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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Modi’s Dangerous Politics of Fear is threat to Future of India? Interview with Christophe Jaffrelot

Najma Minhas, Managing Editor, GVS news, sits in with Christophe Jeffrelot to discuss  World's largest elections in India

Najma Minhas, Managing Editor, GVS news, sits in with Christophe Jeffrelot to discuss  World’s largest elections started April 19 and conclude June 4 in India. BJP is expected to win but rising fears about the increasing authoritarian direction the country is heading. Christophe Jeffrelot, Prof of Indian Politics at Kings College, explains role fear plays in BJP politics, how India is becoming an ethnic democracy similar to Israel and why BJP is in danger of because of Narendra Modi. His book Gujrat Under Modi: Laboratory of Today’s India explains how all the things happening currently at the national level could already have been seen in Gujrat during Narendra Modi time as chief minister.

Christophe Jaffrelot is a French political scientist and Indologist specialising in South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan. He has studied South Asia for 40 years. He is a professor of South Asian politics and history the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po (Paris), a professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at the King’s India Institute (London), and a Research Director at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). He has written numerous books on South Asia. His latest is Gujrat Under Modi: Laboratory of Today’s India (https://www.amazon.com/Gujarat-Under-…

Najma Minhas is Managing Editor, Global Village Space. She has worked with National Economic Research Associates (NERA) in New York, Lehman Brothers in London and Standard Chartered Bank in Pakistan. Before launching GVS, she worked as a consultant with World Bank, and USAID. Najma studied Economics at London School of Economics and International Relations at Columbia University, NewYork. she tweets at @MinhasNajma.

Najma Minhas 

I want to start off with you know, today is the world’s largest elections are happening in India on April the 19th. And they conclude on June the fourth, a lot of things have been happening coming up to these elections, including the arrest of the chief minister of Delhi, the Congress party’s bank accounts were frozen, tax accounts suddenly appeared after decades. And there might be even more by now talks about how India is going towards a dictatorship. I mean, what is it? What are your thoughts on the state of democracy in India?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, it’s not a liberal democracy anymore, for sure. But it’s not a dictatorship. The way China or Russia is a dictatorship. You know, we have entered not only in India, but in many other countries, including Turkey, or Israel, or ongoing into a new political system that I call authoritarian, electoral authoritarianism. You know, you have elections, all these countries have elections, of course, you may say there are elections, also in China and Russia. But these are not the same kind of elections. In places like India, Israel and Turkey, there are elections, because those strong men at the end, need to take the risk of elections, for getting the legitimacy for getting the mandate, the popular mandate, something that will allow him to say I am the people, and because I am the people, I prevail, and I prevail over institutions, including the judiciary, I can reform the judiciary and so on and so forth. So yes, India is not an autocracy. It’s not a liberal democracy, either, because the people who took the risk of elections do not follow the rule of law and democracy is not only the voting pattern, I mean, it’s not only elections, it’s also the rule of law and elections are not free and fair. or if you don’t have the rule of law that is still prevailing. We see that today we see that the election commission is not doing its job properly. And all the institutions are intimidating the opposition parties, as you said, political leaders are behind bars, not only Arvind Kejriwal but others also. And what they do, what the BGP do does is not only to do intimidate not only to use the stick, but also the carrot to push to make opposition leaders shift to the BGP itself. So, for the first time in the history of India, you are in the fray today, something like 25% of the BJP candidates who were in an opposition party last week or last month, they have been intimidated, and they have been attracted simultaneously to the to the ruling party. So that’s why I say India is certainly now an illiberal democracy, I would add, it’s also an ethnic democracy. Now, ethnic democracy is a word we used for Israel. It’s a formula in Israeli political scientists to semi smooth as introduced to describe a system where you have citizens who are less equal than others. And definitely Palestinians in Israel are not full-fledged citizens, while civil similarly in India, today, minorities are not as equal as Hindus, de facto, but also, they urate because the laws making interreligious mortgages very difficult making conversion out of individual very difficult. I’ve been passed recently. And on the top of it that isn’t censorship Amendment Act in 2019 United made it impossible for non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, to become Indians the same way as non-Muslims. So, it’s an ethnic democracy and an illiberal democracy, not a liberal democracy anymore.

