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I will readily admit that I lack a strong knowledge of Indian politics. However, there seems to be a widespread perception that a major political shift in underway in one of the world's largest nations. That strikes me as something worth exploring.

Narendra Modi: the controversial embodiment of a changing India Simple beginnings, ascetic ways and unapologetic Hindu nationalism help sweep BJP's leading candidate to victory

Narendra Modi's journey to the front step of the prime minister's office in the heart of New Delhi has been long – and unlikely. Born in a small town in Gujarat, the western state two hours' flight from the capital, Modi comes from a caste near the bottom of the tenacious Indian social hierarchy. His parents were poor and conservative and the future prime minister helped out on the family tea stall after school. At around the age of 10 he started attending meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a vast and influential Hindu revivalist conservative movement that has been banned three times in India. He only joined formally at a later date.

His first job for the RSS involved sweeping for a senior official. Later assigned to the Bharatiya Janata party, the affiliated but independent political party, Modi forged his own path, ousting opponents one by one until he was appointed chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. He has gone on to win three elections there, largely rooted in the consistent economic growth in the state, and these victories have given him a platform from which to outflank the entrenched old guard of the BJP itself.

The charges that he allowed or even encouraged mob violence in 2002 in Gujarat – which he denies and which a supreme court investigation found were not supported by the evidence it was able to examine – reinforce his status as a man who is separate from the political establishment. Around 1,000 people, largely Muslim, died after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in an arson attack. A similar stain on a reputation would have finished the career of some – and indeed for many years he was a political pariah, internally as well as internationally. Only in the last two years have the UK, the EU and finally the US ended boycotts.

Religious conflict has long been a pervasive feature of life on the subcontinent that is politically divided between the States of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The entire area was under British colonial rule for a century. When the British were eventually forced to pull out there was an effort to deal with the endemic religious conflict by political partition. The ensuing riots resulted in the deaths of over two million people. Things have never really settled down since. In addition to the endless conflicts between India and Pakistan there is a Muslim minority population in India that comprises about 15% of the population. There is a running conflict between them and the majority Hindus that periodically flares into open violence. There are several other smaller religious traditions.

The linked Guardian article also explores several other important political and economic factors that influenced this election. The Congress Party which was founded by Gandhi and Neruh has been led by their decedents. The vote is in part a protest of its continued inept and corrupt track record. Modi was presented as the preferred candidate of business interests. To some extent this is a shift toward more conservative economic policies. I'm not clear on how closely this would track with a conservative orientation in the US or Europe.

Indian Muslims are expressing anxiety about the change in government. There are Hindu nationalist who are hoping that it will strengthen their hand. Modi generally played this down in his campaign emphasizing economic issues. India has tried to build a tradition of secular government. Historically the Bharatiya Janata party has not followed that tradition. Now that they are in power, it remains to be seen what will happen.

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Comment Preferences

  •  don't forget sikhs (8+ / 0-)

    many of whom seem very wary.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:40:29 AM PDT

    •  I considered mentioning them and their links (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Laurence Lewis, poco

      to political assassinations and decided not to complicate the diary any further. As I said I don't claim expertise about India so I am wary of getting in over my head.


      •  they're a critically important (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon, poco, sturunner

        demographic. of course, india is enormously complex, on every level.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:57:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  it's to do with religious issues (15+ / 0-)

        The Sikhs are another religious minority that got the short stick under everybody except the British of all people, who embraced the Sikhs' warrior ethos and over time made them into the native core of the colonial army and police.  The assassination of Indira Gandhi (no relation) by her Sikh bodyguards was directly a consequence of the Indian Army's attack upon the Golden Temple in Amritsar - the Sikh equivalent of Mecca or the Vatican.  This had come about from the Golden Temple's occupation by militant Sikh nationalists.

        The Partition, as bloody as it was, still suffered from the fact that it was essentially incomplete.  The Sikhs didn't get their own country, East and West Pakistan with nothing in common but Islam (and separated by hundreds of miles of India) eventually had a civil war that created Bangladesh, and the focus on religion completely obscured significant ethnic divides within both Muslims and Hindus.  The Sindhi - who always saw themselves as a distinct people regardless of religion - are still divided across the border.  Pakistan today is a hodgepodge of indigenous groups (Sindh, Baluch, Hazara, Tajik, and Pashtun) who'd settled into a stable arrangement with each other, but was taken over by urbanized exiles (the Mujahir) from what is now India, who went on to "strengthen" their new country with increasingly radical political Islam.

