Saturday, April 05, 2014

India 2014: A Cynical Ploy

Next week, the electioneering in India will start. It is set up like any other election: With parties lined up on either side, politicians trying to get maximum advantage, money being spent like water, with the noise, promises, processions and frustrations like the other times. But this is not like any other election. There is an existential threat to the Indian Republic and what it stands for.

This is no exaggeration. The leading candidate, though by no means certain, is a man with an agenda: Narendra Modi is trying to convince Indians that he will bring the development that Indians crave for, and will run a corruption free administration. But he has an ugly record of abetting a genocidal riot in Gujrat back in 2002, and he and his apologists are trying to see that it does not matter. In fact, in a shocking TV interview, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, the champion of multiculturalism in Britain, was trying to argue Mr Modi's case saying that we should not be talking about the past and rather focus on his development record, just as the other Modi apologists will say.

But this past does matter. It matters because Mr Modi himself wants it to matter. Mr Modi does not treat this 2002 record as a forgettable thing that he wants to overcome, but something that he wants to claim credit for. His administration has done everything to destroy evidence and thwart investigations, so that the legal process, inefficient and ineffective in India, does not go anywhere. But Mr Modi never shown any remorse for all those thousands of people who died under his watch. He avoids giving interviews lest he is asked about it. He wants to appeal to the Hindu chauvinists across the country and show them that he is the right leader to deal with the Muslims, and by implication, Pakistan. 

This is a clever strategy: The liberals are met with the development mantra, the hardliners with the promise of uninhibited butchery. Mr Modi's campaign managers indeed treat the Indian voters with disdain, knowing that the Middle Classes do not care about much other than higher CTC and cheaper mortgages. Almost everyone knows that the development Mr Modi wants to take credit for is ephemeral - his was always one of the richest states in India with a rich diaspora. Besides, much of his development happened by steamrolling the opposition, which is easier when his administration has absolute majority in a homogenous state. And, for the clean administration, his first task in planning his parties campaign was to display rank opportunism, embracing some of the most corrupt leaders back in the fold in the hope that they can bring votes. Besides, even his most ardent admirers blush about his connections with some business groups.

So, what is at stake here? This is much more than an election victory. Mr Modi's campaign is promising the earth to everyone, which they know they can't deliver. It is a gamble for power at any cost. Such things, if history is any guide, end tragically: When it will become plain that the promises can't be delivered, attentions will need to be diverted. This will mean war - either with an external enemy, or much more likely, a pogrom to eliminate the enemies who are blocking the road to promised progress. Indeed, those cheering about Mr Modi knows the possibility and believe that they wouldn't be at the receiving end: They would be wrong.

It seems even The Economist, usually pro-market champion, sees through Mr Modi's design: That the promise of development is just a charade to somehow get to power. In a courageous op-ed, they fail to endorse Mr Modi, much to the annoyance of Mr Modi's PR machine (See this article on The Economist).  Indeed, this will now be played back to the voters as a sure sign of the West's envy about a rising India, though at the same time, the same magazine's coverage of Dr Manmohan Singh's failures will be lapped up as incontrovertible truth (not to mention, it is the same foreign investors Mr Modi is promising to please).

Lord Parekh's great hope is that India will round Mr Modi's rough edges. This is an extraordinary hope: Indeed, there are many contra examples in history. Founding Fathers of the Indian Republic, including Sardar Patel (who Mr Modi made a great show of admiring), were always worried that the democracy in India is fragile and its greatest threat comes from Militant Hinduism. That existential moment has now come.

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