Narendra Modi has been Prime Minister of India since 2014 and has another two years before the next election. During this time, he has successfully brought under control institutions across the nation, imbuing them with his brand of religious extremism. Anyone challenging his policies is quickly silenced, jailed or worse.
Gauri Lankesh, the courageous editor of a prominent newspaper in Karnataka was murdered. There are hundreds of journalists, scholars, and activists languishing in prison for their dissenting views. Prior to his death in custody, Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest in his eighties, was punished for his active support for Adivasis—indigenous forest-dwellers—whose lives have been ravaged by mining and logging industries. In Jharkhand alone, over 4000 Adivasis are imprisoned, awaiting trial, allegedly for their Naxalite/Maoist views. The government uses the terms “urban Naxal” and “Maoist” as pretexts to detain anyone who dissents.
Recently the Minister of Culture tweeted a message celebrating the 1925 birth of M.S. Golwalkar, the staunch Hindu nationalist and head of the RSS (political wing of the ruling BJP), who declared Muslims, Christians, and communists “internal enemies” because of their adherence to the beliefs of “conquering outsiders”. Golwalkar held Hitler in high esteem and felt India could learn from his method of dealing with “undesirables”. However, the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru—India’s first Prime Minister—on November 14 was neither observed nor celebrated.
This attempt to erase the memory of an iconic leader, who along with Mahatma Gandhi laid the foundation for an independent India, is a travesty. Nehru’s many contributions included the establishment of steel mills and prestigious organisations—the Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Management (IIM), The Atomic Energy Commission (AECI), The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) among others. He steered the country through the violence of partition and was without question the chief architect of democracy.
Nehru saw secularism as a way to ensure social, economic, and political justice, equality of status and opportunity, and freedom of thought, religion and association. He also championed the Non-Aligned Movement in collaboration with Josef Broz Tito and Abdel Nasser.
In 1954, he signed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence with his counterpart Chou En Lai, but the treaty didn’t hold, and border clashes led to the 1962 war, where Indian forces were decisively beaten. Nehru considered his misreading of China a grave mistake, which led to his deteriorating health. He died of a heart attack on May 27, 1964. Nehru defined the spirit of India, not the bigoted version on display today.
Modi’s glowing admiration of Golwalkar matches his fundamentalist ideology of Hindutva, which regards minorities as second-class citizens. His second-in-command, the home minister, refers to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as “termites”.
The next most powerful official, the National Security Advisor, recently addressed recruits in the Indian Police Service (IPS), declaring: “the electoral process is not paramount… what’s more important are the laws [which] police must enforce ruthlessly”.
A very senior defence official was quoted as saying, “it is a good thing the public in Jammu & Kashmir is now ready to lynch terrorists,” forgetting that there are laws in place to deal with terrorists.
These are examples of a gross deficit in leadership and good judgment. Regrettably, the opposition is too divided to challenge the BJP. Rahul Gandhi, the reluctant head of the once-powerful Congress Party, has been unable to mount a coalition to oust Modi.
Escalating prices of food, fuel and other basic needs are an ongoing problem for ordinary folk. Taxes for the salaried middle classes and underprivileged are disproportionately high, and bureaucrats enjoy free housing and other privileges, the cost of which of course is borne by the taxpayer.
India’s democracy is in peril. The farmers’ protest is the sole movement that has compelled Modi to revoke his agricultural laws. This is not a change in policy but an attempt to win back support from an increasingly disenchanted public before state elections next February.
Meanwhile, India’s border problems have been troubling. Chinese forces have occupied areas South of the Tibetan border in Arunachal province. Even Bhutan has had four villages taken over by the Chinese, who also claim the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in Eastern Bhutan.
Surprisingly, the Defence Chief claimed that reports of Chinese incursions are untrue, despite satellite imagery showing new infrastructure in areas within India’s borders. Even more surprising is complete silence from the prime minister’s office, as well as faint-hearted utterances from the Ministry of External Affairs, such as “India does not accept China’s claims,” or “India hopes Beijing does not act” on its declaration to vigorously enforce border decisions.
The Northeastern border with Myanmar has also been in the news. On December 4th, the Assam Rifles gunned down 13 innocent civilians who were mistaken for separatist rebels. The victims were Naga workers returning home from a local coal mine. This is not the first such “accident,” which has infuriated people of this region, which include the Naga, Khasi, Boro, and other indigenous groups who have long-held complaints against the Central government.
Questions remain as to why the government refrains from commenting or reporting on these territorial incursions. Aside from coverage by international sources and local media, the general public in India are not adequately informed about matters of national importance. At the very least, the border problems should have been raised at the UN when the skirmish between Indian troops and the PLA took place at Galwan (Ladakh) last year, resulting in fatalities on both sides.
At the geopolitical level, India’s long-standing friendship with Russia remains strong but will not help in border issues with China, as they are traditional allies. However, the delivery of Russia’s S-400 missiles, currently in progress, will significantly augment India’s defences, which counter threats from any adversary. This surface-to-air missile system is one of the most sophisticated in the world, with a range of 400 km and capability of downing up to 80 targets simultaneously. This will undoubtedly be an irritant from Washington’s viewpoint and may lead to sanctions against India. On the other hand, India’s membership in the Quad (with US, Japan & Australia) is already causing concerns in Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin’s current visit to Delhi has already sealed a $30bn agreement that includes deals on steel, shipbuilding, coal, and energy. He is quoted as saying, “We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation, and a time-tested friend”. But Mr. Putin will have to contend with complex political dynamics, given the mounting tensions between Beijing and Delhi, as well as India’s close relationship with the US—critical, given the territorial problems with China.
Viren Bhuyian is a retired Indian living in Canada.