There’s an interview with Narendra Modi in the Wall Street Journal. Tangentially, Narendra Modi has apparently been dubbed NaMo by people on Twitter, thereby having something in common with JLo and KJo. More distressingly, I keep seeing NaMo and thinking of NaNoWriMo. This is not really the kind of word association I needed for either “novel” or “Narendra Modi”. Anyway, so this interview with WSJ is interesting because Modi isn’t known for giving interviews and because most of the time, there’s a beautiful disconnect between the question and the answer. So, for example, when he’s asked whether Gujarat’s electricity reforms can be a model for the rest of India, he says it was “God” who is responsible for Gujarat’s electrification and that “All the states of India felt that this should be replicated in their states too.” Which doesn’t really answer the question. That Indian states can feel is a revelation in itself, but setting that aside, the point is, Modi doesn’t answer the question. When asked if India should follow Gujarat as a model for electrification, his answer is that he was chosen by God and therefore was able to bring electricity to Gujarat. That’s neither an affirmative nor negative response to the question.

The gem in the WSJ interview, however, is Modi’s explanation for malnutrition.

WSJ: Gujarat’s malnutrition rates are persistently high. What are you doing to combat this?

Modi: Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle-class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, “I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.” We will try to get a drastic change in this. Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.

Now we know. It’s figure-consciousness that leads to malnutrition. He’s one step away from putting the blame on supermodels seen in foreign fashion magazines and television shows because they brainwash the impressionable youth of rural Gujarat with foreign ideals of beauty. Hey, they have, with the grace of God, got electricity in Gujarat. They can get cable tv.

Also, interestingly, it seems Modi has something in common with the average three-year-old — he refers to himself in the third person.

WSJ: Your critics say you should apologize for the 2002 riots. Why won’t you?

Modi: One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime. If you think it’s such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty. And the world should know there isn’t any tolerance for these kind of political leaders.

EDITED TO ADD: Wall Street Journal has pre-empted Modi saying his answer to the question about malnutrition was edited to make him sound idiotic by putting up his answer in its entirety.

“We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our mind that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class. Second is vegetarianism.

“So a lot needs to be explained to both the beauty conscious and the health conscious. We have to request to them that there should be a good nutritional situation. We gave a budget of 700 crore rupees ($126 million). But these things are such that you see a sudden change in a child after the age of 13-14 years. They grow up so fast – from zero to 13 you don’t come to know how they got so big. So we are going through that stage.

“Even after a lot of improvement – we still have to measure (malnutrition), conduct surveys. Until that is done, this perception will remain. But I’m quite confident. We will try to get a drastic change in this. Just as we’ve become a model in the electricity sector, Gujarat is going to come up as a model in this also. I can’t make any big claims, because I don’t have a survey in front of me yet.”

So now malnutrition is not only a problem caused by an obsession with body image, but also a problem of the affluent middle class. Good to know.


12 thoughts on “A La Modi

  1. Is it a crime to have fascist policies for protecting the people of Gujarat, Is it a crime to advertise economic growth for human life. Modi thinks not.
    He does have a Mr.Burns air about him.

  2. I’m wondering how you’d react if a Muslim politician said “Inshallah” or “Allah ki meherbani se”. Would it be ok for a Muslim politician to say that? No big deal, just curious.

    • Yes, it would. Much as it would be for a Hindu politician to say Jai Shri Ram or something equivalent. Now if the saying is accompanied by genocide, fear tactics and general support for communal violence, that’s a different matter.

      • Well, it seems Modi simply said that god showed him the way and he separated farm and domestic electricity lines — fairly innocuous, and unrelated to genocide etc.

        I’m not actually a supporter of Modi, but that’s mainly because I don’t know much about what he did beyond his own marketing material. It seems to me the picture of what happened in Gujarat is still quite unclear, despite various claims. The generalized hatred towards Modi seems completely out of proportion to the evidence against him. I’ve read articles comparing him to Hitler, and no doubt you believe it when you say he committed genocide. I’ve never understood it.

  3. I didn’t realise you were equating Insh’allah with the comment about the divine inspiration for electrification. Have you read the interview? He doesn’t just give cursory thanks to the gods that be, which is what is implied with the phrases you mentioned. He presents electrification as a miracle. What do miracles suggest? That the via medium for the miracle is a chosen one. (This is not specific to Modi but is a tactic we’ve seen used across religions, over time.) When he’s being asked a decidedly pragmatic question and he responds by dragging god into it, then he’s up for being ridiculed much as any Biblethumper is, for instance.

    When I mentioned genocide in the comment, I meant it in a generic sense although I am personally of the belief that Modi did sanction a genocide ten years ago. One can praise god or wear their religion on their sleeve and to my mind, they have every right to do this so long as it doesn’t somehow condone or encourage attacking those who are not of the chosen faith. What happened in Gujarat was not a holocaust, but going by dictionary definitions and not emotional reactions, it certainly was a genocide. And the effect has been to change cities like Ahmedabad dramatically, if Gujarati citizens are to be believed. However, Modi’s hate politics are not referred to either in the interview to which I’ve linked or this post. You are, of course, free to support or not support Modi. Some of the most erudite and progressive people I know are Modi champions. I would just request you make an informed decision, if you do choose to categorise yourself as a supporter, but that is, of course, also your individual choice.

    • I read the interview before, and went back and read it again. Here is the relevant portion:

      “Villages (in Gujarat) didn’t used to get power at dinner time. They’d eat in the dark. Kids didn’t have light to study for exams; if mother was sick, there was no electricity…It disturbed me. Then I got involved. God helped me. He gave me a technical solution: separating the network so there are different power lines for agriculture and for domestic use. It became a huge success story…”

      I really fail to see where he’s presenting electrification as a miracle. It’s nothing more than a “by god’s grace”. The reason I bring this up is I really think people should stop this kind of carte blanche vilification of Modi (though it’s certainly your right to do so). I’m not a Modi champion.

