The Modi wave has swept across India and is still ongoing. In the 2014 Parliamentary elections Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 282 seats, gaining an absolute majority in parliament, while the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) spearheaded by the Congress Party suffered a devastating defeat, losing 162 seats. The Congress Party was reduced to only 44 seats.
The BJP wants to ride this wave to gain absolute majorities in all Indian states and intends to create a “Congress free India.” So far, it has worked. The BJP won absolute majorities in legislative elections in Haryana and Maharashtra on October 15, and intends to engineer similar outcomes in current legislative elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJP achieved such spectacular results by highlighting Narendra Modi as its standard bearer and the putative savior of India. Modi soft-pedaled the party’s former Hindutva (Hindu nationalist agenda) while presenting the BJP as the party of economic reform. Modi ran against the lackluster economic performance of the UPA government, and India’s pervasive economic problems, including a high inflation rate.
Modi painted himself as the ultimate free market capitalist bent on freeing India from red tape, regulation, big government, and powerful labor unions, and open its economy to free trade, foreign investment and trade. In power for only six months, the BJP has not put much of its economic reform program in place. While the party takes credit for the falling inflation rate, objective economists confirm that this is due primarily to a worldwide fall in commodity prices rather than specific BJP policies.
Although the promised economic revival has yet to materialize, Narendra Modi has met with world leaders to encourage foreign investment in India and improved trade ties. As part of this agenda, Modi has courted the United States of America. In the United States to address the UN General Assembly from September 26-30, Modi addressed a gathering of expatriate Indians and Indian-Americans in Madison Square Garden on September 28, and met with President Obama on September 29.
Modi’s economic reform agenda resonates well with the American leadership, which has long wanted to see India cut red tape, further liberalize its economy, open its markets to American products and open the country to American investment. The American power elite find Narendra Modi and his economic liberalization rhetoric very attractive.
Modi capped off his courtship of the United States with an invitation for Barack Obama to attend India’s Republic Day parade on January 26 as the Guest of Honor. This is the first time in the history of India that an American head of state has been extended this honor. The President has accepted Modi’s invitation.
The U.S. should be cautious regarding these overtures, as the BJP is not in sync with Western liberal ideals.
The BJP is jingoistic. It espouses an extreme form of Indian nationalism. It calls for the destruction of Pakistan and Bangladesh and their absorption into greater India. The BJP wants India to forcefully take all of Kashmir and abnegate all agreements providing special status to Kashmir as a Muslim majority state.
The BJP is anti science. It wants to introduce new Indian school textbooks that describe India is a Hindu state that experienced a golden age under Hindu rule. Prominent BJP leaders claim that Hindus invented nuclear weapons, plastic surgery, air travel and many other wonders during their ancient past. They present this as evidence of the inherent superiority of Hindu civilization. BJP leaders want to make the study of Sanskrit compulsory for all Indian.
The BJP is anti-environment. The BJP will not join worldwide efforts to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions. It has rejected calls for India to join the USA/China Agreement on climate change signed by both countries on November 12. Instead, the BJP intends to continue its economic development program regardless of the consequences to the world environment. The BJP has little interest in environmental initiatives and does not pursue energy conservation or encourage renewable energy.
The BJP government of Narendra Modi is trying to manipulate the United States for its own ends and has launched a charm offensive to woo American elites. An accomplished politician and a master manipulator, Modi is currently demonstrating his skills on the Indian public. So far, it is working. Many Indians are entranced and enthusiastically go to the polls to vote for the BJP. He is trying these same skills on the American leadership.
Modi acknowledges that the United States remains for the time being the world’s sole superpower and will remain a major player in the world for some time to come. The BJP it determined to enlist US support to gain international credibility.
The BJP increasingly represents Indian elites who share a similar value system with their American counterparts, especially those within the Republican Party. Both groups want to give business a free hand and shrink the role of government in the economy. Both groups believe economic liberalization will unleash pent up economic power, and encourage high growth that will result in prosperity and poverty reduction.
However, this overlap in values should not be over-emphasized. American and Indian elites share a similar economic agenda and the BJP and the Republican Party share a similar political agenda, but the overlap between these groups is limited. The value system underlying BJP/RSS ideology is inherently at odds with the liberal value system of the West. To retain its identity as a secular democracy fully committed to human rights, the U.S. must not become too close to India’s BJP government. Economic interests alone should not determine our alliances.
The United States should maintain cordial relationships with India and continue its cooperation with India in economic affairs, culture, education, and many other areas. This does not compel the United States to support actively a government inherently opposed to U.S. values.
We should give events in India time to settle and refrain from moving too quickly to align ourselves with the Modi government.
American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.