The Modi Phenomenon – at what price?

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Decoding Narendra Modi phenomenon: Mediocrity of PM's rivals makes his  electoral brilliance shine brighter-Politics News , Firstpost

By Habib Siddiqui    15 February 2023

Narendra Modi has become a phenomenon – that can’t be ignored.

As the twice-elected prime minister of the most populous country in our planet, since 2014, Modi is arguably the most popular political leader in the world today. He is enormously popular in India, even in the eastern state of West Bengal where the opposition Trinamool Congress has been ruling for more than a decade.

According to a survey conducted in 2022 by LocalCircles, a Community Social Media platform in India, 2 in 3 Indians surveyed believed that Modi Government had met their expectations. If the survey results could be trusted for being unbiased, seemingly Modi government’s positive ratings have been above 60% since 2015 (with only two exceptions in 2018 and 2021). Few other incumbent leaders around the world have such consistently high polling numbers.

Modi’s support is not limited to within India only. He is very popular within the diaspora Indians living outside India. It is worth sharing here that most of my former Hindu and Jain classmates from India who went to graduate schools with me in Canada and the USA are now unabashed supporters of the BJP politics and Modi’s brand of Hindutva. A few of them were not strict Hindus then. So, it has been a shocking experience for me to find out that they are now great admirers of a mass murderer – the Butcher of Gujarat.

Consider, for instance, the case of Debashish who is originally from West Bengal. (He was doing his master’s in Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara when I was doing my doctoral studies in the early 1980s. We shared an apartment in the campus.) A few days ago, he suddenly called me to preach about Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) and that Bangladesh needed to join Modi’s India. I told him that his wishful dream was an absurd idea that won’t come to fruition; Modi’s fascist policies have trampled on the rights of religious minorities, esp. Muslims, making their lives unbearable; no sane Bangladeshi Muslim would ever consider joining India.

Debashish tried to obfuscate the issue by saying that religion should be set aside and cited the Bangla lyrics: “Sabar upare manush satya, tahar upar nahin” (meaning: Above all is humanity, none else), which are attributed to Chandidas. [Note:  Modern scholars and pundits opine that the poems which are current in the name of Chandidas are the works of at least four different Chandidas, who are distinguished from each other by their sobriquets found in the bhanitas. We are told that the above cited lyrics have nothing to do with humanism, but everything to do with Krishna-leela Bandana, or love of Radha and Krishna.] I reminded him that when a person faces daily persecution simply because of his/her religion, it’s unwise to ignore such a root cause.

Debashish is not alone in his newfound admiration for Modi. Millions of diaspora Indians living in the UAE, Singapore, Australia, the USA, the UK, and Canada have long been known to funnel ‘Saffron Dollars’ for Hindutvadi agenda since at least the early 1990s. Many of them are card-carrying members and supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which  is a member of the Sangh Parivar (the family of Hindu fascist organizations led by the RSS) and the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) that espouses Hindutva fascism, xenophobia and intolerance of the non-Hindus.

The receptions that Modi got from the Indian diaspora during his tours of America speak volumes about his popularity. [Like many other Hindu devotees and fans, Hari Sreenivasan, a PBS weekend news anchor, and former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (an ISKCON member) attended such events. Interested readers may like to browse the blog: Secrets of The Hare Krishnas Exposed to know about the racist and problematic teachings of the founder of ISKCON movement.]

The diaspora Indian Hindus and Jains, who are more likely to have a college or professional degree and twice as well off than an average British and American family, are no longer closet Hindutvadis. They are proud to exhibit their support for a fascist cause that has killed tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians in India. They have become a power to reckon with. They played a major role in the fall of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party government in the UK. They also campaigned in favor of Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 despite his fascist-leaning agenda. Such endorsement should not surprise anyone knowing too well that the birds of the same feather flock together! Trump reciprocated their support by assigning many Indian Americans to important positions within his administration.

