Our Prime Minister chose the right time – may be after consulting his astrologers – to visit the US. With around eight months left for the next parliamentary polls, and facing increasing anti-incumbency popular mood, he needed a diversionary path to neutralize that mood. Biden’s invitation offered him that opportunity. The basketful of gifts of defence equipment and promises of more, with which he is returning home is sure to bowl over our elite and middle class voters, who will reassert their devotion to Narendra Modi , looking up to him as the savior of the Indian nation. Their fond image of him has been reinforced by the wide media coverage and photo-ops of his public and private bonhomie with the Biden couple, the applause received in White House from the US politicians, and the idolatry displayed by the Indian diaspora – all of which will come handy during Modi’s election campaign.
Further, the lower orders among the Indian electorate will be wooed by spectacular pictures of a prime minister who comes from their humble background as a `chai-walla,’ being given an equal status by the powerful President of a Western state. This will buttress the BJP’s attempts to secure its base among the poor sections by framing a strategy of what is being described by political scientists as `subaltern Hindutva.’
Behind the brouhaha over Modi-Biden hugging
Now that the Prime Minister has come back and the dust has settled, let us examine what the deal between Modi and Biden has offered us Indians back home – in bread and butter terms. To start with, the deal is primarily oriented towards the need to strengthen our defence capacity (as evident from the agreement to co-produce jet engines in India for Indian military aircraft). American companies have also pledged to invest in the strategic semiconductor manufacturing sector. These are areas where there is a confluence of interests, both the US and India sharing the common need to counter China. The collaboration under the terms of the agreement envisages the possibility of India providing logistic support to the US navy and air force if there is a military confrontation with China. Besides, in terms of pure commercial benefits, this deal will yield huge profits to the US military-industrial complex and swell its coffers.
Significantly, Biden and Modi have come closer at a time when within the US, a nativist far-Right is resurgent within Biden’s establishment, as evident from growing incidents of police atrocities against Black people – parallel to the persecution of Muslims by the Indian police. Thus, Washington and New Delhi have become thick as thieves.
The other fruit of Modi’s visit is the promise of investments in India by the US-settled Indian business houses, with the Prime Minister assuring them of a safe environment without any hassles like labour laws, workers’ protests – which have been effectively suffocated by him.
So, at the end of it, what are we the common Indians left with ? How will the defence-oriented projects contribute to the removal of wide-spread unemployment among the youth ? These projects will need well-trained sophisticated technical hands – who cannot be found among the vast masses of the unemployed. There will be no trickle-down benefits for them from the Biden-Modi deal.
As for the business house honchos and IT sector employees among the Indian diaspora who showered praise on Modi during his visit, they are doing well in the US, and we doubt whether they will respond to Modi’s invitation – even though some among them may have signed agreements. Will they take the risk of investing their resources in their homeland which is beset with internal communal strife, gang warfare among political parties, malfunctioning by a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy, and deficiencies in the infrastructure – all disturbing and disrupting the smooth operation of industries. Although Modi may assure them of suppressing workers’ protests, will he assure them of protection from the goons of his Sangh Parivar who are entitled to extort money from them to allow them to set up their industries ?
Despite Modi’s attempts, during his nine year rule, to woo back the Indian IT experts and other Indian professionals to India, there has hardly been any positive response. On the contrary, the brain drain rom India to the US and other countries is increasing.
A Prime Minister who is lavish in selling lies, and miserly in revealing facts
During his visit to the US, a loquacious Narendra Modi spent hours addressing meetings, where he projected himself as an ardent devotee of democratic values, and upheld an image of India under his rule, where, he claimed, there was no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or gender. At a press conference in Washington (where he reluctantly agreed to take only one question), replying to the Wall Street Journal correspondent Sabrina Siddiqui, who asked him about incidents of persecution of Muslims and human rights violation under his regime, Modi turned himself into an innocent babe, pretending to be unaware of such incidents, saying: “Mujhe ashcharya ho raha hain..” (I’m surprised..). He then said: “There is no space for any discrimination in India…”
Ironically, on the eve of his departure from the US – June 24 – when Modi was waxing eloquent about equality of all religions in India, there occurred an incident in Nashik in the state of Maharashtra (ruled by Modi’s BJP in alliance with partners). Two Muslim men, Afan Ansari and Nasir Qureshi were transporting meat in a car when they were intercepted and attacked by a group of Hindu `cow vigilantes’ (known as go-rakshaks patronized by the BJP) with steel rods and wooden sticks. Ansari died, while Qureshi is undergoing treatment, (Re: The Hindu, June 27, 2023).
