Unmasking Narendra Modi: The man who has replaced Gandhi as the face of India

Narendra-Modi

Siddhartha Deb writes: Vivekananda was a remarkable, complex figure, introducing his distinct, modernized version of yoga and neo-Hinduism to the United States. But if his legacy in the West was to be yoga, in India it would morph — helped, no doubt by his early death at 39 — into a muscular Hindu nationalism centered around the idea that Hindus needed to become more aggressive in challenging both Islam and the West. He became a symbol of the Hindu warrior monk who had gone into the West to conquer it for Hinduism, an idea embodied loudly by Modi in his own self-presentation, especially in the cross-armed pose and saffron turban he affected. And just as Vivekananda, in this populist version, took the battle to the West, so did Modi when he arrived at Madison Square Garden.

In India, it took an organization and the onset of race-based nationalism in the early twentieth century to give Vivekananda’s vision a more sinister touch and ultimately connect it to Modi. Founded in 1925 in the central Indian city of Nagpur, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the National Volunteer Organization, took Vivekananda’s ideas of Hindu revival a step further, combining them with racial theories popular in the West and drawing inspiration from the Italian Fascists and the Nazis. M.S. Golwalkar, who became the chief of the RSS in 1940, wrote approvingly of Germany’s “purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews,” and urged Hindus to manifest a similar “Race Spirit” with Muslims. After India became independent in 1947, Nathuram Godse, a former member of the RSS, assassinated Gandhi for being too conciliatory toward Muslims and Pakistan. The RSS was banned briefly, but this was a blip in its steady expansion from its base in the Western state of Maharashtra into neighboring Gujarat, Modi’s home state, and beyond.

The RSS was known for its secretive, cultlike tendencies; it kept no written fundraising records, and produced a constitution only in 1949 as a condition for the lifting of its ban. It stayed away from anticolonial politics under the British and maintained a distance from electoral politics in the decades following independence. It focused, instead, on the ideal of an upper-caste Hindu society within an unabashedly upper-caste, patriarchal Hindu nation. It recruited boys between the ages of six and 18, using doctrinaire lectures and a routine of paramilitary drills to mold their Hindu “Race Spirit,” while its adult members were unleashed as shock troops in riots against Muslims. It maintained links with Hindu-right political parties and Congress leaders favorably inclined to its sectarian idea of India, but avoided direct involvement in parliamentary politics, calling itself a social organization rather than a political one.

This was the organization — disciplined, secretive, tainted by its association with Gandhi’s assassination and its role in sectarian riots — that Modi joined in 1958 as an eight-year-old in the provincial Gujarati town of Vadnagar. He was the third of six children, from a family that ran a tea shop at the railway station to supplement its income from pressing and selling cooking oil. Leaving home as a teenager, Modi wandered the country, possibly to escape living with the wife who had been chosen for him in an arranged marriage at an early age—ironically, just the sort of social practice defended by the Hindu right, despite legislative attempts to make marriage and divorce more equitable, especially for Hindu women — and from whom he remains estranged. He returned after a couple of years to the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, where he briefly ran a tea stall before joining the RSS full-time. Modi soon completed the RSS’s one-month officer-training program and became a pracharak, or organizer.

One can see the attractions of the RSS for a young man like Modi, filled with ambition and intelligence but without much education or opportunity. Its warrior-monk structure would offer upward mobility and power even as its cultish ideology stoked a sense of humiliation about the place of India in the world, and of Hindus within India. [Continue reading…]

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Dilip Hiro: Flashpoint for the planet

Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”

To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt

The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration.  In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

[Read more…]

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Pankaj Mishra on Arundhati Roy: Hindu nationalists ​have many ways to silence writers

Pankaj Mishra writes: he governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.

Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.

