Fifth column: Ram and Raavan

For Muslims, Narendra Modi represents despair. The change he talks about is one they interpret as a change for the worse. For Muslims, Narendra Modi represents despair. The change he talks about is one they interpret as a change for the worse.

There are two narratives in this election and if Narendra Modi becomes prime minister, the first thing he will need to do is reconcile them. If he fails, then his fine slogan of ‘India First’ is doomed because the narratives are communal and discordant. For Hindu voters (illiberal ones), he is a messiah of hope and change, a man they believe will bring to India a vision larger than the stunted, second-rate one that the Congress gives us.

Listen only to the campaign speeches of Rahul Gandhi to know that in the Congress vision, there will always be poverty and millions of poor people to throw laptops, dole and cheap food grain to; like crumbs from the high table of power.

It is unfortunate that the only BJP government that came to power in Delhi was led by a prime minister who was deeply committed to Nehruvian socialism. He brought with him no new economic vision. BJP chief ministers have similarly plodded along on the road defined by the Congress, albeit more efficiently.

The real reason why Modi has risen higher than the BJP is not clever marketing, as his opponents like to believe, but because he offers voters an idea of India that no other BJP leader has presented before. Those who say he needs to become like Atal Bihari Vajpayee have missed the point.

For Muslims, Modi represents despair. The change he talks about is one they interpret as a change for the worse. And when his closest lieutenant, Amit Shah, chose to talk of revenge in Muzaffarnagar, their worst fears were confirmed. In a village near Benaras last week, I met a group of rural Muslims who mentioned this speech as a portent of things to come. They pointed out that the BJP manifesto has said clearly that a temple to Rama will be built on the ruins of the Babri Masjid.

Modi himself has made no effort to dispel valid Muslim fears. Meanwhile, a small army of liberals, leftists and secularists have launched a worldwide campaign to proclaim the end of India. It shows how little faith they have in this country or her democratic institutions if they believe one man can destroy them. But they have succeeded in enhancing Muslim fears.

As usual, the very illiberal liberals who lead the attack against Modi have misunderstood the problem. They demand an apology for the riots in 2002 without realising that what victims of violence need are not apologies, but justice.

Is this because they have noticed that the only communal riots after which a modicum of justice has been done are those that happened on Modi’s watch in 2002? Senior police officers and high officials are serving life sentences in Gujarat’s jails while in Delhi, thousands of Sikh widows still wait for justice 30 years on. And there are other widows and orphans who wait for justice in Bhagalpur, Meerut, Moradabad, Nelli and Muzaffarnagar.

Why has Modi never tried to explain his failure to control the violence in 2002? Why has he never drawn attention to there not having been a single riot or a single day of curfew in Gujarat after 2002? There have been serious triggers. The attack on the Akshardham temple could have caused a new explosion of horrible violence as could the bombs that went off in Ahmedabad. Modi’s failure to reach out to Muslims could lose him the majority he so badly wants.

If only he had spared time to give Muslims some assurance that they have no reason to fear him, this general election may not have brought with it these two conflicting narratives.

For Hindu voters, his message of change and renewal has been so compelling that some expect him to walk on water. In Benaras, everyone I talked to said that they believed that if he became the prime minister he could clean the Ganga and restore the faded glory of this ancient Hindu city. I met students in Banaras Hindu University who said they would vote for Modi because they were certain that he would create jobs for them.

Even his political opponents admit privately that India is in desperate need of a strong prime minister after this decade of having a non-prime minister. Not one Hindu mentioned the Ram temple or Hindutva except when I asked about these things. Then, they firmly said that these were not issues in this election.

Sadly this is something Muslims are not ready to believe, so when you talk to them they speak of conspiracies, hidden agendas and “paid media”. They put their trust in clerics who wander about instilling fear in their hearts. This has created divisions across the country that will make it almost impossible for Modi to bring about the changes that India needs. Real changes will only come when the two narratives are reconciled.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh