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Modi Is Taking India to a Dangerous Place

A statesman is one who admits when he has made a mistake and has the grace to correct it before it does any more harm. The prime minister, unfortunately, has shown no signs of having either of these virtues.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the occasion of Independence Day in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the occasion of Independence Day in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/PIB

There was a discernible note of self congratulation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech this year. As usual, it was replete with claims – “In our country everyone is equal”, “Those who have looted the nation and looted the poor are not able to sleep peacefully today” – and exhortations – “Bharat jodo“, “Let us create a new India” – that are entirely devoid of content. But these are not the sources of his satisfaction. That arises from his confidence that he has ensured a continuation of the BJP in power for the foreseeable future. He has done this by ensuring that the opposition is unable to unite to face the BJP in 2019; and by relentlessly undermining the constitutional safeguards upon which India’s secular democracy has rested, should it become necessary to retain power through constitutional sleight of hand.

The path India is being taken on

In the last three years, Modi and Amit Shah have removed virtually every institutional hurdle to the creation of the ‘new nation’ he talked about. The BJP now has a president and vice-president of its choice, thus ensuring that any conceivable future head of state will follow Modi’s instructions.

After its successes in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Assam, the party will soon have the majority in the Rajya Sabha that it needs to enact transformative legislation.

By overturning the seniority-cum-merit system of promotion in the army, Modi has sent the message out loud and clear to the army that henceforth, it does not serve the constitution but the prime minister. The spate of statements from all and sundry in the armed forces that have begun to equate dissenting with the BJP with treason shows that the army has got the message.

The obstacle of the Supreme Court remains. But Chief Justice J.S. Khehar, who had overturned the judicial accountability Bill and saved the collegium system for the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges, will retire in a few months and it is a safe bet that Modi will renew his struggle to destroy the higher courts’ capacity for judicial review after he is gone.

Modi’s ideal state

Only the electoral system, the beating heart of our democracy, will remain standing in the way. Despite all their bluster, Modi and Shah are acutely aware of the fragility of the BJP’s hold on power. In 1967, the Congress had required 40.7% of the vote to win 282 seats. In 2014, the BJP did it with under 31% of the vote. They will never, therefore, feel truly secure till they have captured that additional 10%.

Since that extra vote is not yet in sight, they have been following a two-pronged strategy to regain power in 2019. The first is to woo away the crucial 10% of the electorate by creating paranoia among caste Hindus in order to create a ‘Hindu’ identity as distinct from caste. The second is to ensure, by hook or by crook, that the opposition remains fragmented. To do this, the Modi-Shah duo launched a no-holds-barred campaign to destroy state-level parties like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, that enjoy a measure of constitutional autonomy and therefore the capacity to form an alliance capable of defeating the BJP in 2019.

But what is the goal that Modi believes is now in sight? Behind the camouflage of his grandiose and so far unfulfilled promises lies a single unswerving aim. That is to build a Hindu rashtra. There are hints of this in his speech, but three years into the BJP’s reign one does not need these pointers to understand the kind of India that Modi, and the RSS, intend to build.

This state will confront, not accommodate, its neighbours; this state will not tolerate cultural heterogeneity, but seek to replace it with a single homogenised culture that Modi mistakenly believes to be Hindutva. Muslims, and other minorities, will be tolerated in this entity so long as they know their place. Religious pluralism will be tolerated (but not accepted), as former vice president Hamid Ansari pointed out in Bengaluru, but cultural pluralism will not. For the minorities, the path to success will be through cultural assimilation. In sum, Modi is intent upon changing the very idea of nationhood upon which India’s political identity has been based not just for the past 70, but the past 2,000 years.

Is such a profound change even possible? If not, where will its pursuit lead us? Three years on from his swearing in, the answer can no longer be ignored. In every single sphere of governance, Modi is leading India into deadly peril. If he continues down this road, India’s failure as a state is guaranteed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspect a guard of honour before addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort during the Independence Day function in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/Shirish Shete

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspect a guard of honour before addressing the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort during the Independence Day function in New Delhi on Tuesday. Credit: PTI/Shirish Shete

Zero tolerance in Kashmir

Let us look at where he has taken India in the past three years. In Kashmir, he has let loose a regime of absolute terror based on the idea of zero tolerance for political dissent. Today there are no militants in Kashmir, only terrorists who are being hunted down and killed without even being given a chance to surrender. Modi says the Kashmiris are itching to be freed from them. That of course is why hundreds of thousands of youth poured out into the streets and were able to close down the whole of Kashmir for five months last year.

