Monday, 22nd December 2014

Analysis: Modi bhai, Indian media and Nepali concern


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Manoj RijalIt's now official: Narendra Damodar Das Modi, the most prominent Gujarati after Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi and Sardar Ballav Bhai Patel, is the 15th Prime Minister of India.
 
Gandhi was the Ganesh Man Singh factor of India, as he always showed apathy to posts and ranks. He offered prime ministerial job to Jawahar Lal Nehru, just like Ganesh Man doing the same for Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in 1990.  

Nehru consolidated his grip in politics to such an extent that he ruled India until his death in 1964 and created environment for his four generations (Indira, Rajib, Sonia, Rahul) to succeed him for five decades. Following the dismal performance of Indian National Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, some analysts have started terming Rahul as the Last Mughal of India (Bahadur Shah Jafar, 1775-1862), symbolizing the end of family politics of the past five generations. Both Sonia and Rahul - the mother and son duos, did their best by furnishing resignation as the president and vice president of India's grand old party. As it was expected, the typical mindset of Congress leaders and cadres couldn't imagine a party without Sonia and Rahul and therefore, the mother and son had to withdraw their resignations. Of late, demands are even being raised inside the Congress to put forth Priyanka, Rahul's younger sister by one-and-half-years, as the leader, in case of Rahul failing to lead the party.

Amid the Congress's dynastic obsession, the rise of a son of a chaiwala (tea stall owner) and a chaiwala himself is spectacular. Born in 1950, three years after India restored independence in 1947, Modi has undergone several sea-changes in his life to attain the top executive post of India. He was not the top most leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which garnered an emphatic majority of 282 seats in the 543-member House. Leaving aside the retired founding leader Atal Bihari Bajpayee, there was yet another founding leader Lal Krishna Advani active in the party along with senior heavyweights Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh (party chief) and Nitin Gadkari (former party chief). Previously, there were seniors such as Jashwant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Pramod Mahajan (late). The day Modi received an opportunity to be the chief minister of Gujarat replacing BJP veteran Keshu Bhai Patel in 2001 was the turning point for him, as he proved himself that he is a brilliant student of management and he knows how a state should be managed.

Modi's stories of economic charisma in Gujarat during his four terms as the chief minister (2001-2014) went so viral that he became the most popular politician of India. The BJP was under pressure to nominate none other than Modi as the prime ministerial candidate to accommodate his immense popularity as well as secure victory for the party in the then upcoming election. Beside the repeatedly told stories of economic development, Modi was unbrokenly chased by controversial sub-stories, such as the 2002 Gujarat riots and being a Hindu nationalist. Modi was apparently able to convince people that he had no hand in the riots and that religion was not the prime agenda of his election campaign. Development and good governance, as he said, were the main priorities for him. The voters, including a large chunk of minority Muslims, too, trusted him and catapulted him to the 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi, as the successor of the recently retired PM Manmohan Singh.  
 
Modi was the third PM after Chandra Shekhar and Bajpayee to organize a swearing-in ceremony in a grand manner in an open ground (forecourts) of the presidential palace inviting around 3,000 to 4,000 guests, including leaders of South Asian countries. And our leader, Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, was also one of the distinguished guests in the ceremony held on Monday evening, May 26, 2014.

Indian media

It was distinctly visible that, among all international guests, the Indian media paid sole attention to Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif in its television, print and online coverage. It was natural for them, as India and Pakistan, a single entity until 1947, share a blood-shed history and an ongoing mutual feeling of animosity and hatred. However, the Indian media treated the rest countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and others), as if they were invited merely to witness the event and clap when it was required. As for the Indian government which probably understands the importance of having a friendly neighborhood provided equal treatment to all South Asian guests. In stark contrast, despite having the longest history of broadcast and publication in the entire South Asian region, the Indian media couldn't come up with a balanced coverage, implying that they still have lots of spaces for improvement.

The countries which the Indian media treated as the "minnows" and the "rest" actually determine what India's global role could be in the days to come. "Ab hum global power banenge" (we'll be a global power now) is something we saw repeatedly in Indian media over the past several weeks. We would be happy for India if that dream comes true. But for that to happen, the Indian media have to realize that global powers first manage their neighborhood according them a high priority. Even when India establishes peace with Pakistan, it still has to deal with Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. How could India emerge as a global player, if it has, for instance, disputes with these three sovereign states and can't be a "good" regional power first? Doesn't it tarnish India's international image?

