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Sunday, April 07, 2019

Indian elections 2019


'No contest': Gandhi versus Modi 

Observations on the forthcoming elections in India and a report on a panel discussion on elections and another one on atrocities against Muslims and Dalits in India

The forthcoming Indian elections are dominating the mind space globally. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to for another five years up to 2024. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party may not get the absolute majority it got in 2014 but the coalition of disparate and often disputatious political parties under the umbrella of National Democratic Alliance will form the next government.

Although the Hindutva brigade will hail the narrow victory as the continuing supremacy of their beloved leader over the Indian masses, in reality it would be no more than a repeat of the two-term tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government from 2004 to 2013.  And, the phrase that Dr. Manmohan Singh, India's former Prime Minister, coined, “coalition dharma” will return to be the guiding principle for Indian democracy.

If coalition politics returns, will it affect Narendra Modi’s chances of returning as the Prime Minister? It doesn’t seem likely though it would be an entirely welcome development were it to actually materialise. But with the BJP losing its absolute majority, there would be hopefully some modification in the manner in which India has been governed during the last five years. A possible scenario that shouldn't entirely be ruled out is the joining of forces between the Congress and the other opposition parties who have formed the Mahagathbandhan.

For all his promises of less government and more governance, the Modi era so far has been nothing more than crony capitalism, the tag of ‘Suit boot ki Sarkar’ is justified even though Modi acolytes are at pains to defend all of his actions and not subject any of the claims to scrutiny.

In addition, of course, the Modi government has turned out to be blatantly anti minority – with ceaseless lynching of Muslims and Dalits for killing and consuming cow. The unapologetic, unabashed and virulent hatred that is spewed by the Hindutva proponents against their perceived enemies is both unprecedented and frightening. Opponents of this brand of extremism are always called anti-national, and pro-Pakistani.

Their representatives in the diaspora are eager to hunt down all opponents of the Modi regime and silence them by gravely emphasizing that criticizing Modi tantamounts to tarnishing the image of India in foreign lands.

Two recent programs in Toronto dissected the upcoming elections and the rapidly changing socioeconomic and political dynamics in contemporary India. The first was in March at Toronto’s Munk Centre where Ramesh Thakur, academic and a peacenik, along with Haroon Siddiqui, one of North America’s finest journalists, got together to discuss the Indian elections. Their session’s title 'An Infuriating, Loveable Democracy' was a clear indication of the even-handed, non-judgemental assessment the participants would accord to the Indian elections and the sociopolitical situation.

The second was at Noor Cultural Centre where academic and Dalit activist Chinnaiah Jangam and academic and human rights activist Sanobar Umar participated in a discussion on Dalit and Muslim Persecution in India: History and Current Politics. This discussion – expectedly – turned out to be controversial because right-wing Hindu extremists swarmed the venue and tried their best to prevent a healthy debate.

Here’s a brief report on the Munk Centre event.

Thakur had some interesting observations about India’s economic rise, such as:

What happens in India in the next 10 years will have a strong impact on Canada than what the Canadian government does. Intergenerational improvement in the standard of living that western societies are accustomed to is not going to be possible purely on the growth rates of western economies; these economies will have to depend upon the consumption patterns in the developing, emerging economies, especially India.

Incremental reforms and even moderate growth of 6 to 8 % will add up to a transformative impact on India, Asia, and the world. India is the world’s fastest growing economy; the present dominance in global economy will be taken over by India. 20 million people are added to the workforce every year and therefore economic growth is vital for India.

He felt that while there are many things working for India, it will have to continue taking proactive decisions to sustain the transformation of its society because, paradoxically, India also has the largest percentage of poor, hungry, sick, homeless, illiterate, underweight, stunted, raped, exposed to pollution.

Thakur said Indian society is multiethnic, multireligious, democratic; and federalism and secularism are inherent to the Indian nationhood. If you take away even one of the above, you will destroy India.

On this aspect, he was critical of Modi’s record with the minorities, and especially with the Muslims of India. Thakur unequivocally said that after the first lynching incident, Modi should have gone to the family and should have declared that India is for everyone; had he done that, it would have effectively prevented the recurrence of the lynching incident that continued unabated

Referring to the Balakot incident, Thakur said, this was the first example in history where two nuclear armed countries have had a dog fight. He cautioned that even a limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan will have global winter for a decade and globally, 2 billion people will die. And for the first time, the US has sided with India.

He concluded with an observation that democratic institutions in India are resilient, proactive and agile. It was an observation that is not supported by any recent evidence. Increasingly, too, the cliché (which Thakur also repeated) that Indian people are secular doesn’t stand to scrutiny.

Haroon Siddiqui in his brief presentation said that in the early 20th century, the common global refrain was that India and China won’t make it big because they had a large population. It is only now that economists have realised that large population is good and acts as a buffer against economic depression.

India will need to grow at 7 to 8 % if Modi will have to fulfil his promise of 10 lakh jobs a year. He said the Indian election involve large sums and during the last general elections $5billion had been spent. Add to this is the utter lack of transparency of the system.

Siddiqui said that the Pulwama incident had given rise to nationalism among Indians. Indians are angry and united against constant attacks carried out by terrorist organisations based in Pakistan. But there is a growing fear that nationalism will turn into jingoism.

The presentations by Thakur and Siddiqui were followed by a lengthy Q&A where members of the audience asked pertinent and pointed questions. I refrained from asking a question during the Q&A, but on the way out, I briefly detained Thakur and asked him how he would explain the Supreme Court’s decision to release Babu Bajrangi, the prime accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots in the context of his assertion that the Supreme Court was proactive and agile. Thakur didn’t respond.

Continued in the post below...

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