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Friday, December 12, 2014

Modi's comfortable ride and India's minority

The pebbles ahead in Mr. Modi’s comfortable ride

Milligazette, 16-31 December 2014

Mr. Modi is so comfortably in power that he can ride out the storm ineffectually put up by the opposition and intellectual class over the deplorable remarks of one of his ministers. There are three legs to Mr. Modi’s stool. The first is the one from which springs the minister in question, the Sangh. The second is corporate India and the third is the ‘international community’. Even so, Mr. Modi’s comfort levels can be upset, and given the prohibitive prospective cost of this, requires timely warning against.
Over the short term, the corporate India and its middle class is the more critical leg of Mr. Modi’s stool. Mr. Modi is its hatchet man and has played his part thus far admirably. He has rolled back environmental legislation, gone global with his ‘make in India’ campaign, kept the autarchists of the loony brigade in check, firmed up his fences and in doing so given a boost to the defence sector. Corporate India awaits Mr. Modi’s bolder roll out of second generation economic reforms that are perhaps wisely pended by him to the next budget. This gives him time enough to firm-in in saddle so that he can then proceed with confidence. This will enable the corporate to get back the investment they have made in him over the past decade, culminating in the rupee imparted ballast to his election campaign. Mr. Modi needs to deliver on their demands in order to be able to fulfil his ideological inclinations.
Arguably, over the longer term it is the ideological agenda of the right wing that carries greater significance for Mr. Modi. For the present, rightist oddballs that embarrass corporate India and its Modi-supporting middle class have to be managed. They lent their legs to his campaign as well as generated the polarisation to make of the Hindu vote a bankable vote bank for Mr. Modi. They will have their pound of flesh and therefore the politician in Mr. Modi is unlikely to mess with them. This explains his reticence in the case of the eminently sackable minister in question. It is the cultural nationalist agenda to which Mr. Modi will turn once his economic agenda is on course. This will not merely keep the Sangh placated but will help keep Mr. Modi in power well into his dotage; besides ensuring his place in history as the one who rolled back a ‘millennium of humiliation’. And well in time for the birth centenary of the RSS that conveniently for his project coincides with 500 years of Babur’s invasion.
Mr. Modi’s comfort levels are enhanced by India being the cynosure of the international community due to its strategic and economic significance. His economic agenda will be supported by global capital and India’s diaspora that has helped him to power for precisely this purpose. The strategic scene is also Modi friendly. Obama is enroute to India since India is important for the containment and balancing of a rising China. It is also useful to cover the US’ flank as it moves out of the region. Obama would not like another Iraq style return to square one when he pulls out of Afghanistan. Whereas India would have been significant, with or without Mr. Modi, Mr. Modi’s attributes are useful, particularly for the US. Mr. Modi’s Pakistan policy suggests as much. He has put Pakistan on notice and that helps the US cover its tracks as it bails out of Afghanistan. Mr. Modi’s attributes are useful for the US. It is not unhappy in the temporary turn to majoritarian politics in India and its corollary of incipient authoritarian rule. History repeatedly reminds that being a friend of the US is a worse than being its enemy. For China and Russia, India assumes importance owing to his importance to the US. Both want to keep India out of the US firmament.
If life were a fairy tale, it could be said that such comfort levels can breed hubris that can bring Mr. Modi down. However, analytical rigour precludes such wishful thinking. It is unlikely that India’s justice system that alone could have made a difference can catch up with him. On the contrary, a commission report has pronounced him guiltless and the courts have asked for speeding up of the Gujarat trials in order to put them behind him. This suggests India will race into a Modi-led future comprising of a Ram Temple, status of third largest economy and other middle class ego enhancing gimmicks such as Indian on the moon and ocean going boomers. To think that political midgets in India’s opposition comprising has-beens and would-be’s can ‘get Modi’ is a laugh. Also, Maoists are unlikely to be able to break out of the jungles in the timeframe till 2025 to build bridges with disempowered have-nots left behind by Mr. Modi’s gifting of India to corporate interests.
Since Mr. Modi strides the internal domain unchecked, the seeds of possible upsetting of Mr. Modi’s applecart are in the external domain. His aggressive regional policy has potential to cause unravelling of his two-step strategy: economy followed by socio-cultural engineering. Developments on the Pakistan front are somewhat unsettling, with Pakistan’s national security adviser pronouncing that normalisation is ruled out so long as Mr. Modi is in the chair. Mr. Jaitley has in response indicated that it is Pakistan that has instead to appreciate India’s trajectory is such that Pakistan cannot escape falling in line. On the China front, India’s proximity to the US is such that it may get the message that India has been unresponsive to its premier’s visit. China could prop up Pakistan, as it has all along, to keep India tied down, just as the US is propping up India to keep China tied down. Given military preparations, including nuclear developments, and a strategic scene set to get ‘interesting’ in the Chinese sense of the word in AfPak and India’s increasing footprint in Afghanistan, there is scope for instability. The scenario of a mega terror attack being followed up by an Indian Cold Start attack leading to tactical nuclear use by Pakistan is by now trite, but India’s aggressive posture, perhaps intended for deterrence, under Mr. Modi, may lead up to its inevitable unfolding in case terrorists wanting to set India back, try him. In effect, India’s aggressiveness makes this more likely, even if India’s posture is intended to achieve the opposite.

The place of the minority in this is a rather delicate one. In case India is upset in this manner, Mr. Modi and his backers will need a scapegoat. Muslims, scattered in isolated local communities across the Indian landmass, have proven handily vulnerable. Finally, the higher he soars the more resounding the fall; implying he will take much else down with him. Since he will likely go only in pulling the house down with him, there is no cause for Muslims to want to figure in the debris. Self-preservation impels wishing him well, though seeds of possible alternative futures need warning against.

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