        India is not a country; it's a continent.  India's diversity - racial, religious, cultural, linguistic, ecological, etc. - should invite comparisons to all of Europe or Africa rather than any one country.  They've creaked along under this or that alien empire for centuries and since independence they've held together on the fact that the vast majority are Hindu as well as the impossibility of imposing any kind of homogeneity on the place.  It would be ironic for a Hindu nationalist government to amplify divisions within Hindu India by striving for a one-size-fits-all Hindutva.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Sat May 17, 2014 at 09:11:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Narendra Modi, the leader of the BJP, (11+ / 0-)
    tweeted: ‘India has won. Good times ahead.’

    But it is not good times for LGBTI equality. In the past, the BJP president has opposed any attempt to further gay rights or even decriminalize homosexuality. Party chief Rajnath Singh was one of the most vocal supporters of the Supreme Court’s decision to bring back a colonial-era law that recriminalized gay sex. He said: ‘Gay sex is not natural and we cannot support something which is unnatural.’

    "I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger 2003

    by kerplunk on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:43:42 AM PDT

  •  This could well be a history book moment (8+ / 0-)

    with global repercussions that play out over a decade, or even two or three. A working class guy with very strong Hindu-nationalist sentiments and very negative feelings about Muslims and no experience in politics or governing on the national level takes charge of the worlds largest (and lets not forget nuclear) democracy. All you can say for sure right now is that India is going to turn into a different place than it was until this week.
    Hence its basically ignored on the 'news' here in Amurka, tho Ive seen short segments on it on BBC-AM and AJA.

    So, whats up with that crazy elevator fight? And whats Don Sterling saying today?

    •  Not to mention his native plutocrat backers (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, Richard Lyon, blueoasis

      with their deep connections to Western finance capital, a fact which tends to produce a big blind spot among our pundits and the mainstream media. According to The Guardian he has successfully blunted criticism from Indian mainstream media:

      His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

      The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

      by Wolf10 on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:36:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This could effect the UK elections next year (11+ / 0-)

    Any overt discrimination could cause India to be suspended from the Commonwealth as Pakistan has in the past. There are over a million in the UK who self-identify as British Indian according to the last census. That could mean perhaps a quarter retain Indian nationality and have not taken out British citizenship.

    As Commonwealth citizens, the Indian nationals are entitled to vote in UK elections however suspension of India would mean they would lose this right. The main electoral rolls are compiled at the end of September each year, coming into effect the following February (although later registration is possible). However on suspension of a member state of the Commonwealth, the loss of voting rights is immediate so there could be several constituencies in which large numbers of voters would have to be struck off the register. This is going to cause real problems for the Electoral Registration Officers in local councils who would have to go through the registration forms to eliminate those who claimed the vote through Indian nationality.

    This has a potential to skew the outcome in some areas although the voting demographics of the Indian community are not absolutely known, there is a view they traditionally vote Conservative although Labour have been making efforts to recruit. If that pattern is valid, there could well be enough marginal seats with Indian populations to allow Labour an overall majority given the current state of the UK opinion polls. (A position even more interesting if Scotland votes for independence as the Conservatives would have an overall majority if Labour MPs are no longer returned from Scotland. So there could be a radical change of government part way through the next Parliament)

    "Come to Sochi, visit the gay clubs and play with the bears" - NOT a Russian advertising slogan.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Sat May 17, 2014 at 09:02:59 AM PDT

    •  The UK retains a lot of ties (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP, VeggiElaine, Wolf10

      to India.I figured that The Guardian was a good place to get some informed information on the subject.

    •  Two things (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I always thought the British Indians who could vote in the UK were split by parties or voted Labour or Lib Dem because they were not at the top of the economic food chain.

      Also, I think polling over there (in Scotland) is against independence, but slightly. How would they reallocate the House of Commons if the unlikely occurs and Scotland's plebiscite gets a yes vote? There are 660 seats (I think) in the House of Commons and almost 60 of them are north of Hadrian's Wall

      •  Voting (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Indians tend to be both socially conservative and very entrepreneurial (there are historical reasons for this to do with the early day of the East India Company's area in part). This tends them towards the Conservative Party. There are more empoverished communities from the sub-continent but these tend to be more likely to come from what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh, the latter especially tend to vote Labour. They are, however, counted separately in the census and are in heavily Labour voting consitituencies like Bethnal Green and Stepney in east London.

        "Come to Sochi, visit the gay clubs and play with the bears" - NOT a Russian advertising slogan.

        by Lib Dem FoP on Sat May 17, 2014 at 02:22:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is NOT about a particular politician. (13+ / 0-)

    Yes, Modi is perhaps BJP's most charismatic frontman to date, but that party has been the dominant force in Indian politics for >20 years, even when it was in opposition.

