Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]

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Lured by marriage promises, climate victims fall into trafficking trap

Reuters reports: When the handsome young man came courting her, Sunetra could not believe her luck.

Born into a desperately poor family in India’s southern Sundarbans region – one of the parts of the world hardest hit by climate change – the lanky 18-year-old had few prospects. A flood the previous year had destroyed her home and left her family struggling financially.

A new start was what she needed, and her out-of-town suitor’s offer of marriage seemed ideal. He was content to wed without her family providing a dowry, and the pair quickly eloped.

But soon after their marriage, on a visit to Hyderabad, her new husband locked her in an apartment, in preparation for handing her to sex traffickers from Dubai. It quickly became apparent that the marriage had been a ruse.

“I had lost my face having ran away from my family, trusting this man,” she said, weeping at the betrayal of her “husband,” who she had believed was an insurance agent in Baruipur, a town about 30 km from Kolkata.

Sunetra is just one of more than 5,000 people who went missing in 2012 from the state of West Bengal, where the Sundarbans sits on a low, shifting delta where South Asia’s great rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, crime records show.

The forested islands of the Sundarbans are increasingly considered a trafficking hotspot as climate change impacts – such as worsening cyclones, sea level rise and loss of land to erosion and saltwater – mean worsening poverty and living conditions, and more desperation. [Continue reading…]

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The East India Company: The original corporate raiders

William Dalrymple writes: One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.

There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.

Such is the dazzle of these treasures that, as a visitor last summer, I nearly missed the huge framed canvas that explains how they came to be here. The picture hangs in the shadows at the top of a dark, oak-panelled staircase. It is not a masterpiece, but it does repay close study. An effete Indian prince, wearing cloth of gold, sits high on his throne under a silken canopy. On his left stand scimitar and spear carrying officers from his own army; to his right, a group of powdered and periwigged Georgian gentlemen. The prince is eagerly thrusting a scroll into the hands of a statesmanlike, slightly overweight Englishman in a red frock coat.

The painting shows a scene from August 1765, when the young Mughal emperor Shah Alam, exiled from Delhi and defeated by East India Company troops, was forced into what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation. The scroll is an order to dismiss his own Mughal revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and replace them with a set of English traders appointed by Robert Clive – the new governor of Bengal – and the directors of the EIC, who the document describes as “the high and mighty, the noblest of exalted nobles, the chief of illustrious warriors, our faithful servants and sincere well-wishers, worthy of our royal favours, the English Company”. The collecting of Mughal taxes was henceforth subcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation – whose revenue-collecting operations were protected by its own private army.

It was at this moment that the East India Company (EIC) ceased to be a conventional corporation, trading and silks and spices, and became something much more unusual. Within a few years, 250 company clerks backed by the military force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers had become the effective rulers of Bengal. An international corporation was transforming itself into an aggressive colonial power. [Continue reading…]

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Tweet by @ShamiWitness to help ISIS fighter enter Syria to be used as proof

The Indian Express reports: Guidance given to a foreign fighter on how to cross from Turkey to Syria to join the Islamic State’s (IS) war in Syria and Iraq via Twitter has emerged as key evidence against West Bengal youth Mehdi Masroor Biswas (24), who was arrested by the Bangalore police last month for operating pro-IS Twitter account @ShamiWitness.

Investigations since his arrest on December 13 have revealed that he was consulted about possible routes to entry Syria from Turkey by an IS fighter based in Syria. The query was posed by the IS fighter on behalf of a French and English speaking fighter with the Twitter handle @TalabAlHaqq, who according to his tweet trail had been waiting on the border since June 19, 2014 for information on how to enter Syria.

On June 23, @shamiwitness tweeted to @TalabAlHaqq stating “Tal Abyad crossing open now” while also marking the tweet to a Twitter handle @onthatpath3 and @AbuUmar8246. This tweet from @shamiwitness at the instance of an IS fighter @onthatpath3 — suspected to be an American of Somali origin with the nom de guerre Ibn Zubayr — is set to be placed in court as key evidence against Biswas.

