Published:  12:26 AM, 11 June 2019

India's lovable 'Trump'... Modi, aims at the stars!

India's lovable 'Trump'... Modi, aims at the stars!

In the aftermath of a massive election process, the world's largest democracy delivered, what India had waited to hear! Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition had won a landslide electoral victory, gaining 302 of the 542 seats in parliament. The venerable Congress opposition party, that has long led India, was crushed.

We should pay serious attention here. India is more or less the world's largest democracy and is expected to be the third largest economic power by 2020. It is also an important nuclear state, with surface to air, and sea-launched ICBM's that can strike the United States and Canada, Europe, and its close rival-China.

India, energized by its growing economic power along with its nuclear booster program (or Viagra). This country is now a horse, feeling its 'national' oats. Prime Minister Modi is a hard-line religious nationalist determined to press his concept of 'Hindutva', or religious power. He had vowed to confront India's largest minority, some 200 million Muslims, 15% of its estimated 1.3 billion people, and make India a great Hindu power again.

Modi has sometimes been called 'India's Trump.' He was the governor of India's most business-oriented state, Gujarat. Perhaps, Modi is openly antagonistic to Muslims and Sikhs, and had failed to halt the massacre of thousands of Muslims in his home state, during his last tenure, as Chief Minister.

Beyond doubt, Modi has reportedly commanded wide public support for his Muslim-bashing and anti-Pakistan invective. Modi likes to wave the scimitar and vaunt his military muscle.

Last February, he had 'ordered' Indian jet fighters, to attack Pakistan, after Kashmiri nationalists (terrorists to Indians) had allegedly attacked an Indian military convoy. India humiliatingly lost one of its MiG's to Pakistan's crack air force. Worse, Modi ran a very dangerous and totally unnecessary risk by attacking nuclear-armed Pakistan.

As expected, Hindu nationalists had loved to watch mobs going crazy with post election histrionics. Just as, many ill-informed Americans have loved to hear Trump's war threats against Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and of course, Russia.

Like Trump, Modi had kept invoking India's past, without really addressing its current problems-- like the entrenched caste issue, growing crime, terrible national sanitation, rampant corruption, lethal air pollution and endemic communal tensions.

Interestingly, in the recent elections, a majority of low cast 'untouchables' (now called 'Dalits' but still remain untouchable) voted for the BJP. So did India's always restive, eastern hills states. These are positive signs for Modi's BJP.

By contrast, the Congress Party that brought India to independence from British colonial rule in 1947, and gave it the elite Nehru ruling dynasty, was crushed in this year's polls.

Dynastic politics is always bad medicine, be it Nehrus , Kennedys, Bhuttos or Romanovs. The youthful but disappointing heir to the Indian Congress political machine, Rahul Gandhi, had no heart in the fight, and even lost one of his two 'safe' seats (his traditional constituency).

That's too bad for India's minorities. Congress has in the past, exhibited a fairly moderate policy towards Muslims and Pakistan. Not so with the BJP, which remains based on an extreme Hindu movement founded in 1925, that promotes grassroots 'Hinduisation' of the nation, or even expulsion of Muslims, as just something similar to what occurred in Buddhist Burma (Myanmar).

Many on the Hindu hard right crusaders also call for the 'reabsorption' of Pakistan into Mother India, though, confusingly, that would likely add 213 million angry Muslims into their fold!

Meanwhile, India's formerly stagnant economy is bustling, thanks in good part to lifting of punitive tax and absurd government restrictions known as the 'license Raj'. Foreign investment is pouring into India, and highly educated Indian immigrants into the United States. Back in the early 1990's, I have had the opportunity to learn about India's recently formed version of Silicon Valley, the city of Bangalore, in the south of India. This complex grew into today's IT powerhouse, the pride of India.

India is on a roll. Now, even more so, thanks to a strong central government that favors commerce and big business. But it's really, not all sitar music and incense. India is a modern nation of 600 million atop an ancient rural nation of 700 million. Modern India will have to struggle, to escape her ancient 'Mother' India image. The Indian colossus still has political and financial feet of clay.

India 's election results indicated that Modi's naked appeals to patriotism and his party's frequent scapegoating of minorities, especially Muslims, resonated with Indians, who believe that he has made Hindu majority India. stronger and safer.