All this fondness from the Indian Americans for Modi and his bigotry-ridden party (BJP) and its divisive fascist agenda and policies is simply mind-boggling! After all, as better educated people compared to an average Indian back home, they ought to know better the evil and problematic nexus that the founders of Hindutva had with those of Italian fascism and German Nazism that resulted in the Holocaust. The Hindu Mahasabha openly supported the Third Reich, promoting an Aryan connection between Nazism and Hindutva. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, then president of the Hindu Mahasabha and close affiliate of the RSS, made continuous reference in writings and speeches to Germany’s treatment of the Jewish population as a model for India’s Muslim ‘problem’. In response, the NSDAP (Nazi Party) paper, Völkischer Beobachter, featured Savarkar’s approval of German occupation.

RSS leader Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar adopted a more extreme position, arguing that ‘being a Hindu was a matter of race and blood, not only a matter of culture. In turn that was an idea which was strikingly like the racial myths elaborated in Germany, more than in Italy. Golwalkar’s We or Our Nationhood Defined (1939) reflects this view: “The foreign races in Hindusthan [India] must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt.” (Note: By ‘foreign races’ Golwalkar meant Muslims, Christians, Jews and Parsis of India.)

Eviane Leidig, a post-doctoral researcher on far-right cultures at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who had studied Hindutva thoroughly writes, “Like the Italians, the German authorities engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship with Hindutva actors. Nazi agents translated Mein Kampf into Indian languages, conducted covert intelligence operations and radio broadcasts, and distributed pro-Nazi propaganda materials to sympathetic press agencies in India. Hindutva writings circulated in German newspapers in exchange for articles favouring Germany’s ‘Jewish policy’ in regional Indian newspapers. Nazi propagandists and German businesses generously funded these newspapers, while others were owned by organizations, such as the Hindu Mahasabha, that openly advocated National Socialism for India and a ‘Hindu Fuehrer’.

In the writings of Sabitri Devi (born Maximiani Portas in 1905), a Nazi-Aryan ideologue who echoed Hindutva ideologues in the need to foster a Hindu consciousness, Hitler was transformed into a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Interestingly, this myth continues to inspire neo-Nazi supporters and circles even to this very date.

It is worth sharing here that the strong bonding between Nazi ideologues and Hindutvadi intellectuals like Benoy Kumar Sarkar (a misguided enthusiast of both Fascism and Nazism) created the backdrop for Subhas Chandra Bose (a freedom fighter in India’s independence movement) to seeking alliances with Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan during the second world war.

Golwalkar promoted race as being fundamental to the Hindu nation.  His supremacist views harmed RSS’s reputation forcing him to withdraw his book from circulation in 1948. Hindutva was forced to take a back seat after the killing of MK Gandhi by one of its activists, Nathuram Godse.

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a widespread growth in political activities as the RSS expanded its position as a parent organization that spawned the Sangh Parivar, or family of organizations in the Hindutva folds. To garner mass support in the 1980s and 1990s, the Sangh Parivar organized campaigns that disseminated merchandise featuring Hindu symbols that were widely popular and visibly linked with Hindutva. Similarly, popular cultural productions, particularly films, represented Muslims as an enemy of Hindu majoritarian identity, instilling into public consciousness the relevance of Hindutva tropes and narratives.

Islam was framed as a harbinger of evil to the Hindu nation. Muslim men were viewed as instinctively fanatic terrorists. There was likewise an attempt to frame Muslim masculinity through hypersexualized tropes (reinforcing Orientalist portrayals), especially against ‘vulnerable’ Hindu women. Claims of ‘love jihad’ (a familiar chorus among right-wing extremists in the West), whereby Muslim men falsely declare their love to Hindu women to convert them to Islam, earned much currency.

The rise in lower-middle-class support for Hindutva in the 1990s helped to cultivate a space for Hindutva activists to seeking formal political power in the electoral arena. Thus, in the 1990s, Hindutva slowly became mainstream, irrespective of the party in central government. No party, not even the so-called secular Nehruvian Congress could afford to be seen hostile to the Hindutvadi cause. That is why the demolition of the historical Babri Masjid (1992) happened unopposed while the central government was run then by the secularist Congress Party, which chose to remain a spectator to the event. This Hindutvadi success emboldened them to pilot the second phase of experiment at Gujarat (2002) killing 2,000 Muslims. Over the next two decades, as the Gujarat model was expanded, corpses piled up and economy bloated, the people of India discovered their new messiah, Narendra Modi.

