Shiv Visvanathan is one of India's leading sociologists. He currently teaches at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology.
Narendra Modi is always in the news but news about Modi is always read differently by different people.
The facts looked simple. The Supreme Court after reading the SIT report and the report of the Amicus Curae decided that proceedings would continue at the district court. The Court appears to have answered questions of law, providing technical answer to technical questions.
For the court, the issue seems to have been procedural. As long as law moves on the right ralls at a specified pace, the Supreme Court feels it should not interfere. Both the Raghavan and Ramachandran Reports have been handed over to the magistrate.
The decision is neither a condemnation of Modi nor a character certificate. All it emeplified was the banal normalcy of law evaluating its own correctness so that one day truth and justice may prevail. As long as the mechanism of law functioned, the Supreme Court found no need to over reach itself.
But what the court states as dictums, politicians can reinvent as certificates. The elation in the BJP camp was unbelievable. Arun Jaitley claimed that the court had literally put a ten year witch hunt of Modi to a stop. Other BJP politicians announced that Modi's way to Delhi was clear. But self endorsements by themselves do not constitute good conduct certificates. Brand validity has to come from the right quarters.
Fortuitously, BJP found an endorsement in a US congressional report which commended Modi for his governance and claimed that the election of 2014 would be a battle between the young Rahul Gandhi and our ever green nationalist Modi. Obviously to the Swadesi BJP, Indian leaders still need foreign certification.
Modi was overjoyed and he was quoted as tweeting "God is great". He turned it into a political opportunity by declaring he would go on a three day fast, an upwaas pleading for harmony. He tied it too expertly to his birthday celebration. The University Auditorium was quickly appropriated and the guest list announced to include Advani, Jaitley, Badal and Jayalalitha. Modi became the first politician to announce a fast, and yet have his cake and eat it too.
The idea of the fast caught the rumor mills. Anna Hazare had given it a new authenticity claiming his celibacy gave him the power to fast. Without making similar claims, Modi decided to fast for communal Harmony. As a pre-emptive tactic, it was an ambush. Cogress immediately planned a fast in front of Sabarmati Ashram. Between upwaas and yatra the BJP was echoing its traditional idioms.
Unfortunately Modi forgot that fasting is an ascetic exercise. It has a particular style. Modi's fast confused with his birthday celebration became a hybrid of fast and festival. Instead of becoming a search for solidarity, it became a monarchical search for populist acclamation, a surrogate coronation with guests and vassals (read MLAs) declaring loyalty.
Fasting has to be an act of thoughtfulness, which springs from the soul and not the publicity machine. If fasting seeks purity and harmony, it has to speak that body language and convey the idiom of ritual purification. If it was a fast for harmony, then one needs an ethics of memory that empathizes with the idea of regret, forgiveness, reconciliation, justice. Activists like J. Bandukwala, a professor of physics at Baroda, have been articulate about it.
Yet Modi speaks a different idiom, announcing solidarity as if it is a new construction program. Obviously Modi senses the political importance of these words but Modi is only a politician not a statesman like Sardar. He is no match for someone like the German Chancellor Willy Brandt who fell on his knees at a concentration camp, asking Jews for forgiveness.
Brandt was not guilty but as a leader, he accepted responsibility. Modi cannot speak such an idiom. His sense of power, his latent machismo does not allow for it.
Modi knows what he stands for- Development. Development is the bell that makes corporate groups salivate and the middle class feel that progress is around the corner.
Modi knows he is Mr Development, inviting investment, turning Gujarat into the new Detroit. But this raises a new set of ethical questions. Development and urbanization go together. If so, can one see the riots as the first stage of a new urban process? Is it a signal to the minorities that they can be citizens only as a part of a new urban process that demands they leave the security of the ghetto? Solidarity implies consensus, and forgiveness.
Does Modi have the guts to set up a truth and reconciliation commission or will he find another retired judge to abort the idea? These are ethical and moral questions which demand a toughness of a different kind.
What Modi is signaling is not regret over the riots but relief that the case is back in Gujarat. He feels a new sense of control. He realizes that the way is clear for another term as CM and the path is paved for a national role.
The fast is seen as the closure of the events of the last decade. But history can be more difficult. It still leaves behind a residue of questions which will not go away. But the questions are not only for Modi. They are there also for the activists, the survivor, the citizens of Gujarat.
1) Who is a citizen and are marginals and minorities citizens?
2) Is development only about corporate investment or also about the well being of tribals and nomads, of the Urban poor?
3) How does a society heal and is healing possible without a sense of justice?
4) Does the language of majority and minority create a flawed language of electoral democracy? Is the communal violence Bill the answer?
5) As Gujarat urbanizes and new cities mushroom, what new ethical and social systems do we need to put in place?
6) What is the relation between memory and forgetting not just in riots, but in development, displacement, the gradual erasure of cultures?
7) Does the Gandhian imagination coupled with civil society activism epistemology have a role, or will Gujarat become more Chinese in its Urban models?
These are questions that begins with Modi but go beyond him. The question is does his regime have an answer to any of them? The future might judge him on this basis.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a Social Science Nomad)