The extended family of upper-caste nationalists plainly aim at total domination of the public sphere. But they don’t only use the bullying power of the leviathan state – one quickly identified by local and foreign critics – to grind down their apparent enemies. They pursue them through police cases and legal petitions by private individuals – a number of criminal complaints have been filed against writers and artists in India. They create a climate of impunity, in which emboldened mobs ransack newspapers offices, art galleries and cinemas. [Continue reading…]

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Electrifying India, with solar power and small loans

solar-india

The New York Times reports: A few years ago, the hundred or so residents of Paradeshappanamatha, a secluded hamlet in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, gathered along the central pathway between their 22 densely clustered homes, and watched as government workers hoisted a solar-powered streetlamp. As the first display of electricity in the town, it was an object of mild interest, but, being outside, the light didn’t help anyone cook or study, and only attracted moths.

Still, when B. Prasad arrived two years later to encourage people here to abandon kerosene lighting for solar-powered home systems, people had some idea what he was talking about. What sounded preposterous to the village residents was the price. Mr. Prasad, an agent for Solar Electric Light Company, or Selco, was selling a panel and battery that would power three lights and an attached socket for phone charging for approximately 12,800 rupees, or $192.

“There was no way we could afford that,” P. C. Kalayya remembers thinking. He and his neighbors rise early in the morning to walk miles along a nearly impassable dirt road to work on coffee, pepper and betel nut plantations. Mr. Kalayya earns $3 a day — he’d been earning $2.25 until a raise came through this year — and half his wage is withheld by his employer as repayment for various loans.

And yet, despite what seemed on its face an impossibly high cost, Selco agents succeeded in persuading Mr. Kalayya and 10 other village households to make the switch. Now, his wife can better see how much spice she is putting in as she cooks, and Pratima, their 18-year-old daughter, can study long after dark.

The idea behind Selco, and other companies like it, is to create a business model that will help some of the 1.2 billion people in the world who don’t have electricity to leapfrog the coal-dependent grid straight to renewable energy sources.

About a quarter of the world’s off-the-grid people, or 300 million or so, live in India, mostly in remote, rural communities like Paradeshappanamatha, or in informal urban settlements. Hundreds of millions more get electricity for only a few hours a day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to achieve universal electrification in India by the end of 2022. His main effort is adding hundreds of new coal plants, which have contributed to near-apocalyptic pollution levels across large swaths of the country. [Continue reading…]

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Why India’s plan to fight climate change doesn’t hold water

By Steffen Böhm, University of Essex; Sanjay Lanka, University of Essex, and Zareen Pervez Bharucha, University of Essex

As the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, the pressure is on India to offer something meaningful at the Paris climate talks. Yet the country demands the right to develop and lift its population out of poverty.

In its official submission to the summit, the so-called INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) which every country had to provide before negotiations began, India pledges to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 based on 2005 levels. It proposes to achieve this by investing significantly in low-carbon technologies. But do these numbers stack up?

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi addresses the Paris talks.
Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

It may have the third highest greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, but India’s emissions per person are much lower than those of all so-called developed countries. This is why stakeholders insist on India’s right to develop.

[Read more…]

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India’s war on Greenpeace

The New York Times reports: Greenpeace India said in a statement on Friday that its permit to operate in India had been revoked on the grounds that it had falsified financial documents, the latest in a series of government actions taken against the environmental organization.

The move against the group is one of many “clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices” by the government, Vinuta Gopal, the interim executive director of Greenpeace India, said in the statement.

The organization will fight the authorities’ cancellation of the permit in court, she said in a telephone interview. [Continue reading…]

Samanth Subramanian wrote in August: After deciding not to sleep at all before her 6.50am flight out of Delhi, Priya Pillai felt slow and drowsy as she handed her passport over the immigration counter. It was a few hours past midnight on 11 January 2015; Pillai, a campaigner with Greenpeace India, knew that two full weeks of work awaited her in London. At check-in, she had secured an aisle seat, which made her happy. Now, as the official scanned her passport, Pillai sent idle texts to a colleague in Boston and pondered a plan to visit a friend in the north of England for the weekend.

Behind the counter, the official reached for a square of paper and began taking notes. His name was VK Ojha, Pillai remembers, and he looked fresh and alert. He had a neat moustache and wore a white shirt and navy blue trousers. Minutes went by, and Ojha scribbled on.

“Is there a problem?” Pillai asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Please wait here.”

Ojha vanished. From the next counter, a curious official asked for Pillai’s name and, after typing it into his computer, said: “Greenpeace?” Pillai nodded. When Ojha returned, he led Pillai to an office run by the immigration authority. There, he asked Pillai for her passport and told her – most politely, Pillai remembers – that she couldn’t leave the country.

Pillai is a voluble person, and she spent the next four hours demanding explanations from immigration officials. She got none. When an Air India employee came by, he was asked to take Pillai’s luggage off the plane, which terrified her. She thought: “They’ll put drugs in my bags, and they’ll say: ‘This is why we’re arresting you.’”

Pillai was sure that the state was not beyond framing her. Since 2010, she had been part of a Greenpeace group that was protesting the government’s decision to commission new coal mines in the woods of Mahan in central India. She was travelling to London, in fact, to talk to an informal group of British MPs about Mahan and about Essar Energy, an Indian power and fossil fuel giant incorporated in the UK in 2009 and listed briefly on the London Stock Exchange. Essar Energy was one of two companies licensed to mine in Mahan; Greenpeace argued that the filthy process of mining coal would pulverise acres of forest and displace thousands who lived in the area.

The government took a dim view of these protests. Some of Pillai’s colleagues had been arrested in Mahan on flimsy charges that never stuck. Police and intelligence agencies monitored the activists closely; Pillai was sure they were aware of her London trip. “I know my phone has been tapped for years,” she said. “I’ve had experiences [such as] getting on to a train from Delhi to go to Mahan, and even the people there don’t know I’m coming, but the police or the local intelligence people there will call these people in Mahan and say: ‘Priya’s coming, right?’ I’ve had bureaucrats tell me: ‘You should be careful. You’re under surveillance.’” [Continue reading…]

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Senior diplomat for Saudi Arabia accused of raping servants in Delhi

The Guardian reports: Authorities in India have asked the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Delhi to cooperate in an ongoing police investigation into charges that one of the kingdom’s senior diplomats in the city repeatedly raped and abused two domestic servants who were held captive in his luxury apartment.

Earlier this week police raided the diplomat’s residence in the satellite town of Gurgaon where, they have told reporters, they found two Nepali women employed as maids. The police later opened an inquiry into allegations made by the two women that they had been held against their will, denied food and water, beaten, and repeatedly raped by up to seven men at a time over a period of several weeks. Investigators now want to interview the main accused who has reportedly taken refuge in the Saudi embassy.

Vikas Swarup, an Indian government spokesperson, said: “[The Ministry of External Affairs] called in [the] Saudi ambassador and conveyed the request of [the] police for cooperation of the embassy in the case of two Nepali citizens.”

The Saudi Arabian embassy has issued a statement denying all the allegations, describing them as “completely baseless”, and has lodged an official complaint about the raid on the apartment which it says was a breach of diplomatic privilege.

On Thursday, demonstrators gathered outside the Saudi embassy shouting slogans calling for the prosecution of the diplomat.

Leaked details of medical assessments of the two women published in local media in India – which appear to corroborate the allegations of abuse – will increase the pressure on Indian authorities to continue the inquiry, despite the diplomatic damage to relations with Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]

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What India should do to tackle climate impacts

Harjeet Singh writes: India holds the dual distinction of being a victim as well as a contributor to climate change. It is the fourth largest carbon emitter, although its per capita emissions remain one of the lowest among emerging economies like China, Brazil and Mexico. Despite a huge development deficit, the world’s second most populous country faces immense pressure globally to change its emission trajectory.

