India is Moving Right

If it is coincidence then it is a remarkable one. Disparate democracies the world over seem to be making a right turn. Japan was in the van, electing the nationalistic-minded Shinzo Abe as prime minister for a second time. President Barack Obama’s somewhat loose, confused, direction of policy at home and abroad is paving the way for the Republican Party to retake the White House in 2016, in the manner Manmohan Singh is easing Narendra Modi into power. The French socialist president, Francoise Hollande, after the debacle of his party in recent elections, considered appointing Marine Le Pen of the right-wing Front National Party as prime minister before hoisting another politician of similar persuasion, Manuel Valls, into the post.

Elsewhere in Europe, in line with Norway’s lurch rightwards with the election of the Conservative (Hoyre) Party heading a coalition government, inclusive of the extremist Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), Holland is seeing Geert Wilders, best known for his Islamophobia (“I don’t hate Muslims; I hate Islam)” and his Party for Freedom driving the Dutch polity to the right, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party is beginning to make waves in Britain (after beating the Liberal Party chief Nicholas Clegg in a recent television debate), and the Golden Dawn party is rising fast in Greece. In each of these instances, the people seemed fed up with the excesses of socialist misgovernance.

What’s superficially common to these developments in Europe is that the conservative outfits are uniformly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and reflective of the growing anger in the host societies with proliferating numbers of legal and illegal immigrants and their unwillingness, as Marine Le Pen put it, to “assimilate” into the local culture instead of merely seeking “integration”, a concept she dismisses as “Anglo-Saxon” which permits social groups to retain their separate ethnic/religious identities constituting, according to her, a permanent affront to domestic peace.

In India, too, there is a problem of Muslims, not because they are caught between and betwixt assimilation and integration, but because they seem unable to reconcile religion with secular education and economic opportunity, which explains their backwardness. A traditional madrassa certificate (the only formal learning most Indian Muslims undergo) does not, alas, prepare youngsters for jobs in a modernising economy.

The depths to which the system of secular education in the country has plunged means that even if Muslim youth were to get the usual abominably poor public sector schooling, they’d be only slightly better off than those among them from the madrassas and, in any case, find themselves in the same hopeless situation as the rest of the youthful horde in the country joining the ranks of the unemployed and unemployables. This is where the central and state governments have failed. Rather than instituting a meritocratic educational system, offering remedial courses to pull up those lagging behind to competition level, universalising English-medium education, and proliferating vocational schools to afford the young a passport to jobs in an industrialising economy and the global marketplace, they offer caste, religion, and ethnic identity-based quotas and reservation as palliative. But because public payrolls can be padded only so much, a growing army of malcontents and lumpens with little to do and enormous potential for mischief roam the city and the countryside relying on odd jobs, or taking to crime and Maoism/terrorism.

It is this signal failure of the “socialist” Indian state in harnessing human resources that is the deep reason for the political tumult motivating the people today to throw out the Congress party, which installed the overweening state and has presided over it for the last 60 years. The alternative, however, was withering in plain sight. The Swatantra Party was founded in 1959 by C Rajagopalachari, one of the four pillars along with Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Jawaharlal Nehru, of the freedom movement because he was disillusioned by socialist solutions that only grew the government, not advance opportunities or economic progress. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party, rather than stressing what the Swatantra Party did—free enterprise and free trade, which it was ideologically in sync with—fell into the Congress party’s policy rut.

Vajpayee’s BJP represented, as the Congress still does, the statist impulses of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party in post-War Britain. Except in the UK the squalid socialist state was torn down by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The new BJP promises to do much the same thing in India because its unquestioned leader, Modi, refreshingly, is of an Burkeian bent of mind, his signature message of “Minimum government, Maximum governance” mirroring the conservative Burke’s basic suspicion of, and antipathy to, the nanny state. Modi’s emphasis on the primacy of individual effort and private sector industry, moreover, has led to the employment-generation issue being twinned, significantly, with entrepreneurship in the 2014 BJP manifesto.

Entrepreneurship is the acme of individual endeavour with the individual’s will to make it as the motor, and nobody manifests this better than Modi himself. His impoverished youth without formal education, early adult years as an itinerant preacher depending on bheeksha (alms) of food to survive, is a soul-stirring story. That these experiences enhanced the man rather than embitter him says something about Modi’s fortitude and character. That he, thereafter, rocketed from being a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak to run Gujarat as a model state, and is now bidding fair to rule the country, is an astonishing development in Indian politics. As an incorruptible and modernising visionary with clear views about fiscal restraint, India desperately needs him. Every other politician’s rags to power story pales before Modi’s. His ascent also reveals the BJP as a party where merit works.

