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Modi turns India from democratic giant to world's meanest society

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India's controversial Prime Minister, Narendra Modi (Screenshot via YouTube)

India's Right-wing Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is tarnishing his nation's reputation through hate politics and strong-arm tactics, writes Adil Khan.

GONE ARE THE DAYS when India used to inspire the world, especially the global south, as a moral leader.

Gone are also the days when Indian leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru, two vastly different personalities, one earthly and the other urbane, nurtured the same values, the secular humanist values who used to treat people, all people – Indians and Non-Indians – with respect and empathy.

In recent times, the Cambridge-educated Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who ruled India during 2004-2014, also harboured and pursued the values of humanism and tolerance in the governance of the country and in personal life.

Fast forward. India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an anathema to these values. If anything, Modi is the opposite of India’s past leaders.

Unlike India’s past leaders who ascended to power by promising well-being for all Indians (not always succeeded and not because of lack of intent), Modi climbed the ladder of power by propagating hatred, the Hindu hegemonic Hindutva ideology and not the Indian constitution-mandated inclusive compassion, and yet he is by far the most popular leader that India has ever seen.

Modi first tried his Hindutva ideology – an anti-Muslim manifesto – in Gujarat, his home state. There, he peddled anti-Muslim rhetoric, got himself and his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), elected and became Chief Minister of the state in 2001.

Then, in 2002 a Hindu/Muslim communal riot broke out in Gujarat that had the appearance of a “genocidal massacre”.

Although there were some Hindu casualties and no proof that these were caused by Muslims, the riot resulted in the murder of more than 2,000 Muslims; hundreds were injured; women were raped; many Muslim properties were burned; and many Muslim businesses were destroyed.

At a time when the carnage was raging, Modi, then Chief Minister – the chief administrator of the Gujarat state – purposedly looked the other way. His “see-nothing, do-nothing” approach, which shed the blood of the Muslims, seemed to have made him an instant hero in Gujarat and later, at the national level.

The Gujarat experiment may also have delivered to Modi an important political message – something that Hitler once nurtured – which is that in democracy, which is a numbers game, nothing works better than hatred, especially the kind that mobilises the majority against the minority, as votes.

Thus, Modi stuck with his sectarian ideology and spread it nationwide. And as is evident, it worked. Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, a position that he occupies to date.

As Prime Minister, Modi was expected to represent all of India – Hindu, Muslim, Christian – but this is not to be. His anti-Muslim hate politics has remained with him and presently, with another general election underway, that hate in the form of an election campaign has surfaced all over again and intensified.

A Modi victory is a foregone conclusion. However, Modi is aiming for something bigger: his target is to win 400 of the 543 parliamentary seats. If he succeeds, it will give Modi and the BJP an absolute majority in the parliament which in turn would give him and his government carte blanche to enact laws — particularly those that would broaden and entrench in India the Hindu hegemony over Muslims and bolster his grip on power.

Either way, a Modi win certainly does not look that great for the Muslims or India. There is speculation that the post-election period in India is likely to be plagued by ‘extremism and violent nationalism’ and that ‘an epidemic of communal violence, hate speech, lynchings, and the systematic persecution of religious minorities’ is likely to grip the country.

Furthermore, as the Modi Government is already using ‘state institutions to silence dissent, including... gaoling’, a Modi victory, especially the two-thirds majority in the Parliament, is likely to see further curbing of freedom and free speech in the country.

The Modi Government’s discomfort with free speech is not confined within but has extended beyond. His Government dislikes foreign correspondents who “cross the line”: for example, Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Avani Dias, who recently made a documentary on the Modi Government’s human rights violations and went, after protracted delays with his visa, to India in April to cover the general elections.

Sadly, Dias had to leave prematurely because the Indian Government “made [her] feel so uncomfortable”. However, an Indian government spokesperson has denied these allegations.

Lately, Mr Modi’s strong-arm tactics in silencing critics have also gone offshore, where his hitmen hunt down and target the dissidents who live and operate from abroad.

Amid the gloom and doom, one bright spot in Modi's rule is the economy. During the Modi period, India’s GDP has grown on an average by 7% per annum and in USD terms, the economy is now valued at USD$3.6 trillion (AU$5.5 trillion) — the size of the Indian economy has jumped from eighth largest to the fifth largest economy, globally, in little more than a decade. This is impressive.

However, the bad news is that Modi’s economic policy – patronaged capitalism – which boosted economic growth, has not helped the multitude. The dividends of growth have been spread grossly inequitably.

Modi’s jobs-for-the-boys economic policy has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. For example, one of Modi’s mates, Gautam Adani, who received generous favours from his Government, increased his wealth eight times during the pandemic.

Another, Mukesh Ambani, who also made his fortune during Modi’s reign, is at present worth USD$113 billion (AU$173 billion). His family home, a 27-storey private apartment building named Antila is worth $1 billion. The building has three helipads, a 160-car garage, a private movie theatre, a swimming pool and a fitness centre. It is located near the Dharavi in Mumbai, one of the world’s largest slums, in which 1 million people live in just over 2.39 square kilometres.

Indeed, inequality in India, which has deepened during Modi’s tenure, is not just shocking but horrifying.

As reported on World Socialist Web Site:

‘The World Inequality Report 2022 wrote: “India is among the most unequal countries in the world.” Oxfam found that “the wealthiest 10% own more than 72% of the total wealth, the top 5% own nearly 62% of the total wealth, and the top 1% own nearly 40.6% of the total wealth in India”.’

It is evident that Modi’s “shining India” is confined to the top 5% who own 62% of the wealth of India. The bottom is dark.

As a matter of fact, set against the public image of glitzy Bollywood and saffron Sadhus (the compassionate saint), India happens to host the world’s largest number of hungry people — 228.9 million of them. The 2023 Global Hunger Index report has India ranked 111th among 125 countries, placing it slightly above Afghanistan, the Congo, Yemen and Sudan.

The report further notes that 18.7% of India’s infants suffer from “wasting” (low weight for height), the highest in the world, implying that India is an acutely malnourished country.

Gaping poverty and inequality are set against the backdrop of concentration and vulgar displays of wealth. On the other side, there is institutionalised persecution of minorities, the Muslims and the Dalits, and the ever-narrowing space for freedom of speech against the façade of democracy.

These evolving contrasting profiles that are outcomes of Modi’s decades-long hate politics and patronaged capitalism are transforming India, the world’s largest democracy, into one of the world’s meanest societies.

This is sad because the evolving scenario does not bode well for India, a country that aspires to be a world leader. It is morally challenging for the democratic West that wishes to embrace India as a partner — a country that under Modi looks more and more like a racist, neofascist, mean society.

This article was originally published on Countercurrents.org and has been republished with permission.

Professor Adil Khan is an adjunct professor at the School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland and a former senior policy manager of the United Nations. Adil is also a member of the Rohingya Support Group, Queensland.

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