Modi Demystified

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It has been a year since Narendra Modi was inaugurated as prime minister of India. During that year, he has spent a lot of time traveling around the world, including the US, Australia, France, and Canada. I was hoping against hope that one of these Western nations, seemingly so conscious of human rights, would arrest him for the role he is alleged to have played in the massacre of Muslims in 2002 and ship him off to the international court. They didn't.

Until early last year, several Western countries, including the US, had imposed travel restrictions on Modi for his alleged crimes. But Modi's sins have now been washed in the holy water of democracy. So much for those Western countries’ fervently declared position never to compromise on morals.

It is not possible for many Indians to imagine a future achieved by constructive, rational steps. As a result, they look for a magic wand to take India to a prosperous future.

During Modi’s visits abroad, local Indians gave him a hero's welcome. The Indian flag and anthem and a deep sense of togetherness, joy, and warmth dominated the proceedings. He attracted an historically unprecedented 18,000 people when he appeared at Madison Square Garden in New York. Meanwhile, Indians living in India are said to have found a new sense of confidence, vision, and hope. Investors, economists, journalists, intellectuals, and politicians around the world appear to be in awe of Modi, looking up to him to make India the next China. The Indian stock market has done very well. The IMF believes that India will soon exceed China in growth rate.

One out of every six human beings living in India, so a real change in India would be path-breaking for humanity.

Modi is the first prime minister in almost three decades who has come to power with a full majority, gaining the ability to institute legislative changes. He had already created an impression of competence by supposedly demonstrating his capabilities in Gujarat, the province he had headed before.

So, why am I so stuck on Modi’s alleged crimes of the past? Should we not let bygones be bygones? Why not worry about the larger good and let the hope that Modi has instilled in everyone carry us forward?

Let me explain.

Hysteria among Indians is a routine phenomenon. They latch on to some new hope or disaster, their feelings completely unsupported by facts or reason. It pays to remember that Indian society is not driven by or even understands the concepts of the sanctity of individuality or reason. It is a society based on a hodgepodge of beliefs, traditions, religions, and superstitions. Given this, it is not possible for many Indians to imagine a future achieved by constructive, rational steps. As a result, they look for a magic wand to do the job, to take India to a prosperous future. The result is that they forever look for a new deity to lead them.

People who operate only through emotions and feelings do not have to reflect on their past beliefs, to reason and dissect why their hopes proved erroneous.

It is not the backwardness of the poor people that worries me the most, but the utter failure of the middle class to unhinge itself from irrational thinking and provide intellectual leadership.

The last prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was rightly assumed to be a puppet of Sonia Gandhi, the dynastic head of the Congress Party, which has run India for most of its so-called post-independence, democratic days. Singh was universally seen as indecisive and his ministers were considered corrupt. He was regarded as incapable of changing the course of India. Alas, this was the general perception when he left. In earlier days, however, he had been the hero of India. He was the person believed to have started the process of liberalization in India. In those early days he was seen as a genius technocrat.

People who operate only through emotions and feelings do not have to reflect on their past beliefs, to reason and dissect why their hopes proved erroneous. Almost every inauguration of a new prime minister within my lifetime has been met with massive euphoria, with everyone, particularly the so-called educated class, looking up to him as a magic wand. By the end of each term the memory of whatever they were so euphoric about at the beginning has been forgotten.

While it is true that Modi has the majority in Parliament, the first majority since 1984, the irony that the major media has declined to discuss is that his party got only 31% of the total votes, a result of the votes being split among too many parties. Modi derives most of his power from the middle-class, the so-called educated.

If they truly loved India or cared for its poor people, they would have seen India’s continual wallowing in irrationality, superstitions, and lack of enlightenment.

He has also given a new sense of identity to the confidence-lacking Indian diaspora. Its members have found new pride in Hinduism, so much so that fanatic elements are increasingly influencing curricula related to Hinduism in the US. They cannot stop talking about how great India is. My question for them is why they left India or why they don’t return if they really think India is such a great country. Why should they crave American passports or show off their American residency when on visits to India? Alas, in the absence of reason, not having done any introspection, they fail to realize that behind the facade of pride in India and Hinduism is a narcissistic craving for a sense of identity and a desperate plea for respect.

If they truly loved India or cared for its poor people — or if, again, they could reason, instead of supporting or rationalizing lies that look good about India — they would have seen India’s continual wallowing in irrationality, superstitions, and lack of enlightenment. The middle class in India is no different from other classes. Using WhatsApp, they send out religious hymns with Modi’s name in place of a god’s.

In practice there is not much change at the ground level, except for a palpable increase in religious intolerance and Hindu fanaticism, which some elements in Modi’s party share or support. Rumors about “love jihad” have recently been the talk of the town; the assumption is that Muslim youth have been systemically trained to seduce Hindu girls. There has also been an increased movement against the consumption of beef. Recently a relative of mine got a visit from one of the Hindu fanatic groups for supposedly insulting Hindu gods. The police prefer to be bystanders on such occasions.

One piece of legislation that Modi is after is called a land acquisition bill. A very large proportion of middle-class Indians have no problem with forcibly acquiring the land of poor farmers to enable India’s industrial development, helping corporations get cheap and easy access. This, in essence, is what the bill is about. The act might even speed up the process of infrastructural development, but at the price of individual rights. India's middle class — those who live in India and those who live abroad — are among the most heartless and apathetic people I have known. They claim to be for the free market, but what that means to them is actually seizing land from poor people for the larger good, where the larger good, in their imagination, is what helps the middle class.

