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Narendra Modi: The New Face of India

Modi

As expected, Narendra Modi, and the BJP have won elections in India.

The New Face of India

By Pankaj Mishra (The Guardian)

In A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth writes with affection of a placid India‘s first general election in 1951, and the egalitarian spirit it momentarily bestowed on an electorate deeply riven by class and caste: “the great washed and unwashed public, sceptical and gullible”, but all “endowed with universal adult suffrage”. India’s 16th general election this month, held against a background of economic jolts and titanic corruption scandals, and tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947. Back then, it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging from an anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002 to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India’s highest political office.

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder’s belief that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or “Hinduness”. In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as “child-breeding centres”.

Such rhetoric has helped Modi sweep one election after another in Gujarat. A senior American diplomat described him, in cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, as an “insular, distrustful person” who “reigns by fear and intimidation”; his neo-Hindu devotees on Facebook and Twitter continue to render the air mephitic with hate and malice, populating the paranoid world of both have-nots and haves with fresh enemies – “terrorists”, “jihadis”, “Pakistani agents”, “pseudo-secularists”, “sickulars”, “socialists” and “commies”. Modi’s own electoral strategy as prime ministerial candidate, however, has been more polished, despite his appeals, both dog-whistled and overt, to Hindu solidarity against menacing aliens and outsiders, such as the Italian-born leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, Bangladeshi “infiltrators” and those who eat the holy cow.

Modi exhorts his largely young supporters – more than two-thirds of India’s population is under the age of 35 – to join a revolution that will destroy the corrupt old political order and uproot its moral and ideological foundations while buttressing the essential framework, the market economy, of a glorious New India. In an apparently ungovernable country, where many revere the author of Mein Kampf for his tremendous will to power and organisation, he has shrewdly deployed the idioms of management, national security and civilisational glory.

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

Mukesh Ambani's 27-storey house in Mumbai.Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey house in Mumbai. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Not long after India’s first full-scale pogrom in 2002, leading corporate bosses, ranging from the suaveRatan Tata to Mukesh Ambani, the owner of a 27-storey residence, began to pave Modi’s ascent to respectability and power. Thestars of Bollywood fell (literally) at the feet of Modi. In recent months, liberal-minded columnists and journalists have joined their logrolling rightwing compatriots in certifying Modi as a “moderate” developmentalist. The Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who insists that he intellectually fathered India’s economic reforms in 1991, andGurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, have volunteered passionate exonerations of the man they consider India’s saviour.

Bhagwati, once a fervent supporter of outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, has even publicly applied for an advisory position with Modi’s government. It may be because the nearly double-digit economic growth of recent years that Ivy League economists like him – India’s own version of Chile’s Chicago Boys and Russia’s Harvard Boys – instigated and championed turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China’s rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. “The bulk of India’s aggregate growth,” the World Bank’s chief economist Kaushik Basu warns, “is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder.” Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country’s shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.

(Who is Narendra Modi? The Guardian’s Phoebe Greenwood explains his rise. Link to video: Who is Narendra Modi?)

Absurdly uneven and jobless economic growth has led to what Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze call “islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa”. The failure to generate stable employment – 1m new jobs are required every month – for an increasingly urban and atomised population, or to allay the severe inequalities of opportunity as well as income, created, well before the recent economic setbacks, a large simmering reservoir of rage and frustration. Many Indians, neglected by the state, which spends less proportionately on health and education than Malawi, and spurned by private industry, which prefers cheap contract labour, invest their hopes in notions of free enterprise and individual initiative. However, old and new hierarchies of class, caste and education restrict most of them to the ranks of the unwashed. As the Wall Street Journal admitted, India is not “overflowing with Horatio Alger stories”. Balram Halwai, the entrepreneur from rural India in Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker-winning novel The White Tiger, who finds in murder and theft the quickest route to business success and self-confidence in the metropolis, and Mumbai’s social-Darwinist slum-dwellers in Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers point to an intensified dialectic in India today: cruel exclusion and even more brutal self-empowerment.

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  • Reynardine

    I understand that there are some grave trends on the planet. That is all the more reason for each and all of us to take care of ourselves and each other, to guard our sanity, to appreciate the fragrance of the wind and the angle of the light, so that when we do encounter bigotry and hardship we can perceive them clearly and combat them calmly. And above all, the young need hope.