What mainstream and separatist leaders have made clear, repeatedly, is that while they want ‘azadi’ from India, they do not want to become a part of Pakistan. Nor do they want to sever their links with India. All they want is not to be ruled by Delhi, especially on matters concerning their politics, culture and religion. Today, mainstream and separatist leaders are frantic in their pleas for the resumption of a political dialogue with Delhi because the absence of dialogue and Modi’s sole reliance on the gun is driving the youth steadily towards Pakistan, and more recently al-Qaeda and ISIS. Modi has only to live up to the promises he made a year ago to opposition leaders from Kashmir, to discuss any solution within the Indian constitutional framework, for Kashmir to start calming down. But he is dead set against this because a willingness to negotiate with a local government or movement goes agains the very grain of the hard nation state that Modi wants to turn India into and makes him, personally, look weak.

A dangerous foreign policy

Not only is Modi’s hardline policy pushing Kashmir into the arms of Pakistan and jihadi Islam, but it has given the Pakistan army the excuse it had been looking for since 2007 to steadily weaken Pakistan’s democratic establishment and concentrate power in its own hands. This has reversed the trend that India’s helpful and accommodating attitude to civilian governments there, since its foreign exchange crisis in 2012, had created. Indian firing across the LoC has killed 39 persons and injured 133 in 2016, and killed 24 and injured 170 so far this year.

Close to 500 poor and utterly innocent families have therefore suffered grievous losses in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and possibly a similar number in Jammu and Kashmir, over something that Modi and the Pakistani generals know perfectly will yield them not a stitch of territory or military advantage.

A more immediate peril into which Modi has gratuitously pushed India is the mounting confrontation with China on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan, adjoining Tibet’s Chumbi Valley. Only those willing to gamble recklessly on India’s future have not recognised that the Chinese official position paper released on August 2 is in effect an ultimatum to India to leave the Doklam plateau, or be forcibly ejected from it. It concludes by stating baldly that “No country should ever underestimate the resolve of the Chinese government and people to defend China’s territorial sovereignty. China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate and lawful rights and interests. The incident took place on the Chinese side of the delimited boundary. India should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its trespassing border troops back to the Indian side of the boundary. This is a prerequisite and basis for resolving the incident” (emphasis mine).

The Chinese ambassador in Delhi underlined this the next day by stating that the presence of even one Indian soldier in Doklam will be considered an act of aggression. But another fortnight has passed and Modi has refused to budge.

Instead, as the South China Morning Post has reported, India is reinforcing its military presence at the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, and analysts are warning China of the possibility of  a blockade of the Malacca straits by the Indian Navy if China wages war in the Himalayas. Thus, after deriding Jawaharlal Nehru day in and day out for irresponsibly pushing India into the 1962 war, Modi is doing exactly the same thing – pursuing a reckless policy with China and gambling everything upon its not daring to strike back.

I have written extensively in my columns, as have many others, on the Sangh parivar’s relentless assault on Indian Muslims, on secular and Left intellectuals, and on the BJP’s political opponents, using and abusing every instrument of law the government could lay its hands upon, so I will not dwell on it any further.

Nor, for the same reason, will I dwell on the catastrophic decline of the Indian economy in the last four years and the many stratagems the Modi government has used to hide it. Suffice it to say that after taking into account those who have lost their jobs, the net employment growth in these years has been close to zero.

But Modi is as unable to step back from his gigantic blunders with Pakistan, with China, with Nepal and in the handling of the economy, as he was in admitting his bungling of the demonetisation. An essential requirement in a statesman is the self-confidence to admit when he has made a mistake and the grace to correct it before it does any more harm. India’s greatest peril arises from the fact that Modi has not shown any signs of having either of these virtues.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and the author of several books including Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West?

  • Sundeep Palanati

    After spending 10 long minutes reading this article, all author wants is modi should appoint the people who dislikes modi as president and vice president, so he can keep fighting with them. And by appointing people of his like is about to create an imaginary hindhu rastra.

    And issue an order to army to stand down, so terrorists can shoot innocent citizens, because army killing terrorists is a loss of life for citizens of Pakistan.

    And other wonderful comment is to back down on doklam, so Chinese army can build infrastructure as they wish.

  • Jaipal Datta

    I left India because people lost faith in administration, and judiciary due to wrong policies of corrupt governments. It does not matter to me that these parties were supporting Muslims or Hindus. But I know no citizen is safe in corrupt countries. You are talking or writing which are not as per the normal wishes of Indian Citizens. I feel proud of Modi and feel good and may decide to come back to India, my beloved nation.

  • Indian

    India will always support and protect Bhutan. Chinese are trying to create wedges between Bhutan and India and interfere between Bhutan and India relations.

