Modi's formula for success
The western state of Gujarat is called the flagship of Indian reforms. Foreign businessmen are brought to the region to demonstrate the success of the reforms. The headquarters of leading Indian companies and enterprises are located there. Gujarat is one of the financial centers of the country. India's second largest stock exchange operates in the region's largest city, Ahmedabad. The state leads in terms of economic growth. For several years now, this figure has not fallen below the mark of 10% per year. Gujarat is also among the first in terms of investment. The Adani Group is based there, a conglomerate of companies that operates seaports, airports, power plants, data centers and more. At the head of all this business is Gautam Adani, one of the richest men in the world.
Gujarat is also the birthplace of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was born in the family of a tea merchant in the city of Vadnagar. He graduated from high school there, and later received a diploma in political science from Gujarat University. Already at an early age, Modi became interested in politics and joined the radical nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Union of Voluntary Servants of the Motherland). The group's activists renounce family life for the sake of "serving India".
"Servants" at one time were involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, who, in their opinion, was too soft on Muslims. During the "state of emergency" of 1975–1977 RSS was banned. Then, fearing to lose power, Indira Gandhi actually carried out a coup d'état. She outlawed all her opponents, including radical nationalists. Many oppositionists were thrown into prison. "Servants" joined the mass protests. Narendra Modi was an active participant in anti-government rallies and marches. As a result, the protests were suppressed, but dissatisfaction with Gandhi's policies remained. However, the Prime Minister did not think so. She believed that the emergency had stabilized the country and decided to hold elections. Gandhi was sure of success. She released political prisoners from prisons and restored the freedom of the press. As a result, the prime minister lost miserably. Power passed to the opposition.
In the mid-1980s, Modi joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, BJP). The main ideology of this political organization is Hindutva, that is, Hindu nationalism. A decade later, Modi led the nationalist election campaign in the state of Gujarat, in 2001 he was elected from the BJP as the chief minister of the region.
In India, by that time, economic reforms had been carried out for more than a decade under the leadership of the then ruling Indian National Congress (INC). This oldest political party led India to independence in 1947. But its new leaders did not have the authority that Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rau had in their time. The reforms were generally successful - privatization took place in the country, foreign trade was liberalized, obstacles for small and medium-sized businesses were removed. The country was among the world leaders in terms of economic growth. But bureaucracy, nepotism and corruption , as well as the continuing abject poverty of a huge part of the population, have discredited the old political elite.
But bureaucracy, nepotism and corruption have discredited the old political elite
Narendra Modi was different from the then INC leaders. He did not belong to any of the political clans. Against the backdrop of the "National Congress", the reins of which were in the hands of the Gandhi family, this was a definite plus. As head of Gujarat, Modi proved to be a dynamic and practical leader.
In 2002, there were sectarian clashes in Gujarat. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the pogroms. The direct involvement of the chief minister in the riots could not be established, but critics still blame Modi for not stopping the conflict. In turn, the US and the EU blamed Modi for creating an atmosphere of impunity that led to large-scale pogroms, and also imposed sanctions against him, which were lifted only when Modi became Prime Minister of India.
The pogroms of 2002 did not affect the popularity of the politician in any way, rather, on the contrary , they increased his rating: more than 100 million Muslims live in India, and among the Hindu majority, the attitude towards Islam is ambiguous. Modi himself proudly claims to be a " Hindu nationalist ".
Anti-Muslim rhetoric, coupled with the promise of economic freedoms, became a formula for success for the BJP, and in 2014 the party, led by the chief minister of Gujarat, won a landslide victory in the general election. The nationalists won a majority in the country's parliament and formed a one-party government. The new premier was expected to make quick and radical reforms that would turn India into a great world power.
Reforms of dubious effectiveness
As prime minister, Modi began pushing for important changes. He first announced the Clean India program. In five years, it was supposed to clean the streets of the country. Critics of the prime minister note that the cities and villages of India have not become cleaner, but more public toilets have appeared.
In 2016, the prime minister carried out "demonetization" - the abolition of the most common banknotes in denominations of 500 and 1000 rupees. According to the plan of the authorities, the reform was supposed to strike at corrupt officials who took bribes in cash and counterfeiters, as well as encourage the population to use bank cards. This led to huge queues at banks and the ruin of small traders, because they did not have cash. As a result, corruption did not decrease, and distrust in the national currency grew.
In 2017, Modi launched another reform: he introduced a single tax on goods and services. The purpose of the reforms was to create a unified tax legislation, which previously each state had its own. However, due to poor preparation, the fiscal "special operation" led to the collapse of the tax system and caused protests throughout the country.
Little war and second term
The foreign policy of Narendra Modi is especially rigid. In 2016, authorities reported that the Indian military had infiltrated the Separation Line and attacked terrorist camps in the Islamabad-controlled part of disputed Kashmir. In 2017, at the junction of the borders of India, China and Bhutan, there was a confrontation between Indian troops and Chinese. The military stood and dispersed in different directions, but India declared itself the winner.
In early 2019, in the run-up to the general election, Modi staged his "small victorious war". On February 14, a suicide bomber attacked an Indian police convoy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, several dozen people died. In response, the prime minister ordered an air attack on a militant camp in Pakistan. The next day, Pakistani pilots attempted to attack Indian military installations. There was an air battle, an Indian plane was shot down. Who actually won there is unknown, but India again attributed the victory to itself. The country was gripped by an unprecedented patriotic upsurge. On this wave, the BJP easily won parliament, and Modi remained prime minister for a second term.
