The Indian election and the lessons the West can take from Narendra Modi’s popularity

In anticipation of Narendra Modi’s election as India’s next prime minister, Jason Bruke writes: Modi has many critics and when the final results are released on Friday we will probably learn that, even in the event of victory, under a third of voters in India will have actually voted for him. Though he has been cleared by judicial inquiries of having allowed, or even encouraged, sectarian violence in 2002 in the state he runs, suspicions of deep-rooted prejudice remain. Others fear authoritarianism. Concerns about his accession to high office may prove unfounded, but are legitimate.

His supporters, however, see someone else. For if this new urban-rural lower middle-class – also, incidentally, the key constituency for political Islamists and, historically, European revolutionary organisations of every type – are still optimistic, they are also very frustrated. In Modi, they see a strong leader with a proven record of administration who will bring jobs and security, internal and external. They see someone who will restore “Indian pride”, a little battered in recent years. And above all, they see someone like them. It is their concerns, they believe, he articulates. “I understand you because I am from among you,” Modi told a rally in Gujarat, with some justification.

If much of Modi’s support is based in the hope that he can bring order to the chaos of modern India, some is also rooted in an inchoate resentment directed primarily at the local political elite. Unfortunately, this simmering anger results in outbursts that are often poorly aimed, with the west becoming collateral damage.

This is in part our fault. Our interaction with countries like India is complex. But our policymakers and official representatives are guilty of extraordinarily narrow vision which has helped open up space for people like Modi across much of a continent. This aids the sense among huge numbers of people that globalisation is a conversation from which, metaphorically and practically, they are excluded. That conversation takes place in English and it is worth noting that Modi will be the first leader of such prominence and power in India who, like the vast majority of his compatriots, is uncomfortable in what has become the world’s language. [Continue reading…]

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