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India Faces a Looming Disaster

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India Faces a Looming Disaster
Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is an election-winning machine. But its ideology is sharply at odds with economic or social common sense.
BY SUMIT GANGULY, JAI SHANKAR PRASAD | JULY 27, 2019, 6:00 PM
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A supporter waves the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flag as he participates in a rally for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah in Ahmedabad, on May 26. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


Last May, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has long espoused a form of muscular Hindu nationalism, returned to power for a second term after winning 303 out of 543 parliamentary seats in India’s 17th general election. From winning a measly two seats in 1984, the first year it contested in a national election, the BJP achieved a rare political dominance this year, superseding even the most bullish expectations to match its 2014 performance. And in the wake of its latest electoral victory, the party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands poised to consolidate its power still further as it seeks to attract disgruntled opposition politicians and build a majority in the upper house of Parliament as well. The near-complete absence of any meaningful opposition gives the BJP a free rein to carry out its political programs. The Indian National Congress, an organization that had spearheaded India’s freedom struggle and remained the largest national party for nearly six decades after the country’s independence in 1947, has now seen its share of seats in Parliament reduced to just 10 percent in two consecutive general elections.
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https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/27/india-faces-a-looming-disaster/
 

Chakar The Great

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Last May, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has long espoused a form of muscular Hindu nationalism, returned to power for a second term after winning 303 out of 543 parliamentary seats in India’s 17th general election. From winning a measly two seats in 1984, the first year it contested in a national election, the BJP achieved a rare political dominance this year, superseding even the most bullish expectations to match its 2014 performance. And in the wake of its latest electoral victory, the party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands poised to consolidate its power still further as it seeks to attract disgruntled opposition politicians and build a majority in the upper house of Parliament as well. The near-complete absence of any meaningful opposition gives the BJP a free rein to carry out its political programs. The Indian National Congress, an organization that had spearheaded India’s freedom struggle and remained the largest national party for nearly six decades after the country’s independence in 1947, has now seen its share of seats in Parliament reduced to just 10 percent in two consecutive general elections.

The BJP enjoys clear tailwinds: It not only has the strongest mandate of any Indian government in more than three decades, with a feeble opposition; it also faces a largely pliant media. But set against those favorable conditions are considerable headwinds of the party’s own making. In fact, the very underpinning of the BJP’s ideology—that of India becoming a Hindu nation, bolstered by supposedly business-friendly policies—could become the reason for increased social discord, crony capitalism, and ultimately slowing growth.

At the core of Modi’s winning rhetoric lies an old promise of India’s greatness, presented anew. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella organization of which the BJP is a part, has since its inception in 1925 articulated a vision that promotes a homogenous Hindu nation—as opposed to the idea of a country based on universalistic, liberal, and democratic values. Not unlike the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, the RSS believed strongly in a two-nation theory and supported the creation of Pakistan as a separate nation for Muslims and India for Hindus. At the center of this cognitive scheme sits the promise of a return to India’s past greatness: spiritual, material, and territorial (akhand bharat, or an “undivided India” that includes all lands from Iran to Myanmar and from Tibet to Sri Lanka). These tenets, the theory goes, would lead to India’s rightful prominence and prestige on the global stage.

To the RSS and its followers, the road to greatness lies through powerful (read: authoritarian) leadership and decision-making, ultra-nationalistic pride, and a nation-building project that adheres to what they deem to be the country’s authentic civilizational roots. According to the RSS, India is imagined as a primarily Hindu society with all non-Hindus—except Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists—seen as suspect foreigners.

According to the RSS, India is imagined as a primarily Hindu society with all non-Hindus—except Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists—seen as suspect foreigners. Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews are considered outsiders who can stay in India only if they are suitably and unrecognizably Hinduized and display appropriate deference to the majority. Special suspicion is reserved for Muslims, as they are the largest minority and the most prominently different from Hindus.


The question then is what this transition means for India’s citizens and what it holds for the country’s aspirations of becoming a great power.

Realist scholars believe that a great power can influence global events in more than a single region to its advantage even in the face of opposition from others. This worldview, which the RSS shares, emphasizes the significance of material power and highlights a state’s capacity to ward off both internal and external threats to its sovereignty. Simultaneously, a great power must be able to deploy other elements of state capacity—namely the ability to extract resources—and redistribute them to its citizens. From that standpoint, India’s ability to tax the powerful and the well-heeled is still quite anemic. For example, India’s tax-to-GDP ratio, which stands at around 17 percent, is at the lower end among emerging economies, such as South Africa (27 percent), Chile (28 percent), and Nepal (21 percent).

Worse still, India has seen a phenomenal rise in unemployment in the last decade, from around 2 percent in 2011-2012 to 6 percent in 2017-2018, the highest in more than four decades. Its capacity to generate formal employment, create access to quality primary education, or provide basic services such as health care, housing, or access to clean drinking water is decades behind several poorer and smaller nations, such as Sri Lanka or even Libya. The principal challenge that any government in India will confront is that of tackling these public policy shortfalls. If the last five years of BJP rule are any indication, the country has barely begun to make a dent in coping with these hurdles.

India’s military capabilities, though seemingly robust, remain riddled with problems.

India’s military capabilities, though seemingly robust, remain riddled with problems. Its defense acquisition process is all but broken, equipment is outdated, and even ammunition stocks are inadequate for a possible two-front war. Despite much fanfare, the Modi government made little or no headway in tackling these endemic issues. Even though India is a nuclear state with proven space launch capabilities, it falls dangerously short on its progress on both defense research and development and manufacturing. For example, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft project, which was initiated in the early 1980s, remains in its infancy and is mostly reliant on foreign components. To add to that, military spending remains low at 2.4 percent of the GDP.


Even as the new BJP government remains sandbagged with these structural shortcomings, its ideology and policies are only likely to exacerbate these existing infirmities. Instead of harnessing its parliamentary majority to forthrightly tackle these persistent problems, it is more than likely—if one is to follow its last campaign manifesto—to devote its energies to socio-cultural questions in its quest to turn India into a homogeneous nation. For example, its emphasis on the use of Hindi, its obsession with Hinduism, and its vision of Hindustan (the land of the Hindus) are bound to create a rift among India’s non-Hindi literary traditions and speakers of these languages, who constitute about 58 percent of the population. More to the point, its Hindu nationalist agenda celebrates an archaic and deeply patriarchal conception of caste and gender that typecasts women in specific, family-oriented roles. (There are, obviously, striking exceptions: India’s finance minister is a woman who previously held the title of defense minister.)

At another level, the RSS’s idea of the nation and Hindu society leaves very little opportunity to finally address the fraught question of caste in Indian society. And as routine acts of violence and terror are visited on India’s vast Dalit, or lower caste, community, the government has proved to be a mute spectator to these atrocities.

Matters are considerably worse when it comes to the plight of India’s 200 million Muslims, representing nearly 15 percent of the country’s population. They are now facing regular attacks in virtually every sphere of their lives. Mob lynchings in the name of cow protection—cows are holy to Hindus, whereas Muslims eat beef—are now commonplace, and the victims rarely get any redress. Quite unsurprisingly, these attacks have all but completely alienated members of the Muslim electorate. While the BJP has garnered the votes of large swaths of the country, including in India’s more secular northeastern and southern states, and across a range of social segments, India’s Muslims have stayed away from its Hindu majoritarian politics. If this growing Hindu-Muslim rift widens, the possibility of social discord and indeed violence across the land may be inevitable.
 

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