Thus, to compare Modi with a callow Rahul Gandhi and the BJP with a clueless, congenitally corrupt, retro-rhetoric mouthing, and dynastic Sonia Gandhi-led Congress party is to reduce political analysis to a joke. Surprisingly, by harping on Modi’s supposed anti-minority-ism, that is precisely what some Western media and interfering US government organisations such as the Commission on International Religious Freedoms, hurrahing a Rahul-led Congress regime as the better choice have done. Do they really believe what they say counts?

[Published in New Indian Express, 18th April 2014, at ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Europe, Geopolitics, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Japan, society, South Asia, Terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to India is Moving Right

  1. Krishnakanth says:

    Sir 1 doubt is tampering of EVMs possible,and will this have an impact on the outcome of elections,Is VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trial) being put into force in all polling booths across the Country,please refer to the link: (Please refer to the article by Shri Cmdr Mukesh Saini),i think his twitter handle is :
    Sir last time Venerable leaders like Shri LK Advani,Shri Chandrababu Naidu alleged that EVM tampering had taken place.
    Many Eminent Venerable Congress leaders alleged that EVMs were tampered during Odisha Assembly polls.
    Why are all parties silent on this issue now ? God alone knows.

  2. Subhhash Bhagwat says:

    Amen to most of it !! The media in and outside India have missed both the reality in India and the difference between India and the West, especially America. America would actually benefit from a move to the left because the calamity that visited it (and many western countries) in 2008 was a result of too drastic a shift to the right by Ronald Reagan. Economists agree that investment banks were given total freedom to gamble in the derivatives market, the size of which had exceeded many times over the size of the world economy. Margaret Thatcher was his counterpart in U.K with similar results. Economic inequality skyrocketed in the U.S. and U.K. since then. India is at the other end of the spectrum where the problem is first and foremost to create wealth, without which any thought of inequality is hypothetical. This is why Modi’s model is good for India. By contrast, the Republican approach would plunge America deeper into the abyss. Obama has done a great service to America by insisting and pushing through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare, if you will). Almost 50 million Americans constantly live at the brink of personal bankruptcy due to the cost of healthcare because they have no insurance. Some may find his unwillingness to send troops overseas at the drop of a hat as weakness but in fact it is high time for America to respect other nations. You correctly put the finger on American arrogance in judging other nation’s “Freedom of Religion”. It must give up the old habit of pointing finger at others while committing same sins at home. Those of us who read history can not forget the Nuremberg Trials only a couple of years after boatloads of fleeing Jews were sent back by America to their certain death, and concurrently with the trials black American soldiers who fought in the war were returning home only to be denied basic human rights. Even to this date many Republicans have not reconciled with the thought that their twice elected President in black. Neither Republicans nor Democrats cared much about the human rights records of the Saudi King or Pakistani leaders when visas were given to them and red carpets were rolled out at the White House. For that matter, Rajiv Gandhi could have easily been banned from visiting America not just because of the anti-Sikh pogrom on his watch but also for expressly condoning them. The reality is that there is an anti Hindu bias in most Christian countries. On that another time! Thanks for a great commentary!

  3. satyaki says:

    Nice article indeed. My only worry at this point is this:

    There are reports in Maharashtra of 6 million names being deleted from the voter’s list over the last year. Does this indicate large-scale malpractice ? Pune in particular seems to be a place where about 100000 voters could not vote because their names vanished from the list…..

    To what extent would this overturn a likely pro-NDA result in Maharashtra ? Also, is EVM tampering by the Congress likely to subvert the mandate and deny the BJP a 210+ tally ?

    • There is a real danger, many claim, about the EVMs being rigged for activation by a call from a cell phone. But the Election Commission is definite it can’t be done. I said with the skeptics because anything electronic can be tampered with.

  4. Krishnakanth says:

    Whether one agrees or not India can be called a 100% Secular Country when it can elect a non-Muslim as an MP from Dhubri,Kishangunj,Lakshadweep,Ponnani,Mallappuram,Murshidabad etc,when it can elect a non-Muslim as a Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir,non-Christian as Chief Minister of Nagaland,Mizoram,etc.Otherwise it is not.

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