
As far as Vinod Hegde is concerned, Indian prime minister candidate Narendra Modi bears no responsibility for the 2002 Gujarat riots. More to the point, Hegde doesn’t care.
Hegde, a 26-year-old stockbroker in Bangalore, said that for people like him, the Gujarat chief minister is the only choice to lead India after countrywide parliamentary elections that began this week.
Allegations that Modi failed to stop or even allowed deadly riots in 2002 don’t sway his vote, Hegde said. And if the ruling Congress party’s candidate is Rahul Gandhi, the choice becomes even clearer.
“Even assuming Modi has been responsible for XYZ, we don’t see an alternative,” Hegde said. Referencing a Twitter post by music director Vishal Dadlani, he said, “If I had to choose between a moron and a murderer, I’d probably choose the murderer.”
Not everyone states their case for supporting Modi in such blunt terms, but interviews with young professionals in Bangalore, the information technology hub known as India’s Silicon Valley reveals a calculation in favour of Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that omits the riots from the equation.
For many people in Bangalore’s highly educated workforce, Modi is a welcome alternative to what is seen as an ineffective and corruption-tainted Congress party. They are part of what some media organizations have called a “Modi wave” that opinion polls, however unreliable, say could bring the BJP to power and push out the Gandhi-Nehru family’s Congress party.
Many BJP supporters see Rahul Gandhi, the party’s leader and the Gandhi family’s heir apparent, as ill suited for the job of running a country that is trying to revive its slowing economic growth and to provide opportunities for prosperity to its burgeoning middle class. (A note for people unfamiliar with this round of Lok Sabha elections: Indians will vote for members of Parliament in their local constituencies, and the winning party’s leadership names its ministers when it forms a new government.)
“The wave right now is very anti-Congress,” says Ben Mathias, a Bangalore-based venture capitalist and partner and executive director at New Enterprise Associates. “They’ve lost their opportunity over the past four years and could have done a lot more.”
Less important to voters here is the BJP’s Hindu nationalist platform, which opponents say reflects a hardline ideology that excludes and intimidates people of other religions in India – mainly Muslims.
“By nature most people in the IT industry are socially liberal and economically conservative,” said Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Group of Education and former CFO and head of HR at information technology giant Infosys. “The BJP has built its support largely on economic strength, not based on its ideological grounds.”
Modi is a skilled public speaker, and never fails to mention Gujarat’s success at attracting business and jobs to the state. His cultivated public image as a strong, bold politician who talks straight and cuts through bureaucracy appeals to the business community. “If the BJP were fielding another candidate I don’t think there would be this level of support,” Pai said.
Surendra Salke, a 24-year-old software engineer for Cisco Systems, spoke with excitement about the economic reforms he said Modi could offer, such as promoting industry and easing government approval processes on international investment.
“He will bring the policies that will help foreign investors and foreign companies to invest in India,” said Salke.
One month ago, 34-year-old Naresh Bharadwaj took leave from his mobile device applications company Meeva Technologies to volunteer for the BJP in Bangalore’s state of Karnataka.
“There is a clear wave toward Modi and toward the work he has done in Gujarat,” Bharadwaj said. “People know that they need a decisive leader and a corruption-free government… The platform of development and good governance is what this election is all about.”
While his supporters lay Gujarat’s economic success at Modi’s feet, opponents challenge this narrative as a PR effort, saying that Gujarat historically has been a developed state, and social and economic indicators do not suggest Modi’s government made a positive impact.
BJP supporters interviewed by Reuters.com give little credence to allegations that Modi failed to stop or even instigated the 2002 Godhra riots. A special investigative unit appointed by the Supreme Court of India found inadequate evidence to prosecute Modi, a ruling his detractors call an obstruction of justice.
“I think the Supreme Court has already given him a clean chit,” Bharadwaj said. “He has not allowed any other riots to happen after that.”
“If the judgment is not favourable to you, then you start questioning the court,” said Salke.
Any indignation over the BJP’s social platform has not given pause to many young professionals eager to believe Modi’s leadership can reinvigorate the economy and save India from what has been called a lost decade.
The Aam Aadmi Party, or “common man party,” enjoys support in Bangalore with its anti-corruption agenda, but is unlikely to outdo Congress or the BJP at the national level.
“The choice is clear,” Hegde said. “There is no choice.”