Delhi has a new think-tank for Narendra Modi Studies. Ex-AMU faculty, former critic is head

6 days ago 68

New Delhi: An ambitious new political think-tank is taking shape in Delhi’s Rouse Avenue. It’s called the Centre for Narendra Modi Studies. Housed in a massive three-storeyed building, the centre is months away from completion. The goal is to study PM Modi’s leadership, governance style, and international diplomacy.

The founder and CEO is Jasim Mohammad, a former faculty at Aligarh Muslim University — and, more significantly, a baiter-turned-cheerleader of Modi.

“My meetings with him (PM Modi) made me realise that the opinions that people hold about him are wrong. He is not a human but an ideology,” says Jasim Mohammad. “My perception changed, and I decided to change the narrative about him. People have centres on [MK] Gandhi, [Jawaharlal] Nehru, and [BR] Ambedkar. I thought: Why shouldn’t we start an institution to celebrate Narendra Modi’s leadership and other aspects of nation-building?”

In India, think-tanks became hot obsessions only a little over the last decade — there was an unprecedented boom in the number of such institutions, up from 121 in 2008 to 612 in 2020. It is the third highest after the United States and China.

Mohammad’s aims, though, stretch beyond Rouse Avenue — having set up the Aligarh CNMS branch in 2017, the chairperson wants to establish a NaMo centre in every district of India and make them global institutions. He is now trying to recruit former civil servants, diplomats, academicians, editors, researchers, and other experts as researchers for the CNMS. “It is purely an academic research institute. We have no political leanings — this institute is one of national importance,” Mohammed is quick to add.

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The work done so far

The CNMS started as a public trust in a 4,000 sq. ft room at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Nurturing grander ambitions, he soon decided to shift base to Delhi, where the CNMS runs virtually through a backdoor office in Nizamuddin West—till the under-construction office in the Chandrashekhar Bhawan at ITO is readied to be functional.

Since 2020, the Delhi and Aligarh CNMS have conducted a handful of seminars, conferences, and short-term workshops for college students and teachers on topics such as Atmanirbhar Bharat, the Independence movement, democracy, and the Constitution. Affiliated members also plan to conduct research on PM Modi’s model of nation-building, the defining parameters of the concept of secularism, liberal democracy, non-alignment, and social justice as outlined by the PM to assist policymakers. An upcoming research project will develop standardisation techniques like the ISBN coding system too.

On 19 June, CNMS members will conduct a series of events at the India International Centre to mark the birth anniversary of Modi’s mother Heeraben Modi — and Mohammad has even labelled that day as “Motherhood Day”. The chief guest wishlist includes Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys founder Narayan Murthy, and Tamilisai Soundararajan, Governor of Puducherry. Silver coins embedded with the image of Modi and his mother will be given out as gifts at the event, says Mohammad, showing this reporter a sample.

The token to be presented to the Chief guest on Motherhood Day | Debdutta Chakraborty/ThePrintThe token to be presented to the Chief guest on Motherhood Day | Debdutta Chakraborty/ThePrint

Means to Modi-mania

Mohammad wasn’t always a Modi admirer. In fact, he was a bitter critic of the PM nearly a decade ago.

He had a change of heart in 2016 when he met the man himself — the meeting inspired him so much that he wrote India’s first Urdu-language biography of the PM titled Narendra Bhai Modi: Fars Se Arsh Tak. It was his third meeting in 2017 when Mohammad decided to set up the CNMS. He describes the meeting as “moving”, seeing PM Modi’s almost ‘god-like’ characteristics. Till now, he has penned six books in Urdu praising Modi’s governance model and has met with the PM on multiple occasions. The bright orange-coloured CNMS website displays dozens of PM Modi’s pictures accompanied by motivational quotes.

Mohammad proudly recalls that he set up the CNMS after selling off his ancestral land. He has now signed an MoU with Yuva Bharti Trust for the Delhi centre.

In addition to conducting research on PM Modi’s leadership, the CNMS is interested in national security and strategy, international relations (IR)/diplomacy, studies on neighbourhood, governance, politics, economics, technology and science, mother tongue, and history and civilisation. It has published more than 10 books on various aspects of Modi’s leadership; some titles include International Relations: Harbinger of Change, International Relations: Heralding A New World Order, International Relations: A New Awakening, and Collection of PM’s Mann Ki Baat.

The centre has now put out a call for research papers on “analytical perspectives on democracy, faith, security, climate change, water, politics, and economics of South and Central Asia in English and Hindi”, and Mohammad’s inbox is flooded with submissions from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) scholars, he says.

Resham Raj,  a 22-year-old IR student at JNU, is interning at the centre as it allows her to look at the global aspects of PM Modi’s policies. Mohammad’s 13-member team includes a Bodo from Assam and a Kashmiri Muslim too.

