Now that Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India the question many are asking is what is to keep Hindu fundamentalism from becoming the face of India.
Walter Anderson, co-author of The Brotherhood of Saffron, actually thinks Modi himself will prevent Hindu fundamentalism from becoming the face of India under his leadership!
Anderson who has been observing Modi and his right-leaning Bhartiya Janata Party for the last 27 years, says that Modi’s basic personality and way of functioning is contrary to the right-wing model of the ultraconservative RSS outfit, even though Modi got his early training there. He is individualistic, and puts his own ambitions and image above that of the group, which actually makes him unpopular among the RSS cadre! That’s why the RSS itself was against Modi’s Prime Ministerial projection.
Anderson believes that ‘development’ will be the catch-word that Modi would want to identify his position with if he becomes Prime Minister, and that he might keep the RSS in the wings, but he will draw out his own agenda. In fact Anderson believes that Hindutva might actually get downplayed.
I partly agree with Andersen’s analysis. I think Modi is opportunistic, and he understands that leaning in the direction of what the mob wants actually gives a leader more power. The 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims under Modi’s leadership, was his way of gaining “popularity” with the Hindu majority by feeding the hunger of communal hatred. Conversely, what this means is that the section of India that wants a democracy that is secular and progressive is heard and seen to be louder and more popular, then that’s the voice Modi will be listening to! Moreover, Modi aspires to be a recognized leader not just of national status, but also international status, and he knows bending to communal forces will not make him popular.
His earlier statement where he said he wanted to build toilets before temples in India, probably is the road he wants to take. My reading of Modi is that he will be keen to build his own legacy as a leader, something for the history books. Something that the leaders before have failed at. And if this ego need motivates him away from Hindu fundamentalism and gets him to do, what Indian leaders have ignored for 70 odd years of independence, then good for India! I feel his personality is much too strong and self-centric to be swayed by the right-wing whiners in his party. He might give the RSS groups little bits to be satisfied like the elaborate Hindu ceremony at Varanasi after his win, but with his own personal agenda. In this case his real agenda which he stated at the function, is to get the city of Varanasi and the Ganges river cleaned up, something that groups and organizations from India and outside have completely failed to do for the last 30 years! He also seems to be the kind of man who does what says he wants to do.
The one person who could force him in the direction of Hindu hegemony I feel is Amit Shah. I have no idea what sway Shah has on Modi! Perhaps, he’s the keeper of Modi’s deep, dark secrets from 2002 and later? But if a section of Indians are worried about the centralization of Hindu fundamentalism in the nation’s capital, I think the man to keep an eye on is not Modi but Shah.
Also unlike Andersen, I do not think that Modi would prioritize Japan over the US in India’s foreign policy. That might have been if Modi planned to make India a ‘super-power’ in South Asia. But he was raised in poverty, and he understands that India with its vast hungry and illiterate population, is no where near that status! I think he might align with Asian leaders to create a more equitable economic playing field for India, and to a degree to send a certain message of self-sufficiency to big, western powers, to establish his own footing. But I think he runs on ego, and the blocking of his entry for 10 years into the US because of his dubious human rights record from the 2002 Gujarat massacre, is probably the bruise he’ll want to fix first. There is no faster way to the superstardom that Modi aspires to, than to have the globe’s superpower acknowledge it was wrong in blocking him off! With President Obama calling him and inviting him to the US within 24 hours of his winning the elections, I think Modi probably feels vindicated.
The US will be keen to embrace him. For trade always trumps over humanrights! After all whoever is ‘King’ in India, sits on the world’s biggest pool of slave labor! 50% of the world’s poorest of the poor live in India. The other 50% live in the other 200 odd countries. And for all the big talk about MNCs creating jobs, the fact is that even after almost 20 years of MNCs in India, there is no significant contribution to job creations here. Government, state, small business, big companies, and MNCs together create ‘formal sector’ jobs for only 10% of Indians! The other 90% more or less fend for themselves. There are no minimum wages, no labor rules or laws, no penalties for overcharging, or overworking! It’s all for the taking. We don’t forget Bhopal was gassed by an American company—the Union Carbide. Where else in the world can you get away with killing and maiming thousands of people, and have the government help you in fleeing the country and avoiding trial? However, here again, I think Modi might take an approach that’s different from that of other Indian leaders. He was raised in poverty, and a nationalistic outfit like the RSS gave him an education, and a chance at life that he wouldn’t otherwise have. I don’t think there has been any leader in India who has experienced this. I believe this will most probably translate into both his domestic and international policies. He most probably will be watching out for the little people, something which already is evident I think in his reserve towards FDI.
If Modi comes to power, and should Gujarat 2002 like attacks on minorities take place, will western nations ban Modi? That answer is important, because it will to a large extent determine whether India under Modi will lean towards right-wing Hinduism.