Biswas has been booked under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code for “waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with the Government of India’’ — an offence with a maximum punishment of seven years imprisonment. Biswas has also been booked under section 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004, for supporting a terrorist organisation and section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 for the misuse of computers. [Continue reading…]

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In 2008 Mumbai attacks, piles of spy data, but an uncompleted puzzle

Sebastian Rotella, James Glanz and David E. Sanger report: In the fall of 2008, a 30-year-old computer expert named Zarrar Shah roamed from outposts in the northern mountains of Pakistan to safe houses near the Arabian Sea, plotting mayhem in Mumbai, India’s commercial gem.

Mr. Shah, the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror group, and fellow conspirators used Google Earth to show militants the routes to their targets in the city. He set up an Internet phone system to disguise his location by routing his calls through New Jersey. Shortly before an assault that would kill 166 people, including six Americans, Mr. Shah searched online for a Jewish hostel and two luxury hotels, all sites of the eventual carnage.

But he did not know that by September, the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official who was briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.

What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.

“No one put together the whole picture,” said Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign secretary at the time of the attacks and later became the national security adviser. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.” [Continue reading…]

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I’m a soldier, I have no regrets, says ISIS Twitter promoter @ShamiWitness

The Times of India reports: “I’m a soldier and messenger. I don’t regret what I’ve done,” Mehdi Masroor Biswas, 24, told an advocate as a posse of policemen escorted him out of court hall 49, Civil Court Complex, Bengaluru, on Thursday.

Mehdi, arrested for operating a pro-ISIS Twitter handle, was remanded to 15 days in police custody by special judge Somaraju. One of the advocates asked Mehdi outside the courtroom, “Why did you do this, man?” Mehdi replied he had no regrets.

His parents were present in the courtroom. West Bengal-born Mehdi was as a management executive in an MNC, and allegedly worked as an ISIS propaganda activist, tweeting and retweeting thousands of messages. Arrested in the early hours of Saturday, Mehdi was produced before court on Thursday when his five-day police custody ended. [Continue reading…]

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Nobel for Malala and Satyarthi, signal to India and Pakistan to make peace

Hindustan Times reports: Child rights activists Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in what is being seen as a highly symbolic push to end a decades-old rivalry between the nuclear-armed nations that have been locked in a deadly standoff along their disputed border over the past week.

Little known in his own country, Satyarthi has been heading a more than three-decade long campaign for child rights, pushing for their education and fighting against child trafficking and bonded labour.

“This award is recognition to all activists fighting against the exploitation of children and slavery,” said the 60-year-old activist, the second Indian to win a Nobel Peace prize after Mother Teresa who was given the award in 1979.

“I am thankful to Nobel committee for recognising the plight of millions of children who are suffering in this modern age. It is a huge honour for me.”

Yousafzai, now 17, is a schoolgirl and education campaigner in Pakistan who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago.

The Nobel jury said the prize was going to the two for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Signalling a larger intent behind jointly awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee said it “regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.” [Continue reading…]

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After Syria and Iraq, ISIS makes inroads in South Asia

Reuters reports: Islamic State pamphlets and flags have appeared in parts of Pakistan and India, alongside signs that the ultra-radical group is inspiring militants even in the strongholds of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban insurgents, Jamat-ul Ahrar, has already declared its support for the well-funded and ruthless Islamic State fighters, who have captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in a drive to set up a self-declared caliphate.

“IS (Islamic State) is an Islamic Jihadi organization working for the implementation of the Islamic system and creation of the Caliphate,” Jamat-ul Ahrar’s leader and a prominent Taliban figure, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told Reuters by telephone. “We respect them. If they ask us for help, we will look into it and decide.”

Islamist militants of various hues already hold sway across restive and impoverished areas of South Asia, but Islamic State, with its rapid capture of territory, beheadings and mass executions, is starting to draw a measure of support among younger fighters in the region.

Al Qaeda’s ageing leaders, mostly holed up in the lawless region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, are increasingly seen as stale, tired and ineffectual on hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter accounts that incubate potential militant recruits. [Continue reading…]

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China is driving the BRICS train

Pankaj Mishra writes: Rarely has an acronym led such a charmed life as BRICS. Casually invented by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist and Bloomberg View columnist Jim O’Neill to label emerging markets of promise, it actually brought together leaders from the disparate countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Last week in Brazil, they took a decisive step toward building institutions that could plausibly challenge the long geopolitical and economic ascendancy of the West.

The New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, would finance infrastructure and development projects. This would be the biggest rival yet to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the economic architecture designed by the U.S. in Bretton Woods in 1944.

There are good reasons why China is working hard to establish it. The BRICS countries contain more than 40 percent of the world’s population and account for a quarter of the world’s economy. China itself may shortly bypass the U.S. to become the world’s biggest economy (based on domestic purchasing power). Yet leadership of the World Bank and the IMF remains the exclusive preserve of the U.S. and western European countries.

The promised reforms to these institutions have not materialized; China now clearly wants to build its own global system with the help of the BRICS. A new “special relationship” with its closest economic partner in the West — Germany — and the recent establishment of Frankfurt as a clearinghouse for the renminbi is part of the same Chinese attempt to break the hegemony of the dollar as a payments and reserve currency. [Continue reading…]

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The head of Omidyar Network in India helped elect Narendra Modi

Mark Ames reports: Last weekend, India’s elections swept into power a hardline Hindu supremacist named Narendra Modi. And with that White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration “look[s] forward to working closely” with a man who has been on a US State Dept “visa blacklist” since 2005 for his role in the gruesome mass-killings and persecution of minority Muslims (and minority Christians).

Modi leads India’s ultranationalist BJP party, which won a landslide majority of seats (though only 31% of the votes), meaning Modi will have the luxury of leading India’s first one-party government in 30 years. This is making a lot of people nervous: The last time the BJP party was in power, in 1998, they launched series of nuclear bomb test explosions, sparking a nuclear crisis with Pakistan and fears of all-out nuclear war. And that was when the BJP was led by a “moderate” ultranationalist — and tied down with meddling coalition partners.

Modi is different. Not only will he rule alone, he’s promised to run India the way he ran the western state of Gujarat since 2001, which Booker Prize-winning author Arandhuti Roy described as “the petri dish in which Hindu fascism has been fomenting an elaborate political experiment.” Under Modi’s watch, an orgy of anti-Muslim violence led to up to 2000 killed and 250,000 internally displaced, and a lingering climate of fear, ghettoization, and extrajudicial executions by Gujarat death squads operating under Modi’s watch.

We can understand the White House being forced to congratulate Modi through gritted diplomatic teeth. What’s harder to stomach is the public cheering of India’s election results by one of the most prominent progressive names in Silicon Valley. [Continue reading…]

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What does Pakistan make of Narendra Modi?

BBC News: The victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s elections has created as much concern in Pakistan as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to attend his oath-taking ceremony has created excitement.

Both emotions invoke images from recent history.

Concern over the BJP’s victory is linked to the widespread belief in Pakistan that the party is a political front for the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), a belligerent Hindu supremacist group that advocates a Hindu way of life and has been an active opponent of Muslim separatism in Kashmir.

Pakistan, which is 96% Muslim, disputes India’s claim over Kashmir, supports separatists there and has fought three of its four wars with India over the Kashmir region.

There are also images of the RSS-led riots that culminated in the 1992 demolition of the 16th Century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, and the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed. [Continue reading…]

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‘Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government’ — Arundhati Roy

Tahir Mehdi writes: In Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.

“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”

India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.

“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.

“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”

Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.” [Continue reading…]

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The BJP landslide victory in India

Samanth Subramanian writes: On Friday, as the results were announced, it became clear that almost all of the prognosticators, amateur and professional, had got it wrong. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) had assessed its chances confidently, and it was commonly expected to amass enough seats to lead a coalition of allies into government. But few expected Narendra Modi, its candidate for Prime Minister, to romp home in such a blistering manner. No single party had won an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, Parliament’s lower house, since 1984. Of the five hundred and forty-three seats, the B.J.P. won a stunning two hundred and eighty-two; with its coalition allies, it controls a dominating three hundred and thirty-four seats. The Congress, India’s oldest party, has led the governing coalition for the past decade. Although its members acknowledged in private that they were likely to be voted out, they suspected that they would secure roughly ninety seats—which would have been a record low. Instead, they took a miserable forty-four seats. What looked a few weeks ago like a mere dramatic change of government now appears to be a seismic shift, arguably the most significant in India since 1977, when the Congress was voted out after three decades in power. Even in that election, held after the Congress government, under Indira Gandhi, declared an emergency and suspended constitutional rights for two full years, the party managed to win a hundred and fifty-three seats.

Any election can be spun as a tussle to define the very soul of a country, but that has truly felt like the case for the past year in India. Both the Congress and the B.J.P. framed their campaigns as plebiscites on the fate of the country. The Congress asked voters to examine whether they wanted to elect Modi, a man who had ruled the state of Gujarat when more than a thousand people — mostly Muslims — were killed in religious riots, in 2002, who was known for his autocratic temperament, and whose political education was shaped by Hindu nationalists. In one campaign speech, the heir to the Congress dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, explicitly compared Modi to Hitler, warning that he would discard democracy altogether. “Hitler thought there was no need to go to the people,” Gandhi said. “He believed that the entire knowledge of the world was only in his mind. Similarly, there is a leader today in India who says, ‘I have done this, I have done that,’ and behaves arrogantly.” [Continue reading…]

Subir Sinha writes: Given than the elections have been declared “free and fair”, does this apparent magnitude of popular support for Modi not suggest that the fears of people like me, who recently signed a letter expressing concern at this prospect, are unjustified?

Modi appears to have been democratically elected. But, as his record in Gujarat indicates, he has exhibited a propensity to wield power in an undemocratic way and for undemocratic ends. Within his own party, he prevents emergence of independent leadership, making sure that potential rivals are politically finished. He encourages defections from other parties, rewarding defectors with party tickets, undermining the legitimacy of opposition.

He undermines key constitutional bodies: whether agencies investigating the 2002 massacres or extra-judicial killings in Gujarat, or the Election Commission. He centralises power, once holding 14 portfolios in the state cabinet. He talks of “uprooting” opponents and “erasing” opposing political parties, and his supporters promise exile and incarceration to critics.

The cult of personality around him likens him to Hindu gods: this militates against the principle of political equality at the basis of democracy. He does not open himself to any critical questioning, about the “Gujarat model” or about the massive finances spent by his campaign. Gujarat, which he holds up as a model of “good governance”, has the highest levels of violence against those seeking to use the “right to information” to find out about the activities of his government. [Continue reading…]

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A profile of India’s new prime minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi

Vinod K Jose writes: In the second week of January 2011, more than 10,000 businessmen from 100 countries descended on Gandhinagar for the fifth instalment of the biannual summit branded as “Vibrant Gujarat”—a marathon matchmaking ceremony of investment pledges and signings intended to bring business to Gujarat and, not incidentally, to make headlines while doing so. The 2011 mela did not disappoint on either count: by the time it was all over, the businessmen had promised investments in excess of $450 billion, the largest-ever sum for a single event in an emerging economy, and the media had obligingly trumpeted both the jaw-dropping figure and the unending chorus of corporate titans paying tribute to Gujarat and its chief minister.

On the first day of the summit—held inside the newly-constructed Mahatma Mandir, a monument to Gandhi in the unlikely form of a convention centre—the stage was preposterously crowded, in keeping with the usual tradition at Indian public events. Eighty people were seated on the dais in three rows, but all eyes were on the man at the centre, the organiser and unquestioned star of the show, Narendra Damodardas Modi. Wearing an ivory-coloured suit and his trademark rimless Bulgari glasses, with a neatly-trimmed grey beard, Modi looked every bit the serious man of action: he listened intently to every speaker, deep in concentration that was rarely broken by a smile. At his side were envoys from the two nations who had signed on as official partners for the fair, the Japanese ambassador and the Canadian high commissioner, and these men were in turn flanked by the two most prominent ambassadors from India Inc, Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. Another three dozen corporate chairmen and CEOs were also on stage, smiling and satisfied, along with the prime minister of Rwanda and the president of the US-India Business Council, who announced from the stage that he wished to see the United States as a partner country at the next summit.