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The 2014 switch

Mohammad’s journey to idolising PM Modi was full of twists and turns.

In 2014, before the Lok Sabha election, he had run campaigns against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through the Forum for Muslim Studies and Analysis, and as the secretary in the Aligarh-based society Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC), which works to promote communal harmony, vehemently refused to support the party in any way. During the campaign period, Mohammad had even openly campaigned for the Congress alongside filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. When actor Salman Khan and his father Salim Khan praised Modi, he and the FMSA group criticised them for engaging in the “worst type of political opportunism for pure commercial gain”.

But the committee heartily welcomed the BJP’s ascension to power. Once a staunch critic of Modi for his handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots, in 2018, he locked horns with former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Zameer Uddin Shah who accused the Gujarat government of playing a role in the violence. As the AMU media advisor in that year, Mohammad said that the Congress was conspiring to gain an advantage in the 2019 General election.

“When I met him, I realised that he is above everything — religion or politics. What struck me most was that he was always talking about keeping every community together and building a harmonious nation. He is the first person after Gandhi whom people trust,” says Mohammad, who also claims to have translated the official PMO page into Urdu.

And loyalty to the PM only solidified from that point onwards — Mohammad has penned lyrically written books on Modi, some of which are titled Statesman Narendra Modi, Mann se Jan Tak – Narendra Modi, Aalami Qaid – Narendra Bhai Modi, Narendra Modi Calling, Mann Ki Baat I & II, and The Message Narendra Modi.

A member of the Congress’ National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) in 2014, Mohammad is now a BJP loyalist, he proudly claims. And his dream is to create an institution that lasts for over a hundred years.

“We are targeting the youth of the country because they are the future. We are interested in reaching out to people of the below-35 age group,” he adds.

Back at AMU, though, nobody is ready to talk about Mohammad — from former student union members to professors to people in the administration and even the alumni. They’re are ‘scared’ to be named, they tell ThePrint, as he has friends in “high places”.

“From his PhD degree awarded in 2013 to his role as [the] media advisor in 2018, everything is controversial. He is what we call in Urdu ‘ibn-ul-waqt’ or opportunist,” says an AMU professor who was teaching at the university when Mohammad was a student.

And the student community has its own reservations against Mohammad too. “He filed cases against students and also called AMU ‘a nursery of terrorism’. He simply knows how to be in the good books of those in power,” says a member of the AMUSU (Aligarh Muslim University Student Union).

But Mohammad has a simple one-line defence: “My certificate should speak for itself,” he says.

After all, how else does one explain his rise to the post of group editor at Urdu channel Sahara? “You cannot become a group editor just like that. I was also the bureau chief for Pioneer Urdu. My credentials are unquestionable,” he says.

Attraction to Modi, Yogi

It is what PM Modi does at the Centre and Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh that draws Mohammad toward the BJP — they see the larger picture beyond parochial concerns, he says. Attacks on Muslims have been happening for the last 50 years, he says. “It is not a new phenomenon. You can’t attribute it to a government or a person.”

In 2017, though, Mohammad penned an open letter to the PM, urging him to “do something to stop the open lynching of Muslims who are Indian citizens” days after a Muslim youth from Haryana was murdered by passengers on a train near Delhi.

Journalist Mahtab Alam, in an article for TwoCircles, offered interesting insights on the MBMC, though. “The last time that I remember reading something about this self-appointed committee of the Millat, which only exists on paper, was when it was busy mobilising people in Aligarh in favour of Mr Narendra Modi and his party. Interestingly, prior to the election of May 2014, the same outfit used to work with and for the Congress party. However, with a change of guard at the Centre, they decided to work for and with Mr Modi and his party,” he wrote.

In 2016, The Sunday Guardian quoted Mohammad as saying, “To be honest, until 2014, we used to work for the Congress . . . (t)hen in 2014, we happened to meet Zafar Sareshwala, who is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He convinced us that PM Modi is genuinely serious about the all-inclusive development of India, including that of Muslims and that Muslims should communicate with the Central government for that. We agreed, despite the sharp backlash we faced in Aligarh.”

Sareshwala is a Gujarat-based industrialist and CEO and managing director of Parsoli Corporation Ltd. He is known as Modi’s most trusted Muslim advisor in government circles. He has played a crucial role in the PM’s efforts to reach out to minorities.

Mohammad’s commitment is deep and he has changed his lifestyle too. He has given up on meat completely and plans to start advocating for the cause too.

“My aim is to change the narrative. I might not be here in the next 20 years, but the institution that is Narendra Modi will remain, whoever comes in power. My role will be remembered for ages to come.”

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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