  • Sean Li

    Before Hitler became the loser he have been thinking that he is correct of himself but the history Already told us the Answer for he caused Germany to be destroyed. Modi will do the same thing to india too.

  • subhash

    Good article…Their sole aim to create a narrative in media of acting big somehow including even bullying the media…If the truth is the casualty , so be it…

  • Eli

    I’d invite Mr. Jha to revisit his understanding of the electoral system, the army’s ‘seniority-cum-merit system of promotions’ and the situation on ground in Kashmir and to rewrite his article, bereft this time of insinuations or fuzzy logic.

  • Hari Krishna

    Author seems like Terrorists sympathizer….
    “Today there are no militants in Kashmir, only terrorists who are being hunted down and killed without even being given a chance to surrender.?

    Whoa! Bravo!

    where were you when innocent Amarnath Yatris have been killed?

  • Arif Khan

    Indian, Jaipal Dutta, Sundeep Palanati, bknandi, Vishwas Patil & Shrikant Mahajan are you guys for real individuals or a part of well oiled BJP troll gang ?

  • Tatty_D

    It’s as sad & as worrying as what Trump is doing to America.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      Yes, but there’s a vital difference: look at the opposition Trump is facing at every step – Democrats are (obviously) against him, the press slaughters him, his own party is opposing him (the spectacular crash of the healthcare bill), industry leaders are opposing him, there’s an ongoing investigation on his campaign’s collusion with Russia, and his approval ratings are the lowest among all past Presidents!
      Those are the signs of a mature, THINKING democracy.
      Granted that we are not yet a mature democracy, which is expected with so much poverty and illiteracy. But what is sad is that even those with the ability and the luxury to think do not question this govt, this PM! Criticism is dismissed as unpatriotic or with silly whataboutery! We have become like Hamlin, dancing and jiggling foolishly as we follow the Pied Piper!
      Thats why I am hopeful about America correcting itself sooner rather than later, but not about us.

  • gadgeteer

    a sane article amongst all the jingoism and noise, you are a brave journalist indeed.

  • Amitabha Basu

    It looks like an army of Sanghi trolls is descending on thewire to try and discredit this writer ….. however, they can neither write English properly nor argue coherently to ‘defend’ their Pradhan Sewak, Hindu Hriday Samrat, Rashtra Rishi, etc etc.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      Indeed it does look like that, as is apparent from the fact that almost the same set of people have up-voted them almost simultaneously!
      And while they write pure gibberish, its made quite entertaining by their impure grammar. Maybe they were nervous because Mr Modi was looking over their shoulders…..?

      • kujur bachchan

        I have noticed that whenever Prem Shankar Jha gives his opinion even slightly critical of Hindutva brand of politics, the Bhakt Trolls descend on him like packs of hyenas to discredit him and his analysis. Their ludicrous logic (or is it non-logic?) and odious posturing of possessing superior intellect not only reveal their cultural and intellectual bankruptcy but are an insult to such a senior and respected journalist/commentator like Mr Jha. Any one brought up in true Indian tradition of showing respect to seniors would have countered Shri Prem Shankar Jha’s critique with reasoned arguments and in a dignified language.

        • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

          Bhakt trolls are the lynch mobs of social media, so they have no intention of dignifying a debate! And with this particular article, it appears that its provocative title has driven the troll army into full attack mode, perhaps under direct order (as well as supervision) from the supreme commander himself!

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “Shame to Nehru and his dynasty.”:::: Just a minor matter though – he and the INC played a big part in our freedom struggle, the freedom that is enabling you to write such puerile trash.

  • alok asthana

    Modi is India’s nemesis. What the moghuls and Brits could not do in centuries, this man will do in just a few years – disintegration of India. He’s well on his way to achieving it. Nationalistic Indians should work tirelessly to oust him. India demands this of us.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “However India would have been better off with anyone supporting capitalism, such as the British”::::

    Sorry, what? Are you saying we would have been better off under the British, without our freedom?
    REALLY??
    Or am I misinterpreting your language?

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    You know, except at one place which was just to mention the vote percentage Mr Jha does not write anything about the Congress, or UPA, or Rahul, or Sonia.
    This article wasn’t about the Congress at all.
    Yet, so hung up are BJP/Modi supporters on their hatred for all things Congress that it is they who keep bringing them up completely out of context.
    I think you guys will do better if you ask tough questions of the Modi government and critically examine all that’s been going on in our country. Stop bringing up the Congress as a counter argument, since the Congress is almost irrelevant in current and future politics.
    Supporting a government or a leader does not mean supporting them blindly or unquestioningly, like sheep. Not in a democracy.

