I am a Hindu Bengali, well-educated man working in the West for over 10 years, and I’m gay.
I wanted to highlight these aspects of my profile upfront, because apparently these make me a classic left-wing. One who has been fed on West Bengal’s version of Marxism/socialism that espouses equality of power and wealth for all. One who celebrates Durga Puja with vigour (whole year’s wardrobe bought in a few days’ frenzy, long holidays in the middle of the term, among other peculiarities) while co-existing with a large Muslim community. One who has been educated to hold the principles of secularism, socialism and freedom with high regard. Life in the West strengthens such a belief system.
And to add to that, being from a sexual minority makes one cherish such principles even more.
So when I tell people that I am rooting for Narendra Modi, they are surprised (if not shocked)! After all Modi is supposed to be from that Right-Wing ecosystem that is said to be majoritarian in every way.
I don’t blame them for their assumptions. In fact, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, my vote was for Mamata and I had wanted BJP to fall short of majority. I had feared that a BJP majority of its own would unleash a reign of terror in the form of mandatory Hindi, cow-worship, temple-construction, etc.
I haven’t had much exposure to the R-W ecosystem. When in high-school, I knew some guys from a RSS-run school; they were smart and didn’t come across as weird. We also had a politician in our home-town who campaigned for “swadeshi-bachao, videshi-bhagao”. This made real sense to me as a concept; although in practice we didn’t alter our grocery list.
But my most enduring and probably defining impression of the R-W ecosystem was due to the Babri Masjid demolition. My mother and I were travelling back home by train from a relative’s house in UP on 3rd December. I saw many saffron-clad men waiting in stations for trains in the opposite direction. Then after a few days until a very long time thereafter, there was constant TV and newspaper coverage on the incident and the ensuing riots. There was no ambiguity in the coverage that the R-W ecosystem was to blame for the mayhem. My young mind associated that blame to the saffron-clad men in the stations. Thus, I carried a negative image of the R-W ecosystem. Till 2014 elections.
So why am I rooting for Modi now?
First of all, I deliberately presented a selective profile of myself above to fit the classic L-W profile. I will now dig a level deeper into the simplistic statements I made above.
I am no supporter of West Bengal’s version of Marxism as I have no doubts that the CPI(M) led politics devastated the local economy. This is a topic in itself, but it is sufficient to say that job prospects in the 80s and 90s were horrible. The tax-benefits offered to the IT industry brought in the big employers like Infosys, TCS, IBM, etc. This saved the likes of me with a technical education and fluency in English. But I would say this represented a small minority of the young job-seekers as the government had banished English education in the early 80s, thus rendering most young Bengalis unemployable.
I also have doubts if the practised secularism was really not a vote-catching ploy. It is true that the Muslims in West Bengal were emancipated, but from the early 90s there was a rising discomfort among the locals that the government was letting in Bangladeshis to strengthen its voter-base.
And regarding my education, I am lucky to have done MBA at IIM Ahmedabad. This place skilled me in thinking of solutions to new problems in a structured way. It was only after graduating from IIM-A that I slowly started making my own conclusions about various events from the presented facts, rather than taking anything at face-value. (Other factors like age, location, varied colleagues may also have contributed.) This helped in unlearning a lot of bunkum that is taught to us at a young age.
Currently I am in a civil-union with a man for over 4 years, living in a European capital city. Same-sex marriage is also legal here. In fact, living together without any union is also legal and allows the same benefits as a civil-union. It is refreshing to have the choice as an adult and not being judged.
Secondly, it is important to realise that while people support a leader they do not necessarily agree with every policy of the leader.
I am rooting for Modi because I want him to succeed in making India a 20$ trillion economy. I am sure this needs no elaboration that if the ensuing wealth creation is spread-out and not captured by a few individuals, this will lift a huge number of people out of poverty and create a bigger and richer middle class.
It is true that all previous Prime Ministers have also talked about reducing/eradicating poverty, but I find the current target of a completely different league. By announcing a number, Modi has made this target a measurable one. This makes it simpler for people to judge whether he reached his target or not – it is a simple binary.