The landslide win of the BJP in 2019 election, under Modi’s crafty but able and charismatic leadership, signals that Hindutva, which was once an ‘outlier’ ideology in the post-colonial period, despised by many for its unmistakable promotion of hatred and intolerance, has become a ‘mainstream’ national ideology in India that is at par with Indian nationalism and patriotism. Within weeks, Kashmir’s special status was revoked (Aug. 2019) fulfilling Hindutva vision of restoring Akhand Bharat, and the CAA was passed (Dec. 2019) to prove that Jinnah, and not Gandhi, was right all along.

Under such an environment, most Indian politicians today are afraid to oppose Hindutva that has become the national agenda, embraced by most Indians, and conversely, abhorred by very few. There are only a handful of brave politicians like Mamata Banerjee and Mahua Moitra in today’s India who dare to challenge the Hindutvadi fascism of the ruling BJP! Indian institutions – its courts, much of its media, its investigative agencies, its election commission – have all been pressured to fall in line with Modi’s policies.

What does it say about the (moral) health of a nation that rewards fascism and elects a fascist party that draws its inspiration from failed ideologies of Mussolini and Hitler, that disdains human rights and opposes the ideals of equality, fraternity, pluralism and diversity, and instead, promotes mob violence and lynching of nearly 200 million Muslims and demolishes their mosques, homes, and businesses, and disenfranchises millions of them simply because of their faith?

Modi needed an executioner for implementing Hindutvadi goals. He chose Amit Shah – the man long known for peddling hatred; the man who was a co-conspirator in the Gujarat genocide; the man who described Muslims as “termites” during India’s general election campaign; the man who was charged previously with murder – for the plum job of home affairs minister. His choice says a lot about his criminal mind. Truly, Modi not only endorses the systemic crimes of the Sangh Parivar against the Indian Muslims, but he also compounds their misery multi—fold with discriminatory laws and acts that remind them that there is no place for them in Hindu-majority India and that they ought to move to either Pakistan or Bangladesh. They are demonized and treated as third-class citizens, if not, as intruders. Muslim businesses routinely face economic boycott in many BJP-ruled states. Even the poor Muslim street vendors are not safe; they are forcibly removed and their spots given to Hindu vendors. Muslims are even prevented from praying. That is the real, the ugly face of ‘new India’!

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The dream of the Hindutvadis for an Akhand Bharat is a nightmare for the non-Hindus of the region! I am glad that my parents’ generation chose Pakistan instead of India in 1947. We would not have survived under Modi’s brand of India!

Electing a murderous leader once could be overlooked as a rookie mistake, but how about electing the same monster twice, back-to-back?

Nasreddin Hodja famously said, “Fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice, shame on me!” Oddly, rather than being ashamed of putting Modi to power, most Indian Hindus and Jains are proud of Modi and his achievement. Hindutva has robbed them of the noble teachings of their own religion. They have chosen to live in their cocoons, devoid of the sad reality faced by hundreds of millions of their fellow Indians that face daily discrimination simply because of their caste and creed. Like Modi, they are criminally silent when they should have protested. Their silence empowers Hindutvadi hoodlums to wreak havoc and destruction, death and suffering of the targeted minorities.

Despite his dismal failures to deliver on big promises – more jobs, prosperity and less red tape, Modi is seen by most Indians as their poster guru of success and future of a ‘shining India’ or ‘New India’. They are unconcerned about India’s ballooning fiscal deficit and his illicit patronage of industrialists and corporate leaders doling out government contracts and favors that had enriched them.