His message gained momentum after a terrorist attack against Indian forces in February triggered a brief military skirmish with rival Pakistan and had raised the gloomy specter of an all-out war.

'This election was fought not by politicians but by the people of this country - and it is the people of this country, who have emerged victorious,' Modi roared to a raucous rally at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, where supporters braved a driving rainstorm to sing and dance in the streets.

The opposition's disarray stood in stark contrast to the BJP's massive fundraising advantage and the larger-than-life persona of the 68-year-old Modi, the most popular Indian leader in decades.

Led by Modi's chief political strategist, BJP President Amit Shah, the Republican Party waged what many critics described as a campaign of fear. Modi and other party leaders frequently portrayed the political opposition as being in league with Muslim majority Pakistan, and called on voters to honor soldiers who died in the February attack by supporting the BJP.

'Modi and Amit Shah ran perhaps the most polarizing campaign in Indian history, an acknowledgement that they didn't think their policy record was adequate,' said Irfan Nooruddin, director of the Georgetown India Initiative at Georgetown University.

Their tactics had showed a willingness to pander to the most extreme elements of the Hindu right wing, BJP's big win last month had been interpreted as vindication of this strategy, and, minimally, that there was no cost to the polarization caused over the past five years.

Exit polls released earlier last month had indicated that Modi would win comfortably in what has been described as the largest democratic exercise ever held, on this planet, with 900 million eligible voters.

Only a few had expected the BJP to do better than it did when Modi had stormed to power in 2014-when the once-moribund party, won 282 seats out of 543. This was a rare single-party majority in a vast, fractious country most often ruled by coalition governments. Hopefully,

Modi's second five-year term will also be the age of the BJP's expansion.

In office, Modi had cast himself as a self-denying, uncorrupted leader bent on developing India by creating manufacturing jobs, empowering women, installing toilets and boosting the digital technology.

While India's economy had continued to grow at a respectable annual rate of at least 6%, rising unemployment showed that Modi had failed to meet his sweeping promises of providing jobs for the millions of educated young people entering the workforce every year.

Modi ... had run perhaps, the most polarizing campaign in Indian Undoubtedly, the economic distress in India is very real, but Modi successfully managed to make this an election about leadership, by transforming a parliamentary contest into a presidential one, much like he did in 2014.

As his lackluster economic records came into question, Modi's government had turned to darker political appeals, to attract support from Hindu voters, who make up nearly 80% of the country's 1.3 billion people.

India's constitution enshrines religious freedom, and for most of the seven decades since independence from Britain, the country has been led by the secular Congress party. However, as religious nationalism rises across the globe, Modi has edged India closer to the BJP's long-standing vision of a Hindu nation.

In the last five years, religious minorities, especially Muslims, have faced mob attacks from Hindu vigilante groups, emboldened and in some cases directly supported by BJP politicians. On the campaign trail, Modi used the term 'secular' as an epithet and lampooned Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, whose great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru was India's charismatic, first prime minister, as a scion of a dynasty--and out of touch with mainstream Indians.

Religious violence is rising in Narendra Modi's India. Shah, the BJP president, had pledged to institute a controversial citizenship verification process nationwide and 'remove every single infiltrator from the country' except Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs - a clear threat to Muslims, the largest religious minority.

The BJP also ran a parliamentary candidate, Pragya Singh Thakur, who has been indicted in connection with a terrorist attack that had killed six people near a mosque in western India in 2008. In a campaign appearance, Thakur called independence leader Mahatma Gandhi's assassin a 'patriot'- an apparent reference to Gandhi's policies of inclusion toward Muslims.

Modi has spoken out loudly against Thakur's remark, calling it unforgivable - but only, after voting in her central Indian constituency had ended.

She was also poised to win her seat.

Modi's victory also reflected the success of BJP's relentless social media machine - which helped him win fawning domestic media coverage despite having not held a news conference in India in five years - and an expansive network of campaign workers in the field.

And, now the ending thoughts: One of the big lessons for the government will perhaps be, to not have to focus on macroeconomic stability and health … because they may not have the kind of electoral impact that we, India-watchers had once thought.

May Modi's exemplary election victory, foster this great nation, to greater glories and peace with India's anxious neighbors!

The writer is a former educator
based in Chicago

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