Salil Tripathi in Caravan:
Modi’s relentless campaign projects him as the Indian equivalent of bapak pembangunan, or the Father of Development, as Suharto was called during his 32-year-rule of Indonesia. Indeed, Modi may potentially become India’s first leader in the East Asian, and not South Asian, mould. Those seeing a Reagan in Modi are, like Christopher Columbus, mistaken about the direction they are looking in. Modi’s approach and governance style are closer to China’s Deng Xiaoping or Indonesia’s Suharto. Deng and Suharto both bore the burden of massacres (as does Modi)—in Suharto’s case several, with Deng it was Tiananmen Square, 25 years ago this June. Both put in place economic policies that delivered sustained economic growth, lifted millions out of absolute poverty, and improved health and education indicators. But they ruled as stern authoritarians, and jailed writers, human rights activists, artists, union leaders and dissidents, sometime for years. A crucial difference: if Modi becomes India’s prime minister, he would have been elected in a free and fair election, unlike Deng (who never faced an election) or Suharto (whose elections were sham).
But how valid are the claims about Gujarat’s growth and Modi’s role in enabling it? The evidence is mixed. Other states, large and small, have also grown rapidly, and sometimes from a weaker base. Gujarat was hardly an industrial or economic laggard before Modi became chief minister, and the growth is not a post-2001 phenomenon. From motels in American towns without tourists to shops in cashless African villages, under Communist-ruled Kolkata or entrepreneurial Mumbai, Gujarati businesses have succeeded without Modi’s leadership. In fact, despite Modi’s claims of leading a booming economy, fresh investments dipped soon after the 2002 massacres and new capital remained shy of Gujarat for a few years. Further, the 2002 massacres were not an aberration, and the state has not always been at peace since then. Troops had to be called in 2006 and there have been other communal incidents after. (In contrast, while there have been terror attacks in Mumbai and Delhi regularly, neither has seen mass communal violence or massacres since 1993 and 1984, respectively.)