To give another instance, on the same day, June 24, in the Pulwama district of Kashmir, a group of Indian soldiers barged into a mosque and forced the Muslim worshippers to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ the slogan of the Hindu Sangh Parivar, of which Narendra Modi is a leading member. This incident was brought to the notice of the government and the public by no less a person than the former chief minister of Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti.
These stark facts, and many such events, were cleverly kept away from global attention by Narendra Modi, with the help of a compliant Indian mainstream media – ridiculed as GodiModi, his lapdog.
The Indian media – from watchdog to lapdog
The Indian reporters and commentators, both from the mainstream press and TV channels, played an abysmally shameful role while covering Narendra Modi’s US visit. The reporters concentrated solely on his official programmes and public functions, highlighting the applause that he received there, and the Indian political commentators in our newspaper columns and media channels echoed the same euphoria without caring to analyze and discern the deeper geo-political implications of the Biden-Modi deal.
As for the Indian reporters who were assigned by their newspapers and TV channels, they chose to be blind to the numerous anti-Modi protest rallies that were being held by both Indian and American human rights groups in the US during his visit. It is only through an international media channel like the Huuffpost that we get to know about these rallies. (Re: `Human Rights groups blast White House For Modi Visit.’ June 18, 2023). Hundreds of Indian citizens of the USA gathered at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC on June 22 to protest against Modi’s visit and his atrocious record of violation of human rights. At around the same time, Kukis living in the USA held a demonstration condemning Modi’s silence and inaction regarding the current violence in Manipur. All these events were ignored by the Indian correspondents and were blacked out by the mainstream press and TV channels at home.
The story does not end there. Following the report of the Wall Street Journal correspondent Sabrina Siddiqui’s question to Narendra Modi about his government’s discrimination against religious minorities, and Mody’s namby-pamby response to the query, all hell broke loose, with Modi’s supporters trolling her with online threats and intimidation – asking her how dare she questioned their leader. These Modi-bhakts in the USA are fanatical proponents of Hindutva, operating under various names, and are deeply entrenched among the Indian diaspora in the US, and often find support from Rightist white suprematist groups.
Within India, a vindictive Modi regime is targeting independent journalists who dare to question Narendra Modi’s credentials as a defender of democracy are being hounded by his agents. According to the New Delhi based RRAG (Rights and Risks Analysis Group, in 2022 alone a total of 194 journalists, including seven women were persecuted by both state agencies and non state political actors. At least seven journalists were killed by political gangsters and criminal mafia in revenge against the exposure of their misdeeds by these investigative reporters.
The dirty backyard of Modi’s India that is kept hidden behind his pompous claims in Washington
Despite all the grandiloquent claim of India under Modi becoming `Vishva Guru’ in the global arena, let us face the brutal reality within India. Wide-spread unemployment, rising food prices, growing number of suicides by starving farmers, increase in communal strife and casteist atrocities as evident from lynching of Muslims and Dalits – mar the social landscape.
The political scenario is marked by alarmingly acrimonious assaults – both verbal and physical – by the ruling BJP politicians and activists against Opposition parties. That apart, the BJP’s open display of money power by buying Opposition MLAs (who devoid of any ideological commitment are ready to switch over to the highest bidder) in order to topple state governments, is a sad commentary on the present nature of India’s parliamentary democracy, which is fast degenerating into an electoral autocracy.
Yet, Narendra Modi is hiding this dismal picture of his backyard, by putting on a highly expensive propagandist veil while abroad, adorned with the slogan: `Vishva Guru – World’s Largest Democracy,` and photo-ops of his bonhomie with world leaders. He lifts up this multi-coloured veil from his head and waves it to foreign dignitaries. His international charade reminds me of an old Bengali saying: `Matha-ye ghomta, ponda nangta’ (You’ve a veil on your head, but your rump is naked).
Sumanta Banerjee is a political commentator and writer, is the author of In The Wake of Naxalbari’ (1980 and 2008); The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta (1989) and ‘Memoirs of Roads: Calcutta from Colonial Urbanization to Global Modernization.’ (2016).