Consider, for instance, the remarkable influence of Gautam Adani, a self-made billionaire whose ascend is closely tied to the rise of Modi. The relationship goes back to the 1990s when Adani came to know the up-and-coming Gujarati politician as a general secretary of the BJP who took over as the state leader in 2001. One was an ambitious politician, known for his austere lifestyle and religious devotion. The other was a low-key, workaholic industrialist who traveled without large retinues and obsessed over cutting costs,” reads an article in the Washington Post (How political will often favors a coal billionaire and his dirty fossil fuel, Dec. 9, 2022).

Forget that the established rules and laws were violated, this relationship has blossomed into what can best be described as a ‘win-win formula’ for both. Consequently, when a senior Indian official opposed supplying coal at a discount to tycoons, including Adani, he was removed from his job by the Modi administration; when a local lawmaker led a hunger strike to protest the power station, he was jailed for six months.

In May 2014, fresh off national elections, a triumphant Modi flew from Gujarat to New Delhi to be sworn in as the next prime minister of India in an Embraer private jet that sported a distinctive purple-and-blue logo on its fuselage: “Adani.” During his campaign, too, Adani’s jet was used.

Adani’s connection with Modi is such an established fact that Bangladesh government, which has been mindful of appeasing New Delhi since 2009, signed a power-purchase agreement with his company that is extremely unfavorable to Bangladesh. I am told that fearing backlash for signing such an embarrassing deal, the Hasina administration, kept the terms of the deal secret.

The Indian tycoons like Adani have been promoting Modi and his party. With their control of the major media outlets, Modi has been transformed into a national icon that is indispensable.

Most Indians can be excused for getting infected with the Modi-fever. But what excuse do the world leaders have when they overlook ‘Saffron terror’ and the systemic religious persecution of the non-Hindus? What message are they sending when they honor him with the highest awards? Why such double-standards? Is doing business with India more important than human rights?

Consider the case of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Despite all the damning reports and BBC documentaries spelling out India’s worst kept secret about Modi and his role in the state-sponsored genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, when asked, Sunak replied that he’s “not sure that I agree at all with the [film’s] characterization” of Modi. Well, one can excuse him for being a Hindu fan of Modi, and perhaps a closet Hindutvadi!

But what excuse did Barack Obama have?

Let us recall that Modi was denied a US visa in 2005, three years after the Gujarat genocide that killed nearly 2,000 Muslims. After Modi took over as prime minister in 2014, the Obama administration withdrew the ban and courted Modi. The US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited India prior to Modi’s first U.S. trip that year. Some 18,000 Modi supporters welcomed him at New York’s Madison Square Garden that very year.

In 2019 when Modi visited the US again, President Donald Trump joined him at the sprawling NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, where more than 50,000 Indian Americans from across the US attended the September 22 “Howdi Modi! Shared Dreams, Bright Future” event. In 2020 Modi reciprocated the ‘bromance’. According to BBC News, Trump expected 10 million people to welcome him in India on his first state visit. It didn’t happen, but everything else seemed to have gone according to the script. “Trump wanted to show people in the US that he was hugely popular abroad and that he was capable of negotiating good deals out of a country he once described as the “king of tariffs”. On the other hand, the Indian PM desperately needed some good headlines after being under the spotlight due to his controversial decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy and the ongoing protests against his new citizenship law. In the end, both leaders had their wishes fulfilled despite not agreeing on a much talked-about trade agreement.

On 21 December 2020, President Donald Trump awarded Modi with the Legion of Merit for elevating the India–United States relations.

Is the current Biden administration setting any better standard in its promotion of democracy and upholding human rights globally? No.

When asked to comment about the BBC documentary, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “US is not familiar with the BBC documentary, but it is familiar with the shared “democratic values” that connects Washington and New Delhi.”

