Opinionista Vivek Sud 16 October 2015

Narendra Modi takes Nelson Mandela’s name in vain

Ignorance or desperation must have prompted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to label the chief minister of Punjab 'the Nelson Mandela of India'. 'Badal Sahab', also known as Parkash Singh Badal, has no shame in using any number of unethical means to stay in power and to promote his family’s hold on power – acts that go against the very spirit of Madiba.

Badal Sahab is sitting here … he is the Nelson Mandela of India. He has spent so many years in prison & that too for political reasons: PM” a tweet by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi read on Sunday 11 October, 2015.

As India is getting ready to welcome the heads of state of approximately 40 African nations for the third India-Africa Summit starting on 26 October, it looks as if Modi has insulted one of the most revered legends of Africa, if not the entire world – Nelson Mandela. Every right-minded Indian who has even the faintest knowledge of this ‘Badal Sahab’ is wondering why Modi committed such a blunder. The answer to this question lies in the quagmire of domestic Indian politics, a minefield which Modi doesn’t seem to be able to navigate as smoothly as he had thought he could. Trying to score cheap Brownie points at the expense of an international legend gives some idea of how bad things have become for a prime minister who until last year was being considered a solution to India’s problems.

Before analysing the domestic political scenario, it would be prudent to at least apologise to His Excellency Nelson Mandela. Madiba, please forgive us for Modi does not speak for India when he compared you to ‘Badal Sahab’, also known as Parkash Singh Badal, chief minister of Punjab. It would be prudent to take a brief look into who Badal is to explain why comparing him to Mandela amounts to insulting Madiba. Badal, who rose from a village-level politician to become the chief minister of one of India’s most prosperous states, is someone who has no shame in using any number of unethical means to stay in power and strengthen his family’s hold on power – both acts that go against the very spirit of Nelson Mandela.

Modi’s reason for comparing Badal to Mandela on the basis of the number of years spent in jail is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason. Mandela was in jail while struggling for the independence of his country and Badal was in jail at times for political convenience, at times to save his own life, at times for political opportunism; but never for the sake of the independence of his country. While Mandela was in jail fighting for the rights of the majority of the majority of the people in his country; Badal has had no shame in associating with “terrorists” who were involved in the “targeted killings of thousands of Hindus in the state of Punjab”. Even today, Badal is actively trying to obtain luxurious jail conditions or outright pardons for people who have been convicted by the courts for their involvements in acts of terrorism.

Another fundamental flaw in Modi’s comparison is that while Mandela epitomised selflessness in public life, Badal epitomises shamelessness in public life. Mandela gave up the presidency of his country after serving one term as he said he would; Badal has all his life played used trick of skulduggery to stay in power and keep his family in power. In the state of Punjab, Badal is the chief minister, his son is his deputy, his son-in-law is a cabinet minister, his daughter-in-law is a cabinet minister in Modi’s government; and Badal’s daughter-in-law’s brother is also a cabinet minister in the state of Punjab. The four members of this family who are in government in Punjab collectively hold 27 portfolios all in the areas in which the entire family has business interests. All concerns over conflicts of interest have been thrown out of the window by ‘India’s Nelson Mandela’ for the sole purpose of making sure he has ample money to stay in power. The Badal business empire is so big that even Badal himself does not know how many companies come under its umbrella. How Badal, after being handed a humiliating result in his state during the last general elections, managed to have his daughter-in-law made a cabinet minister in the union government is a tutorial on being shameless while ignoring the claims of many other MPs from his own party who were much senior than the darling daughter-in-law.

Can Modi show the rest of the world any instance where Mandela tried to cling onto power or promoted his own family’s business interests while in power or appointed his own family members as ministers in his cabinet?

There can be one of two reasons for Modi’s statement: either he is not aware of what is going on in his own backyard and lacks knowledge of world history, or his repeated disasters in the domestic political arena in the last 15 months have made him so desperate that he would stoop to any level to praise people who should have long been buried politically by comparing them to saints. The nightmare of a total washout of the monsoon session of parliament is probably haunting Modi so much that he wants to make sure the winter session does not suffer the same fate. As he rode to a majority in the Parliament last year, he made the mistake of not only totally alienating the opposition parties but annoying the parties that were in an alliance with his own party. All attempts to pass meaningful legislation in parliament came to a grinding halt.

As Modi is travelling all over the world trying to sell “India as a place to do business” he has had to eat his word when it comes to passing the basic legislation that is needed to make “India a place to do business”. If the election results in the state of Bihar do not provide a boost for Modi’s ability to govern the country, we should not be surprised if the next time he compares ‘Badal Sahab’ to God. But till that time prudence would dictate that Modi apologise for using Nelson Mandela’s name in the same sentence as Badal’s. As the start of the India-Africa Summit is no more than a few weeks away, it would also be prudent for the Indian prime minister not to say things that can be considered outright offensive to the guests coming to India. DM

Vivek Sud is an international political consultant based in New Delhi.


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