“India Should be Close to China, Not the US”

A clamour is up to name Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate at India’s general election next year. His backers say he should be judged for bringing development to his state. His opponents hold him responsible for the killing of Muslims in 2002 by Hindu sectarian and supremacist mobs. Just what do you think makes Modi a front-ranker?

A startling absence of talent in mainstream politics. Modi, the argument goes from the Right may be a killer, but he’s a developmental killer. So if a few thousand Muslim lives have to be sacrificed to build a solid electoral base, “modernise” Gujarat, and by extension, India, then why not? At least, they say, he’s not hypocritical. The Right see him as a potential unifier for their project, which is not as some on the Left argue, to create a fascist state in India, but to establish a long-term hegemony for the Right: an authoritarian ethno-religious populism on the basis of which Indian capitalism can be strengthened and its opponents weakened for at least a decade or two. The Congress, both in Gujarat and elsewhere, is incapable of taking him on and so accepts to fight on the battleground that the BJP has demarcated. A fatal weakness which no dynasty can transcend. How can the Nehru-Gandhis compete with the real epics of Hinduism?

A substantial section of India’s middle class, especially the educated English-speaking people, appears to solidly back Modi for prime minister. What is their motivation? 10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Because for them (and for anyone else) he is ineffective, weak and inefficient. An old financial bureaucrat out of his depth in the swamp of Indian politics, he rules courtesy of Sonia Gandhi. He is a pathetic figure and they can’t cover this up any longer. Will Rahul Gandhi be any better? I doubt it, though he will project a pseudo-dynamism that will mean nothing in real terms and will not be able to confront the BJP.

In the last two years India has seen unprecedented focus from activists and common citizens on government corruption. Nationwide protests have been covered unendingly on television. A whole new political party has been launched by anti-graft activists. Where do you locate that public movement in today’s India? Do you fancy the electoral chances for this new political party? line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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Nowhere. For India the links with the United States/Israel are the centrepiece of its foreign policy.

Pakistan cites India’s presence in Afghanistan as an impediment to improving India-Pakistan relations. What role do you see for India in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the US-led international military forces from that country next year? line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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The military in both countries needs an enemy to justify such obscenely high levels of military spending. Kashmir remains a barrier to a lasting peace, though I have long argued that a regional settlement of some sort is required for an agreement on Kashmir and the Tamil question in Sri Lanka. There are no political leaders in either country visionary enough to do a deal, but here India as the largest entity in the region is much more responsible. Indian national-egoism is now so pronounced that it barely thinks of its smaller neighbours. It sees itself as the equivalent of the US in Asia, which is a fantasy (I hope), though it is the largest US [partner] in the continent. Pakistan is a frontline [US] ally of convenience, its Army bought for a few billion dollars. India is considered a strategic ally.

India‘s relation with China appears to be the elephant in the room insofar as public debate in India is concerned. What are the key issues that India has with China, and how do you see them progressing now that a new leadership is in place in China? font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Ajit Sahi
writes for the New Delhi-based paper Tehelka, where this interview originally appeared. 

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