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Coming to terms with the new Modi government

  • Published at 12:06 am June 3rd, 2019
Modi
What now? REUTERS

And what it means for its neighbours

Democracy in developing world has never been a flawless one. It’s the same even in developed countries albeit to a much lesser degree. 

But a democracy, even an electoral or a partially imperfect one, within the structure of modern political tenets, is considered to be a lesser evil than other forms of rule. Democracy with a capitalist orientation has been the dominant and ingrained political ethos since the mid 20th century. 

The key problems of democracy in the developing world are multifarious. Three of the core interrelated deficiencies of democracy in the contemporary era in this category of countries have been -- the quality of the electorate, a defective political culture, and a political environment defined by the weaker political institutions. 

Hence, obtaining the best outcome from the exercise of this electoral democracy, in objective terms, has persistently been a challenge. Sometimes, a situation gets a few notches worse than normal. The system experiences wears and tears but doesn’t collapse. 

The status quo breaks down and the transition, normal or chaotic, starts towards a new socio-political equilibrium of a lower standard. This has been shown in India in the recently concluded parliamentary election. 

It was probably the final nail in the coffin of the declining Nehruvian liberal order which dominated Indian polity for long and which had made India stand out in the rally of other third world quasi-democracies. 

But the social and political lives of the despondent forces at the losing end and of more than half of the Indians who didn’t vote for the BJP or its allies will have to go on. They will do their adjustments with the new equilibrium and probably renew their political and ideological struggle in the old or new ways. 

The majority, however, must be granted power and a reasonable degree of respect rendered to the minority for any kind of democracy to function. The fact that right wing forces will rule the roost in India like many other average democracies is a hard reality now. 

Achieving an advanced democracy is a long drawn process with ups and downs. It may take many more decades for countries like India and others of the developing world to live up to that benchmark. 

To be fair, the BJP, however, doesn’t fall in the category of the extreme right. Hence, despite election time religio-nationalistic jingoism, it is probably possible for others to bear with it both domestically and regionally. 

It wanted the power at any cost and  got it. The political potential of Narendra Modi wasn’t exhausted and it paid off for the party. 

This will probably pacify it for some time and the second Modi government can get back into trying to complete the unfinished tasks of development that it originally promised in 2014. 

Also, it will be unwise for the opposition to renew the bitter election time rivalry with the new government. They should rather allow itself time to undertake needful actions. 

The Gandhis should take a break from the forefront of Congress. It’s better to replenish rather than become a spent force. 

A bigger responsibility has been bestowed on Modi with this bigger mandate. Economy will have to be the top priority for him this time around, going by conventional wisdom. 

However, it’s not clear whether the second Modi government will have the capacity to bring about any meaningful economic change in the country. 

It is hard to see how it will, given the kind of leaders and technocrats at its disposal now, and make impactful policy reforms, attract investment and trade, and create much-needed jobs. 

Modi’s charisma will have its limit in this age of impatience and every time there won’t be a Pulwama to rescue BJP’s electoral fortune. 

For the vast politically underrepresented and socio-economically backward Muslim minority of India, the coming days will probably be ones with hopelessness. 

Despite their wretched conditions, they were systematically targeted and “othered” by the most powerful socio-political force of India today -- the Sangh Parivar. 

Indian Muslims might further retreat from politics and public life to their scared ghettos in the cities and the countryside. 

Regionally, an emboldened Modi may renew his taught stance with Pakistan. Some period of peace may ensue without any real change in Kashmir. Bangladesh will wait and watch what finally happens with NRC in Assam and the potential NRC in West Bengal. 

However, too much of a strongman notion with South Asian neighbours might isolate India in the region and allow an anti-India front to emerge, perhaps under the patronage of China. A “neighbourhood first” type of initiative of regional cooperation and confidence building could be useful for India and others. 

Such an endeavour will be helpful to build new India’s stature as a big responsible neighbour in the region. Regional cooperation is a two-way stream. India’s neighbours should also pay heed to the former’s genuine regional concerns. 

Modi’s second mandate might encourage more defense spending in India. Relations with China are expected to remain mixed; continuation of trade and economic cooperation on one hand, geo-strategic rivalry in the Indian Ocean on the other. 

Donald Trump is unlikely to give India any economic concession, although he is likely to help Modi by selling US armaments to India with a view to increasing Chinese influence in Asia. 

Regionally and internationally not much change is anticipated from the new Modi government as various limitations will tie its hands as usual. It will again be India’s domestic arena to watch for some changes, if at all. 

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune.