Modi’s India

Photograph Source: Subhankar “Kenny” Sahu – CC BY 2.0

I am in New Delhi, attending a conference.

The conference was originally due to take place at the Muslim-majority Jamia Millia Islamia University. The university has been a centre of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which came into law in December last year.

The CAA grants a path to citizenship to refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who sought refuge in India prior to 2015. The CAA does not however include Muslims, while including Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees. It is obviously discriminatory—for instance, there was a Muslim presence in India at last a century before the first Parsis arrived from Persia.

The disturbances at Jamia prompted the conference organizers to change the conference venue to another location in the middle of Delhi, but shortly afterwards participants were informed that the conference would now be held at a location near the airport, some distance away from Delhi’s centre.

India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) of prime minister Narendra Modi (Trump’s “good friend”), has an openly Hindu nationalist agenda.

Shortly before I arrived elections for the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi were held.

The BJP ran a stridently fearmongering anti-Muslim campaign, and was trounced, winning just 8 seats in the 70-seat assembly. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, Common Man’s Party in English) won the remaining 62 seats. The Indian National Congress, India’s oldest party, which had ruled Delhi for 15 years until 2013, once again failed to win a single seat.

A taste of the BJP’s anti-Muslim campaign is provided by 2 episodes.

During the election campaign the BJP minister Giriraj Singh said the Muslim-majority Delhi suburb of Shaheen Bagh was a “breeding ground for suicide bombers”.

Campaigning for the BJP in Delhi, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, well-known for stoking hatred and violence against India’s Muslims, cut to the factionalist chase by saying that (Muslim) “terrorists” should be fed with “bullets not biryani”.

BJP’s attempt to polarize the electorate obviously backfired, and the AAP returned to power in Delhi.

The AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is probably the most left-wing political party in India apart from the Communist Party of India. It supports legalizing both homosexuality and same-sex marriage, has a significant anti-corruption agenda, and reduced the price of electricity when it came to power (by means of subsidies).

Kejriwal has been fighting legal battles recently over his request that AAP party members should offer bribes to BJP politicians and tape the encounters when this happened. His opponents sued, making the point that a blatant incitement to break the law is illegal. The case is continuing.

While Modi, who has been prime minister since 2014, was re-elected with a huge majority in the May 2019 national elections, at the state level the BJP has not done well in elections. Since December 2018, it has lost power in 5 states– Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand.

Modi is of humble origins, and worked at a tea stall early in his life instead of acquiring a formal education. If they seemed amenable to discussing politics, I asked some of the locals who attended the conference who typically belonged to Modi’s electoral base.

One graduate student said with a hint of exasperation: “his supporters come from the chaiwallah (street tea-seller) class”.

Ah, somewhat analogous, give or take a few obvious differences, to the demographic that supports Trump and Boris Johnson— that is, those who believed themselves to belong, probably correctly, to the “Left Behinds” created by neoliberalism and globalization.

Alas for these LBs, Modi, Trump, and BoJo Johnson are all members of neoliberalism’s executive committee, and so these LBs are the proverbial equivalent of foxes opposing a ban on fox hunting.

(OK, many Brits like me are obsessed, pro or con, about fox hunting. Tories tend to regard it as a quintessential emblem of “Britishness”, while the rest of us view it as a pursuit extraterritorial to one’s humanity.)

Trump is due to arrive in Delhi on 24th February for a state visit. Even though the orange-hued fellow is said to make fun of Modi by mimicking his accent, the visit should go well, despite the fact that negotiations between India and the US on a trade deal have run into choppy waters.

Modi and Trump form a mutual admiration society—if Trump respects a foreign leader, then Modi in all probability ranks just behind Putin, Netanyahu, and Mohammad bin Salman, probably in a tie for fourth place with Kim Jong-un.

The bar’s not high on such matters where Trump is concerned—in fact he’d probably show the door, any door, to a Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, Julius Nyerere, Bruno Kreisky, or Willy Brandt. And let’s not get started on Fidel or Ho Chi-minh!

The reporting here in India, on the front page of Hindustan Times (along with an item on 2 Indians on the cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama Harbour who had contracted the COVID-19 virus), is that signing the above-mentioned US-India trade deal was going to be the centerpiece of Trump’s visit. At least that seemed to be the Indian government’s hope.

At the last moment, the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he was “unable to travel indefinitely” to finalize the terms of the deal prior to Trump’s visit.

India with its growing economy wants shale-extracted or “fracked” gas from the US, while the US wants Mastercard and Visa to enter the Indian credit-card market on the same terms as the Indian government-backed credit card RuPay. If this happens, RuPay will be wiped out by Mastercard and Visa, who have global resources sufficient to undercut their Indian-confined competitor.

Should we look to see how much Visa and Mastercard donate to Trump’s re-election campaign?

At the same time there are cynics here who say the trade-deal “glitch” between the US and India is merely a smokescreen for Trump and Modi, arms linked aloft in triumph, to announce to an adoring crowd on Trump’s visit that they had managed somehow to resolve the deal’s impasses thanks to their “special relationship”.

Trump can then boast once again he is the master of the “art of the deal” (“I renegotiated NAFTA, blah blah—woo hoo!”), and Modi can say to Indian voters he plays in the same league as the really big hitters amongst the world’s politicians.

Watch this space to see if the Indian cynics are right.

And meanwhile Delhi continues to be, in the words of one of my Delhi friends, the world’s most polluted major metropolitan area (now that Beijing has managed to clean-up its act thanks to very firm and forthright measures adopted by the authoritarian Chinese government).

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic