Modi’s Regional Dilemma!

With due respect to the claims made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his development agenda, one is compelled to analyze it from several factors. Modi has promised the country that he aims to promote the Gujarat model of development throughout the nation. During his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Modi laid stress that his objective was to “win hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through development.” Would it be fair to assume that Modi’s message for Kashmiris was meant exclusively for them?

Similarly, how much political weight does Modi’s promotion of the Gujarat “model” carry for the entire country? Interestingly, issues such as these expose the regional dilemma faced by Modi from several angles.

From the religious angle, compared to Muslims in Gujarat being just one tenth of the state’s population, J&K is the only state where they are in a majority. In J&K, Modi tried playing balancing role between conveying a diplomatic message, assuring development for Kashmiris and trying to win Hindu sympathy from across the nation by inaugurating a train on a new railway line to allow Hindus easier access to a popular pilgrimage site. From the diplomatic angle, Modi’s Kashmir visit was important to assert India’s stand towards the state. He reasserted his nationalistic approach towards Kashmiris by stating that his aim was to “win” their “hearts through development.” This also conveys that Modi is well aware of him and his party not being very popular in J&K.

Considering that the 2002 Gujarat carnage is strongly linked with Modi’s image among Kashmiris, it will be quite a while before he can convince them about his “secular” approach towards them and his development agenda for the state. Politically, perhaps Modi viewed it as important to convey his “secular” stance towards Kashmiris. From the angle of his political strategy, this was important,  as a key agenda of his Kashmir visit was linked with promoting religious interests of Hindu pilgrims going to J&K. Where Kashmiri Muslims are concerned, their secularism has played a crucial role in not interfering with the religious practices of Hindus from the state and across the country. So even if Modi had remained quiet regarding his aim to “win” Kashmiris’ hearts, Kashmir Muslims’ approach towards him would have remained least affected. The religious touch was probably deliberately added to soothe the extremist saffron brigade’s concern about Modi having begun his prime ministerial career by going almost overboard towards Pakistan. Ironically, this also reveals that his Kashmir visit fell short of promoting his government’s agenda towards Kashmiris, both Muslims and Hindus. Awareness of this shortcoming probably compelled him to talk about his aim being to “win” their “hearts.”

At the same time, no Kashmiri is likely to welcome promotion of the Gujarat model of development in J&K. Even though official statistics indicate that the poverty rate in J&K rose by around a percent in 2011-12, compared to the rest of the country, including Gujarat, it cannot be rated as high. The poverty rate in J&K rose from 9.4% in 2009-10 to 10.35% in 2011-12. This rise is primarily attributed to an increase in the number of people living below the poverty line (BPL) in rural areas from 8.1% to 11.5%. During 2011-12, according to a report released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the poverty rate in Gujarat was 16.63%. The national poverty rate, for this year, stands at 21.92%.

Statistically, Gujarat does not figure in the top 10 Indian states with minimum poverty rate. The least for 2011-12 is 5.09% in Goa, followed by Kerala (7.05%), Himachal Pradesh (8.06%), Sikkim (8.19%), Punjab (8.26%), Andhra Pradesh (9.20%), J&K (10.35%), Haryana (11.16%), Uttarakhand (11.26%) and Tamil Nadu (11.28%). More than half-a-dozen other states/union territories have a poverty rate lower than that of Gujarat. Indirectly, this implies that Modi’s hype about Gujarat as a “model” for development carries little meaning for states whose poverty rate is less than that of Gujarat. This raises the question as to why Modi has refrained from highlighting their progress. Their poverty rate is a major indicator of their being, by no means, behind Gujarat where development is concerned.

Yes, Modi has the right to retain his love for his home state, but it cannot be ignored that other Indians too have their affinity and linkage for their respective home-states. If India was not home to more than two dozen states, with each having its distinctive regional identity, culture and also political affiliation, Modi’s apparent apathy towards their regional affinity would have carried little importance. Interestingly, the states dominated by regional parties also indicate that religious separatism, bordering on communalism, has been substantially marginalized by people’s political leanings. Of the 36 parties represented in the present Lok Sabha, around two dozen are regional in nature.

Till Modi’s national vision remains obstructed by his Gujarat phobia, his political attitude is likely to raise questions about his regional attitude being nationalist or not. Blocked by regional dilemma, it is not going to be easy task for Modi to “win” “hearts” of non-Gujarati Indians, whether Kashmiris, Keralites or of other states!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2014 on page no. 11

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