K.S. Komireddi. Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India.
(London: C. Hurst and Co. 2019).
This is a lively analysis of Indian politics; since independence. The book is divided in two parts; an account of the long period when the Congress Party was in power; and a second part on the values and activities of the government; led by Narendra Modi.
Komireddi’s views on the Modi Government are Clear.
“We inhabit the most degraded moment in the history of the Indian Republic; the culmination of decades of betrayals; the eruption of a long-suppressed rage. But the good thing about bad times is that they force us to reflect; to see clearly.
The past five years have shattered so many illusions; dispelled so much fog. We can begin to accept how we arrived here: a via Dolorosa lined with corruption; cowardly concessions to religious nationalism; demeaning bribes to the minorities; self-wounding distortions of the past; and wholesale abandonment of the many for the few.”
As Komireddi Writes:
“There wasn’t a shadow of resistance as Narendra Modi stormed Delhi in the summer of 2014. After six decades of faltering secularism; India yielded spectacularly to the Hindu nationalist insurgency…Modi was the hand grenade hurled; by all those who had been sneered at, stamped upon, marginalised; subjected to cultural condescension and objectified for anthropological amusement; by the preening cast of English-speaking elites fostered by India’s venal secular establishment.”
Modi did not come to power in a harmonious and peaceful country. Rather; earlier governments had not met the challenges presented by economic, religious, and geographic divisions.
As Komireddi describes pre-Modi India:
“All around you was evidence of epic social upheaval: families wrenched apart; millions migrating from decaying countryside into expanding slums in the cities; thousands of indebted farmers killing themselves every year; massacres of peaceful protesters demanding land; the torching of villages by government-sanctioned militias; the mass corralling of defenceless tribal populations into pens for refusing to cede their land to mining barons; extra-judicial killings, and rape; plunder, torture, mutilation, murder of the poor… As early as 1954; the ministry of home affairs reported that corruption had increased; to such an extent that people have started losing faith in the integrity of public administration.
In the decades thereafter graft became a quotidian fact of life in the ordinary citizen’s interaction with agents of the state; there were few transactions unaccompanied by the demands for a bribe.”
Determined to concentrate power in his own office; Modi has been able to bring under his control the key processes of power: the military, the universities, the financial institutions and the support of the media.
“ Narendra Modi did not stage a coup. He won a free election. He has exhibited a disciplined outward commitment to the norms of constitutional democracy; while vandalising the organs that secure Indian democracy. It is certainly a miracle that institutions; battered for decades by Congress; have survived at all.”
Modi faces two external challenges; a long-lasting hostility from Pakistan and an expanding powerful China.
“ The animosity between Pakistan and India was always anchored in irreconcilable national ideologies. One regarded itself as the authentic home of the subcontinent’s Muslims; the other until Modi came along; saw itself; at least in theory; as the incarnation of a pluralistic secular nationalism that transcended religion… If Pakistan’s neurotic nationalism makes it the most complex and urgent security challenge for India; China’s view of India; as an obstacle in its path to a permanently predominant position in Asia; makes it Delhi’s gravest long-term threat. Beijing recognizes India as the only power in Asia with the potential to stymie China’s expansion.”
The tensions between India and Pakistan; and India and China have led to violence in the past. Thus; the situation must be watched closely and when possible; measures of tension reduction proposed. K.S. Komireddi’s book is a useful and easily read background; to the issues at hand.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.