India's Modi on His Best Behavior: Can We Trust Him?

We criticize individuals with the idea of wanting them to reset their course and get back on the righteous path of justice, humility, truth and respect for every life. Here is an effort to invoke Mr. Modi to follow "rajdharma," or good governance.

Mr. Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate in India's national elections, has finally gathered the courage to deliver one of his best policy statements in an interview published on NDTV on April 22.

In this historic interview, Mr. Modi speaks about treating all Indians as one people, perhaps grasping the wisdom of our pluralistic ethos embedded in the Sanskrit phrase "Vasudhaiva Kutumbukum," a concept where everyone is considered to be a part of one big human family and therefore must take care of each other. This is a positive change. I hope he means it, not because it is politically expedient but because it is the right thing to do.

This is also the Islamic concept where God says we are all made from the same couple into many tribes, communities and nations and enjoins us to know each other to create harmony in society.

Mr. Modi has taken that step toward moderating his stance. Indeed, it is one of the seven items on my list of things that Mr. Modi must do to build a cohesive India where no Indian has to live in apprehension or fear of the other. Thanks to Dr. Bharat Barai for passing on my message to the possible next prime minister of India.

Mr. Modi has got six more things to do, and one hopes he is moving in that direction to become a genuine munificent leader of the nation. Indeed, it would be quite a transformation for him to move from a divisive, ruthless, apathetic and arrogant man to an inclusive, empathetic and humble leader of all the citizens. All I can do is pray.

The seven things for Modi to do are as follows (he has touched on item 2):

  1. Restore the lives of refugees uprooted in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Some 16,000 refugees from the violence still live in 73 refugee colonies, as they are not allowed to go back to their homes, and the Gujarat government failed to provide even basic sanitation. Find them minimum housing and a path to earn a livelihood. Let them be accommodated amidst all others with caring attitudes. In the long run we have to build desegregated societies for the good of all.

  • Inclusive governance, to include Muslims, Christians and Buddhists on the internal advisory to make security decisions on a voluntary basis for the common good. (We hope it comes under his inclusive policy.) In the past, not only did the Modi administration in Gujarat, under then-Home Minister Amit Shah, allegedly carry out staged "fake encounter killings" of Muslims scapegoated as terrorists, but it also allegedly sought to actively protect the culprits.
  • Justice to the families of the ones who have lost their lives, both Hindu and Muslim, without discrimination, and also justice for those who stood up for the rights of the violated.
  • Find the truth about the burning of 59 passengers in a train in the most transparent way, to bring closure to doubts on both sides or acknowledge the findings and live with it.
  • Punishment for anti-Muslim and anti-Christian -- and thus anti-Indian -- attitudes. Modi should move to punish egregious religious-freedom violators and repeat offenders like Praveen Togadia.
  • Meet with Muslims, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and OBC leaders from different parts of the country on a regular basis. It is not to appease them but to hear them out and prevent injustice to them.
  • Earn the goodwill of the people affected by the carnage by restoring their lives, their places of worship and monuments, and in turn earn their prayers (clean chit).
  • Additionally, withdraw anti-conversion laws from Gujarat and BJP-ruled states and provide assurance that the BJP will not pursue such uncivilized laws at a national level.

    The leader must honor freedoms enshrined in our constitution. Everyone should have the freedom to speak, breathe, eat and believe whatever he or she wants to believe, as long as it does not denigrate others or trample their rights. Modi can become a great leader like Nehru and get elected again and again, unlike Vajpayee's one term.

    While I welcome the contents of the interview, I want to share Dr. Bharat Barai's comment on the issue. He said:

    I strongly support that all citizens should be treated equally, indeed Equal rights and equal responsibilities is the way to go forward. Religion is a matter of faith and should be practiced as personal choices, without interference or support by the State institutions. Everyone should have the right to practice his religious beliefs, and must respect rights of others to do the same. In a Global world, this Human right should be respected by all the countries and all the religions. I believe Mr. Narendra Modi is committed to do that.

    Some of us want to believe him, and some will not, based on his record. All of us are influenced by our own experiences. Being an optimist, I want to believe that he means every word of the interview. If he continues to moderate his stance, a higher percentage of Indians will vote for him. But the real change of heart of Indians will come when he lives up to his words after the election as a prime minister if he wins, and as a chief minister of the state of Gujarat even if he loses.

    What do the Indians want?

    Whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Dalit, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist, Jew, tribal or any other creed, all you want is to feel safe and believe that the other Indians are not ugly "rakshasas" (demons) out to get you.

    Every Indian wants to live in dignity, take care of our family, have a reliable source of income, educate our children (our future), and have a home and reasonable health care.

    It is the prime responsibility of the leader to create an environment where no Indian has to feel apprehensive or fearful of the other. Furthermore, he has to ensure that our constitution is adhered to, and Modi's statement synchronizes with the idea. He said:

    Let me tell you, I have to run the government. A government runs according to the Constitution. I believe that a government has only one religion -- India first. A government has only one holy book -- our Constitution. A government has only one kind of devotion -- towards nation. A government has only one style of functioning -- "sabka saath, sabka vikas" (cooperation of all, development of all).

    Justice is the only thing that brings trust, peace and sustainable prosperity to a society. Mr. Modi has gone scot free thus far but has challenged our system to prove his guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt and has asked to be hanged if he is found guilty. It's time for our justice system to take up that challenge, and we have to value the time-honored tradition of "innocent until proven guilty." Please remember, "Bhagvan ke ghar mein der hai, andher nahin" ("God ultimately serves justice").

    As a Pluralist, I speak without wearing religious garb. I applaud Modi for the following statement in the interview. When asked specifically whether he would make an effort to reach out to every citizen, including Muslims, Mr. Modi replied:

    I will never go by this terminology of yours. Even if you drag me, I will not. I will meet my countrymen. I understand only one language that they are my countrymen, they are my brothers. You may see with whatever colour you want, Modi will not go into that colour.

    Good for him! Again, I hope he means it.

    Lastly, he is capable of reigning in the extremism and steering the Hindutva agenda from sectarianism and fascism to pluralism. He is the only one who can do it without losing support from the Hindutva forces. They have no other place to go. As Indians we need and want this to happen to preserve our cohesive social fabric.

    If Mr. Modi fulfills the terms of "rajdharma" (good governance) and takes care of the items listed above, he will earn the trust of the people.

    Every Indian, with no exception, wants a leader who is just, fair, humble and righteous. It's a fallacy and roguish to believe that Dalits, Muslims, Christians and others want handouts. On the contrary, all they want is fairness, justice, equal access and equal opportunity.

    If we can learn to respect the otherness of others and accept the God-given uniqueness of each one of the 1.25 billion of us, then conflicts will fade and solutions will emerge.

    Democracy and pluralism (i.e., respecting the otherness of others) runs in our veins, so let's have faith in our system. If Mr. Modi fails us, we can dump him through ballot or a no-confidence vote, as we did with Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee. To attain greatness and a place in the annals of history, Mr. Modi has a lot more to prove than we can demand.

    Mike Ghouse is an India expert and is keeping up with the elections.