Media censorship and arrests
Both independent media and human rights organizations were declared enemies of the country, which criticized the government for human rights violations, in particular for the oppression of religious minorities. Under far-fetched pretexts, a number of publications were closed, journalists and human rights activists were imprisoned and even killed , NGOs were deprived of funding, their accounts were closed. Authorities explained that journalists and human rights activists allegedly act in the interests of the clans that plundered the country, as well as the Muslim minority, which during the reign of the INC had too many privileges and oppressed the indigenous population.
In the summer of 2022, journalist Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of India's well-known fact-checking site Alt News, was arrested . The pretext for this was his 2018 tweets allegedly insulting believers. However, his detention came days after Zubair posted on his website a video of a speech by ruling BJP speaker Nupur Sharma. At a televised debate, she inadvertently hinted that Mohammed was a pedophile due to the age difference with his younger wife. Human rights activists consider the arrest of Zubair as revenge for this publication.
According to the Financial Times, today freedom of speech in India is under threat. The publication notes that journalists are increasingly trying to avoid sensitive topics, since such publications can cost freedom, and even life. And there are almost no independent media left in India. The last major media outlet to offer an alternative view, NDTV, was recently acquired by oligarch Gautam Adani, who is close to Narendra Modi. As a result, many leading journalists left the company.
Journalists are increasingly trying to avoid sensitive topics, since such publications can cost freedom, and even life.
In the Reporters Without Borders press freedom rankings, India dropped 8 places over the year to rank 150 out of 180 countries in 2022. In 2021, Freedom House downgraded India to the status of "partially free", while a year earlier it was considered a free country. And experts from the influential Swedish institute V-dem in the same 2021 came to the conclusion that India has ceased to be a democracy and now it should be called an “electoral autocracy”.
Strong economy, weak democracy
In 2022, India ranked fifth in the world in terms of GDP, overtaking the UK. In 2023, India became the world leader in terms of population. Almost 1.5 billion people already live there. Economic growth, which collapsed in the pandemic, has again accelerated to 7% per year, and the authorities are determined to do everything to get it to 10% (to be fair, it was the same before Modi). India is one of the leading countries in the development of the IT industry. Investment in the economy is growing.
The difficult international situation plays into Modi's hands. The contradictions between the US and China are forcing American business to pay more and more attention to India. Chinese entrepreneurs are also opening production facilities on the territory of their neighbor. Despite Washington's negative reaction, India has significantly increased its purchases of Russian oil. The government of Narendra Modi does not hide the desire to make the country the main production site in the world. So far it hasn't worked out very well. It is not possible to reach the level of industrial production of 25% of GDP, however, the “Work in India!” campaign, which was launched in the country in 2014 after the BJP’s first victory in the general elections, is bearing fruit: investment in the country is coming, workers there are more places.
The government of Narendra Modi does not hide the desire to make the country the main production site of the world
The richest Indian entrepreneur Gautam Adani promises that by 2030 India will become one of the most powerful economic powers. Analysts say that the likelihood of this is high. However, will it by that time be the “largest world democracy”, as it has been called for the last 70 years?
Modi's critics believe that his rule threatens the core values of Indian society: pluralism of opinion and the secular nature of the state. Intolerance towards other religions, the suppression of freedom of speech, the search for external and internal enemies can harm the reforms, scare off investors and entrepreneurs. And then you will have to forget about becoming a great power and the leader of the "global south".
Criticism of Modi and purge of opposition
The only political force capable of competing with the nationalists is still the Indian National Congress. At the same time, the leader of the "Congress" Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison by the court for commenting on the name of the Prime Minister of India. Speaking at a political rally of his supporters in Gujarat in 2019, Gandhi said: “Why do all these thieves have the last name Modi? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi." Now the policy was released on bail for a period of 30 days. Representatives of the "Indian National Congress" have already announced that they will organize protests.
The Indian National Congress, once the most powerful party in the country, is in deep crisis. The INC has only 10% of the seats in the lower house of the Indian parliament and controls three of the 28 states, while the ruling Bharatiya Janata has more than half of the seats in parliament and control of 16 states. However, Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi and great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, is determined to restore the INC to its former glory. The next parliamentary elections in India will be held in 2024. Gandhi and his associates will have to do a lot of work to try to win over the sympathy of the population to their side.
According to The Economist, Gandhi has an opportunity to win over voters. According to public opinion polls, younger members of the middle class are beginning to tire of the chauvinistic rhetoric of the ruling elite. Apparently, Gandhi Jr. decided to fight for this voter. Recently, he went on a campaign yatra - a pilgrimage through the Indian states, as Mahatma Gandhi did in his time, to convey his philosophy to the Indians. Hundreds of thousands of people come to listen to the leader of the INC. Although very slowly, his ratings are growing. Gandhi does not promise to build an "India for the Indians", he calls for the creation of an open and democratic country that will be reckoned with throughout the world.
The "Indian National Congress" is sure that Modi is trying to remove competitors. But the INC is the main opposition party, and it is unlikely that it will be possible to get rid of it so easily. Nevertheless, its possible success in the 2024 vote depends on whether the representatives of the "Congress" manage to unite all the opposition forces in the country and whether there are candidates in the INC who, if Gandhi is removed from participation in the elections, are ready to replace him.