Gujarati PM Morarji, Modi Share Similarities
From politics to economics, two politicians share a lot of common things
There is much in common between Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi and Morarji Desai, India’s first prime minister of Gujarati origin.
For both of them, Godhra became an inseparable part of their personal history and for similar reasons. If Modi came under international glare due to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots that took place in Godhra on his watch as Gujarat chief minister, Desai had to quit his administrative job as the deputy collector of Godhra after being found guilty of going soft on Hindus during the riot that took place in 1927-28.
Modi’s former associate turned rival Shankarsinh Vaghela made it a point to remind him of the similarity while bidding him farewell from the state. But there is more to the similarities between Modi and India’s fourth prime minister, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 99.
Political culture unites the two, said academic and writer Achyut Yagnik, adding that much like Desai, Modi is authoritarian and proud of his image as a strong leader. Desai was referred to as “Sarvochcha” (supreme) in his party as well as in the vernacular press. The authoritarian streak, which according to Gujarati political historians was rather subtle in Mahatma Gandhi and found stronger expression in Desai, was perpetuated in the subsequent political leadership in Gujarat.
“Even Chimanbhai Patel, when he became the chief minister for the first time in early 1970s before the nav-nirman movement used to be referred as Chhote Sardar, a title that enamoured Modi so much later,” Yagink said. “It is this quest of strong leadership that makes The only difference that I see between the two is that Morarji was a man who used to speak his mind, something that I cannot say about Modi. His actions only speak for him. Gujarat polity different than other provinces,” he added. Modi also shares Desai’s approach to economic management, said Vidyut Joshi, noted sociologist and former vice chancellor of Bhavnagar University. “When Morarjibhai took over from socialist Indira, the economic crisis went down and the Sensex went up, just the way it is happening now,” Joshi recalled. “While market-friendly Morarji had given relaxation on gold by issuing gold bonds etc, we are already seeing gold prices going down after election results though Modi is yet to take a call on gold policy.” Desai was the supreme power centre in Gujarat Congress, Veteran Gujarati journalist and writer Indukumar Jani said, drawing a parallel with Modi’s position in his party. “They not only called him Sarvochcha but the buck actually stopped with him. It was his writ that ran the party much like the way Modi ran BJP in Gujarat,” Jani said.
Desai had resigned from the post of deputy collector of Godhra after the riot in 1927-28
However, he added, pointing out one difference between the two leaders separated by time. “The only difference that I see between the two is that Morarji was a man who used to speak his mind, something that I can’t say about Modi. His actions only speak for him.”
However, political correctness cannot be counted as the best virtue of either of the two leaders.
Otherwise a staunch Gandhian, Desai gave the order to open fire on a mob agitating for a separate state of Gujarat that killed more than a hundred people and added fuel to the fire.
“He had started his career as an ICS officer and never lost touch with the bureaucrat in him,” recalled a senior journalist, who had covered Desai in Gujarat.
For Modi, however, it is the bureaucrats who run the show.
“Modi has built his image as one who is strong and decisive,” said Harinesh Pandya, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst and activist. “His latest invite to Nawaz Sharif and Mahinda Rajapaksa bears testimony to the fact that he is not someone who would give in to arm-twisting,” he added.
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