by Shahid Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 10, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1438)
Narendra Modi’s anti-Pakistan policy is driven both by internal compunctions and external factors. The bottom line is to appeal to Hindu fascists from whose ranks Modi has emerged.
There is consensus among informed observers that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not a very pleasant character. Before becoming prime minister, he was barred from entering the US because of his gory record as chief minister of Gujarat State. He had presided over the genocide of thousands of Muslims in 2002. There is hardly any change in his behavior since becoming prime minister in 2014 even if he is now eagerly welcomed in Western capitals.
He is not only anti-social (Modi eats his lunch and dinner alone!), he also suffers from an acute inferiority complex. But what is worrying is his belligerence toward Pakistan. While all Indian prime ministers have been hostile toward their western neighbor, Modi has taken this to new depths. What accounts for such vehemence? Several factors can be identified that drive Modi’s policy.
These are both short- and long-term as well as internal and external. In the short-term, his sights are set on the crucial election next year (February–March 2017) in the important state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) that has a population of more than 200 million people. He is appealing to Hindu chauvinism in a bid to mobilize his militant base in hopes of defeating the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by former state chief minister Mayawati. She was ousted from power in 2012 by a left-leaning alliance. In 2014, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) grabbed 71 out of 80 UP seats in the centre (India’s national parliament) from this crucial state.
Modi’s campaign is based on the policy of keeping the Dalits and Muslims separated from each other and prevent them from forming an electoral alliance, even if an informal one. Dalits constitute 22% of UP’s population while Muslims account for another 19%. Mayawati, who is Dalit, has called on minority groups (Dalits and Muslims) to reject the BJP, whose roots are firmly embedded in Hindu chauvinism, which many Dalits and Muslims see as a threat to their existence. The BJP has strong links with and is deeply influenced by the Hindu chauvanist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Nazi-type organization that believes in Hindu exceptionalism. The group’s literature is full of praise for Hitler’s Nazi ideology. It is virulently anti-Muslim as well as anti-Dalit. The RSS insists all people of other faiths in India either covert to Hinduism, leave India or face death.
Aware of the BJP’s RSS agenda, Mayawati pointed to this when she told 300,000 cheering supports at the start of her election campaign in the state capital, Lucknow. “Communal forces are becoming stronger.” Addressing Modi, she asked, “Where are the jobs for Dalit boys and girls?” She went on, “He will never understand the problems faced by us.” The secretary general of her party, Satish Mishra said Dalits and Muslims “were totally unsafe” under Modi. This was not merely an election slogan.
In July, a video appeared on the internet in which four Dalit youth, stripped to their waist, were tied behind a car and being beaten with sticks, chains and iron-rods because they had allegedly killed a cow that they were skinning. This horrific attack occurred in Gujarat, Modi’s home state. Dalits are forced to do this and other menial jobs to earn a living. The boys’ protests of innocence went unheeded.
Modi wants to wrest control of the UP province, considered the most important state in India. Success in UP would enable Modi to control the federal parliament’s upper house as well. This is aimed at making it easier for him to pass key bills that he considers crucial for the success of his aggressive agenda to appease the rich. This has hitherto eluded him. Further, Modi also has his eyes on the 2019 federal elections. If he can capture UP, it would boost his chances of retaining power in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Even while pursuing a communal agenda pitting Hindus against Muslims and targeting Dalits, he has sent the party president Amit Shah, an even nastier creature, into Dalit strongholds pretending to be their friend. Shah has allowed himself to be photographed sharing a meal with Dalits, something considered taboo under ordinary circumstances. These gimmicks are meant to soften the BJP’s anti-Dalit image. To understand how important UP is for the BJP, Shah has visited the state more than 150 times in the last two years.
As the shrewd and generally well-informed Indian commentator and former ambassador, M.K. Bhadrakumar pointed out in his opinion column in Asia Times Online (October 28), “The heart of the matter is that unless the Hindu mind is trained on the Muslim in antagonistic terms, he tends to lapse into his caste identity. And, both in UP and in Gujarat [Modi’s home state], the specter that is haunting the BJP is that the marginalized Muslim and the dispossessed Hindu of downtrodden caste [Dalit] may find common cause as persecuted sections of society unless they are set up against each other.”
Caste remains a defining feature for people across poor and agrarian Uttar Pradesh, where India’s two-decade economic boom has barely been felt. No single community has enough numbers to win an election but alliance across caste and religious lines can bridge this gap and take a party over the top. Modi’s attempt to play the caste card while simultaneously trying to broaden his appeal are self-contradictory. He does not belong to the upper caste [Brahmins]. While not from the lowest caste [Dalits], he is still not high up on the caste totem pole, hence his acute inferiority complex. In caste ridden India, one’s position in the hierarchy matters greatly.
It is, however, his external policy that poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region. He has openly called for destabilizing Pakistan through Balochistan. An Indian spy, Kurbachan Jadhav, was captured last March in Balochistan and he admitted under interrogation that he was a serving naval officer sent to carry out sabotage activities in Pakistan.
Modi’s anti-Pakistan policy manifesting itself in Balochistan is driven largely by fear of success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The $46 billion deal is a game-changer and if Pakistani economic and security managers are able to successfully carry it through, it will make Pakistan the hub of Chinese economic activities. With the success of CPEC — although not 100% guaranteed — India’s dreams of becoming the regional hegemon will not be realized.
Modi wants to preside over India’s rise as an economic “superpower” and CPEC’s success is seen as a spanner in his works. Despite loud rhetoric about India’s great economic progress, the Voice of America (VoA) noted in a commentary on October 26, that the ground realities are very different. It is important to note that the VoA or any other US media outlet is not hostile to India. In fact, the majority of them are quite sympathetic because this is what has been the policy of successive American regimes. They have courted India both for its alleged economic potential as well as more importantly for its role in helping the US to undermine China that is a rising power not only in the region but also globally.
The VoA noted in its report, “Surveys have shown that thousands of jobs were lost in factories making garments, leather goods, and other products for exports in last year. A recent survey by the government’s Labor Bureau says the unemployment rate rose to a five-year high of five percent. It is a surprising statistic for an economy that outpaced China to grow at more than 7% last year… That is not good news… One million people are added to the workforce every year. The failure to add employment opportunities for these young people poses a huge challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose promise to create millions of new jobs catapulted him to power in 2014.”
So much for Modi’s economic miracle in a country with more than 400 million people living in absolute poverty out of a total population of 1.2 billion. The India-doting Western media and regimes conveniently gloss over this grim statistic about India’s poverty. They only see the 300 million potential Indian consumers for Western goods.
Modi’s hostile policy has led to an increase in anti-Pakistan sentiment among ordinary Indians. Nearly 73% of Indians have an unfavorable view of Pakistan, according to a survey by the US-based Pew Research Centre last spring. This is an increase of 9% over 2015. But in another surprising statistic, Pew also found that 50% of Indians disapprove of Modi’s hostile and rancorous policy toward Pakistan.
So how will Modi balance these contradictory trends? Given his anti-Muslim disposition, it would be unrealistic to expect any change in his anti-Pakistan policy. This will continue to dominate his thinking since CPEC will take many years to be completed. Since India is also trying to compete with China for regional leadership, Modi’s anti-Pakistan obsession is likely to undermine this quest. While he has fully embraced US imperialism (whatever happened to India’s non-aligned status?) against China, by riding two horses simultaneously, Modi is likely to fall flat on his face.