Category Archives: Modi (Pushpa)

Modi and Swami Vivekananda

By Pushpa Iyer

Swami Vivekananda (born Narendra Nath Datta), was a great Indian philosopher who is credited for reviving Hinduism both in India and the world in the late 19th century. Significant to note is the fact that Vivekananda believed in religious universalism and that no one religion was superior to another. He advocated for social reforms even if it went against the tenants of his religion (Hinduism) and promoted inter-religious dialogue.

So, it is a bit strange at his 150th anniversary, the ones who wanted to celebrate him the most were the Hindu fundamentalist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its other front organizations. Foremost in this, was Narendra Modi for whom Vivekananda was a personal hero. The Government of Gujarat declared the year 2012, as the “Year of Youth Power”  (Yuva Shakti Varsh) and created a website to honor Vivekanda’s anninvery. Modi authorized as a tweet (his twitter account is not an official Government of Gujarat account) a quote from Vivekananda almost every single day for year more most times with the hashtag #vivekananda150 (Mukopadhyay, Nilanjan 2013). Mukopadhyay also comments on the important role that social media plays for Modi – as his twitter account was not an official account, he was not constrained by the Election Commission rules (2012 being the election year in Gujarat).

vivekananda5Where are the origins of Modi’s appeal for Vivekananda?  Or as put by Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009, how did Modi’s desire for service to society begin? Although Modi himself in an interview quoted in the same book (pg. 18) attributes it to his mother who prepared and distributed indigenous medicine to children, the authors believe it was Modi’s fascination for Vivekananda where in the roots lie. Apparently, growing up given his interest is spirituality, read almost everything that was written by Vivekananda. The authors refer to Modi being influenced by Vivekananda’s patriotism, however, if Modi truly read Vivekananda, he would know that his brand of patriotism was never exclusionary. It was about being “nationalistic without developing into a nation”.

Modi himself has never explained the contradiction between him following Vivekananda and at the same time upholding the extremist Hindu values of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar. In one of his interviews he said  that “Vivekanda interpreted the Vedas to explain highest forms of spirituality in a simple language in order to rake up inner strength [for] nation building,” A case of selective perception – you read and study only what you want to believe? His silence on the subject maybe interpreted as cognitive dissonance and something that he might not be able to address even to himself.

Should one therefore believe that Modi is nothing but a man with an ambition? He wants to be Prime Minister and nothing will come in its way – even his own values and beliefs?  And even though he may have read Vivekananda differently, or had his spiritual experiences in his youth, it is about matching his beliefs to those of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar that will give him his ticket to the Prime Minister’s office? Is he using Vivekanda to advance his own political goals? The answer is in the affirmative for every one of these questions given the many contradictions in his perceptions of Vivekananda and yet, own cannot ignore the idea that what may have started as a genuine spiritual quest for a young Modi somewhere got corrupted in the politics of religion as advanced by the RSS.

Where does Modi’s ambition come from? Topic for another blog.

A Religious Fanatic or Politico-Relgious Strategist?

By Pushpa Iyer

Jasood Khan Pathan, claims to have studied with Narendra Modi from I to XI and that he was a close friend. At school, he sat with Modi on the same bench and basically grew up together. Pathan does not recall any conflict with his school friend and there certainly was no social tension in Vadnagar between the Muslim and Hindu communities (Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009). Irrespective of Pathan’s then reported closeness to Modi, the present “anti-Muslim” image of Modi is a significant aspect of his current brand.

So, how religious is Modi? In his own words “…not religious but spiritual” (Mukopadhyay, Nilanjan 2013). Modi is known to fast twice a year, an intense one where he drinks only water for nine days. He argues that while he fasts on days of religious significance and prays and even visits temples of certain Gods and Goddess, he is not one to have blind-beliefs seeped in any religion.

His childhood forays with religion tells another story. According to one story, Modi as a young lad of 12 years dove into lake, Sharmistha, infested with crocodiles to change the flag atop a temple structure. Changing the flag was a ritual that was centered on certain auspicious days of the year.  His family also reports that Modi was religious as a child – very disciplined about what he ate (giving up on salt, chilies and oil) and interacted with many religious men (sadhus). His family worried as Modi began displaying more signs of religiosity (or spirituality). And their worries proved right when Modi, as soon as he finished school, left home for the Himalayas to become an ascetic (sanyasin).  He returned after two years with the decision to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – an organization that espoused Hindu superiority as its ideology.  As a propagandist (pracharak) of the RSS, Modi had to remain a bachelor and had to be the link between the banned RSS and the political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009).

Modi RSSThe RSS training Modi underwent before becoming a pracharak together with his experiences of being one, definitely must have influenced if not shaped, his belief of the Hindu religion. In a very controversial interview to Reuters in July 2013, Modi declared himself to be a Hindu Nationalist because “I am a Hindu and I am a Patriot…so yes, I am a Hindu Nationalist” and thus aligning himself clearly to the Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) ideology of the BJP which advocates for “one nation, one culture, one people, one religion”.  In the same interview he also made a statement in response to a question that he treats all people of India irrespective of their religion as citizens of India because “Religion should not be an instrument in your democratic process. That would be a danger to democracy”.

In the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, Muslism are said to have voted for Modi, campaigned as party workers but no Muslim got a ticket to the assembly.

The author interviewed (January 2013) a senior official in the Gujarat administration who analysed Modi as a man with a single goal: He, Modi, wanted to be the Prime Minister of India. He added, “Modi is not fanatical about religion. He doesn’t really care but for the fact that everything is a strategy.  2002 violence was a strategy. Modi would be fine re-creating 2002 in order to win Prime Minister-ship”. That sends a shiver down one’s spine. Is Modi a Hindu fanatic? Or a political strategist who is a master manipulator with his tool: religion? Either way, scary! And yes, a danger to democracy!

Narendra Modi, the leader!

By Pushpa Iyer

Narendra Modi, the current Chief Minister of Gujarat state, northwestern India, has been in power since 2001. Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, popularly considered a right-wing party that advocates for Hindu nationalism. Modi, has been implicated as the architect of the 2002 pogrom against the Muslims of Gujarat. In spite of all the negativity and opposition against him, he has successfully managed to win the elections in the state three times since the 2002 violence. Following 2002, while a significant section of the population sees him as the “murderer”,  an equal if not a greater number of the population inside and outside of the state, see him as the symbol of “Development”, so much so that there is now a ‘Modi Model of Development’ that is studied by business schools of the country and even internationally; a model that is sought for replication in the rest of the country.

The hype around his model of development – a simple neo-liberal economic model  (also called the ‘corporate model’ by Medha Patkar, a noted social activist) – is only matched by the fact that the BJP has chosen him to be their Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 national elections.

Modi’s rise to leadership and ability to survive amidst adversity, is reflected in his personal life. He was born on September 17, 1950, in Vadnagar a small town in Mehsana district of Gujarat. He was the third of the six children of Damodardas Mulchand and Heeraben Modi. Modi’s beginning’s were humble, his was a family of grocers; he and his brother are known to have sold  tea in a small stall in their town’s railway station (Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009 and Hindustan Times, September 13, 2013 ). His family belonged to the Ganchi caste listed as one of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the Indian constitution. Modi is reported by his former teachers as an average student who went on to receive his MA in Political Science from Gujarat University (Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009).

Modi left home at age 17, to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an extremist Hindu Nationalist group that from before the time of Independence has committed itself to building Hindu unity, opposing British colonialism and suppressing Muslim assertions of identity. The RSS ideology draws parallel to the Nazi ideology of creating a pure race. With the RSS being banned from political sphere in the post Independence period thrice, it has to a large degree, relied on the BJP to be its political ally and even mouthpiece.  Modi raised in the traditions of the RSS since a young age, is a strict follower of the group’s teachings, and in fact spent many years as its Pracharak (propagandist). From then it was it was only a steep rise for Modi politcally. Recognised as a strategist by the then powers that be, Modi has continued to grow and step easily into being a leader.

Modi is one of the most divisive figures today in the country. When he was a child his horoscope was read by an astrologer who declared that Modi would either be an ascetic or an emperor (Kamath, M.V., Randeri, Kalindi 2009). There are many who are rooting for him to be the emperor (read: become the Prime Minister of India) while others continue to wish that he had never strayed from the path he had once explored – that of becoming an ascetic!

More on Modi’s religious beliefs and values next!