    Don’t hesitate to use what I gave you.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    OK, OK. Now just read the post by Mehdi Hasan here on this web site how he should explain fascism and populism to his daughter. He too refers to the anti-Bosniak Genocidal Crusade which was made possible through genocidal talk. I share his views.
    And of course this is not only about Muslims,. See what the Jobbik thugs are doing in Hungary, to “cleanse” their country.
    So you see, I’m not paranoid or unbalanced, I just am very concerned about the possibility of renewed genocide. Also in India. The RSS is just the same thing. Fascists are the same all around the world. It is very scary that fascism has become again the fad as it already did once.
    And the only thing I want to impress in my daughter is to walk around with an alert mind. Many German Jews believed that Hitler would not last six months, or that they, for whatever reason would be spared, and found out only too late how wrong they were.
    ANd don’t worry about my daughter, her mother is a born survivor and I’m confident she’ll teach our daughter right.
    What concerns me is my daughter looks very much North African/Arab. Oh, OK , you could also say she looks very Greek or Portuguese. So far that has never been a problem for her, she gets along just fine with most people and disregards those with whom she doesn’t. But just imagine some thugs think they can get wise with her just because of her appearance … that would be a reason to kill, I assure you

  • Reynardine

    Good!

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Yes.

  • Reynardine

    Did you get what I posted here briefly?

  • Friend of Bosnia

    No, surely not. I’m very confident in her, she’s very bright and sunny. Of course I don’t want her to despair of this world but to see things as they are, and to call a spade a spade.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    I think I am, but just fancy someone saying at the destruction of Stari Most, the Ferhadija, the Babri Mosque, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the archeological sites and the National Museum in Iraq (what has become of the remaining Islanic architctural heritae) that it’s not so important, something like “So what, it’s not relevant” or “Ah, but Wall Street was not affected”. Or worse “That’s what we want.” I can’t stand such barbarians.

  • Reynardine

    I was about that age when several serious misfortunes befell my family. Though false cheerfulness never fools anyone, try not to lay too grim a trip on her.

    For the next five minutes, I will leave my Facebook address up: rey.mohammed.5@facebook.com

  • Reynardine

    Don’t worry. Be happy.

  • Reynardine

    I’ll try and find some strawberry, if that’ll keep you happy.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Just become a teen. And no, unfortunately no longer. Yes, ‘I’m very bitter about that. But there is nothing I can do about it. At least we’re not on unfriendly terms.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Like I said, I’m not a diplomat.

  • Reynardine

    We are both in earnest.

  • Reynardine

    Have another.

  • Reynardine

    How old is your daughter? Is her mother still with you?

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Yes, we discuss other things mostly. I just try to show her what is unfair, that there is no worse behavior than being unfair (yet in legitimate self-defense all should be permitted) and no greater sin than robbery, but of course hypocrisy comes second.

  • Reynardine

    Actually, whatever the source of Dr. M’s vitriol, I get that he engages in it as a sport, or an artform, and gets enough artistic satisfaction from it to go back to his medical duties and carry them out with equanimity. I don’t think you’ve reached such a state of equilibrium at this point.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Now look here, I’m all right. No need to worry.
    Like 1Dr M, I just express my disgust at racist, fascist, bigoted, genocidal, barbarian individuals. And like him, I don’t mince words. Why should I, anyway? I’m not a diplomat after all.

    And why should I take back anything?
    “Non, rien de rien,
    Je ne régrette rien”,
    that’s my motto.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Hm. He invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan, supposedly India’s arch-enemy to his inauguration. And Nawaz Sharif came. I don’t know what they discussed or if they parted on friendly terms.
    Serb Prime Minister visited Sarajevo first, not Banja Luka. Not Dodik. What can be made of both these rapprochements, can they be taken in earnest? Only time will tell. Be open-minded but stay wary. Keep your eyes open.

