Can US Motivate Modi Administration to Restore Equitable Polity in India?
The visit of a Prime Minister of India to the United States on the invitation of the US President is a significant event for the people of India. It raises hopes that with help from US things will change for the better for the billion plus Indians. India has been a burgeoning democracy since it became a free and sovereign nation sixty-seven years ago in 1947. Twenty-three years ago in 1991 India began a tryst with the western style system of free enterprise and global economy.
Gradually the country’s economy started improving. With many multinational companies setting up shop in India, the middleclass that was rather limited earlier, expanded. That brought hope to the lower economic classes that soon the new system may filter down to them too. Also the nation felt that with the lessening of economic hardships, sectarian tensions and violence that had grown on the fault lines of religion and ethnicities may lessen.
However, despite visible economic growth in the first two decades of the transition, in the last few years the economy took a downturn with high corruption and significant increases in prices of daily use commodities. At the same time some aberrations in the country’s polity increased significantly. For instance, infusion into the political system of criminals and politicians who polarize the population along the fault lines of religion and caste.
In this turbulent atmosphere in the recent election, Mr. Narendra Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, who has a tarnished human rights record as Gujarat chief minister, tapped the economic frustrations of the common Indians with a polarizing campaign that castigated the nation’s secular structure and secular political parties as being responsible for the economic and social ills. They also made alliances with several big industrialists who financed their massive and expensive election campaign. That campaign is reported to have cost about $2 billion in a nation where 32.7% of the population lives below poverty line, which is defined as an income of $1.25 per day per head.
As Mr. Modi’s BJP party won majority in the Indian parliament, even though they won only 31% of the popular vote, and he became the Prime Minister, one hoped that having acquired the highest political office, he and his colleagues may move away from the divisive tactics to provide good governance, much needed economic uplift and to remove sectarian tensions.
However, full 100 days after Mr. Modi’s party formed government, most of his senior campaign leaders including Amit Shah, the president of his BJP party and others, are continuing on the same divisive path with impunity. Recently Prime Minister Modi has talked a few times about bringing everyone together, but those words carry little meaning as he has declined to walk- the- talk and take any action to prevent his followers from spreading sectarian tension and division.
On the economic front, the woes of the common people are continuing unabated. For instance the Modi Administration has increased by 14% the price of tickets to travel on India’s extensive railway system -the primary mode of long distance travel by most Indians. Modi Administration is set to double the price of natural gas produced indigenously by big industrial corporations from the existing $4.2 per MMBTU by October 2014. This gas is used very widely by common people to cook their food, for the production of fertilizers for agricultural production and for road transport.
As the Obama Administration and the US government start building connections with the new Indian government headed by Mr. Modi, the obvious expectation is that US multinational corporations may help India’s economy come out of its depressed state by making significant new investments and by expanding their current investments in India.
However, another significant expectation of a majority of Indians is that the Obama Administration may also emphasize to Mr. Modi and other senior leaders in his BJP Administration, that they take effective steps to remove ills like: attempts to undo India’s age old composite and secular culture, encouragement of a divisive and sectarian political culture, loss of human rights of minorities and low caste Hindus, authoritarian muscle politics, corruption and rampant, harmful pro-rich policies.
The measure of the welfare of India lies not in how many Indians are millionaires or how many are living in five-star luxury, but in what progress has been made in eschewing divisive politics, eradicating sectarian tensions and uplifting the one-third population that lives below the poverty line.
President Obama who has often spoken passionately for the human rights of minorities, and who has often thrilled us by talking about his vision of an equitable and just society, has the opportunity to do much good by using his leverage to motivate Mr. Modi to break away from the past divisive, sectarian and pro-rich politics, and take effective steps to curb those in his party and alliance who are creating much sectarian tension and disturbances.