Najma Minhas 

So, does it really matter if India is moving towards an authoritarian type government? Because there was a recent survey by Pew, where 85% of Indians supported an authoritarian government. So why are we so worried if there is no authoritarian government? Well, if sorry, if I can just add to that, if that government is delivering for the people, and the people are happy with that form of government.

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, whether the government is delivering for the people remains to be seen, because you have inequalities of a new kind in the country. We have never had such a high rate of unemployment, especially for the youth and the system, forgiving food at a subsidized price that had been introduced during the Coven pandemic as being continued because 800 million people need this kind of support from the government for survival. So, you can’t say that mass poverty as diminished certainly. Now, the question you ask is slightly different, you may be starving, you may still support a government that gives you something that is immaterial in a way that is a sense of dignity, a sense of recognition. That is, it is very emotional. Narendra Modi is now the high priest of Hinduism. The protector of India against all the threats posed on the country is the one who has made India great again, if you want by organizing the G20 meeting, being well received very well received by Joe Biden. So, you certainly do not vote in a country like India, only because of social economic considerations and emotional issues fear, anger, dignity, play a big role, and sometimes also security you prefer security to liberty. It’s not only in India, by the way. So, the tradeoff also explains that this trade off also explained that so many middle classes people especially are not so keen on democracy anymore, if they think the strong man gives them security.

Najma Minhas 

Is that quite unusual for developing countries or middle-income countries as India now is described as not so?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, it’s not so, exceptional, you know, Erdogan has not delivered at all the economy is in doldrums in Turkey and he could get away with it. Interestingly, in Turkey, like in India or in India, like in Turkey, the strong man gets the support of the voters not is party at the local or state level, there is a disconnect, because these strong men appear as above accountability, they are not accountable there, they are above they are so exceptional characters, you know, you support them blindly. The body they represent, of course, is punished for what it does at the local level at the state level. So, in India, the disconnect between state elections and national elections is really fascinating because we saw that in 2019 in 2019, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan Chhattisgarh a just voted BJP out of power just six months before the federal elections and BJP because of muddy swept the poor, clean, clean sweep of all the seats. So, this disconnect is certainly a very interesting reconfirmation that we are in a different political system where what you do socially economically in terms of policies or limiters.

Najma Minhas 

In your book, you mentioned this term, which I found interesting Moditva more detail. Is that what you’re relating to what do you mean by that term?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Yeah, my deep work is not something I coined as a formula. It was there in the media in in Gujarat when he was Chief Minister. And it’s something very evocative because it puts together in Hindutva and Narendra Modi,  Hindutva is now 100 years, you know, the book  was published in 1923 as RSS the organization was started in 1925. And Modi is a pure product of RSS you know, in my book, I described how he joined as a child how he became a full time, garter of the party, first of the organization, RSS itself and then it was going to be to BJP and became an organizing secretary is a pure product of Indra. But it has given BJP something more something different. And that is first populism is a populist is someone who relates to the people in a very specific manner, the way populist does, as if he was the people. And he is, of course, he comes from a low caste background. So, it helps to play that, that game to play that role. Plus, in Gujarat, it could, of course, constantly attacked the establishment, and especially the Nehru Gandhi family. But more than that, he was also very good at using social media choosing all brands at relating directly to the voters. And that’s something he continues to do because immediately after he became prime minister, introduced This monthly program, man ki bat, and monkey bot is for Modi an opportunity every month to speak on radio, to the ear of the poor. The radio is clearly the media, the poor, prefers the country for the TV set, some of them, many of them.