  • Reynardine

    It is for as many people as will to say otherwise. And that is even you. Bitterness will spoil any blessing one might otherwise have. I know, for I was raised by parents who had my interests at heart, but who could not forswear bitterness. If not for your own sake, then for your daughter’s, try to do so.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Well, OK , if there was no hope, life would not be worth living anyway. Even so, I wish one could make a difference. And I can’t. I would so love to see all those genocidal anti-muslim war propagandists silenced and not have to face the disgust of being provoked and insulted by their genocidal inhuman message any longer. If only for that I want my side to crush their side. To lick them. To give them the thrashing they so richly deserve. Not to see the Spanish reconquista repeated in Bosnia or elsewhere.
    Ok, I have seen with the massive floods of recent days, that people who once faced each other in war can help another, regardless. But what if they then say, now you go back to your side?

  • Reynardine

    Not for Muslims alone, but for human beings, and finally for the living things with whom we share the planet, must the arc of history bend towards justice. And in these matters where scientific method cannot offer proof– then is when faith must step in.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Indeed it does. But it is very slow in coming. The Palestinian Conflict in the Middle Ages took 300 years until it was resolved and the Crusaders were sent back where they came from. Today we have another Palestinian Conflict. We can expect it to go on for another 240 years yet. We will not see the end of it and how it resolves itself.
    And we have tendencies of Reconquista just as we had the Reconquista in Spain in the Middle Ages. That started in earnest with El Cid Campeador in about 1058 and lasted until the last Spanish Muslims were expelled in 1614.
    A similar thing started in the Balkans around 1804 and in India in 1948.
    History repeats itself.
    And we won’t see the outcome, but I do have a very bad feeling about it.
    Even if good shoud ever triumph over evil the losses incurred, in human lives, in fortune, in cultural heritage, will be astronomic.
    So yes, the Muslims will inshaallah come through it all right but they will have as much a notion and knowledge of their past as we have of the Mayan civiization.
    ANd therre is nothig I can do about it. I can peserve it in my memory and inmy library as log as I live but when I die it will be as dead and gone as I as my library willbe consigned to the waste dump. Exccept if I donate it to the local library and even then I can’t know how much of itthey will keep.

  • Reynardine

    You have to remember that when the Munich Post was carrying on its valiant but losing battle, there was no way to foresee Nürnberg, nor can we foresee the future. Yet I believe, with Martin Luther King, that the arc of history bends towards justice.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Sorry. The Nuremberg Trials don’t have much relevance to Bosnia-Hrzegovina. Had Milosevic had to appear before the judges at Nuremberg it would have taken them all of 30 seconds to send him to the gallows. Instead his trial was muffed and he was not convicted.
    And what good will it do if his and Karadzic’s genocidal joint criminal enterprise “Republika Srpska” is not restituted to the 40 to 60% Bosniaks who lived there before they were ethnically ceansed ro there ? What good will it do if it is left standing or worse, allowed to join Swerbia, that woudl be Milosevic’s triumph from the grave and Karadzic’s triumph from behind bars. What about that?
    So sorry but the Nuremberg Trials, imporatnt and relevant and justified and right as they were, are just old history now. Gone and done over with. That someone condemns the Holocaust is good and right but it doesn’t make it undone.
    Only a reunification of Bosnia-Herzegovina and prohibition to make politics or organizations along ethno-reigious lines could do tat.
    And in order to achieve that one must use military force, for some people cannot be talked to in a reasonable way. You see, they refuse to unclench their fist and so you can’t shake hands with them. You must try to cut off that fist if you see it approaching to strike you. Any talk that you can triumph over your enemies by turning the other cheek is just hogwash. I have yet to see any evidence that the meek indeed shall inherit the earth.
    Oh, thre is Mahatma Gandhi of course, but he succeeded ony in oart and only because teh British had been softened up afte wining WWII but exhausting themselves in the process. Afte al, in the 1920s at Amritsar they just gunned teh protesterd sown. In 1948 they no longe coud do that. In a novel of altenate history the Nazis conquer India and install FIeld marshal Model as governor. And what does he do? He has Gandhi arrested, interrogates him briefly and then has him shot. And that I think would have been a likely outcome.
    So, I believe in Peace through Strength. There IS no other way. Unless the Bosniaks can do that they will I’m afraid, be the Palestinians of Europe for a long long time yet. Nobody ever insulted Jack Dempsey. Talk softly and carry a big stick – and be prepared and willing to use it.
    On the other hand I believe that a decent and benevolent government should only apply violence surgicaly. As much as is needed but as little as is possible.
    Unfortunately there aren’t many benevolent governments around. Most are quite the contrary.

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