India: Hindu fundamentalist becomes opposition PM candidate

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

This September the Hindu fundamentalist opposition party in India, BJP, declared its prime ministerial candidate to be Narendra Modi, three times elected controversial chief minister of Gujarat state. This decision was egged on by millions of grassroots BJP workers enthused by Modi, as well as Hindu nationalists and youths who look to Modi as both a bulwark of Hindu nationalism and an icon of ‘development’. This elevation of Modi ahead of next year’s general election bodes ill for India and for the entire region.

At best Modi is accused of ignoring and at worst co-ordinating the 2002 pogrom against Indian Muslims in Gujarat. During three days over 2,000 Muslims, including many women and children, were killed and many injured. A number of Muslim houses and businesses were also destroyed. The culpability of the Hindu fundamentalists belonging to the BJP and the militant Bajrang Dal youth organisation being behind the pogrom was exposed by the magazine Tehelka in 2007. Despite this, it took five years for some BJP members, including Maya Kodnani, a minister in Modi’s cabinet, to be found guilty. A police officer named Sanjeev Bhatt accused Modi of directly ordering the police to stand down for three days as Muslims were killed, although his sworn testimony was not accepted by the biased special investigation team. Despite this, Modi not only refused to resign but defended himself in a 2013 interview with Reuters saying he tried his best and that anybody would be sad if a dog (obliquely referring to Muslims) was accidently crushed under one’s car. Modi was also accused of inciting several staged police murders of Muslim youths by labelling them as terrorists.

Despite this, Modi managed to be elected chief minister three times. Modi attracted various companies to invest in Gujarat by giving them free sops worth crores (tens of millions) of rupees. However, the economic growth rates achieved in Gujarat came at the cost of deteriorating literacy and health. The segregation and status of Muslims in the state became worse. Even today, Muslims in Gujarat’s capital city, Ahmedabad, are unable to rent a house in the more upmarket suburbs due to discrimination by landlords and are forced to live in ghettos like Juhapura.

Modi has manufactured, with the help of the US lobbying firm APCO, a national reputation as a pro-development politician who can turn India into the next superpower. As a consequence a number of leading Indian industrialists and upper middle class Indians have come out in support of Modi. Western countries too jumped on to the bandwagon; recently, Modi was invited by British Conservative and Labour politicians to visit and address Parliament, on the grounds that Britain does more trade with Gujarat than any other Indian state.

Modi’s rise to national prominence reflects the increasing impoverishment of the newly emergent middle class due to high inflation and unemployment. The recent 20% fall in value of the Indian currency, the rupee, caused fuel, rent, food and other commodity prices to rise and real wages to fall. This fall in the rupee has been due to an overdependence of the economy on short-term western speculative investors and indications that the US Federal Reserve might halt its economic stimulus programme and stop printing dollars to prop up the US economy. Any rise in oil prices resulting from war mongering in the Middle East is particularly harmful to India’s economy.

The Indian economy was not directly affected by the 2007 credit crunch, partly because its exposure to international short-term funds was then low. However, service exports, mainly of the IT and outsourcing industries, have been hit by the crisis in the US and European markets. This has resulted in a sharp drop in employment of new graduates by these companies. Economic growth has slowed from 8.4% before the financial crisis to a projected 5% or lower. This crisis in the Indian economy has led to renewed pressure on the ruling coalition government from a number of sources including the IMF and credit agencies, to increase the pace of economic reforms and reduce subsidies such as the food security bill. For these reasons, in India big business and many young people look to Modi as a saviour to rescue India from the crisis.

The perilous economic situation in India has led to the threat of Hindu nationalists coming to power after the next election and the danger of communal riots with increasing regional instability. The integration of India in the global economy, along with its reliance on short-term funds, makes India vulnerable to the global crisis. The myth that the BRICS economies can rescue world capitalism from a major crisis lies shattered.

Joy Bose