Thursday, September 15, 2011

Broken Republic: Narendra Modi and India's Future

Will he, won't he? Narendra Modi is suddenly back in the reckoning as a future Indian Prime Minister. Incredibly, the aspirations of his admirers in Hindu Nationalist camps are inflamed because an US report, a rather routine one done by the Congressional Research Office, praised him, in one paragraph of a 95 page report for effective governance of Gujrat. Indeed, it is a bit ironic to me, having observed the noise the BJP leaders made about a sell-out of Indian dreams when the then Indian government signed a treaty on nuclear energy with United States in 2008: They claim now that they are fit to govern because even the US officials say so.

But the irony aside, one may have to start to reconcile with the possibility that such a calamity may actually happen. A Hindu Nationalist rule now, in the context of a deep corruption and completely rudderless governance by the current coalition, is within the realm of the possible. John Elliott, in his fairly balanced post today, certainly thinks that Modi can plausibly beat Rahul Gandhi, who proved rather reluctant and mostly illusive to take on the leadership role.  With Supreme Court unwilling to pursue the case against Modi for the Gujrat riots, Modi has adapted for himself the development mantra, which sells well to the Middle Class, and has managed to keep a largely clean image. This is a formula that works in India: Development sells well, and corruption hurts the middle class most. The angry middle class of the 70s - with concerns for social justice and just society - has largely retired.

In a way, this is about aspirational, brash, new India finally shaking off the post-colonial values. A generation, which was born with a sense of entitlement, and which did not have to make the sacrifices of the previous generations to gain freedom and define a country, is now claiming preeminence: Their India is one of individual pursuit of success, of EMIs and shopping malls. It seems the whole country has one obsession, the GDP growth which is directly translated to hitherto unthinkable salary figures for the middle class professions, which buys more cars and other things of consumption. The landless peasants, the urban slums, the lowly babus who lost the race, are like ghost-images, an avoidable distraction when everyone can talk in flashy terms of Sensex points and Growth percentages. What Modi did does not matter anymore: Whether the people of Gujrat has more money and more to consume matters most in this discussion.

Indeed, facts are of little significance. For example, Gujrat was always a rich state with a huge diaspora linked by language and religion, and it is only natural when the India story started circulating, Gujrat would have become a natural beneficiary. Nothing can take away that Modi is an efficient administrator, but this comes at a cost of ruthless authoritarianism. It does not really matter for half of the country, Modi is a hated figure: Those who hate him are mostly poor anyway. It is also of little significance that a Hindu Chauvinist India will invariably wreck any possibilities of peace with Pakistan, and return the region back to the dark days of 1998. In the global scheme of power, an assertive India may be a good thing and may supply the foot-soldiers for the war on China that may invariably have to be waged someday.

It seems natural, though. It looks quite like the 1920s, when Benito Mussolini set new standards of governance in Italy and no one seemed to bother that he was crushing his opponents at the same time. He was regaining the lost glory of the Roman empire: As long he was lining up the poor Italians to fight the Soviet threat, and the people who he was putting in Jail could have been assumed to have socialist sympathies, everyone was happy. He was proclaimed, by the then American Ambassador, as the greatest man of his time. That was economic prosperity first, social justice and political freedom later: That was forgetting Benjamin Franklin's dictum that those who give up liberty to gain temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. 

Indeed, those who don't read history, are condemned to repeat it.

3 comments:

Shakia said...

There is always something to learn by reading your blog :)

Parminder Grewal said...

Ummm Im gonna start with something that I had to check on the internet myself, Gujrat is a district in Pakistan, its spelled Gujarat, but Im just being an idiot in pointing that out.

I recently bookmarked your blog after read one of your posts which I was impressed by(which one I dont remember).

In this post, however, Im a bit surprised. I agree that Modi maybe culpable in the Godhra riots and the fact that the US report should not have led to such a big furore and jubilance in the BJP but where I disagree is :

1. the subtle hint that the Indian threat perception of China is uncalled for, in fact I feel there is a need for extra vigilance parallel to diplomacy on that front
given the recent behavior of that nation (ADB loan incident, stapled visas, arming Pakistan(from decades))
2. the second is the unanswered question of demographic change which like it or not is a fact that we have to deal with.

Neither of these are elitist problems, I feel.

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Parminder

Point taken on Gujrat/ Gujarat - I was sloppy and learned this now.

Let me answer the other two points raised by you.

I am not suggesting that there is no threat from China. There is, and that is likely to be the existential threat for India. However, this battle need not be fought: This is not a zero-sum game and one has to see what our options are, rather than trying to march on the battle drums played by the West. A China-India cooperation, however strange it may sound now, is possible, but will require a different world-view. A brash, cocky India, eager for its world role but oblivious of its responsibilities, as it will be in a Modi premiership, is expected to push us down the road of conflict at the expense of all other possibilities.

I also agree with you on the demographic reality and I am not wishing that the young people just behave differently. My problem is that the sense that India has already arrived, which various politicians sell to people through various media and contexts, whereas we must solve our intractable problems of poverty and underdevelopment. There is work to be done, and we are lacking leaders who want to focus on the task. My point is not to focus on the young generation, but the missing leadership.

Supriyo

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