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Collapse of Modi’s third path

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By Rajiv Shah
There was a time when Gujarat government would take pride in initiating ways to get out of economic activity. I distinctly remember how former state finance secretary KV Bhanujan, at the turn of the last century, would prolifically tell me how it was important for the state to shrink its role in running the economy and why it should concentrate increasingly on social sector, which had long been forgotten, becoming the chief reason for the state’s poor human development index (HDI). Word would ring very strong in the corridors of power that it wasn’t the role of the state to run enterprises, and they should be either disinvested or sold to the private sector. To prove, officials would quote Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, and say market economy, strong social sector and strong democracy were complimentary, not contradictory.
Though the idea of getting out of economic activity wasn’t new for Gujarat, soon after assuming power, in October 2001, chief minister Narendra Modi anno…

Sadbhavna adrift: Wither healing touch?

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By Rajiv Shah
It was an informal chat perhaps in his office, if I remember correctly, with a group of local scribes. Chief minister Narendra Modi had firmly established himself in saddle after taking over reins of power in October 2001. Unusually informal, Modi would then talk straight, without mincing words. Gujarat riots hadn’t yet taken place. A short discussion ensued on Hindu-Muslim relations. I ask him what he had to say of communal segregation in Ahmedabad. Wasn’t it dangerous that Hindus and Muslims had no interaction, especially after post-Babri 1993 riots? They didn’t know each other at all. Wouldn’t it breed an atmosphere of suspicion? Modi was unimpressed. “What’s so unusual about it?”, he wondered. “Don’t Catholics and Protestants live separately in Northern Ireland? They have separate life styles and values. Community living is an international phenomenon, and one should recognize it as such.”
A decade has passed, and segregation has further solidified. After the 2002 ri…

2002... when babus, cops 'followed' Modi's orders

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By Rajiv Shah
As days pass by, Gujarat's 2002 riots and the alleged role of chief minister Narendra Modi appear to become even more curious. What began with slain BJP leader Haren Pandya's "anonymous declaration" in front an NGO-sponsored "independent commission" that Modi had "directed" police officials to remain indifferent to the rioting crowd at a meeting on February 27, 2002 has by now become a full-blown legal tangle, being fought in India's top courts.
Despite Pandya's decision to remain anonymous, all knew what he had said and talked about, off the record. About a fortnight before he was mysteriously murdered in 2003, he told me, as he did to others, informally during a dinner at Gymkhana Club in Ahmedabad, that he had indeed made the statement in front of the commission – but on the condition that his name would not be made public. A known Modi rival, Pandya was sidelined for opposing Modi, yet his spirits looked strong.
Statemen…

When Russians hated development sans freedom...

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By Rajiv Shah
It was something that took place exactly two decades ago. Those were the three days that shook the world – and me as an ideologically-driven human being. Perhaps it may also hold relevance to all those who cherish independence and freedom. It was the last-ditch attempt by the authoritarian forces in the Soviet Union to cling to power. It was morning of August 19, 1991. News came that a coup had taken place. It was early in the morning, before 9.00 am. Then, I was representing semi-left Delhi-based daily Patriot in Moscow. The then Soviet chief, Mikhail Gorbachev, already under criticism from the Communist hardline sections for allowing "too much freedom", had been put under house arrest in his outhouse in Crimea. I filed my story starting with "A coup has taken place in the Soviet Union...", factually describing how Gennady Yanayev, then Soviet vice-president, had taken over as acting president backed by hardliner Communists, a section of the top mili…

An artist is an artist... knows no religion

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By Rajiv Shah
It was, I presume, 1981. MF Husain had put up an unusual exhibition, about which none now seems to remember. Critics had said he had gone "pop." Put up at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, the exhibits were, if I remember correctly, colour photographs he had clicked. There was, perhaps, some collage work in the exhibits, too. A young journalist with Link weekly, I dashed into Husain and asked him for an interview, to which he readily agreed. "Link is here, I will talk to you later, friends", he told those present, and we went and sat in his legendary black Fiat, which he had used as a canvas to paint on. Husain's "pop" realism had impressed me, especially a photograph which, I vaguely remember now, showed large number of film posters pasted on a well next to the railway station, with a cobbler or some other person down below doing his job.
While talking to Husain, it never occurred to me that I was interacting with a Muslim. In fact, belong…

Of Gujarat riots, Modi and the babus

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By Rajiv Shah
Early days of Gujarat riots are again back in focus. Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt recently named officials who were present in the controversial meeting on February 27, 2002, where, according to Bhatt, chief minister Narendra Modi asked those present to allow the Hindus to vent their anger. Bhatt named some IPS officers, and also a few IAS officials who were present in the meeting. The IAS officials are acting chief secretary Swarnakanta Verma, additional chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan, Modi’s principal secretary PK Misra and Modi’s secretary Anil Mukim.
While two of these IAS officials – Verma and Narayan – live a retired life, Misra is an important person in the powerdom, serving the post-retirement assignment as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC). The fourth one, Mukim, is on deputation to Delhi, working as chief vigilance officer with Hudco. Of all three, one official whose behaviour disturbed me most during those days was Misr…

The personality cult

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By Rajiv Shah
Gujarat has just finished its celebrating 50 years of its foundation. The last event was the Golden Jubilee Exhibition, which began on April 29, extended beyond May 1, the Foundation Day, and ended on May 9. Formally, the babus who organized it were asked to showcase Gujarat’s history of the last 50 years. But one of the organizers revealed, “We were discreetly told to concentrate on three things – Gujarat’s development since 2001 when chief minister Narendra Modi came to power, achievements of the Golden Jubilee year, and put up a contrast between what Gujarat was between 1960 and 2000 and what it became post-2001.”
Modi’s babus got the message loud of clear. Organized just outside what the new Mahatma Mandir – the government’s own convention hall for elite gatherings – the Golden Gujarat exhibition showcased all three rather meticulously. There were huge Modi photographs and cutouts dotted all over the 2.5 lakh sq ft area in which the exhibition was spread. One could s…