Najma Minhas 

So, I mean, what comes out for me is that you’re suggesting that there’s a cult of personality that’s going on here, and that’s where the Moditva was coming in. And he’s the Hindu embodiment of that cult. So how is that different from having a cult around? I mean, his, you know, his supporters would say, Congress Party has this, you know, cult around the Gandhi family or Nehru?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Yeah. Well, you know, there are similarities, it was indirect, a lot of similarities. Indra Gandhi was also a populist, she was the first one to use the radio, by the way, and she was the first one to also toured the country. And, and that’s a word I’ve not used yet, but it’s very important, these inter mediate relationship with the voters, the citizens. Well, to these intermediate means what you do not need, you do not need a party, you do not need an organization. So, Mrs. Gandhi did that she really short circuited the party leaders of Congress. It is he does the same, he does the same. In fact, he is conversing for state elections to such an extent that the voters don’t know who will be the Chief Minister if BGP wins, because is the only confessor. So, there are many similarities with Mrs. Gandhi. And by the way, incidentally, both of them suffer from a deep sense of insecurity. They don’t have the kind of education; they don’t have the kind of upbringing which make you safe. So, for instance, to it, to interact with others to interact this journalist to give press conferences in the first place, is something they don’t do. Because they are too much afraid of question they did not address properly, by Nehru was very different. Nehru was definitely a different kind of animal. And first of all, a team player, someone who was in a position to consult and democratically put to vote decision. And when he lost this election, so to speak, this vote a boat to the majority, he did not want the map of India to be redesigned according to the linguistic criteria in the 50s. But he did it. So many examples of his Democratic inclinations. Yeah, in your eyes, Nehru was very different than and Modi is similarly very different. two examples of our autocratic and our I would say, authoritarian visa vie the federal states, the states, Narendra Modi has been when he decided the Demonetization and he withdrew 85% of the notes in circulation, it did not consult any Chief Minister, you will make a decision that this one, so, so solitarily, that’s even something the Reserve Bank of India was not fully part of. More recently, the lockdown was decided in six hours, without any consultation of the state governments again. So, the lack of coordination that it reflects is certainly another indication of a deep authoritarian personality.

Najma Minhas 

So, in your book that you just publish, you know, Gujrat under Modi – Lab of today’s India do you see indications of how Modi will take India towards a more I mean, so what I want to understand is we’re now saying that, let’s say India is moving towards and you call the electoral authoritarianism. Did you see indications of that in in Gujarat, the same thing happening? Or did it get worse in Gujarat? Or is it better in Gujarat? I mean, tell us a little bit about that.

Christophe Jaffrelot 

No, this is what I found so interesting. I think it’s unique in the history of India and maybe in the history of the world, that political system is constructed at the regional level. Gujarat is 60 million people large and then scaled up at quasi continental level and you can replicate recipes that have worked which have worked at the state level at the national level. I would say three pillars mostly of this system have been fully replicated. One is of course, polarization along ethnoreligious lines. That was something it started with the pogrom in 2002. And you can say that, after he took over in the lynching of Muslims, by vigilante groups, all that fit in the same kind of polarization strategy. The other very important technique that he used was the capture of institutions, the police in the first place the judiciary in subsequently. And that is something that has also worked at the national level very surprisingly, because we thought the judiciary, the Supreme Court of India, in particular, was much more resilient, but they could find ways and means for blackmailing the judges for also give them a post-retirement jobs, which explains some of the self-censorship. And more importantly, the Collegium continues to select the members of the Supreme Court, but the government does not appoint them, does not appoint those they don’t like so at the end of the day, they have the Supreme Court they want. And thirdly, you have a political economy. The Political Economy of Modi’s Gujarat was very much based on the supply side economy, a poor rich policy and crony capitalism, and crony capitalism is now flourishing in India. Some of the oligarchs experiencing a meteoric rise, benefiting from privatization from so many, I would say, privileges, when you have these three pillars experienced experimented in Gujarat and then nationalized you have the ingredient of a system that is definitely illiberal. Plus, of course, that we have mentioned that before his own persona, his own populist style. That’s something he tried in Gujarat first. That’s where he learned how to be the man of the people, the Hindu, Surat, the emperor of the into Earth, and then the Chowkidar  And then the because pollution or demand for development, all these were acquired by him in Gujarat, and then transferred to the national scene.

Najma Minhas 

So you’ve talked about how security leads into this, this need and desire for security is leading into what Modi is representing to Indians. And that’s why they may vote him in again. And he’s expected obviously, to win. So how does Hindutva fit into that security need as well, you can do that while also being driven by the security needs?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Definitely. And that’s something we absolutely need to factor in. Now. This is a very important valuable the impact of Jihadist attacks on India. By the late 1990s, you have Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish Muhammad, so many organizations, first of all, infiltrating Jammu and Kashmir and then having other kinds of attacks as early as 1999, the Red Fort in Delhi 2001, the Parliament of India in Delhi, and of course, Bombay, Bombay has been attacked many times, including naturally in November 2008. Well, a decade of Jihadi attacks, as certainly created a sense of insecurity that could be exploited, exploited instrumentalized by the internationalist party.

Najma Minhas 

But in the last five years, I don’t think they saw any significant kind of tattle.

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, first of all, you can continue to claim that there is there are risks. Not for instance, in in 2016 2017 2018 they arrested , the government of India arrested 16 people known as the be mockery gang accused, because they were suspected of trying to kill assassinate the Prime Minister of India. Now you can you can cultivate this sense of insecurity by propagating this kind of fake news because of course, we now know that that was not true but By the way, this is exactly what happened in Gujarat itself. When you add fake encounters between 2003 and 2007, the Gujarat police killing something like half a dozen of so called Muslim terrorist, were supposed to plan of assassinating Narendra Modi. So you do not need real threat for cultivating a sense of insecurity.

Najma Minhas 

And how does the fact that the Congress Party during this period that you mentioned, especially from 2000, till more detail coverage 2014 There were large periods of Congress Party governments in that period? How do you think they played into the fact that they were felt that, you know, maybe they didn’t do enough for India and the role of Pakistan? How would you fit those together?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, certainly, Congress could be accused of not being sufficiently security oriented. But I think that’s a little bit unfair. And to cope with infiltrations of that kind is definitely something nobody could Resist easily. But they could, they could certainly appear as weak. And they’ve been probably accused, with some impact on the Indian public opinion of being too weak. But I would say that’s not the main reason why they were they became so unpopular. That was one of the reasons but in 2014, they were also accused of corruption. The unnecessary movement played a big role. And I think that’s the tag they could not easily get rid of. That was a little bit of propaganda again, but that was probably affecting them more than anything else.

Najma Minhas 

So one thing that I have often thought about is to what extent Pakistan is directly responsible for the rise of Hindutva. In terms of its security policies?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Yeah, well, as I said, the Islamist attacks have played a role have made some impact on the psyche of the Hindu majority. But that has been instrumentalize that has been exploited by the BGP propaganda. And especially in Gujarat, Narendra Modi, could not fight any election without designating Pakistan as its main enemy. In 2007, for instance, he made a complaint that was directed against Musharraf, which was a little bit out of proportion. So you have certainly an element of truth, you have certainly a real threat. But you can explore that magnify that, and creates great fear. You know, this is fear politics. This is politics of fear, politics of fear, and politics of anger, because people were fearful or angry, they are not happy of being fearful, especially when they’re supposed to be safe in their own country. And they played a lot on that, you know, the idea of the angry young man the angry into young man that was one of the stickers that publicized angry anima was a reflection of this deep feeling that is easily used in politics, in terms of emotion.

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Najma Minhas 

So a lot of it’s just propaganda and increasing the concept of threat of bear so that Modi can win. So why are we not seeing this rise of Hindutva in the South that because I mean, if this fear of security exists within the country, why specifically in the northern part of India?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

There are many reasons first of all, the, the threat from Pakistan and in the north, is much more than in south. The same way. The Kashmir issue is much more palpable in Lahore than encouraging you know, it’s a geographical consideration. Secondly, the level of education is so different in the South. You can’t fool educated people the same way you can’t instrumentalize emotions the same way they are much more interested in social economic issues. And that makes a big difference. And thirdly, the level of integration, osmosis, between Hindus and minorities Christians as well as Muslims is much higher. The northern Indian party that is BJP keeps insisting on adding Hindi as the language of the country. And of course, Dravidian states will resist that. There is that there is also the fact that they are paying for the poor of the of the north, the south today pays for the North to a great extent. And that’s another reason why they are resentful.

