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Is Modi chaiwallah only for the Ambanis, the Tatas,and the Adanis? Top sociologist Shiv Visvanathan wonders

By Our Representative
In an open letter to the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, one of India’s topmost sociologists, Shiv Visvanathan, has asked Narendra Modi to clarify whether as future PM he is going to be the “chaiwallah for the Ambanis.” Influential Gujarat circles know how Visvanathan, as professor at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute for Information and Communication Technology (DAIICT), Gandhinagar, was forced to quit in 2012 following Modi’s plea to the younger Ambani to sack him. Sitting just six kilometers from Vasvanathan wrote several scholarly pieces on Modi’s behavioral patterns.
In his open letter, the sociologist says, “Your chai dhaba with its patented single window caters only to the Adanis, the Tatas, and the Ambanis. No wonder businessmen across the world want to have tea with you. As PM, are you going to be chaiwallah for the Ambanis? Will your regime mean business as usual for the Ambanis and Adani? What happens to the small man and his tea shop then?”
Qualifying Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s reference to Modi as chaiwala “idiotic”, making Modi use it for political gains, the sociologist reminds the PM aspirant, “Chai is a beautiful drink and chai dhaba is a great place for conversation and friendship for the panchayats of democracy.”
Predicting that Modi is sure to win the Lok Sabha polls, (“you seem to be in sight of victory as the Modi wave and the Modi juggernaut rolls its way to Delhi”), the sociologist says, “As a member of an informal opposition, I want to list out some reasons why you cannot be prime minister. Such an argument does not need comparisons with AB Vajpayee or an equivalence with Jawaharlal Nehru. What I want to challenge is your worldview, your behaviour and the way you have responded to the world.”
Saying that he is “surprised” by the bully-boy attitude of Modi, Viswanathan underscores, “You showed great dignity about your child marriage -- both the dignity of silence and restraint. One wishes that as a potential PM you would extend that dignity to your opponents, to your enemies, to dissent in any form.” But Modi’s behavior does not seem to indicate this would happen.
“I can understand”, says Visvanathan, “that as an RSS pracharak you wear uniforms. The sadness is that your concepts too march in uniformity. It creates a violence of concepts. Think of how you define secularism as the highest patriotism, the ultimate loyalty to the nation. Secularism separates religion and State. By allocating patriotism as the religion of the nation-State, you blur categories.”
“For the RSS and for you, the nation and society are one, but by making society and nation coterminous, one is destroying the social, the little socials of the nukkad, the village, the tribe, the community, civil society. All disappear in your loyalty to one organism, the nation masquerading as the nation-State”, the sociologist says.
Visvanathan wonders, “Your friends often call you a victim of 2002, claiming you have been insulted and maligned. They insist that the Special Investigation Team has cleared you. The question I want to ask is, what the difference between guilt and responsibility is. To use a less Newtonian metaphor, the riots were spontaneous combustion. Does that mean that you are indifferent to the fires created, to the lives lost?”
“Is there a responsibility for the aftermath of the riots or will Gujarat go down in history as the first state which refused to respond to the victims of a riot, claiming camps should be closed down as they are breeding grounds for minorities and dissent? Is that the asmita (pride) you are talking about? How can a decent society not accept responsibility for victims of violence?”, he asks.
Telling him that he has failed as a healer, and healing and inclusiveness are skills of a statesman, Viswanathan says, “You are a politician who does not know to apologise or forgive. What then are your claims or dreams of an inclusive society? It is like your talk of development as a panacea. Development is a method and a problematic one at that. It has shadows, costs, it displaces people; it can be a form of violence.”
The sociologist asks, “How does each choose their way of life? How do each of them engage with the other while choosing their way of life? Being a real estate agent for corporations hungry for land does not make for development. You will need to institute a social and ecological audit of the Adanis, the Tatas and the Ambanis. Parading them as your stakeholders shows little thought of the costs of development.”
Concluding, Visvanathan says, “I see you as a man who has split the nation into two. A Vajpayee or even L K Advani would hold it together. One senses you cannot do this. To heal, to apologise, and to glue together a nation seems beyond you. I have other questions but this could be a gentle start to a conversation. I wonder if you will allow this when you permit so little in the party itself. I would be grateful if you would reflect a bit on my questions.”

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