The matter of Indian media's treatment could be viewed from a different perspective, too. Let's assume, Bollywood actor Salman Khan decides to attend yet another star Shah Rukh Khan's birthday party. Karan Johar, Hrithik Roshan and Farah Khan, too, make up their mind to join the party. Amid the long existing feud between Salman and Shah Rukh, media would obviously make headlines for Salman attending the party. As Johar, Roshan and Farah are regular friends of Shah Rukh, people would take it for granted that they would always stand by Shah Rukh's side and there is no need to make headlines. In Modi's official oath taking ceremony, did the same thing happen to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, as they were like Johar, Roshan and Farah, the regular friends of Shah Rukh? This sort of perception might have worked in part of the Indian media, but can we, the "regular friends" of India, take it for granted? Just like Johar, Roshan and Farah also being in the show-business would prefer routine limelight and media coverage; it is natural for us -Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the regular friends, that we also need attention. Hopefully, the Indian media would take this dimension of South Asian politics in a more practical approach in the days to come.

Nepal's concern

With Modi's landslide victory, lotuses have blossomed everywhere from Kanya Kumari to Jammu and from Assam to Karnataka. Among the Indian states bordering Nepal, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar are the most significant ones from economic point of view. In the UP, the BJP has secured a sweeping victory accumulating 71 of 80 seats. In Bihar, it is in a comfortable majority of 22 of 40 seats. These two states voted massively for the BJP, as they wanted the "Gujarat model" of development the most. It is very common for the people of Bihar and UP to temporarily migrate to other states including Punjab, Hariyana and Gujarat in search of job opportunities that mostly involve physical labor. UP and Bihar suffer from the lack of large scale industries (let's say, the factories), low productivity of agriculture sector in absence of modern technologies and generation-after-generation's abject poverty. Bihar's immediate-past chief minister Nitish Kumar, to some extent, brought Bihar's infrastructural development, such as road and electricity, to a certain level. Now people have expressed their desire that BJP's central government would alter their fate in a more vibrant manner. In UP, nothing much has been heard about significant changes since Akhilesh Yadav assumed the post of chief minister in 2012. The UP, the most populous state of India, where around 200 million citizens reside (20 crores, not a joke), needs development the most and the en-masse voting in favour of BJP was an indicator to it.

PM Modi has retained Varanasi constituency of UP, quitting home constituency of Vadodara, Gujarat, for his greater role in India. It signals that the development of UP (and Bihar, too) is in the top priority of Modi. The proper Hindi belt, and those comfortable with the use of Hindi, immensely voted for Modi and his party. Along with UP and Bihar, states which significantly voted for the BJP, include Jharkhand (12 of 14), Uttarakhand (5 of 5), Himachal (4 of 4), Madhya Pradesh (27 of 29), Chhattisgarh (10 of 11), Rajasthan (25 of 25), Gujarat (26 of 26) and Delhi (7 of 7). The BJP even won remarkable seats in far-flung Assam (7 of 14), a majority in south's Karnataka (17 of 28) and a coalition-majority in Marathi-speaking Maharastra (BJP 23, Shiv Sena 18 of 48).

The general impression is that the states which enormously voted for Modi would benefit the most, though Modi has said he would treat all states equally in terms of development. In all situations, it is for sure, the UP and Bihar belt that borders Nepal would see significant positive changes under Modi's premiership. The development in these states will naturally benefit Nepal's Terai-Madesh region in terms of importing low-price manufactured goods, setting up factories in Nepal as an influence and imitating modern agricultural technologies in line with those to be applied in UP and Bihar.

Among the two seats of West Bengal the BJP has won (Asansol and Darjeeling), Nepal has borders with Darjeeling constituency. Potential large-scale development in Darjeeling, therefore, could influence development in Nepal's Ilam, Panchthar and Jhapa districts, too.

Overall, Modi fought election in the name of development, not religion. According to our PM Koirala, Indian PM Modi has respect and good faith for Nepal. The question is how much Nepal becomes able to cash in the development agenda of Modi. Previously, former chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, spearheaded development works in Bihar, but we were largely unable to have the ripple effect in our central and eastern Terai districts ranging from Parsa to Jhapa. Now that Modi's more focus is on the UP, we can expect the domino effect of development in Nepal's western Terai districts ranging from Nawalparasi to Kanchanpur. Let's hope for the best, but (let's) not depend, as we go with the Nepali proverb – Aas garnu, tara bhar naparnu. Well said, indeed.

(The writer is a senior journalist of Nepal with specialization in public policy and governance. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )


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