INDIA BEGINS A NEW INNINGS May 27, 2014Posted by wmmbb in South Asia.
Narenda Modi has now being sworn in as the new Prime Minister of India leading a new party, the first time since the independence struggle that the country has had a non-Congress Party government. This is a historical moment, and not just for Indians and the sub continent. Significantly, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan attended the occasion.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a majority in its own right in the Lok Sahba with 272 out of 544 seas. By contrast the National Congress Party won 44 seats with less than 20% of the seats.
The election was no mean achievement, and contrasts with more turbulent political history of Pakistan with its’ periods of military rule. Alishae Khar observes, for example:
To hold an election process for an estimated 814 million voters over the span of five weeks is not only a daunting process but one that is easily subjected to chaos and anarchy. However, having followed the election process diligently, I was convinced that the election process was as peaceful as it could get, even with the BJP rally fiasco in Varanasi.
The efficiency and apparent fairness of the election is something that Indians might rightfully take pride. I suspect that Mr Modi and the BJP will emphasise good administration and efficiency. Rana Saadullah Khan expresses some concern with the goal of the BJP to enshrine Hinduism in the Indian secular Constitution. Obviously, this move would concern Muslims, doubly so perhaps given the widespread Islamophobia in countries such as the USA and Australia (manifest in the cruel treatment of mostly Muslim refugees and asylum seekers). The BJP has a history:
This hype surrounding BJP is completely justified; in the early 1990s, a campaign by the newly formed party pushed for the demolition of a 16th-century mosque built by Babur, the first Mughal Emperor of India. Though it is unclear whether the narrative blaming Babur for destroying a sacred Hindu temple on the site of the mosque was actually authentic or not, the movement attracted swathes of religious Hindus, many to whom Babri Mosque represented the beginning of a Hindu decline and a ‘foreign’ occupation, and many who gladly took revenge for 400-year-old grudges by sparking riots that killed over 2000 people.
Likewise, the killings of 58 Hindu pilgrims in the Godhra train burning incident, in Gujarat, allegedly by Muslim raiders, in 2002, were enough to severe religious riots in Gujarat, now known as the Gujarat Riots. As investigations into the incident have proven, the BJP-led government was largely complacent towards the massacre; in fact, it has also been said that the party allegedly called on the police officials to forbid any action against Hindu transgressions, saying the Hindus needed something to ‘release their anger’ on.
This ‘something’ was the lives of over 2000 Muslims.
The BJP ignored the three days of death and destruction by claiming that,
“Hindus are frustrated over the role of Muslims in the on-going violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and other parts of India.”
Thus, the party effectively pinned the blame of the killings on Muslims themselves, instead of accepting any responsibility for the carnage.
Even today, the BJP maintains its severely Islamophobic credentials. The target killing of Muslims in Assam, in May 2014, was said to be a justified attempt to eradicate ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’, even though ‘refugees’ from Bangladesh’s Hindu-minority are welcome by the BJP.
Nonetheless, as the BBC reported, Prime Minister Modi has made a good start reporting:
Monday’s grand outdoor ceremony was attended by the leaders of all seven South Asian countries as well as Mauritius.
But all eyes were on the presence of Mr Sharif, who is expected to hold bilateral talks with Mr Modi on Tuesday.
The two nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars in the past 60 years, and Mr Modi’s BJP party advocates a tough stance on Pakistan.
It is a great moment and a great opportunity,” Mr Sharif told the NDTV network on his arrival in Delhi for the swearing-in ceremony.
“This is a chance to reach out to each other. Both governments have a strong mandate… This could help in turning a new page in our relations.”
The relationship with Pakistan will prove to be important, because it may influence what now might be uncertain relationships between the major religious groups within India. Priyamvada Gopal at Al Jazeera is not having the idea represents a final departure from the colonial legacy. She writes:
Nothing could be further from the truth. Modi’s election is, rather, tragic evidence that India’s slow and complicated process of decolonisation is in an advanced state of arrest and that the postcolonial nation may now remain in thrall to the British Empire and its pernicious legacies for good.
Far from offering a new or original vision of collective good, the Hindu right-wing, which is Modi’s political home, peddles a recycled imperial understanding of India and is parasitic upon some of its worst civilisational assumptions and the repressive institutions the British Empire bequeathed its former possession. These include laws criminalising ‘sedition’ and criminalising homosexuality, both of which are embraced enthusiastically by the Hindu right. Rather than any kind of original economic vision, the much touted ‘Modinomics’ embraces a very Western idea of what ‘development’ means and craves validation from the West.
The ethos of ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hindu-ness’ which insists that multi-religious and multi-ethnic India is fundamentally a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ or ‘Hindu Nation’ first emerged as a political reaction to the racial and civilisational superiority inflicted by the British on those parts of the Indian subcontinent which they governed. A racial hierarchy where Britain was at the top and ostensibly in a position to ‘civilise’ its subjects provided the justification for ruling over the diverse principalities and communities which comprised the British Empire.
Those strands of Hindu revivalism which were the precursors of today’s Hindutva, sought to redress the wound of colonialism by building itself in the mirror of its oppressor as a muscular, aggressive, superior, homogeneous and unassailable entity that would rule rather than be ruled.
In line with the colonial notion that Hindus and Muslims were irreconcilable entities, Muslims were blamed for weakening Hindu society and enabling Britain to colonise. As it happened, it was not this version of Hinduism that prevailed in the anti-colonial movement and the subsequent constitution of a formally secular state – those drew more strongly on a Gandhian version of pluralism.
But the seeds of an aggressive and reactive religious nationalism which moulded itself on a Victorian model of masculinity and civilisational superiority had been sown. It is this imitative mode which is now ascendant, replaying the quintessentially colonial rhetoric of the need for ‘lesser breeds’ – Muslims and other minorities – to be kept in their place and insisting on the need for a strong authoritarian state that will crush challenges to it when necessary whether these derive from tribal resistance or other nationalist movements. Far from breaking with the colonial model, the Modi regime may intensify its most lethal dimensions including militarisation.
An authoritarian state and rule by an omniscient leader is not, however, simply a relic of a superseded historical formation. It will be pressed into the service of the other most important legacy of the British Empire in India and elsewhere: proxy government by big business and multinational corporations, the East India Company being the world’s first such corporation, as the author Nick Robins has shown.
Coal Miners in Australia, will doubtless see the Indian market and Indian miners, as in Queensland’s Galilee Basin as a destination for their product and the pollution it produces. We might remember, despite the possible boosting of the new government, India has the memory of the Bhopal Disaster. As was anecdotally conveyed to me in reference to Beijing the air quality in that city was not great and that person was pleased to leave his native city and return to Australia. This is an issue that may cause dissent. Furthermore, climate change affects every country, not excluding India. Like the present Australian government with its’ head in a coal bucket, physical reality can be denied for just so long until it becomes a present political problem.
Narendra Modi tweets and blogs. He is a leader born after Independence in 1948. The political details are interesting. The PM claims the election represents a paradigm shift. The political analysis by the commentators on the night of the election is of interest :