George Abraham, Chairman, Indian National Overseas Congress, USA
For many of us who are keen observers of the rise of Shri. Narendra Modi to the highest echelons of power in India as its prime Minister, a picture is slowly emerging on the style and substance of his governance and its impact not only on its citizens but also on the Diaspora that lives around the globe. While it has created a lot of excitement in some quarters, it is also accompanied by an element of confusion for the general public as well as fear and anxiety among the minority communities.
On the surface, Modi is acting as a Statesman reaching out to even the proverbial archenemy, Pakistan or traveling to friendly nation like Japan to promote strategic agreements and key alliances. It is worth noting that before the election, he was highly critical of the UPA government for making any overtures to Pakistan. BJP contended then that without any satisfactory progress on the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks there shouldn’t be any interaction. Yet, Nawaz Sharif was an honored guest at Modi’s inauguration even exchanging gifts with India’s new leader.
During the campaign, Modi emphasized a developmental agenda and sold the people his transformative agenda for India and would liberate it from inefficient governance and policy paralysis. He has trumpeted the ‘Gujarat Model’ of governance as the way to go and hardly talked about uniform civil code, Article 370 or the construction of the building of Ram Temple in his many campaign appearances. Rather, they have been buried deep inside the pages of the BJP manifesto.
His surrogates headed by Amit Shah, the current BJP President, whipped up the communal frenzy and polarized the communities especially in U.P to gain an elephant share of Lok Sabha seats that provided BJP with the majority it needed to avoid the pitfalls of coalition politics that the UPA had to content with. It should also be noted that with the largest share of the Lok Sabha seats won, BJP was only able to garner 31% of the vote share, a clear indication that the division among the secular parties has greatly benefited the BJP’s grand strategy and their execution of it.
It appears that there is a continuance of the same two-pronged strategy by the Prime Minister who appears to stay above the fray of communal politics and dirty tricks but has quietly unleashed his surrogates to do whatever it takes to consolidate power and implement the Hindutva agenda that the RSS, the parent organization of BJP, has long advocated . The designation of Yogi Adityanath who is known for his virulent and vitriolic rhetoric against minorities, as the lead campaigner in UP for the just concluded election, is the latest in a series of examples of such a long-term strategy. However, the election results indeed proved that the people of UP and other states have rejected such politics of hate and polarization.
It has been recorded that there were 600 incidents of communal violence that have been reported since Modi has taken over the reigns. To add fuel to the fire, RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat recently asserted that India is a Hindu nation contradicting the very preamble of the Indian constitution. Mr. Sangeet Som, a BJP MLA from U.P. who is charged with inciting the riots in Muzaffarnagar is given Z + security protection while thousands of refugees from those riots still suffer in camps under horrible conditions.
A Muslim techie was beaten to death by the members of Hindu Rashtra Sena in Pune just for wearing a skull cap and a beard. The recent provocative actions by the Hindu ultra-nationalist group against a Church in Noida and the detention and questioning of 10 Pastors on trumped up charges of forced conversions has sent a clear warning message to the Christian community across India that the RSS would define its own version of ‘freedom of conscience’. In all of this, there is only one constant: India’s Prime Minister has been silent!
It may be too premature to make a judgment on overall accomplishments of the Modi Administration in its first 100 days although critics would easily find huge disparity between the words and deeds of this new Government. Whether it is continuing price increases, failure to act on its promise to bring back the black money, or reigning in corruption ( 18 of his ministers are facing serious criminal charges compelling the Supreme Court to observe that it is for the PM to ensure that those having criminal charges are not promoted), the performance is often characterized as non-fulfillment of promises.
Smiti Irani, the HRD Minister who is put in charge of the elites in Education, not only lacks the credentials but also is devoid of new ideas on how to improve education other than promoting a ‘Sanskrit week’ or ‘Guru Utsav’ as part of the saffronization program for the RSS. The latest HRD directive calls on all UGC affiliated institutions to make the study of Hindi mandatory very much to the discomfort of non-Hindi speaking States, particularly in the South. The language issue has been long settled in India and everyone is quite aware of the significant role English plays in making India a global player in Information Technology. The move to mandate the study of Hindi is just another effort to accentuate divisions between regions for narrow political objectives that may even deprive future generations of much needed global opportunities.
It has been said that the members of the Indian Diaspora have eagerly been waiting for the PM’s visit, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that the community reception at Madison Square Garden has very little involvement from the community at large in terms of organizing or running the program. Instead, it is the handiwork of few insiders, and it would have been better left that to the diplomats to run an inclusive show.
As Shashi Tharoor recently stated, ‘When it comes to India's national interests, there is no Congress foreign policy or BJP foreign policy - there is, or should be, only India's foreign policy’. In that regard, growing ties between the US and India and a strong partnership between these two vibrant democracies are vital and of mutual interest. We, in the Diaspora wish the Prime Minister Modi all the success in that regard.