How convenient! Whom is he trying to fool? What good is democracy, the so-called ‘largest democracy’, when the ruling party abuses its state power to polarize its majority to marginalizing and eliminating a targeted minority? What good is democracy when it promotes fascism giving license to kill? What good is democracy when the elected government endorses the crimes of its party members? What good is democracy when the minorities – some 200 million – are denied justice and live under constant fear, terror, and trauma? What good is democracy when it denies the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What good is democracy when it denies inherent rights to education, employment, equal opportunity, worship, earn a living and raise a family? Isn’t anti-discrimination at the heart of democracy? Isn’t safeguarding diversity a core idea of a democratic state? So, why this pretense when it comes to Modi?

Price’s reply is an insult to our collective intelligence. He can’t pretend to hide behind a wall of ignorance about Modi and his government that is guilty of promoting Hindutvadi fascism and mass murder.

History has repeatedly shown that we have failed to draw lessons from it. Sunak and Price’s replies remind me of the Nazi-era policy of appeasement of the British governments of Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald (in office 1929–1935), Stanley Baldwin (in office 1935–1937) and (most notably) Neville Chamberlain (in office 1937–1940) towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy between 1935 and 1939. Under British pressure, appeasement of Nazism and Fascism also played a role in French foreign policy of the period. When the ugly signs were all there to see, those powerful governments chose to overlook such evils until it was too late when millions died.

Today’s world leaders are behaving in the same manner vis-à-vis Modi and Hindutva, which is the official ideology of the ruling BJP. They have chosen not to see what is so ugly and repulsing.

“There is currently a right-wing extremist party governing the world’s largest democracy, yet it is remarkably absent in the literature on right-wing extremism,” writes Leidig. To address this lacuna, her article (Hindutva as a variant of right-wing extremism, pub. online 17 July 2020) presents the first in-depth analysis of Hindutva using the terminology of right-wing extremism.

Hindutva poses a transnational threat. By projecting individual fear, whether actual or perceived, of an ‘invader’, ‘intruder’, unknown ‘foreigner’, and ‘immigrant’ – who happens to be a Muslim –as a national threat to their collective identity, the Hindutvadis have been able to tie their knots with the right-wing ‘extremists in Europe. Yet, whereas European right-wing extremism is arguably confined to the political fringe, Hindutva has been visible in majoritarian identity in India and in running this most populous country in our time. And, there is nothing more dangerous than a government that uses hatred of a ‘demonized’ minority to win an election.

Those who are unaware of the transnational appeal of the Hindutva should read the manifesto, ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence’ of the convicted Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people. India, and in particular Hindutva, figures repeatedly in the manifesto where he expresses praise and admiration for Hindu nationalist groups. He claimed to have reached out to Indians through email and Facebook. He wrote, “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements (i.e., Hindutvadi extremists) learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”

Modi’s Hindutvadi government should be treated as a wild beast, and nothing better. Carrots would only fatten it when it truly needs sticks. Kowtowing with a fascist is suicidal. Partnering with a mass murderer is contrary to the principles on which the United States of America was founded.

Today, Muslim community is the main target of elimination in India. Unless Modi is checked, it would be the Christian community tomorrow.

Under BJP’s leadership, India became one of the most dangerous countries for Muslims and Christians in the world. They are being persecuted physically, psychologically and economically,” academic Apoorvanand Jha wrote in an Op-ed for Al Jazeera. “Laws are being passed to criminalize their religious practices, food habits and even businesses.”

Area experts consider Modi’s government a threat to the very stability and security of the Indo-Pacific region. Despite all the obvious symptoms of a budding fascism, India under Modi has presented itself as a key regional player. And given the present nature of the global world order (especially, the perceived threat from China), India is a partner of choice for many countries that like to checkmate their competitors through regional realignment.

It’s appalling to see our world’s increasing lack of interest in the way Modi is reshaping India as a fascist state that believes in and promotes the supremacy of the majority Hindu community to the utter denial of other minority communities. And more importantly, the ongoing global silence and indifference to the plight of Kashmiris following India’s revocation of Article 370 accords after August 2019 is simply shocking!

Where is the outrage?

Genocide Watch has already issued an alert on looming genocide in India. In all likelihood, we shall continue to ignore such dire warnings about Modi’s India.

What a joke democracy and human rights are becoming in our time!