The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indiaís modernity is laced with a heavy dose of feudal values. Deference rather than equality prevails in large parts of public life. What is amazing ó and at times irritating ó is when the feudal values articulate themselves in the attitudes and behaviour of people who are advocates of economic development and modernization. This was manifest in the way Mr Tarun Das, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, cringed and apologized before the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi. The latter was subjected to some criticism at a CII meeting a few weeks ago. Mr Modi walked out of the meeting in a huff. This, and the subsequent floating of a rival organization by some businessmen from Gujarat, alar- med the CII so much that Mr Das flew to Ahmedabad to apologize to Mr Modi and placate him. The important point in this disgraceful episode is that, at the meeting, men as eminent as Mr Rahul Bajaj and Mr Jamshyd Godrej did not make any personal attacks on Mr Modi, they did not abuse him nor were they impolite. They only expressed their criticism of what had happened in Gujarat last year. This was too much for Mr Modi to stomach. Presumably, he feels that he is above criticism. He has a right to harbour such delusions of selfimportance, but the CII, as a body committed to modernity and modern values, has no need to pamper such feelings. The CII, given its aspirations, has no need to be craven and has no pressure on it to crawl. By appearing before Mr Modi in sackcloth and ashes, Mr Das has shown that when the CII was born it was probably not given a spine.

Mr Modiís reaction is a sign of the assertiveness that now informs the behaviour of many members of the sangh parivar. Views that were previously considered marginal and belonging to the loony fringe are now voiced openly in the political and social arena. A note of strident authoritarianism and intolerance is now increasingly being heard. This is explicit in Mr Modiís refusal to engage in any kind of debate. It was open to him to rebut the criticisms that were made at the CII meeting. He chose to walk out. This is indicative of an attitude and it fortifies all the suspicions about Mr Modiís intentions. Whatever be Mr Modiís protestations about India becoming a Hindu rashtra, India fortunately remains a secular democracy which aspires to modernity. If Mr Modi finds the conventions that govern such a society unacceptable, he should quit it. Similarly, if the CII cannot stand up for its own freedom, it has no right to speak for the free market.

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