The Trouble with Modi

Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a secular India, and a multinational, multiethnic, multireligious, pluralistic democracy hit a new low this week.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a secular India, and a multinational, multiethnic, multireligious, pluralistic democracy hit a new low this week. 

The Babri Mosque in Ayodhya built on the site of an earlier mandir (Hindu Temple) was in Babur’s vision intended to bring members of the two faiths together.  In Hindu mythology the location is the birthplace of the god Rama. 

Babur had defeated the Muslim pathan sultan Ibrahim Lodhi, at Panipat but that did not eliminate all pathans who had ruled India then for several centuries.   Thus Babur’s natural allies became the Hindu rajas heretofore subservient to the Delhi Sultans.  In this construct the Ayodhya Mosque makes sense, not in Narendra Modi’s version.

So here we are five centuries later, and a triumphant Modi trumpeting a final Hindu freedom.  Certainly not freedom from poverty or even hunger as the stark statistics point out.  And the screaming crowds lauding Modi’s Ayodhya are hardly representative of India’s place on the 2003 Happiness Index where India at #126 just behind Liberia and Ethiopia and not far from Lebanon and Afghanistan (also near the bottom) who have been suffering civil wars.  India is also far below arch rival Pakistan who at #108 is closer to Turkey (#106) a middle income country.  The remaining country on the subcontinent, Bangladesh, at #118, is also happier than India despite its own tumultuous journey to freedom. 

There are critics of the report who point out its emphasis on economic factors while ignoring cultural aspects of life where India could excel.  But then why is it so far behind Pakistan and Bangladesh also part of the culture of the subcontinent, one would have to ask.

Spearheading a colossal fundraising effort, Mr. Modi has raised 3,500 crore rupees (35 billion) for the building of a temple complex spanning some 70 acres.  Still under construction it is to date nowhere near completion, and that is also why some Hindu priests and Brahmins refused to attend the elaborate inauguration ceremony led by Mr. Modi.  Four key Hindu religious authorities warned that consecrating an unfinished temple goes against the scriptures.  By the way, in these 70 acres was it impossible to cordon off a historic building almost five centuries old and save it? 

Leaders from the Congress Party, now Modi’s main opposition, also boycotted the event accusing him of trying to score political points ahead of the election this year (2024) — to be held over several weeks during April and May.  Modi is ahead in the polls but an extra margin of safety never hurt anybody.

The trouble with Modi is a tendency to exceed limits that a responsible leader or politician would not.  Moreover, his focus almost in its entirety is on India’s 80-plus percent Hindu vote.  With a 1.4 billion population, however, the remaining 20 percent still amounts to nearly 300 million people.  These are the Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent and Sikhs 1.7 percent.  The rest are an assortment of religions from Zoroastrianism to Jainism.  One would expect the opposition Congress Party to woo and grab these voters.  Not so far, and how well it succeeds will be reflected in how well it does in the elections.

Narendra Modi may not be the most highly or even well-educated politician but he certainly has his fingers on the pulse of the people.  It is also more or less certain he is going to win re-election. 

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.