Vibrant Gujarat has been successfully marketed as a major global business event—so much so that Modi’s American lobbying and public relations firm, APCO Worldwide, recently won two international awards for its work promoting the project. The five summits since 2003 have generated investment pledges worth $920 billion for Gujarat, but their value for Modi can’t be measured by mere numbers. In fact, the figures themselves may be misleading: though Modi claims an implementation rate of greater than 60 percent for pledges made at the summits, an analysis of data from the state industry department suggests that only 25 percent of the promised investments have actually been made. While one-quarter of a trillion dollars is hardly small change, the considerable disparity between the image and the reality actually highlights the tactical genius behind the investment summits, which are the crowning achievement in one of the most extraordinary acts of reinvention in Indian politics.

Modi has turned the act of investing in what has long been one of India’s most business-friendly and industrialised states into a high-profile spectacle—and amplified the disclosure of annual investment inflows into singular triumphant announcements. In other words, Modi has successfully deployed the ancient mercantile and entrepreneurial energy of Gujarat to overhaul his own image.

Ten years after the anti-Muslim pogroms that killed more than 1,200 Gujaratis, Modi has managed to bury the past and resurrect his own extinct prospects for political advancement, replacing epithets like “fascist”, “mass murderer” and “Hindutva fanatic” with a title of his own choosing: Vikaas Purush, or Development Man. For the first families of Indian business, Modi is “the next leader of India”, “a visionary”, “the unstoppable horse”, and “the CEO who can lead the country”, to quote just a sampling of the effusive endorsements from men named Tata, Ambani and Mittal. [Continue reading…]

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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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Putin has more admirers than the West might admit

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Tell me your Ukraine and I will tell you who you are. The Ukrainian crisis is a political Rorschach test, not just for individuals but also for states. What it reveals to us is not encouraging for the west. It turns out that Vladimir Putin has more admirers around the world than you might expect for someone using a neo-Soviet combination of violence and the big lie to dismember a neighbouring sovereign state. When I say admirers, I don’t just mean the governments of Venezuela and Syria, two of his most vocal supporters. Russia’s strongman garners tacit support, and even some quiet plaudits, from some of the world’s most important emerging powers, starting with China and India.

During a recent visit to China I was frequently asked what was going on in Ukraine, and I kept asking in return about the Chinese attitude to it. Didn’t a country which has so consistently defended the principle of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of existing states (be they the former Yugoslavia or Iraq), and which itself has a couple of prospective Crimeas (Tibet, Xinjiang), feel uneasy about Russia simply grabbing a chunk of a neighbouring country?

Well, came the reply, that was a slight concern, but Ukraine was a long way away – and, frankly speaking, the positives of the crisis outweighed the negatives for China. What’s more, the United States would have another strategic distraction (after al-Qaida, Afghanistan and Iraq) to hinder its “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, and divert its attention from China. And, cold-shouldered by the west, Russia would be more dependent on a good relationship with Beijing. As for Ukraine – which already sells China higher-grade military equipment than Russia has been willing to share with its great Asian ally – its new authorities had already quietly assured the Chinese authorities that Beijing’s failure to condemn the annexation of Crimea would not affect their future relations. What’s not to like in all that? [Continue reading…]

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Britain should sever its links with Narendra Modi

Priyamvada Gopal writes: Imagine this. A pogrom takes place in a foreign country targeting a minority group, say Christians, with hundreds brutally killed by rampaging mobs, many mutilated and raped, and foetuses removed from pregnant women. Thousands flee destroyed homes. The provincial leader on whose watch these events take place is a politician with open links to extremist Islamist organisations. Three holidaying British citizens are among the massacred. Allegations emerge that this politician’s language helped foment the massacres. With one of his cabinet jailed for her role in the pogroms he becomes the frontrunner to lead this increasingly powerful country. Would you worry?

