June 7th 2014

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Articles from this issue:

ECONOMIC AGENDA: Cut the deficit while boosting infrastructure

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Tony Abbott faces winter of discontent

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Greens' bid to legalise same-sex 'marriage' by stealth

SOCIETY: Why all the fuss over same-sex marriage?

EDITORIAL: Ukraine election opens door to reconciliation

UNITED STATES: The secret history of Washington-Wall Street collusion

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: 400 million child brides: a global scandal

LIFE ISSUES: 'Bring it on': euthanasia doctor dares police to prosecute him

NEW ZEALAND: Families benefit from NZ budget surplus

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Extraordinary background to new Indian PM

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Indonesia's two presidential candidates in tight battle


CINEMA: A fantastical world suffused with melancholy

BOOK REVIEW The man who would be PM

BOOK REVIEW Uplifting perspective on ageing

BOOK REVIEW: A tale of espionage with a hidden sting

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Extraordinary background to new Indian PM

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 7, 2014

The national elections in the world’s largest democracy, India, have concluded with the defeat of the Congress Party and a decisive victory for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP is led by Narendra Modi, the charismatic former chief minister of the state of Gujarat in India’s north-west, which has enjoyed rapid economic growth under his leadership over the past 12 years.

India’s new PM, Narendra Modi.

The elections saw an astonishing rise in the percentage of seats held by the BJP in the 543-member lower house in the Indian Parliament. Before the election the BJP held only a quarter of the seats; at the recent election, the party won more than 60 per cent.

The result was expected, as the Congress Party — which has dominated India since independence — had been discredited by continuous allegations of corruption, and blamed for the poor economic growth in a country where a rising GDP is necessary to employ the millions of young people entering the workforce every year.

Writing in the Financial Times, Martin Wolf said that India’s growth “slowed sharply over the past three years because of the cumulation of bad economic policies, while consumer price inflation has risen to between 9 and 11 per cent over the past five years”.

He added: “At the same time … subsidies for oil, food and fertilisers, wasteful entitlement programmes, exorbitant pay settlements and huge fiscal deficits [have continued]. Other failures include the refusal to lift disincentives to employment, crony capitalism, capricious regulation, retrospective taxation, excessive jumps in food procurement prices and corruption.”

The incoming Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has a very interesting background, which gives some guidance as to how he will run India.

Born into a lower-caste family — his father sold tea at the railway station in his home town of Vadnagar, in Gujarat state — Modi became involved in the youth organisation of the Hindu nationalist organisation, RSS, from the age of 8.

One pre-independence leader of RSS described its philosophy in these terms: “The non-Hindu peoples in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but that of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture: i.e., they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age-old traditions, but also cultivate a positive attitude of love and devotion instead, … in a word, they must cease to be foreigners, or must stay in this country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizens rights.”

This policy aroused the fierce hostility of India’s Muslim population.

The BJP, the party now running India, was established by RSS, and is its political arm.

Modi worked full time for RSS, then was asked to work for its political party, gradually rising up the party’s ranks until he became its secretary-general.

After organising the party in his home state, he entered politics in Gujarat, and rose up to become Chief Minister in 2001, shortly before communal riots broke out in Gujarat, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed by Hindus, after a train carrying Hindus was set alight.

Although Modi tried to suppress the violence, giving police the right to shoot on sight, Muslims blamed the BJP government for it, and there were repeated reports that Modi was on an Islamist death list.

As Chief Minister, Modi embarked on a policy of privatisation and small government, which stood at odds with what political commentator Aditi Phadnis has described as the “anti-privatisation, anti-globalisation position” of the RSS.

He also demanded that the federal Congress government strengthen India’s anti-terrorism laws, directed principally against Islamist extremists.

In 1985, a Muslim criminal, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, was killed while in police custody in Gujarat. No one has been convicted over the killing. Sheikh is alleged to have had connections with the banned Lashtar-i-Taiba terrorist movement and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, although there are many others with similar connections.

Indian media reports at the time said that Sheikh had been given the task, by Pakistan’s ISI, of creating communal chaos in Gujarat by assassinating “an important political leader”, who was believed to be Modi.

Despite government investigations, no charges were ever laid against Modi, either over the race riots in 2002 or the killing of the criminal.

In the meantime, he implemented major infrastructure works, including dam and road building in his arid state of Gujarat, rebuilt agriculture (including irrigated cotton), and established new industries, including new technology parks. Gujarat emerged with the highest economic growth rate in the country.

It was this reputation which enabled Modi to challenge and defeat the Congress Party in the recent elections.

After his election, one of his first actions was to invite Pakistan’s Muslim prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and Sri Lanka’s Buddhist president, Mahindra Rajapaksa, to his inauguration, despite fierce opposition from within India. 

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