Modi won. Has India?

Published May 26, 2019
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

MODI’S repeat landslide victory has taken India by storm and the world by surprise. It is not a good omen for India and its neighbourhood, unless Modi demonstrates an ability to rise above himself and beyond the Hindutva vision of the RSS. Vajpayee displayed an inclination in this regard. But Modi is more limited. He may now be inclined to see himself as the embodiment and validation of Hindutva. Arguably, this might provide him the space to reinterpret the Hindutva ideology, narrative and vision in a more inclusive and rational politics. As of now, this appears less likely than ever.

Accordingly, one is tempted to say the RSS has won but India has lost. Hindutva as a fascist, communal, irrational and vengeful ideology can never provide India a basis on which to emerge as a credible great power in the 21st century. As a lunatic fringe movement it was a phenomenon common to all political societies. But as a lunatic mainstream ideology it will degrade India’s future and threaten regional and possibly global stability.

The Chinese revolution was impelled by a passion never to allow another ‘century of humiliation’ that lasted from the opium wars to liberation. Maoism and post-Maoism provided the vehicles for the success of this historic undertaking, despite many policy errors, upheavals and setbacks. India, under the RSS, runs the risk of exhausting itself in a highly organised but morbid obsession with a ‘millennium of humiliation’ under Muslim rule. This obsession today provides a convenient political cover for a corrupt, corporate and violent elitist state.

As a lunatic mainstream ideology Hindutva will degrade India’s future.

It has led to the tragic defeat of a progressive and secular dream — which may have been more aspiration or even pretence than reality — by an atavistic and obscurantist nightmare. This throwback is mindlessly supported by a deliberately deprived and exploited population whose frustrations are manipulated and channelled in directions against their own interests. The RSS, the Sangh Pariwar, the BJP and Modi embody this political malignancy.

Just as the US is dangerously degenerating under the malignant presidency of Trump, similarly under a hidebound and inevitably dysfunctional Hindutva, India will degenerate unless it finds a way out of its current ideological morass. Unsurprisingly, the major flaw in Modi’s massive victory was the BJP’s inability to win a seat in the Kashmir Valley.

Indian pollsters embarrassed themselves again. In 2004 they overestimated the electoral appeal of ‘Shin­ing India’. Now they underestimated the impact of a military misadventure, presented as a glorious mil­i­­­t­ary triumph by a pathetically hysterical and ma­­n­­­­i­p­ulated Indian media, on the electoral outcome.

According to Indian author and analyst, Siddhartha Deb, “Five years of Modi at the helm have not delivered in any way. India is a shambles in every possible way. And yet the Indian majority has voted for Modi again, and clearly not based on growth or economic development, but on majoritarianism and the promise of more violence.”

How come? Modi exploited the several fault lines in Indian society and managed to electorally present major issues confronting India into an emotional Hindu versus Muslim and India versus Pakistan issue. He cleverly exploited Pulwama and Balakot. Moreover, 21st-century social media and fake news technologies have enormously enhanced establishment capacities to manufacture and mould public opinion against the public interest. Deb notes that Modi’s control over India’s middle classes enormously helped in this regard. In addition, Indian corporations “contributed as much as 12 times more money to the BJP than to those of the other six national parties combined, amounting to 93 per cent of all corporate donations.”

Similar criticisms can apply to Pakistan, the US and other ‘democratic’ countries. Like India, they are not really democracies; they are corporate, praetorian, or plutocratic systems in which elected representatives and cabinets represent establishment and elite institutional interests that facilitate and finance their electoral campaigns. Parliamentarians no longer represent constituency or voter interests. Such systems are not just imperfect developing democracies; they are authoritarian and ‘extractive’ systems in democratic disguise.

Where do India-Pakistan relations go from here? There are broadly two views about a triumphant Modi’s likely attitude towards Pakistan. One sees him as seeing Pakistan as illegitimately torn from the womb of Bharat Mata and which now, in recalcitrant fashion, stands in the way of India realising its destiny as the regional hegemon in South Asia. Acco­r­dingly, he will seek to teach Pakistan a lesson in strategic decorum. He will, therefore, avail of a whole array of bilateral and international options to exert escalating and unrelenting pressure on Pak­istan, short of all-out war, to conform to India’s will.

Alternately, a supremely confident Modi, faced with a Pakistan already on the ropes, may choose a number of subtler options to ‘influence’ Pakistan in the ‘right direction’. These may include resuming informal, and later, structured dialogue and progressively allowing a range of movement in the bilateral relationship. In return, Modi would expect Pakistan to ‘behave’ with regard to Kashmir (including a possible resumption of back-channel negotiations and permanently ending cross-LoC militant activities;) terrorism (including meeting FATF requirements and dismantling alleged terrorist structures, safe havens and services;) and ‘deference’ towards Indian strategic interests in Afghanistan and the region. Modi will eventually expect Pakistan to maintain a ‘balance’ in its relations with China and India, which should ‘contextualise’ its participation in CPEC.

There is broad consensus that the prime minister has handled relations with India with aplomb, especially during the recent conflict. At the June SCO Summit he is likely to meet Modi. This will be a crucial opportunity to set course for a principled and realistic relationship that will inevitably be defined by differences and challenges, but hopefully also opportunities. Such a meeting, even if informal and brief, will require political consultations at home and meticulous preparations including detailed consultations with New Delhi.

If Modi’s diplomacy remains obdurate and uncompromising, Pakistan’s diplomacy should present a study in principled contrast. If Modi is more accommodating, Pakistan should not shy away from probing possibilities for a principled longer-term relationship.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2019



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