    It appeals to a base with 3 parts:

    - Upper-class and economically ascendants Hindu Indians, who never saw all the "riff-raff" as equals and like the BJP's embrace of extreme neoliberalism
    - The masses of poor and disgruntled, but not caste-less, Hindu Indians, who resent Congress' corruption and relative protection of Dalit (casteless) and Muslim minorities, and are especially frustrated now with the recent economic woes
    - Pure wingnuts - those always exist regardless of socioeconomic situation, and they are the hard core connecting BJP to the movement that raised Gandhi's assassins back in 1948.

    Modi of course is part of this latter group, but a clever campaign and fawning press coverage has helped him pretend to be a "moderate".

    In any case, just like in the UK, here too the BJP really got only 38% of the vote but its advantage was amplified by the stupid "multi-party but winner-take-all" electoral system.

    I recommend this Guardian article that explains it better.

  •  Indeed the Indian religious Nationalist Right Wing (7+ / 0-)

    has come back to power. They were scary last time around when PM Vajpayee was presiding over successive militant waves of violence in India.

    It was a classic jobs, jobs, jobs campaign that overwhelmed the masses even many Muslim business owners. Remember, there are 177 million Muslims in India and many have voted for the BJP.

    Amazing to me.

    Let's all rub down in bacon grease and play Twister

    by Brahman Colorado on Sat May 17, 2014 at 10:26:23 AM PDT

  •  Welcome diary on an important political event. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Wee Mama, Wolf10, schumann

    Two spelling nitpicks:
      Neruh —> Nehru
      decedents [= person who has died] —> descendants

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

    by lotlizard on Sat May 17, 2014 at 10:41:29 AM PDT

  •  I think this augurs a troubling shift (7+ / 0-)

    towards hard-right religious fundamentalism in the world's most populous democracy.

    Right-wing parties, as a rule, tend to immediately discard any pretense at moderation to pursue their ideological obsessions once they have even a modest amount of political capital, and they tend to cling to power by any means necessary. Given the margin of this victory and the disarray of the feckless and corrupt Indian National Congress, I think they will set about their ideological agenda immediately and will be extremely difficult to dislodge even if they do become unpopular.

    This party is not committed to pluralistic democracy or tolerance. Its most extreme elements see themselves as locked in a holy war with Muslims. It's now in control of a nuclear-armed power, which shares a disputed border with another nuclear-armed power (one which also harbors a significant faction of religious extremists, which also see themselves as locked in a holy war with Hindus).

    This increases significantly the potential for armed conflict between India and Pakistan, even the potential for nuclear conflict. It could end up on Obama's foreign policy plate before very long.

    "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

    by limpidglass on Sat May 17, 2014 at 11:23:03 AM PDT

  •  More joys from the fever swamp of identity (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    politics devoid of class-based progressive ideology.

    The frog jumped/ into the old pond/ plop! (Basho)

    by Wolf10 on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:13:30 PM PDT

  •  We spent... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Marissam

    2.5 months in India from Dec. - Mar. on a trip through a wonderful country full of wonders.  There were campaign posters all across the country when we were there.  We didn't have a chance to discuss politics with a wide variety of Indians, but those we did talk to were all for Modi.  The reason always given was that Gujarat was booming economically under his leadership while the rest of India was not. In a country where poverty is the norm, economic considerations are at the forefront of people's minds. Also, we heard many comments about the endemic corruption in Indian government and politics under the Congress party.  

    One thing that surprised us about India was that Muslims are prevalent throughout the country from the southern state of Tamil Nadu all the way north.  This is generally not true of the Sikhs (a much smaller group) who are mostly in the Punjab and a few of the larger cities.

    While I am always suspicious of any religious-based party, I wouldn't sell the Indians short.  The election just held was the largest democratic election in terms of the number of voters that the world has ever seen.  India has consistently been democratic since its independence in 1947 and will almost certainly continue to be so.  The Indian people are resilient, industrious, friendly, and proud to be Indian, whether they are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, or anything else. In our travels, we were quite amazed at observing the level of religious tolerance of all groups.

    A camel can carry a lot of gold, but it still eats alfalfa.

    by oldliberal on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:55:39 PM PDT

  •  Yeay! More religious strife teeing up (0+ / 0-)

    in India and Egypt and on and on and on.  

    All this sure gives weight to Christopher Hitchens' statement that "religion poisons everything."

  •  Rachel Maddow says this is India lurching right. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Lots of countries have moved rightward in recent years, even Sweden.

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