Personal Experience of Interaction with Modi
Author(s) : Dr Vathsala Mani
I’m a 72 year old South Indian Brahmin lady – not belonging to Narendra Modi’s caste, I must mention in these days of caste-ridden mindsets – just survived the attack of the Emperor of Maladies, cancer that I have been suffering from for the past two years. I have no expectation from life for myself, even if Modi were to become the Prime Minister of the country. But I want the teeming millions of my compatriots, especially the younger generation, to learn that there is another side of the Modi story than the one they get bombarded with from anti-Modi industry.
The announcement of Mr. Narendrabhai Modi as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections in fact took me back to my Gujarat days 2004-2007. To begin with, I recall a conversation I had with the late Kiritbhai Rawal, the then Solicitor-General of India, whom I met in the company of my husband early in January 2004. Kiritbhai was instrumental in getting my husband to Gandhinagar, Gujarat, to set up GNLU. I asked him why Modi was not replying to the many public criticisms, Kiritbhai replied: Modi would not waste his time replying them, as they would continue to crop up ad infinitum. But he would rather focus his attention and energy in developing Gujarat as no other state would, and that would be his way of answering the critics. It’s a pity that Kiritbhai is not alive today to watch the way Gujarat has developed today.
Before my husband’s formal appointment to GNLU, he told me that he would decide on the offer only after meeting Modi (as he then had an opportunity to go abroad). Kiritbhai had said, the appointment would be formalized only after a meeting with Chief Minister Modi. He soon arranged a meeting between my husband and Modi at Ahmedabad. Besides, Kiritbhai, Modi was accompanied by two of his ministers. Towards the end of the meeting, my husband brought to the attention of Modi of his JNU background, and the fact that he had published a newspaper article on Gujarat (on the need for a law on genocide in India, published in The Hindu). Modi’s reply was that my husband could hold any opinion he wanted, but Modi would like him to build the best law University for Gujarat. He wanted a professional. My husband said, if he faced any problems on job, he would contact Modi’s office. Modi replied: “Not my office, but me directly.” So much for the so-called intolerance of Modi towards people who held views not agreeable to his.
My husband was impressed by the way he was treated and accepted the GNLU offer immediately. I was happy he did so, for this brought me closer to Gujarat. I really wanted to find out on the ground about the events leading to the 2002 riots, over which the media and political parties were going overboard. Also, I was earlier been snubbed badly by a senior teacher from Sambalpur, Odisha when I expressed my sincere condolences to him over the gruesome killings of Graham Steine and his children over religious intolerance. He shouted at me: Madam, you sit in an ivory tower in Delhi and pass judgments without knowing the ground realities. He said he felt sad human life was lost. But what about joint families being broken up by misguided conversions? His own family was one such victim eventually leading to coercive partition of family property for which he held the likes of Graham Steine responsible. How come, no media reported this side of the story?
In the initial years Gujaratis working in our Government-allotted house and also at GNLU were reluctant to open up. Later on as mutual confidence grew, they found me friendly and helpful, and then they began to be more informal. What they narrated to me showed that the media, particularly, English language media were lapping up one-sided news portraying Modi as the Demon and all his opponents angels. They told us about the earlier riots in which the Hindus were mostly at the receiving end. There were several instances of stone-throwing on Hindus passing through Muslim dominated areas of Ahmedabad. The governments of the day kept a blind eye to all this. All the suppressed passions broke loose at the Godhra carnage, and no government, Modi or no Modi, could have stopped what followed – despicable and condemnable as both the Godhra and post-Godhra killings were.
The Teen Darwaza area is always abuzz with people jostling with one another, with mostly Hindus customers of all classes visiting shops offering all kinds of wares, mostly owned by Gujarati Muslims. I was a regular visitor and took my friends and relatives for shopping for saris and gorgeous children’s dresses. A Muslim shop keeper told me once that Gujarati Muslims were all peace-loving, but the Muslim immigrants from other parts of the country often created trouble here. This was also confirmed to my husband by a sociology professor of JNU origin, from Gujarat University.
Since 2002, there has been peace and progress in the State. This is probably due to Modi’s policy of “justice for all and appeasement of none.” Pampering one community at the cost of another only leads to public resentment, perpetuation of communal divide. On the ground, practices of religions are not mutually exclusive. I was pleasantly surprised an array of Muslim traders and hawkers selling flowers and other puja samagris near Hindu temples in Ahmedabad – again the Bhadrakali temple near Teen Darwaza stood out. The hundreds of boatmen ferrying Hindu pligrims from Dwarka to Bed Dwarka and back are Muslims who earn their living by facilitating Hindu pilgrimage.