Yes, is the likely answer, and so you should. In reality, the country is India, the extremists are Hindus, the 2002 Gujarat pogroms targeted Muslims, and the leader in question is Narendra Modi. As the candidate of the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in current elections he does not dispute his or its links to the extremist Hindu network known as the Sangh Parivar.

Modi was a leading activist for its secretive and militaristic arm, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – whose founder expressed admiration for Hitler, ideologies of racial purity and the virtues of fascism. It is an organisation that, on a good day, looks like the British National party but can operate more like Nazi militias. Known for an authoritarian leadership style, Modi’s only expression of regret for the pogroms compared them to a car running over a puppy, while he labelled Muslim relief camps “baby-making factories”.

Hindu extremism is rooted in a macho 20th-century response to British colonialism which mocked Hindu “effeminacy”. It is rarely scrutinised in the west, partly because Hinduism is stereotyped as gentle and non-violent in the image of Gandhi – who, ironically, was assassinated by an RSS activist – and benefits from the disproportionate attention given to Islamist violence, which enables other pernicious extremisms to slip under the radar. [Continue reading…]

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Narendra Modi: A threat to the world’s largest democracy?

The Guardian reports: More than a dozen of India’s most respected artists and academics – including the novelist Salman Rushdie and the sculptor Anish Kapoor – have written to the Guardian to express their “acute worry” at the prospect of Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, becoming the country’s prime minister.

Modi, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently leading all opinion surveys and many analysts believe he is assured of victory when results of the six-week phased poll are announced next month.

Tens of millions of Indians voted on Thursday in Delhi, the capital, and in volatile areas in the centre and east of the country where Maoist insurgents are active. Turnout has so far been high in one of the most bitterly fought elections for many decades. The Congress party, in power since 2004, currently appears headed for a historic defeat.

The letter to the Guardian, also signed by British lawyers, activists and three members of parliament, says that Modi becoming prime minister would “bode ill for India’s future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities”. [Continue reading…]

Jason Burke writes: India has long been prone to periodic bouts of communal violence, and political opponents, cynically or otherwise, repeatedly cite the 2002 rioting [in Gujarat] to highlight the threat of sectarian conflict if Modi wins the coming elections. Though Modi has not been convicted, they point out, associates have been sent to prison for their role in the violence. There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India’s Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India and who believe Modi would divide and damage their country.

Others see things differently. For tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of people across India, what happened in 2002, or at least what they believe happened, does not so much raise doubts about Modi’s claim to lead the country, but reinforce it.

In a school run by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] close to the Meerut rally site, on the eve of the meeting, members of the organisation gathered for a conference on encouraging traditional sports. Their worldview is nationalist and conservative. Incidents such as the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi are a result of “moral decadence” and western culture, they say, while the boundaries of “Bharat”, the Sanskrit-origin word they use to describe their country, should encompass Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Bangladesh and Burma. One veteran claims India faces three problems: “corruption, inflation and Muslims”. Modi has an answer to all three, he insists. Rajendra Agrawal, the BJP member of parliament representing Meerut’s 1.4 million voters, stresses that Hinduism’s message is one of peace and tolerance but “one day … Islamic aggression will have to be dealt with”.

A key question is how far Modi has moved from the hardline vision of the organisation he joined at the age of 10. In recent years, there have been tensions between the politician and the RSS. The candidate’s pragmatic, business-friendly, globalised outlook is at odds with the traditional self-reliance of the nationalist movement. The RSS did not take it well, either, when Modi suggested that India needed to build toilets before temples.

Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist who specialises in extremism in south Asia, says Modi has effectively “emancipated himself” from the RSS high command, who traditionally outrank even senior BJP figures. Yet, he adds, Modi may well “do anyway what the RSS has wanted to do for decades because he is perfectly in tune with their ideology.” [Continue reading…]

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