Monday, August 21, 2017

On the Guha interviewer

In the previously mentioned interview, with Indian historian Ramachandra Guha,  the interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, refers to: "Narendra Modi, a right-wing Hindu demagogue".

Let's settle this systematically.

1. Narendra Modi is certainly a Hindu.

2. Demagogue: (definition) "a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument."

I cannot answer for Modi's career as Chief Minister of Gujarat.  But Modi's speeches for the 2014 national campaign are readily available.   If catering to the popular desire not to have dynastic rule (yet another totally unqualified scion of the Nehru family as Prime Minister), the popular desire to have an end to perpetual scandals and crony capitalism, the popular desire to have economic development, then Narendra Modi was a demagogue in that campaign.  Narendra Modi also made it quite clear in his campaign that India could either have Hindu-Muslim fights, or else have economic development.  Modi's slogan for the 2014 campaign was "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" or "Collective Efforts, Inclusive Growth".

If this is demagoguery, may we have more of it.  (see the highlighted term below: "aspirational politics".)

3. Right-wing:  We now have three years of the Modi government, and we know he has stuck to his governing philosophy that he expressed at the beginning of his term.

Why do we need the state? There are five main components:

.. The first is public goods such as defence, police and judiciary.

.. The second is externalities which hurt others, such as pollution. For this, we need a regulatory system.

.. The third is market power, where monopolies need controls.

.. The fourth is information gaps, where you need someone to ensure that medicines are genuine and so on.

.. Last, we need a well-designed welfare and subsidy mechanism to ensure that the bottom of society is protected from deprivation. This especially includes education and health care.

These are five places where we need government.
Most "right-wing" politics rejects three or more of the above.   Also contra the American right-wing -  PM Modi has embraced the Paris Climate Accord.  

If we ask who locked up the opposition parties in jail, censored newspapers, had a program of forced sterilization, had a cult of personality ("Indira is India, India is Indira"), that is the party of the dynasty.   Nobody in PM Modi's party is anywhere remotely close to this.

The last part of "right-wing" that one could raise is on the "caste & class" and the "Hindu-Muslim" issues.  Let us note that PM Modi's party had a resounding victory in the last Uttar Pradesh state elections, e.g., "A pan-caste win for the BJP".

“I do not crave a kingdom, heaven or a second life, all I want is to serve the poor,” he had said at the BJP’s national executive meeting in New Delhi this January. There had been agitation among party MPs on the effects of demonetisation and its possible fallout among traders, the party’s core support base. Mr. Modi’s speech was aimed at convincing his hesitant party that he had been able to persuade the poor to look at the BJP and his own government in a new light.
In Uttar Pradesh, the party has got support from almost all quarters of voters. The only time any party got more seats than the BJP in U.P. was in 1952 and in 1977, when the State was still undivided and sent 85 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The transcendence of the traditional “Bania-Brahmin” label of the BJP, it appears, has happened in these polls.

While the party had won, or was leading in, 182 out of the 225 seats where the upper castes had a significant presence, what was astounding was that it was leading in 75 out of the 90 Dalit-dominated seats. The party even won in seats dominated by the Muslim community. The aspirational politics of the neo-middle class that Mr. Modi had tapped into in 2014, has been broadened in scope in U.P. in 2017 to include the poor.
 Further about the caste and class issue - Narendra Modi was son of railway-side tea vendor, and vended tea himself as a child.  It is his opponents on the Left that refer to that derisively.  Everyone else is very proud of the first Indian Prime Minister born after Independence, and how far he has risen.

I can't speak for attitudes in rural India, but for the politics of the aspirational urban middle class of India - they couldn't care any more for caste in politics than they would of the castes of the Indian cricket team.  What they want is competent governance from whatever quarter that provides them economic growth and improving opportunities for their children.

For the record, this is what Wiki says about Modi's caste:
"Narendra Modi, the 15th Prime Minister of India. Modi belongs to the OBC (Other Backward Class) Modh Ghanchi community, which is a Gujarati caste equivalent of Teli in Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, UP and Bihar. Modh refers to the town Modehra, from where his caste originated."

It is on Hindu-Muslim issues that PM Modi has performed less than optimally.  There certainly is a small section in the "far-right" of India that agrees with Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan), that converts to Islam have changed their nationality.   In my opinion, there is a larger section that considers the Muslims of India to be fully Indian, but is irked, sometimes to the point of violence, that (in their view) they don't always exhibit that allegiance.  PM Modi has been often slow to speak up when there are issues (he has spoken up forcefully on occasion, but he could have spoken sooner).  Note that in India "it is the primary duty of the State Governments to prevent, detect, register and investigate crime and prosecute the criminals", and so PM Modi essentially has a bully pulpit, plus the BJP party leadership role to influence state governments run by the BJP, that he could use to greater effect.