The common people were happy with Modi as he was accessible to them for a hearing. Modern technology made it possible for Modi to personally reach out distant villages – he even spoke to them, identified them by video-conferencing on a regular basis. People could attend government functions without any security hassles. My housemaid told me that in not so distant past, womenfolk had to walk long distances to fetch water and return the same distances with pitchers on the head one over the other, but after Modi came the Narmada water reached their villages to their doorstep. In terms of the luxury of getting uninterrupted electricity (I have a house in Gurgaon), Gujarat was unrivalled.
After we arrived in Gandhinagar, we were allotted a government house in Sector 22, Gandhinagar. Being an old construction, it needed some repairs and electrical rewiring. The local works department office sent some electricians for the job. When they finished the work fast and to my satisfaction, I was pleased and gave them some money by way of tips. They were most unwilling to accept it, yet I persuaded them. It was just a token of my appreciation of their hard work. Finally they accepted it reluctantly. In the afternoon, to my utter surprise, two senior officers visited my house and asked me whether I paid any money to the workers and why. I said, yes, as I was pleased with their work. It was not a bribe and I really wanted to show my appreciation. The officers said, Madam, you are getting us into trouble: “if Modi Saab came to know of this, we would be taken to task.” They wanted to return the money, but I refused to take back the money. They said, don’t do this again and put them into trouble. This was clean, bribery-free administration for a housewife to experience.
As for the much criticised “Hindutwa” of Modi, here is food for thought. After the Bhoomipoojan of the GNLU campus in mid-2005 and installation of an Ashok Pillar at the entrance of the future campus, my husband happened to be a party to a discussion at the CM’s Chambers, Gandhinagar Secretariat. The then Law Minister suggested that in the future GNLU campus there should be a Saraswati temple, just across the Ashok Pillar. Modi killed the proposal in the bud by instantly asserting that the university was a public body to be constructed on government money. You can’t have a temple there, as the State must be non-religious.
Further, if Modi were a ‘kattar Hindu vadi,” why did he allow demolition of many Hindu temples that stood in the way of expansion and modernization of roads by the Gujarat Roads and Buildings Department? Some of these temples stood in the middle of some main roads in Ahmedabad. I particularly remember a very popular Shani Dev Mandir standing in the middle of a main road, and this had to be removed.
It was my feeling that L.K.Advani was not exactly popular in his constituency in Gandhinagar. My husband narrated to me a conversation that took place in a barber shop at the Sector 19 market on one fine morning. The shopkeeper was sharing with someone his disenchantment with Advani. He recalled his enthusiasm to lend support for an Advani election meeting in the small open space in front of his shop. Advani promised the audience to return to the constituency after elections and inquire about their welfare. This never happened until the next election. Two elections on, the people in the constituency had no glimpse of Advani. Someone asked the shopkeeper, why then did he continue to vote for Advani? The answer was “I was supporting Modi.” So, I don’t know who should be grateful to whom – Modi to Advani, or Advani to Modi.
Once we were returning from Junagarh after attending a function in a school. It was around midnight by the time we reached Gandhinagar. To my utter disbelief (I was so used to Delhi), I saw girls/women walking along the road in singles or in groups, perhaps after a mid-night shift in the nearby factories. I asked our driver about safety of girls and women in Gujarat. The driver announced proudly that they were safe and that they could move about in the night in any part of Gujarat.
Modi also ensured poor people’s access to justice, by streamlining the administration in the Secretariat. I was told, during Keshubhai’s time and before, the officers were not found on their seats even by 11 am, and they would nowhere be found in Gandhinagar by 3 pm. After Modi took over, the same officers were suddenly found on their seats 9 am to 5 pm, for fear of being reported to Modi, by the people with grievances to resolve.
Access to Modi was facile to common people. A student of GNLU told me once that she wanted to complain against a Minister and she could walk straight into Modi’s office and submit a petition. No wonder, an employee of GNLU – a staunch Congress supporter – said without hesitation, he would vote for Modi, if Modi were to contest from his constituency!
I have heard instances of Modi putting down some of his relatives who tried to exploit their relationship with Modi. Till this day, no allegation of corruption sticks on him.
The above reminiscences bring out the multifaceted personality of Modi. He was known to be blunt and straight mincing no words – quite ‘unIndian,’ would you say? While he gave patient hearing to the needy, he had no time for sychophants, or for frivolous talk.
The purpose of this write up, however, is to warn the younger generation against being swayed by the biased and motivated anti-Modi reports. To a non-partisan like me, Modi has all the qualities to make him the Prime Minister of India.