Asian Media On Modi

Existential Threat to Modi?

Sankar Ray

As the world obsesses over the New Delhi-Islamabad showdown, the real ticking time bomb facing the Indian leader is best represented by the shrunken figure of widow Shantabai Teral… Farmers like Shantabai constitute some 58 percent of India's population. For the past four years, as Modi has exalted in the republic's potential (remember 'Make in India'?), the agrarian economy—the Gandhian world of small villages—has been almost entirely neglected. Even among farmers, a vast majority, some 86.2 percent, have small landholdings of less than a hectare, making survival itself a tenuous act," wrote Gigi Choy, an intern in the South China Morning Post last week, succinctly. The sub-heading is realistic—"Religious violence, unemployment, demonetisation, fake news and big-name opposition are some of the things he (Indian Prime Minister) should have seen coming".

The article, based on commendable homework, questions Modi's assurance to the segment of 83 crore-plus electorate (31 percent in 2014, likely to drop to 25 p.c.) that the world around wants him back. Choy directly negates the Pakistan factor that the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leading the National Democratic Front government in New Delhi is continually humanising to whip up jingontic passion. "Pakistan is an existential threat to India, right? Wrong. With a population just one-quarter the size of its fraternal twin, an imploding economy and a hopelessly dysfunctional political system, Pakistan is little more than a strategic challenge or geopolitical footnote". True, Modi faces an existential challenge, but it's by the 'wretched-of-the earth' like numerous ''forty-something farmer's widow from the parched, cotton-growing region of Vidarbha, the dark-skinned and shrunken Shantabai Teral'.

Post keeps carrying well-researched and uniquely analysed opinion pieces on India's 17th parliamentary elections. On an average six out of seven of them are sharp indictment of Modi-raj. The incisively political tenor of the critiques was from the beginning. Veteran columnist Richard Heydarian in an article on 15 January directly warned against continuity of Modi, Philippines' Rodrigo Deterge and Indonesia's Joko Widodo who came to power "through the promise of wholesale transformation of their societies". Their promises turned to be worse than pious platitude. Heydarian is worried about the fast-eroding faith in "democracy to beat 'emerging market populism' by appealing to values". At the end of last week, Deepu Edmond Sebastian stated in a piece, "Pakistan is dominating the election spotlight as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party attempts to ride on nationalist sentiments"—leaving no scope for those who resort to laboured argument that the BJP might be pessimistic about its hyper-nationalism, openly patronised by the British colonialism that cashed in on its divide-and-rule strategy. The talented intern in Hong Kong snapped fingers at the forced hegemony of Gujarati nationalism. "The BJP world view is a beguiling but ultimately self-delusional combination of upper-caste Brahmin thinking and the short-term Baniya trading mindset, exemplified by Gujarati tycoons such as the Ambanis and Adanis." Modi, his closest confidante Amit Shah, BJP president, the Ambanis and Adanis are all Gujaratis. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the guiding and hegemonic apex that dictates rightwing Hindu nationalist BJP , Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Daj and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh submits to the ascendant Gujarati chauvinism.

Asian media is expressedly disappointed with Modi's India and the current trend of thinking that the previous regime of United Progressive Alliance, led by the 134-year-old Indian National Congress, was decidedly more welfarist and tolerant regime. India's economic growth is well-documented. Between 2005 and 2016 poverty 'nearly halved, falling from roughly 55 percent in 2005 to about 28 percent', according to the United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, meaning that '271 million people have been elevated out of poverty', wrote Choy. This happened under the UPA regime, several major financial scams notwithstanding. In contrast, unemployment hit a 45-year high under Modi hukmat in 2017.

Japan Times prominently carried an expose, wired by the Bloomberg News Agency on how Modi's political priorities ambushed Amazon and Walmart to help Mukesh Ambani-headed Reliance group reap windfall profits. "The tighter rules, aimed at protecting small traders, may end up benefiting the country's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who is building a homegrown competitor", it wrote adding that the bent rules "now bar Amazon and Flipkart Online Services PTE from owning inventory and require them to treat all vendors equally, throttling discounts and exclusives—a huge advantage to homegrown companies, including Ambani's new venture. Reliance Industries Ltd, which owns India's largest retail chain and third-biggest telecommunications network, has the potential to evolve into a local version of Amazon or Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, UBS AG".

On the one hand, the menace of crony capitalist groups like the Ambanis and Adanis call the shots with unprecedented gusto befooling and lording over the traditional capitalists. Tatas and Birlas and on the other hand is the threat of 'cow republic', forcibly imposed on 130 billion Indians, all happening under the Modi raj, India is thrown into a darkening crisis of existence. According to Hate Crime Watch, an overwhelming majority of victims of religion-based crimes were Muslims, Christians and Dalits while more than half of the perpetrators were Hindu radicals. Three-fourths of the victims of all hate crimes in the past ten years are Muslims—India's largest minority community. Ninety percent of these crimes took place during Modi years.

The catalysts of the wholesome degradation of democratic polity are unbridled escalation of religion-based crimes and a blood-stained culture of intolerance injected into the academia and audio-visual culture. Over a hundred scientists and more of stage and film artists and directors in separate appeals en masse to the Indian electorate asked to vote against the Modi-led NDA compulsively looking for restoration of a milieu to breath, talk and move freely.

Vol. 51, No. 42, Apr 21 - 27, 2019