The West and Modi

Date: 24/04/2014

The West and Modi
Minhaz Merchant

Times of India Blog (09 April 2014)

The attitude of the West towards Narendra Modi reflects a deep political dilemma. Used to dealing with pliable dictators in the Middle-East and weak, corrupt governments in the Indian subcontinent,

the West for the first time faces the prospect of a democratically elected leader – Modi – who is neither pliable nor corrupt.

Western media often hews slavishly (but with dexterous sophistry) to official Western foreign policy.

That policy is often self-interested, disruptive and intrusive.

It has propped up brutal Arab dictators,bankrolled a terrorist state like Pakistan and destablised countries ranging from Syria to Ukraine.

The US and its allies in Europe were delighted to work for ten years with a government like the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

A prime minister without real power like Manmohan Singh and a de facto leader like Sonia Gandhi with limited accountability but absolute power created a fertile geopolitical arena for Washington.

The liberal power elite in Delhi was similarly co-opted.

The Americans know how easily journalists, academics, think-tankers and NGOs fall for sponsored foreign seminars, gifts, donations and other rewards.

In return the Indian liberal, intellectual elite – much of it neither really liberal nor really intellectual – was compromised.

Modi provokes a hostile reaction in both these constituencies –Western governments and media on the one hand and their co-opted Indian quasi-elite on the other.

The vitriolic, at times vicious, attacks on Modi in the Western media are a product of the real fear that a Modi government will upend the fraudulent elite power structure in Delhi with geopolitical consequences well beyond India’s borders.

Modi will be tough on Pakistan, pragmatic with China and cooperative with Japan. He will deal with the West on India’s – not the West’s – terms.

Grandees like Amartya Sen and his fellow-travellers in India and the West blanch at the very thought.

Their idea of India is not most Indians’ idea of India. It is a lesson they may learn the hard way on

May 16.

* * *

As I wrote in my book, The New Clash of Civilizations: How the Contest Between America, China, India and Islam Will Shape Our Century ,America’s history provides many clues to its current dilemma over

dealing with India’s likely new political leadership.

The United States was founded by working-class families escaping religious persecution from newly-Protestant England 425 years ago.

These English settlers (Britain as a nation did not yet exist) massacred indigenous Indians, appropriated their land and shipped in slave labour from Africa to work the cotton fields.

The US won independence in 1776 and as it grew more powerful, it invaded Mexico and by 1848 had annexed what are today California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.

By the 1890s, it had colonized the Philippines and built a silent empire arching from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

After the Second World War it invaded Korea, Vietnam and Grenada, and propped up dictators and puppet-monarchs in Latin America and the Middle-East (including the early Saddam Hussein and the sybaritic Shah of Iran).

It made a pact with the sheikhs of the post-Ottoman Middle-East to deny Arab citizens voting rights in return for US military protection, ostensibly against Israel but in reality against

popular democratic movements in their own countries.

In 1932, the US and Britain established Saudi Arabia—custodian of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina and a part of the Ottoman Empire since 1818—as an independent Islamic kingdom under the Wahhabi Al Saud dynasty.

Over the next thirty years, a pro-West military dictator or sheikh was installed in virtually every Arab country. Caught in a pincer between Anglo-Saxon politicians and Arab sheikhs, the Arab citizen had no

democracy, few freedoms but, thanks to oil, reasonable prosperity.

The US continues to follow a foreign policy of ruthless self-interest in Asia to secure its geopolitical goals.

But America is a declining power.

By 2045, it will not only be relegated to the status of the world’s third largest economy (after China and India), but it will also, for the first time in its history, become a non-white-majority country. African-Americans, Latinos and Asians comprise nearly 30 per cent of America’s population today. By 2045, that figure will rise to 51 per cent.

The implications of this demographic shift will resonate across social, ethnic, economic and cultural faultlines.

As India’s own demographic dividend kicks in, the new government’s bargaining power with a declining US will grow—if South Block gets its strategy right.

That strategy involves deepening India’s economic and diplomatic engagement with East Asia, Africa and Latin America, influencing the course of the post-US Af-Pak world and creating a secure environment

in the Indian Ocean to the south and the central Asiatic republics to the north.

Can a putative Modi government achieve these objectives?

The West and sections of its media would appear to hope not.

Strong Indian leadership is anathema to its historical agenda which favours a geopolitically accommodative status quo. That status quo is about to be demolished by an outsider. Modi will not give Western governments – or its media – the deference they have long taken for granted in the incestuous power warrens of Lutyens’ Delhi.