I was disappointed to open my India Today this week and see a beaming Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani sitting next to--you guessed it--Narendra Modi, good-naturedly grinning at his jokes at the third annual Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors summit. Widely condemned for his role in holding back the troops while rioters executed a pogrom against Muslims in his state, Modi has (according to the magazine) remained the darling of India's top financiers due to the wise approach he has taken to making Gujarat a business-friendly destination. That's sad, as far as I'm concerned, and confirms an impression that I've been getting for some time now that liberal India has shifted from genuine outrage over the Gujarat riots to self-congratulatory mode about their demonstration of the same outrage.
Movies are made showing that the riots were bad, but like movies about the Holocaust (Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful) their focus on the heroes of the struggle give audiences a ready reason to say "I'm not a bad guy." Nope. We're all noble members of the resistance, aren't we? Nobody believes he's the guy who locks his door and hides under the couch while his neighbors are murdered, but when the time comes, a hell of a lot more of us turn out to belong to that category than to the group that fights back.
When did the riots become an isolated phenomenon that we've stood up against and beaten? Nothing has changed, folks. Look at Bangalore this week. Riots are an endemic part of Indian politics, and communalism is still the principal organizing force behind more than one important political party. Narendra Modi remains in power. The BJP never decided his resignation was required, and to all appearances, they were right. Yes, the party lost heavily in the national elections and some attributed that to anger over Gujarat. But most in the know saw the shift as (1) India's usual anti-incumbency and (2) poor Indians' anger resistance to an "India Shining" campaign that vividly showed that the party's interests lay elsewhere and they'd been forgotten.
Not only that. The willingness of Tata, Ambani and his brother Anil, Kumarmangalam Birla and others to continue to pump money into Gujarat and (worse) be photographed on stage with the man still believed to have caused a greatd deal of the carnage shows that there's no longer any moral sanction against his vision of a "Vibrant Gujarat." I don't know how the Birlas or Ambanis feel about Hindutva--nor do I care, really, since this shows that their PR guys also have no concerns about how the public will react to the association with Modi and there's never been any public outcry against associating with him in business or at social functions, other than the NRIs who (brilliantly) sought to deny him a visa to the US. But I had higher hopes for Ratan Tata, who has previously shown himself to be a man with strong moral convictions.
Boycott Gujarat until Modi resigns, should have been the rallying cry. If it ever came, it wasn't very loud. As a result, now Modi is welcomed with broad smiles and embraces, an honored member of society.