Besides, it is one of the most vulnerable countries owing to its geography and high economic dependence on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and even electricity generation. For instance, 58 per cent Indians rely solely on agriculture. Hence, any change in rain or temperature affects not only the country’s food security and but also its economy.

In 2013, India, together with the Philippines and Cambodia, led the list of the most-affected countries, in the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index.

The long coastline of over 7,500 kilometres makes it highly susceptible to risks emanating from sea level rise and oceans turning more acidic. The 10 states over which the Himalayas are spread, comprising 16 per cent of the country’s geographical area, frequently face floods, landslides and Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF). [Continue reading…]

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Asia takes leadership on renewables, but only out of necessity

The Guardian reports: As the Paris climate conference draws ever nearer, and with it the prospect of a global agreement that all countries will cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Europe can look on its contribution to the fight against climate change with pride.

But having fostered the fledgling renewable energy sectors of wind and solar power, and created the world’s first emissions trading scheme (ETS), it now looks as if Europe is ceding its leadership on environmental matters to Asia.

China was the world’s leading market for renewable power in 2014, the $83.3bn invested there being 33% higher than in 2013. Japan was in third place, India was in the top 10 and more than $1bn was also invested in Indonesia, according to a report for the United Nations Environment Programme. All saw double digit growth in investment. Europe was still a major destination for investment in clean energy, attracting $57.5bn , but the market grew by less than 1%.

Meanwhile, as carbon prices on the EU ETS languish far below the level that would incentivise low-carbon investment, China has launched seven regional pilot carbon markets that will be scaled up to national level next year and Korea has introduced its own market.

And while governments in Europe, from Bulgaria to Spain, scramble to cut support payments to renewable energy projects – most recently in the UK – India has increased its solar power target for 2022 from 20GW to 100GW. [Continue reading…]

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India just upped its solar target five-fold, will install more solar this year than Germany

ThinkProgress reports: On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian Cabinet approved increasing the country’s solar target five times to a goal of reaching 100 gigawatts, up from 20 GW, by 2022.

The new solar capacity will be nearly split between residential and large-scale solar projects, with some 40 GW expected to be generated from rooftop installations and the remaining 60 GW coming from larger, grid-connected projects, such as solar farms.

“With this ambitious target, India will become one of the largest green energy producers in the world, surpassing several developed countries,” reads the announcement. “Solar power can contribute to the long term energy security of India, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels that put a strain on foreign reserves and the ecology as well.” [Continue reading…]

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Why India is captured by carbon

The Guardian reports: In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that in order to restrict the increase of world average temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial times, the world must adopt a strict “carbon budget” for emissions. According to the IPCC, the current rate of fossil fuel burning will exhaust this within 25 years, after which fuels must either be left unexploited, or have their emissions kept from the atmosphere by carbon capture and storage.

India has the world’s fifth-largest coal reserves – and very few cleaner fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Its leaders are also determined to spread the benefits of economic development more widely among its population of almost 1.3bn people – one third of whom still have no access to electricity.

Anil Swarup, the permanent secretary at the coal ministry in Delhi, said in an interview that last year Indian production from both private and state-owned mines was 620m tonnes, more than 85% of it from open-cast workings. A further 400m tonnes were imported. At Singrauli [a coalfield which spans parts of two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh] and elsewhere, he added, production is set to increase rapidly, with strong encouragement from the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which swept to power last year. Modi is determined to restore the sustained GDP growth rate of 8-10% that India enjoyed for a decade until 2011.

“We are looking to double Indian coal production by 2020,” Swarup said, “and to reduce reliance on imports.” Beyond that date, he said production would continue to rise to 1.5bn tonnes a year, with most of this being burnt in coal-fired power plants. In the past six months, the government has given environmental clearance to 41 new mining projects. The consequence, Swarup said, is that from now until 2020, “a new mine will be opened every month. You have to work on the assumption of requirement, and in India, there is a need for power.” [Continue reading…]

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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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