      On whether to call it genocide, I guess it depends on the nuances you associate with the word. I’d say “riots”, especially since 1/3 of the people killed were Hindus. I haven’t seen any evidence of “hate politics”: the only thing Modi talks about is development. These are all arguments that have been tossed back and forth many times, I don’t have anything new to add, and perhaps it’s useless to go through them again. But over the years I’ve come to feel the violence of the reaction to everything Modi says or does is unreasonable and out of proportion to the evidence.

  4. I disagree with you entirely. “He [i.e. “God”] gave me a technical solution…” is not the same as “Insh’allah” or “Thank God” or a similar platitude. My reasoning for this is mentioned in the earlier comment so I’m not going to repeat it.

    I’ll be damned if I spend the one day off I have talking about Modi (especially since there is a profusion of material out there) so you are free to think my reaction or anyone else’s is excessive or otherwise. I will only point out the dictionary meaning of genocide, which is “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group”. When, by your account, 2/3 of those killed are Muslims, it seems fair to say that it was deliberate and not simply “a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd” (which is the dictionary definition of “riot”) but a matter with more of a narrow focus.

  5. Armchair Guy : “The generalized hatred towards Modi seems completely out of proportion to the evidence against him”

    The evidence against Narendra modi is unmistakably evident. If one chooses to see it.

    Many people in gujarat NOW have the view that 2002 was a mistake, but necessary.
    Rational being if HE(modi/hindu’s) did not retaliate THEY(muslims) would have continued to believe they have the upper hand and continue such practices. The argument is usually concluded with “You tell me, after 2002 has any riots happened here” accompanied with a smug grin.

    A reasoning of “they did it first”, or “if we didn’t they would have” is brought out of fear. However, I have also heard many a educated mind who position themselves as liberals approve of his action of No-Action in Gulbarg Society.
    Only because those minds lived in a 5km radius from those houses which were burnt. And they were scared if nothing happened their houses could have been burned down as well.

    1931/2 – 1939 in West Germany atrocities towards a particular race were evident, but most citizens did not object. (those that did were detained, arrested or mostly shot down for treason – they weren’t citizens but interested political parties in germany) argument that most german citizens made after 1945 that they were not aware about camps like Auschwitz can be bought just for the sake of agreeing with the argument. But, were they not aware of the branding of the Jews, closing down of their business, segregating them into ghetto’s? I’d like to believe that they were, they saw it happening right in front of them, but did nothing about it.

    Why? the reasons are infront of us now. Starts with Versaille, hopeless economy, inflation high, never ending debts with france. Rise of a fascist regime which blames the jew for the mess they are in.

    Point, I’m hoping that I made. If you allow someone with megalomaniac tendencies to get away from the actions of his past, not make him accountable, rather you choose to reward him for being the face of the nation. The message you are giving to the younger generation and the rest of the world is simple.
    “Me first, Humanity Second.”
    Great Motto – If you are a Caveman. Not so much when you living in a relatively border free world.

    Disclaimer – Born and brought up (for the most part) in Ahmedabad. Obviously, that does not mean I speak for A’bad. But I think I could represent a small sample.
    Ahmedabad/Gujarat is definitely much better of in terms of living than most of India, although I do think we did pay too heavy a price for it.

    And, someday. Most of us will have to make amends for the actions of one-man.

  6. anonandon:

    Not to belabor the point, but Modi’s reasoning on a variety of topics in this and other interviews is pragmatic and down to earth. It’s an overly heavy interpretation of this one sentence to brand him a wannabe prophet.

    More should be said about the genocide/riots classification, but let’s agree to disagree.

    Misaal Shah:

    You make several points, one of them being: “The evidence against Narendra modi is unmistakably evident. If one chooses to see it.” You may be right — you live in Ahmedabad, perhaps you saw something I didn’t. When the riots first happened, I was firmly in the “hang Modi” camp and really wanted to see evidence against Modi. But reading numerous articles over the years, it was entirely unclear to me what actually happened. It seems Modi didn’t act fast enough to curb the violence, but everything happened really fast. But there are all sorts of claims of deliberate intent on Modi’s part etc. that I haven’t seen any real corroboration of. To me it’s cyclical reasoning: Modi is bad, hence an anti-Modi bias in the news is justified. But how do you know Modi is bad? Just look at the news!

    The confusion is compounded by the fact that, in many cases, the conclusion seems to have been drawn before any investigation. A number of mainstream news sources are openly hostile to the Modi and more generally, to the BJP. It’s hard for me to trust someone who dramatically announces something just before a major election, or uses language to paint positive pictures of the Congress and negative pictures of the BJP while pretending to report facts. This is quite common everywhere (I live in the US and news sources here have a left or right bias, but they are not as grotesquely blatant with their biases when reporting news as the Indian media).

    The NDTV caricature you posted is fairly typical. In the BJP, there is competition for the prime ministerial candidate’s post. This is a GOOD THING. Who would make a better PM: someone who had to rise through the ranks, navigate, and maneuver his/her way to the top, or a wet-behind-the-ears kid with no experience who had the job as soon as he was born?

    I agree in principle with keeping Modi out of the PM’s office simply to send sending a message that PM candidates should not give the impression of impropriety. But we live in a world with constraints. The Congress runs the country into the ground and makes a mockery of democratic institutions, while the BJP shakes up our secular foundations. If we had a 3rd party that didn’t do either, that would be great. Until then it’s important not to write off our chance at good governance simply to send a message to megalomaniacs.

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