by Jon P. Dorschner
American press coverage of Indian issues has generally praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The principal emphasis has been on Modi’s repeated promises to turn India into an economic powerhouse through deregulation, private investment and other policies associated with “economic reform.” While much has been written in American media about poverty reduction in India, the building of new infrastructure, and the purported emergence of a powerful and growing middle class, the dark side of Indian economic development has been largely pushed under the rug.
Could American coverage of India be about to shift?
Developments are not going Modi’s way when it comes to international perception of his government and its policies. International Media has recently featured repeated and violent abuse of religious minorities by Hindu fanatics belonging to the BJP rather than Modi’s expansive economic promises.
Another development will also negatively impact public perception of the BJP government. India is poised to become the world’s largest carbon polluter, supplanting China, which is currently the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases. The USA once occupied this spot, but has started to reduce its carbon output as the result of concerted policies to combat climate change, encourage energy conservation, and replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources.
China’s program will likely be the most ambitious carbon reduction program seen in the world to date. Even if it does not attain its ambitious targets (which is quite likely), it will still result in a large reduction in Chinese carbon emissions.
China and India are currently the world’s top carbon emitters because they are the world’s largest consumers of coal. The USA and China are moving forcefully to reduce carbon emissions. Both countries are well aware that to reduce their carbon footprint they must phase out coal (the most carbon intensive fossil fuel).
This leaves India as the only country purposefully pursuing policies that increase its carbon emissions. India has made coal production and consumption the centerpiece of its energy infrastructure and has enacted policies to double its coal production over the next five years to 1 billion tons annually. As a result, India’s cities are among the most polluted in the world and the negative impact on public health has been enormous.
India’s BJP government has made the conscious decision to become the world’s largest carbon polluter and largest contributor to climate change, even though India will be one of the countries most damaged by it.
Once this becomes apparent to the world at large, India’s international reputation will plummet, and it will face growing international pressure to participate fully in international programs to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions.
The BJP government argues that increasing coal production and consumption is the only way to bring electricity to the 300 million Indians who do not have it, and (which is actually far more important to the BJP) provide a reliable source of power to fuel Indian industrial development.
Of course coal is NOT the only source of power for India. The BJP is deliberately lying when it makes this assertion. China, like India, has few fossil fuel resources of its own and therefore for a long time relied on coal as its principal energy source. China has come to the rational conclusion that coal is too polluting and too harmful. The Chinese population has made it clear that it will not endure further pollution of the Chinese environment with its enormous consequences for public health. The Chinese government concluded that it must respond to the growing wave of public outrage and chose to kill two birds with one stone by fully participating in worldwide efforts to combat climate change while cleaning up its environment.
China concluded it could make the transition from fossil fuel to renewables by fully funding a crash program with clear targets. India is fully capable of taking the same measures.
How long will it be before growing revulsion against wholesale air pollution and the resulting decline in public health starts to put serious pressure on the BJP government? How long will it be before the Indian opposition takes advantage of this political opportunity, promises to clean up the Indian environment and join the worldwide replacement of coal with renewables?
The common man in India may not be fully conversant with the ongoing climate change debate and international efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but he is fully aware of the pollution of his environment and its impact on his health.
The BJP cannot promise rapid economic development while ignoring its impact on the population. If it does, this will touch off a growing wave of public outrage. India’s opposition parties are politically savvy. They are waiting for an opening and will take full advantage of public outrage to drive the BJP from power.
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.