  • http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/ windwheel

    Are Prem Shankar Jha’s beliefs credible? Let us examine them
    1) ‘Modi has ensured that the Opposition can’t unite’. How did Modi manage this? Does he have magical power? He must have otherwise why is Jha complaining that he has shown political skill and shrewdness?
    However if Modi has magical power over Indian politicians who bitterly oppose him, why should he not have magical powers over the Chinese?
    In fact, why would he need to subvert Constitutional checks and balances? His magical power is so great that he can prevent the Opposition uniting. He can just use his magical power to get the people to do his bidding.

    2) ‘Modi has sent the message out loud and clear to the army that henceforth, it does not serve the constitution but the prime minister.’ We live in the age of camera phones and Youtube. Where is this ‘loud and clear’ message Modi sent? Oh! I forgot! He has magical powers. He sent a loud and clear message to the Army which only they could hear but which they could not record on their smartphone. In fact, they can’t remember having received any such message at all. Why? Because it was a magical message which only Prem Shankar Jha knows about.

    3) ‘Modi’s state will not tolerate cultural heterogeneity’ Wow! Is that really true? Will be forced to give up my Tamil language and culture by Modi? What about Gujerati culture? Will that have to be given up? The answer is no. Why? How so? Is Jha telling lies? No,no. Not at all. You see, Modi has magic powers which only Jha knows about. So, though ordinary people like you and me will go on practicing heterogeneous cultures, Modi will secretly and magically be not tolerating them at all. We won’t notice it, but Jha will notice it.

    4) Jha says ‘Modi will tolerate religious pluralism’. This is very strange. Religious pluralism is the same thing as cultural pluralism. Jha links to a well written article by Hamid Ansari and says – ‘Religious pluralism will be tolerated (but not accepted), as former vice president Hamid Ansari pointed out in Bengaluru, but cultural pluralism will not. ‘ Needless to say Ansari never said anything so foolish. He drew a distinction between affectionately embracing an alterity and merely tolerating it. Ansari quoted Vivekananda. Modi, of course, is all about hugging things out. However, he is not suggesting that my Tamil culture or his own Gujerati culture should not be tolerated.

    5) Jha says ‘zero tolerance in Kashmir’ is a bad thing. The displaced Pundits may disagree. They may feel ‘zero tolerance’ is a good thing. Jha is afraid that Kashmiris may emigrate to Pakistan or join ISIS. It is their legal right to do so. It is the legal duty of the Prime Minister of India to show ‘zero tolerance’ to any act of war against the State.

    6) Jha is very frightened because he thinks the Chinese are going to invade India. But, if that is their plan, it makes sense to take a forward position where there is a strategic advantage even if defeat is inevitable because this approach minimizes casualties and territorial loss.

    7) Jha thinks Statesmen should admit their mistakes. Why? To admit a mistake is to show weakness. It means you acknowledge that your every subsequent action may be equally mistaken and thus your resolve will always be in question. A private gentleman, unconnected with any Institution or Enterprise, is welcome to go on apologising for mistakes. Some people may say ‘what a splendid gentleman!’ Others may ignore the fellow.

    8) India faces great perils. Modi is tackling them but it may be a case of too little, too late. Jha however believes that Modi has magical powers. He can wave his magic wand and cause the Opposition to become disunited. Thus, Jha says- ‘India’s greatest peril arises from the fact that Modi has not shown any signs of having’… some virtue that Jha thinks important. Thus, to aver our ‘greatest peril’ we, as Indians, should find a capable magician or fairy godmother who can give Modi whatever virtue it is that Jha wants him to have.

    Jha studied at Oxford. If only he had attended Hogwarts while in England, he could have saved us from our ‘greatest peril’.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    What exactly does bknandi’s denouncement of Nehru/INC have to do with the substance of the article? This person just went off on a total tangent.

    “The INC’s struggle to free India from the British yoke hardly exempts them from criticism for their tragicomic excuse for “governance” for the past 70 years. “::::::

    You havent seen The Wire’s Jan Gan Man Ki Baat Episode 100, have you? Watch it to get a better understanding of this “tragicomic excuse for governance”.

    Oh yes, BJP’s strategy is quite clear now, which is to obfuscate its own failures by laying the blame on everything and everyone that’s happened over the past 70 years. Also, vilify Nehru, INC and others who were involved in the freedom struggle and in the building of our nation as a cover for the total absence of the RSS and its friends from these great efforts. I am pretty sure as things get worse they shall reach back to the Brits and Mughals too.

    Anyway, I think you and I understand where each of us is coming from, and that any discussion is eventually pointless. So goodbye si91, as I sign off…..

  • kujur bachchan

    Yes.