Also importantly, he keeps on repeating this number at every major event. This shows that he is not shying away from this target and is not hesitant to be judged against this target. This is exactly how it works in the corporate world. A CEO would announce his company’s targets (dividends, profits, cost savings. etc.) for the next few years to the shareholders and would expect to be fired by the same shareholders if unable to meet those targets. To me, this sort of professionalism is a major change that Modi has brought.
I see this target-setting approach being percolated to the ground level – to the names of villages that remain to be electrified, to the locations from where untreated sewage is discharged into Ganga, to the districts that still have open-defecation, etc. all with a set deadline.
To be honest, Modi had me when he mentioned his goal of “Swachchh Bharat” by Oct 2019 at his inauguration speech in Varanasi on 14 May 2014 after winning the elections. Imagine the day for him. He had just won a huge mandate which was in many ways personal. He had run a campaign in his own name and had staked his political reputation. He could have thanked the people (which he did) and made some grand but hollow statements (like ‘making India great again’) and exulted in the adulation. But he chose to remind the people how Indian cities and towns were overflowing with garbage, how Indians appreciate the cleanliness when they travel abroad, and asked the people to promise to support him in making India clean in 5 years. I found that remarkable and the sign of a person who is familiar with the India beyond official bungalows.
With respect to the conventional wisdom about R-W’s views about society, I haven’t heard Prime Minister Modi say anything that is remotely Hindu supremacist. In fact, in a speech in Lok Sabha where he quoted many ancient texts to define his “Idea of India”, he explicitly mentioned atheism as a way of life equally important as various religions. It is true, that campaigner Modi, during Bihar elections, made some awful comments. I hope that was a one-off mistake. There are accusations of communal passions being flamed by stealth or its cow-vigilantism turning into dalit discrimination. I don’t know how much of it is true and if Modi is personally involved, but this identity based politics is an unfortunate reality in a limited-resource country with a history of identity-based discrimination. It won’t be fair to pin it all on Modi.
Still, I would put the government at a higher pedestal and expect that if and when any member of the government is involved in such politics (through words or actions), he/she is shown the door immediately. This will be Modi demonstrating that he lives by his “Sabka Saath” motto, and will only enhance his stature.
The aspect that I am disappointed with most is the one that affects me personally. Modi has never spoken a word about gay rights (whether in India or abroad). Congress, Trinamul Congress, AAP have officially favoured removal of Sec 377. Even Sonia Gandhi made an anguished statement after the Supreme Court ruling. RSS also seems to be in favour, although it continues to call homosexuality unnatural. Arun Jaitley in his personal capacity has time and again also favoured removing Sec 377. However, BJP Lok Sabha members voted against Shashi Tharoor’s proposal to introduce a private member’s bill. And they did it twice, which means the party does not want to officially disclose its position one way or the other. This is hugely disappointing especially if this has Modi’s sanction. But as I said before, a supporter does not necessarily agree with every policy of the leader. This is an aspect where Modi has disappointed me with his silence.
But I am hopeful. In the 2014 election campaign, he surprisingly called toilets more important than temples. Although it is possible that Modi stays silent on this topic throughout this term, I am hoping he will make a well-considered call on this topic sooner. After all, this is an even greater demonstration of his motto of “Sabka Saath” especially because the LGBTQ community can hardly make a sizeable vote-bank. If all else fails, there is a tiny hope of public opinion turning the tide.
Growing prosperity is said to make people more aware of human rights. I know that India has much ground to cover – what with cases of dalits having to use a separate well, parents killing own children for marrying outside community, hardly any respect for manual labour, etc.; sexual rights probably would be the last on anyone’s mind. Still, a richer and wider middle-class could surprise everyone. This is where economy matter. This is where creating wealth matters.
So in the meantime, I will continue to root for Modi in his quest to make India a 20$ trillion economy while hoping for him to keep to his motto of “Sabka Saath”.
(Note: I choose to stay anonymous as I am being open about my political views and am unsure about the blow-back on myself and my family back in India.)