This week the Indian “ministers ” makes a triumphant visit to the UK after cosying up to everyone from Silicon Valley CEOs to Rupert Murdoch. Whats behind the uncritical embrace of a human who has presided over a rising tide of assassinations and religion zealotry, and driven the countrys writers and artists into insurrection?
In 2005, when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the wealthy Indian state of Gujarat, local police murdered a criminal called Sheikh Sohrabuddin in cold blood. At an election rally in 2007 for the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, Modi assured his citizens that Sohrabuddin got what he deserved. What should be done, he asked, to a human found possessing illegal limbs? The pumped-up mob screamed back: Mari nakho-mari nakho !( Kill him, kill him !)
The lynch mobs cry was repeated in a village near Delhi last month as zealots beat to demise a Muslim farmer they suspected wrongly of maintaining beef in his home. While Modi makes a triumphant visit to the UK after more than a year as Indias prime minister, the Hindu supremacists are, as the novelist Mukul Kesavan wrote last month, in full hunting mode, head up and roar. In recent weeks, activists and scholars have been shot dead amid a nationwide campaign against Hindu-baiters that targets secular intellectuals and westernised women as well as public figure with Muslim and Christian names, and western NGOs such as Greenpeace. The assassinations follow months of violence and intimidating rhetoric by Hindu supremacists. A scope of public figure, from Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywoods biggest superstar, to Indias respected central banker, Raghuram Rajan, have spoken out against the rising tide of sectarian hatred. More than 40 of Indias most distinguished writers have returned their awardings to the Sahitya Academy, “the member states national” literature academy. Many others, including artists, scholars, filmmakers and scientists, have since joined the protests, which reached boiling point after Hindu fanatics lynched at the least four people in connection with beef-eating.
Modi turned beef into an incendiary issue during his run for Indias highest political office; he and his party colleagues reinfused it with anti-minorities venom during recent local elections in the state of Bihar. The chief minister of one of Indias richest nations proclaimed last month that Muslims could only live in the country if they stopped feeing beef. The house magazine of the RSS, the parent outfit of Hindu nationalists, quoth ancient scriptures to justify the killing of sinners who slaughter cows. The culture pastor Mahesh Sharma told of protesting authors: If they say they are unable to write, let them first stop writing. We will then see. On Saturday, Modi hinted at his own opinions on the subject by posing for pictures with organisers of a Delhi demonstration against protesting writers, where slogans such as: Reach the fraudulent literati with boots and, Presstitutes suck up to Europeans had echoed.
On the day of Modis election last May, I wrote in the Guardian that India was entering its most sinister phase since independence. Those who had monitored Modis words and deeds , noted their consistency, and feared that Hindu supremacism could deliver a mortal blow to Indias already enfeebled democratic institutions and pluralist traditions had come to much the same conclusion. Modi is a stalwart member of the RSS, a paramilitary organisation explicitly modelled on European fascist parties, whose members have been procured routinely guilty of violence against Indian minorities. A pogrom in Modi-ruled Gujarat in 2002 killed more than 1,000 Muslims and displaced tens of thousands.( It was what inspired the US and UK governments to impose a visa ban on Modi ). Whether or not Modi was personally complicit in the murder and gang rapes, they had clearly been planned in advance, as Human Rights Watch said in the first of countless provides information on the violence, and organised with the extensive participation of the police and state government officials. Among the few people convicted was Maya Kodnani, Modis ministerial colleague, and a fanatic called Babu Bajrangi, who crowed to a journalist that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant girl, and claimed that Modi sheltered him after the riots and even changed three judges in order for him to be released on bail( Modi has not responded to these allegations ).
Though sentenced to dozens of years in prison, Kodnani and Bajrangi are frequently granted bail and allowed to roam free in Modis India. Indias foremost investigative body, the CBI, had accused Modis consigliere, Amit Shah, who is now president of the BJP, of ordering the execution of Sohrabuddin( among others ), but receded its case against him last year, quoting absence of proof. Meanwhile, Teesta Setalvad, a human rights activist and one of Modis most persistent critics, is saved from arrest only by the interventions of the supreme court.
Modi communicated early the boldnes and tawdriness of power when in May 2014 he flew from Gujarat to the oath-taking rite on a private corporate plane emblazoned with the name of his closest corporate chum. In January this year he turned out in a $ 15,000 Savile Row suit with personalised pinstripes to hug Barack Obama. Launching Digital India( a programme to connect thousands of villages to the internet) in Silicon Valley last month, the eager new international player apparently jostle Mark Zuckerburg aside to clear space for a photo-op for himself( the video has run viral ). One of his most fervent cheerleaders in India now complains that the “ministers ” is like a new bride remaking herself for her powerful and wealthy in-laws.
Consequently, many in his own forgotten household are turning against him. On Sunday, his partys vicious and lavishly funded campaign in elections in Bihar, one of Indias largest and poorest nations, ended in humbling defeat. But Modis glossy makeover seems to have seduced many in the west; Rupert Murdoch tweeted after a recent session that Modi is Indias best leader with best policies since independence. Sheryl Sandberg proclaimed she was changing her Facebook profile in honour of Modis visit to Silicon Valley in September. His libertarian hosts did not seem to know or care that, just as Modi was arriving in California to promote Digital India, his factotums were shutting down the internet in Kashmir, or that earlier this year his government advocated a draconian statute that the Indian police utilized repeatedly to arrest people posting sentiments on Facebook and Twitter. Nor did the Bay regions single-minded data-monetisers fuss about the fact that Modi had launched Digital India in India itself with a private party for his most fanatical troll-troopers people who are, as the publication Caravan set it, a byword in online terror, abhor and misogyny. In a dog-eat-dog world primarily organized around lucrative deal-making, the only value seems to be economic growth albeit, for a small minority.
Modis speeches about our own countries cruelly postponed and now imminent glory have packed stadia around the world with ecstatic Indian. At Wembley this weekend, some more grownup men and women chanting Modi, Modi! will embarrass themselves in history. The apparently unembarrassable Tory government detected new muscles while kowtowing to Xi Jinping, and will no doubt find them useful for some Indian style-prostration, sashtanga pranam , before Modi.
Modi was always an odd option to lead India into the 21 st century. Satisfying him early in his career, the distinguished social psychologist Ashis Nandy assessed Modi as a classic, clinical occurrence of the authoritarian personality, with its mix of puritanical rigidity, constricting of emotional life and fictions of violence. Such a figure could describe refugee camps with tens of thousands of Muslim survivors of the 2002 pogrom as child-breeding centres. Asked repeatedly about his culpability in the killings, Modi insisted that his only mistake was bad media management. Pressed repeatedly over a decade about such extraordinary absence of repentance, he finally said that he regretted the killings as he would a puppy being run over by a car.