Najma Minhas 

It’s interesting, I read a statistic that even Muslims, the number of Muslims, who can speak, Urdu has gone dramatically down, I think 7 or 8 percent or something like that. I read somewhere. So if we’re this is going to play on this fear of politics or politics of fear. How do the Muslims in that country fit in then? I mean, because they’re always going to be the other? The do they have a future under Modi? I mean, what is their future looking like? Is it going to get any better? If Modi is replaced by Congress? I mean, what are your thoughts?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, the worst case scenario is and that’s why I make the comparison with Israel a lot. The worst case scenario is the transformation of Muslims as second class citizens ghettoized, excluded from mixed neighborhoods, not socially economically able to reach the professions they would deserve. Also, the decline in terms of education as started in places like Uttar Pradesh, where we have seen for the first time, the percentage of precast Muslims going to the university declining, so that’s kind of spear rolling, kind of effect. And in the worst case scenario also says, well, it doesn’t matter who rules. It may be congress again. But it would hardly make any difference. Because it’s deeply ingrained in society is not only a political issue, it’s also a societal issue. And therefore, you can’t you can’t earn do the laws I have mentioned making conversion almost impossible, making inter religious marriages almost impossible, making the purchasing of a flat in a mixed neighborhood almost impossible. You have laws now in some states, when you have to ask for the permission of the district collector, before selling your flat or your house to someone who is not from your community. And of course, when a Hindu wants to sell something to a Muslim in a mixed neighborhood, that is refused. So ghettoization is also the end result of this. So that your worst case scenario, definitely the possibilities of returning to a more humane, more egalitarian and more secure apology, I think is not ruled out. The point of no return has not been reached. But for how long this is this is of course, a big question because after this election, if BJP wins, we’ll see more laws. We’ll see more transformations in the same direction. A uniform Civil Code possibly will be the next step something like that.

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Najma Minhas 

Do you see BJP having a future without Modi because you said very much of this cult of personality going on?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

Well, again, the comparison was Indira Gandhi is very educative because Indira Ghandi centralized, the Congress to such an extent that there she really weakened the party that his father’s and others have built. And Congress could never really recover from that, while BGP similarly today is becoming a one man show when it used to be a very collegial body, in fact, RSS itself as a culture of collegiality. And incidentally, people don’t even remember the name of the chiefs of RSS because chiefs do not matter in this organization. While they do in Modi’s BJP in what is India, the leader is everything. So when the leader goes, what remains of the organization? And this is definitely a very good question. That is something we can also examine comparatively, because when a populist and national populist leave the scene, it’s always very difficult for the successor to take up the mantle. Maduro could not replace Chavez, nobody could could well, the list is very long of all the popular skaters who could not be replaced really. And then the big question is, will, will there Amit Shah and, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, will the RSS seize this opportunity to stage a comeback? They’ve been sidelined to a large extent by Modi can then now can they if you leave the scene, become the arbiter of being the referee again, but that you see, we can only speculate these questions are very difficult to anticipate.

Najma Minhas 

Okay, my last thought. What are the implications of all this happening in India for the rest of the world? Do we need to be worried or we’re just needlessly thinking about this?

Christophe Jaffrelot 

No, you know, when a big country like India stops being a democracy, it’s a loss for everyone. First of all, it’s a loss for South Asia. It’s a big loss for the region. Now, at least, the liberals of South Asia at one reference point next door that they could constantly look at with all hope of emulating one day, this wonderful political trajectory that had resisted for 70 years. All kinds of extreme influence. Yeah. Indian democracy is a common good for the humanity like democracy everywhere. That’s, that’s a formula Raul Gandhi’s using? And I think he’s right. So, it’s a loss, definitely a loss. And also, there is one point that political scientists do. And I think rightly so. Democracies do not fight was non democracies do much more easily. So well, very few democracies have been at war. Very few democracies have been at war compared to non-democratic countries. The correlation between the rise of authoritarianism and the rise of armed conflict is very well documented. Of course, there. There. It’s not an absolute correlation. But there is a probability the probability of getting of gain of becoming more aggressive when you become less democratic, is greater. Yeah.

Najma Minhas  Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today.