Religious intolerance and fascist policies carry real risks of blowing up and becoming uncontrollable. Modi is a simpleton — and, like his middle-class supporters, he is prone to designing a society according to his own image, from the top down. He does not understand the concepts of “unintended consequences,” “uncertainty,” and “non-linearity.”

They claim to be for the free market, but what that means to them is actually seizing land from poor people to help the middle class.

Reason, justice, and respect for the individual must come to the forefront if India is to change. But the time for that hasn’t come. I never had any hope from Modi or his fanaticism. But, at the root, the Indian middle class — those who live in India and those who live abroad — have failed India. They have failed to educate themselves in critical thinking about India’s problems. What skills in argumentation they possess have been used for rationalizing the country’s backwardness. They have been a failure at leading India’s largely poor and superstitious society.

Indeed, for now, in the world arena, Indians have won respect. They have an increased sense of identity. They are a proud bunch. They have hopes. But this is all shallow; nothing real underpins it. Modi will most likely fade into oblivion in a few years. Eventually, as in the past, most people will forget the euphoria and will be looking for the next deity.

I await the day when the Indian will look for the hero inside himself.

But for now, India is not the next China, not even remotely.




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Comments

Jacques Delacroix

A harsh judgment but I am glad someone did it and only a clear-headed person with a Hindu name would. My wife is Indian which puts me in frequent contact with members of the Indian middle-class and makes me focus. I have observed among them clarity of thought, purposefulness, and rationalism when it comes to their own individual lives associated with hysteria and mendacity when it comes to collective issues. As always, there are exceptions but I need only one hand to count the ones I know personally. I wish this essay could be distributed in India or, at least, among the Indian Diaspora.

This being said, Modi has a better economic track record than any previous Indian Prime Minister. I thought his culpability in the massacres of Muslims of reference was not well established. I agree it's not a small detail but Bhandari might give American and other readers a summary on this matter.

Fred Mora

Mr. Bhandari,

As usual, your article is incisive and sheds a light on a subject that the Western press avoids like the plague: The fact that Western mentalities and attitude are not adopted as readily as, say, US gadgets. The so-decried Western culture might have problems, but at least it used emphasize critical examination of failures (unless you are an academic and the failure in question is Socialism, but that's another story).

How do you remove superstition from a deep-rooted culture?

Jayant Bhandari

Dear Mr Mora:

The virus of superstitions has been perfected over thousands of years. It is extremely resilient. The first few years of childhood implants the operating system of irrationality. Thereafter, it is almost impossible to undo it. Conventional education cannot undo this, and perhaps makes it worse. I have often seen the so-called educated people rationalizing superstitions.

My guess is that certain Christian missionaries in the past understood the above and hence took babies away from the parents. This was extremely cruel and I am in no way suggesting this as a solution, but merely suggesting that these missionaries perhaps understood the entrenched, deep-seated problem of irrationality and superstitions in the non-western world.

5% or so, or whatever the number is, people in the west provide the western civilization's intellectual, moral, and rational foundational-pillars (although I must emphasize that these pillars have weakened hugely over the last few decades and continue to deteriorate). India has no such leadership provided by its middle-class—NONE at all. India’s middle class merely learned to mimic the ways of the English, to look superior in front of their poor brethren. They think that the facade is all that matters—and indeed to an irrational mind this is all that matters.

The possibility that what made the west what it is was not its table manners but the principles that led to those table manners—reason and respect for the individual—cannot be seen by irrational people, particularly if they have been through conventional education.

Mr Mora, it pays to remind ourselves the massive contribution that Greek-Roman thought made to the western society. Buddhist thought, in my view, tried something very similar in India, but Buddhist concepts of mediation and contemplation failed to become social phenomena. Buddhism virtually disappeared from India. In Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand, it mutated into a dogmatic, ritualistic non-thinking religion. Great Indian thinkers like J. Krishnamurti have always been at the fringe and would have stayed unknown had the west not recognized them.

I have recently finished another article—“India: great expectations”—in which I suggest that India might be where Russia and China were in late 19th century. Would India need to go through the pains, suffering, and social strife that China and Russia went through? The only other and humane option is to show the mirror to the Indian middle-class, and shake their conscience.

Visitor

I agree with you. One of my Uncles was a high ranking bureaucrat and a decorated Health officer. He rarely showed any empathy to the plight of people. Both him and his wife will act like they were lords of the land and should be listened to and respected. And there were people ready to kiss their behind to gain favors.

The sad thing is they got so used to it that they thought they are entitled to be respected everywhere they went and their ill-gotten public money through bribes were God's gift for their good doings. My aunt always used to say people who suffer in this life are sinners in their past life and they deserve it. She was a (pseudo)intellectual who tried to raise her baby based on books and calling some of the well proven traditional but healthy practices as superstition. Her baby didn't survive a year and she rationalized it saying children dying early are merely passing on their un-lived life span of their previous life.

The problem is not superstition per se but how some enlightened people convince themselves and others of their wrong doings based on ideas from religion and spirituality.

And when a Chief City Health Officer's wife is having this mentality, then God Save India.

Fred Mora

Is this article going to be published on this site?

I agree with your views. In particular, I think that the Greek philosophers were a unique mental mutation, akin to the opposable thumb in its impact.

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