Summary: A Spinner gets spun.
The first and most important thing that Lance Price wants you to know from his book The Modi Effect, is that he, Lance Price, is a BIG DEAL. He has worked for Tony Blair as his Director of Communications. He has met Margaret Thatcher and Barack Obama. He even once had a 10 minute conversation with Nelson Mandela.
So it is only natural that Narendra Modi should chose him, Lance Price, to write this book on Modi’s successful 2014 election campaign. Price suggests this is an act of particular self confidence on Modi’s part, because someone who is as BIG a DEAL as Lance Price is not to be trifled with. “You can’t spin a spinner“, Price informs us early on, because he is a BIG DEAL, and used to work for Tony Blair.
To which I thought, “Hmmm… lets see.”
The thing is though Price is not really interested in India, per se. Price is interested in elections. So he is only interested in India insofar as it relates to his story of the conduct of this election. And he is interested in Modi because he won an overwhelming electoral victory in the world’s largest democracy.
Hence we get extensive passages on Modi’s personal fashion sense, branding, merchandising, manifesto writing, use of social media and technology, including the tour through rural areas of his hologram so he could make speeches to communities with no electricity or television. The deeper question, of what Modi really believes and represents is addressed in only a fragmentary fashion
Price discusses some of the key controversies relating to Modi, in particular his relationship with the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP that many progressive Indians accuse of neo-fascism, Hindutva – the ideology of Hindu nationalism, and the 2002 Gujarat riots in which a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed on his watch as Chief Minister of the state. But Price insists on casting these issues in the most benign light possible. The RSS, he suggests, may be no more sinister than the UK’s trade union movement. Hindutva as espoused by Modi, shouldn’t really be seen as that antagonistic towards India’s non-Hindus.
As for the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Indian Supreme Court itself found that Modi couldn’t be held culpable. This may be true. Nehru should not be held directly culpable for the atrocities during the partition of India. But then Nehru spoke loudly against the bloodshed, personally faced down Hindu mobs to protect the lives of Indian Muslims, and ultimately managed to bring Nepalese and southern Indian troops into place to stop the killing. The best that Modi, that master of language, could bring himself to say regarding the bloodshed was if “someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is.”
Price notes that following the 2002 riots Gujarat has been peaceful and economically prosperous under Modi’s rule. Perhaps that shows his enlightenment? Perhaps it shows an effectively terrorised minority? Rather than deign to talk to Gujarati Muslims, Price is content that the carnage of the Gujarat riots “pains” Modi “greatly“.
But the fact that Modi has never been forceful in his denunciation of the 2002 or other alleged Hindu atrocities indicates, at best, a profound cynicism on Modi’s part, that he is not prepared to alienate even his most fratricidal potential supporters. The conduct of the 2014 election in Uttar Pradesh, in which Modi’s BJP stirred up caste and sectarian prejudices to win the election is further evidence that his BJP is less benign than Modi would like to portray. In two of the more interesting chapters towards the end of the book Price finally seems to recognise Modi’s silence on these issues cannot be excused as a mere political calculation, but rather they indicate a profound moral failure, that as elected leader of India Modi is making no effort to confront some of the darkest and most atavistic aspects of Indian society that have disfigured the world’s largest democracy since independence.
Overall The Modi Effect has some interesting information, but it would have benefited from a greater interest by Price in Indian politics instead of just Indian elections. And it would have benefited even more if Price had perhaps been a little more interested in the lives and experiences of the millions of Indians who are not so nearly as BIG a DEAL as he is.