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The BJP's Narendra Modi will be India's next Prime Minister which critics say puts India on a perilous path of neoliberal economics and nationalist politics. (Photo: Hindustan Times)

'Worst of All Worlds' as Neoliberal BJP Wins India Elections in Landslide

Critics say victory of Hindu nationalist party and ascendancy of Narendra Modi put nation on perilous course

Jon Queally

In national elections in India, the rightwing Hindu nationalist party, called the Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP), has won a landslide victory for the country's parliament and their leader, businessman Narendra Modi from Gujurat, is now set to become the nation's next Prime Minister.

According to Reuters:

With more than six times the seats of its closest rival, Modi's is the most decisive mandate for any leader since the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son to office. Since 1989, India has been governed by coalitions.

The BJP was winning in 278 seats of the 543-seat parliament, counting trends showed. An alliance led by the party was ahead in 337 seats, TV channel NDTV said.

Though many are framing the BJP's victory as the result of widespread disgust with the current government, led by the Congress Party, and a win for those calling for an end to systematic corruption in the world's most populous democratic state—critics of the neoliberal BJP say its ascendency puts India on a perilous path.

For progressive-minded Indians, says Vijay Prashad, a historian and professor at American University of Beirut, the BJP victory "is the worst of all worlds."

In statements ahead of the elections, activist and author Arundhati Roy said that India's election were not about serving the interests of the nation's poor and disenfranchised, but about "which corporation would come to power."

Referring directly to the now victorious Modi, Roy stated, "This time, [the elections were] corporate war and he is a corporate candidate." She indicated that all the major parties continue to ignore the pervasive poverty, including mass malnutrition which plague vast sections of the country.  Despite India having the third-fastest growing economy in the world, Roy said, its democracy is being steadily destroyed by "unequally distributed wealth" and a political elite that pays only lip service to the nation's farmers, marginalized youth, and  underclass.

To de-mystify Modi's victory and put his party in context, Prashad explains:

"BJP never ran against the roots of inequality or deprivation, but only what it deemed to be its symptom – corruption. This was a clever strategy. It both rode the anti-Congress wave, which had been produced by anger at the inequalities in the country, and it mollified the corporate community, which would not have been interested in any criticism of the policies of neoliberalism."The BJP’s record in governance is not any different from that of the Congress – with inequality and corruption being the order of the day in its bastion of Gujarat, for instance. To take one indicator as illustrative, in Gujarat the mal-nutrition rate is so low that it is worse than the average level of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (where the rates of mal-nutrition remain very disturbing). Gujarat’s ‘development model’ also favored the privileged businessmen of the ruling party, the BJP, and its chief minister, Narendra Modi. Family firms such as the Adani group earned substantial gifts from the BJP government, which enhanced their profits, and helped Gujarat increase its own profile as “open for business.”

Modi was able to dodge questions of the “Gujarat Model.” He was quickly anointed by the BJP as its Prime Ministerial candidate and hastily favored by the media with far more coverage than any other politician. Modi ran as the development candidate with a carefully calibrated argument – he suggested that it was not neo-liberalism that created inequality, but its symptom, namely corruption, which the BJP tied to the mast of the Congress. In other words, the BJP never ran against the roots of inequality or deprivation, but only what it deemed to be its symptom – corruption. This was a clever strategy. It both rode the anti-Congress wave, which had been produced by anger at the inequalities in the country, and it mollified the corporate community, which would not have been interested in any criticism of the policies of neoliberalism.

Writing in the Guardian on Friday, Indian author and writer Pankaj Mishra argues that with Modi at the helm, India is facing "its most sinister period since independence." Providing context for both Modi's rise within the BJP and the rightwing fanaticism of the party now set to control India, Mishra writes:

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".

"Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress's haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.".

Such rhetoric has helped Modi sweep one election after another in Gujarat. A senior American diplomat described him, in cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, as an "insular, distrustful person" who "reigns by fear and intimidation"; his neo-Hindu devotees on Facebook and Twitter continue to render the air mephitic with hate and malice, populating the paranoid world of both have-nots and haves with fresh enemies – "terrorists", "jihadis", "Pakistani agents", "pseudo-secularists", "sickulars", "socialists" and "commies". Modi's own electoral strategy as prime ministerial candidate, however, has been more polished, despite his appeals, both dog-whistled and overt, to Hindu solidarity against menacing aliens and outsiders, such as the Italian-born leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, Bangladeshi "infiltrators" and those who eat the holy cow.

Modi exhorts his largely young supporters – more than two-thirds of India's population is under the age of 35 – to join a revolution that will destroy the corrupt old political order and uproot its moral and ideological foundations while buttressing the essential framework, the market economy, of a glorious New India. In an apparently ungovernable country, where many revere the author of Mein Kampf for his tremendous will to power and organisation, he has shrewdly deployed the idioms of management, national security and civilisational glory.

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a "manly" nation. Vivekananda's garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi's public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress's haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.


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