IN DECEMBER 2002, weeks before the announcement of state election results in Gujarat, MJ Akbar, then the editor-in-chief of the news daily the Asian Age, published a column. That July, Gujarat’s legislative assembly had been prematurely dissolved, and its chief minister, Narendra Modi, had resigned, following criticism of his Bharatiya Janata Party government for widespread anti-Muslim violence under its watch earlier in the year.
Akbar’s column, titled ‘Congress is BJP’s B-Team in Gujarat,’ chided the opposition party for a campaign strategy centred on “soft-Hindutva,” a watered-down version of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist ideology. “It is chicanery to claim outside Gujarat that you want to destroy the evil of communalism by defeating Narendra Modi,” he wrote, “and to indulge in a variation of his communalism inside Gujarat.” But he had sharp words for the BJP, too. A major victory for Modi should cause the party to worry, he said. The chief minister
is an ideologue, with a difference. The difference is hysteria. It is an edgy hysteria, which can mesmerise; and it easily melts into the kind of megalomania that makes a politician believe that he is serving the larger good through a destructive frenzy against a perceived enemy. In Hitler’s case, the enemy was the Jew; in Modi’s case the enemy is the Muslim. Such a politician is not a fool; in fact, he may have a high degree of intellect. But it is intellect unleavened by reason, and untempered by humanism.
Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.