Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has won the hearts of Bangladesh by quoting from poet Jibanananda Das and mentioning names of popular stars of the country and some of its historical places. People have been overwhelmed with his speech and he, like any other person from India who came here before him, has been overwhelmed with the hospitality of our people. A storm of approbation blew from one end of the country to the other for several days sweeping away a large part of the anti-India sentiment here. Even 'uncompromising' leaders, who made anti-Indianism their staple food in politics, stood in a queue to meet him and seek his blessings in their efforts to heal the wounds on democracy. Now the storm may be subsiding and sanity may be returning to ourselves in order that we may look a bit critically to what Modi sold us and what we bought, or what we sold and he bought, amidst all this sudden surge of sentimentality and media hullabaloos.
Is this necessary to discuss such a heart-warming visit by Modi from the selling and buying perspective? It is, because a prime minister of a country came and signed many deals, 22 in total in only 36 hours, with the prime minister of the host country. Modi did not come here with a tourist visa to imbibe the beauty of Jibanananda's Bangladesh in order to compose a romantic poem after going back home. Securing and gaining business interests for Adani and Ambani, top capitalists of Gujarat, was more on his mind than love and poetry, and he did it. Adani and Ambani patronized him in elections and have accompanied him in foreign visits more than any other moneyed men. Did not former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh called Modi the other day 'a more adept salesman' than himself?
Start by casting a brief glance at his recent past. Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen did not want to see Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India and some people wanted to leave the country if he won the election. All this is because of his lack of secular credentials and his complicity in the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002. Since then communal riot that saw 2,000 people dead and many Muslim women raped, the UK government officials were banned from directly dealing with Modi and the US refused him a visa in 2005. Since his election victory, however, the UK and the USA have backtracked and he has become a popular figure there, too, thanks to his art of public speech.
But when the Indian general election began, Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in The Guardian, 'Let's look at the carnage of 2002 first. On 27 February that year, a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Godhra station in Gujarat. Fifty-eight people died. ... Modi ... then had the charred bodies paraded.... What followed was mass bloodshed: 1,000 dead on official estimates, more than 2,000 by independent tallies. The vast majority of those who died were Muslim. Mobs of men dragged women and young girls out of their homes and raped them. ... Modi ... said a couple of years ago that he felt the same pain over the bloodshed as a passenger in a car that has just run over a puppy.' (Narendra Modi, a man with a massacre on his hands, is not the reasonable choice for India, 7 April, 2014)
Though later Modi expressed in his blog his deep 'grief', 'sadness', 'misery', 'pain', 'anguish', 'agony', etc over the tragic communal violence, Congress' information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari dispelled this as an election strategy to burnish his image. He said, 'This is an exercise in hypocrisy to say the least.' (Hindustan Times, December 28, 2013) Hypocrisy after exercising so deeply and so many times may have made him more adept at this art or may have changed him from inside into a better man, we do not know yet.
However, he gave us a border deal that was originally agreed 41 years ago but kept hanging by the obduracy of all successive Indian governments and took away communication advantage for his country by repackaging 'transit' into 'connectivity'. It was agreed among us, or we believed so, when didi came that no discussion about transit unless and until we get our legitimate share of the water of the River Teesta. All our discussions about sharing of international waters began to flow through the single channel of the Teesta losing all other rivers partly into oblivion. And now Modi bhai came with didi bhai beside him, took away from us whatever he cast his eyes on and gave us only some hopes by advising us to deposit our trust in his hand while he praised us so generously and tweeted thanks after thanks all along. A nice politician, sure, nice from head to foot! There was only one not-so-negligible gaffe, while he was giving our prime minister enormous credits for her 'zero tolerance' towards terrorism, with a disgusting anti-woman phrase put between two commas, 'despite being a woman'. This for a split moment cracked his heart wide open for us to have a glance into its depth, a heart that glitters like gold and has turned many a heart a bit nutty today about the new star captain of India.
Alamgir Khan writes on theatre, education and socio-political issues