Friday, 19 February 2021

Memo to Modi Supporters: The Election is Over

Memo to Modi Supporters: The Election is Over

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 19 February, 2021


Supporters of Mr. Modi should understand that criticism of Mr. Modi does not weaken him or the government. A democracy can remain robust and be responsive to the needs of its citizens only if citizens openly criticize the government. Modi’s followers and supporters should stop perennially being in campaign mode. The election is over. Being so defensive about Modi only hurts their own interests.


The 2014 election is over, as is the 2019 election. Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won both times with absolute majorities. You don’t need to defend Mr. Modi every day against criticism.

Is that clear enough? I say this because I am amazed to see Modi supporters still get furious or excited at any criticism of their leader and jump to defend him.

Let us take a look at some of the criticisms levelled at the Modi government today: the tanking economy; rising petrol prices; rising prices of vegetables and fruits; lack of scientific temper (example: “Cow Science” to be taught in Universities); dictatorial tendencies of the government; comedians being arrested for jokes they did not even make; journalists arrested for months without due process; rowdy gangs (“gaurakshaks” or “cow protectors”) roaming the countryside to beat up anyone they suspect of being involving in cow slaughter, with no due process, and without having to fear prosecution by the local police; lynching of Muslims by vigilante Hindu groups with no justice for the victims; injustices against Dalits; the Supreme Court toeing the government line; and many others.

These are the standard lines trotted out by the “defenders” of the Modi government when confronted with any of the aforementioned criticisms:

  1. What about when Nehru did this …? (i.e., weren’t things as bad as or worse then?) This is an appeal to hypocrisy.
  2. What about when Congress did this … (another appeal to hypocrisy)
  3. What about the Emergency? (How bad were things then?) (used whenever an accusation of authoritarianism is levelled against the government)
  4. See what is happening in Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, etc. (non-BJP ruled states). Why are you selectively targeting Modi? Why don’t you criticize what happens in those states?
  5. Why has Rahul Gandhi gone to Italy? Why is Rahul Gandhi not in India on this important occasion? Why did Rahul Gandhi wear this color shirt yesterday? Why did Rahul Gandhi resign the Presidentship of the Congress Party? Why isn't Rahul Gandhi married? Why did Rahul Gandhi …
  6. Jawaharlal Nehru, who died in 1964, ruined India so much that Modi is still trying to salvage things. How can he show progress? Nothing has been done in India in the 70+ years since Independence, and you want everything in 6.5 years?
  7. What can Modi do? These are difficult circumstances …
    1. Global downturn
    2. Covid-19
    3. People under him are incompetent or do not work hard enough. What can one man do alone? “Modi akela kya kar sakta hai?”
    4. Entrenched bureaucracy, Lutyens elite, Khan market gang, Urban Naxals, anti-Nationals, Sickulars, Khangressis, pasta-loving Italian bootlickers, Macaulayputras, and other malcontents preventing Modiji from executing his masterstrokes because they do not believe in P2G2, 3S, “Acche Din”, and “New India” …
    5. Powerful people do not like a “chaiwallah” (tea-seller) becoming the PM …
    6. Unpatriotic, Khalistani- and Pakistani-funded terrorist farmers, backed by Greta Thunberg, Rihanna, Mia Khalifa, Meena Harris, Justin Trudeau, Ilhan Omar, Jon Cusack, and others …
    7. Assorted groups who are trying to “Break India”, including the “tukde-tukde gang”; all past and present faculty and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University including Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid; Jamia Millia Islamia; Aligarh Muslim University; …
    8. Did I mention Pakistan and China? Modi is fighting them all alone, can't you leave the poor guy alone? How much can he take without your criticism on top of it?
    9. Too much rain, too little rain, cyclone Amphan, cyclone Phani, locust attack …
    10. Brexit, Donald Trump, American election, Climate change, Global warming, El Nino, La Nina, …
    11. Solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, Shani in Rahu's house, Jupiter in Mars' house, Jupiter-Saturn conjunction …
    12. Any other excuse you can think of …
  8. Why do you hate Modi so much?
  9. Foreigners are jealous of Modi and India's ascendancy to superpower status and Indians living in “New India.” That’s why Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P trash India. That’s why the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Guardian write articles critical of Modi and India.
  10. Indians are capable of dealing with their issues. We don’t need foreigners jumping into Indian issues. #IndiaAgainstPropaganda
  11. Say you are right about Modi’s failings, but what is your alternative? Congress? Rahul Gandhi? That “Pappu?” “Bua-Bhatija?” Don’t you understand? TINA!! (There Is No Alternative!)
  12. “You are an anti-national sickular libtard! Go to Pakistan!”

There are many more, but that’s enough for a sampler.


I don’t get it. The whole thing is so childish and silly. This is not what a responsible citizen of a democracy should do.

Sure, you have your favorite politicians and political parties. In the US, you may be a Republican or a Democratic supporter. In India, the choices are many more. You could be a supporter of the BJP, the Congress, AAP, JDU, JDS, Shiv Sena, RJD, DMK, TMC, BJD, CPM, TRS, YSRCP, AGP, SAD, SP, BSP, or any of the many other parties that dot the Indian landscape.

It is perfectly fine to be a huge fan of the BJP and of Narendra Damodardas Modi. There is no problem at all if you think he is God’s gift to India, that he is the greatest Indian ever, better than Ashoka, Vikramaditya, CV Raman, Homi Bhabha, Bhimsen Joshi, or all of them put together. I am not here to tell you not to love Modi. Please continue loving him as you always did. I will not stand in your way.

But at the end of the day, you are an Indian citizen. And a human being. You have certain needs. And the job of the government is to ensure that your needs are met – to the extent possible. That’s why you elected them.

You may love Modi, you may adore Modi, you may even worship Modi. But at the end of the day, it is your life, and you have to live it. Modi cannot live it for you. Worshipping Modi is not going to give you a good job, provide for your child’s education or marriage, or take care of your retirement. It is not going to ensure 24x7 electricity, drinking water availability, good roads, or a good public transportation system. It is not going to ensure justice if you have been wronged by someone with links to the ruling party.

The performance (whatever that may be – good or bad) of his government and the systems he puts in place is going to do all that. Remember that you will have to deal with a life after Mr. Modi is gone. He is 70 years old, mortal, and will have a finite stay in power and on this world (and the former will likely end earlier than the latter). And even if you believe that Mr. Modi is incorruptible and only has the best interests of all Indians at heart, there is no guarantee that those who follow him will be. That is why systems are important. That is why the rule of law is important and why civil liberties advocates are so concerned about the erosion of civil liberties today.

And so, it is imperative that, as a responsible citizen, you should question all that he does do (or does not do) for you in his capacity as the PM and as the leader of the most dominant party in India’s democratic history, ever. Modi’s party, the BJP, dominates the Lok Sabha, the lower house, and has enough clout to ram bills through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, even without a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP is in power in most of the states in India.


So why are you worried when someone questions the government or Mr. Modi? I assure you, your criticism will not cause Modiji to lose his majority in Parliament. He won the election in 2014 to rule for 5 years. Even if the whole of India had criticized him continuously for 5 years, he could not have been unseated. He won a second term in office in May 2019, with an even bigger majority, so your object of adoration, your God, is assured to be the PM until 2024. Let me tell you, I am a fierce critic of Modi, and even I say that as long as Modi is alive, he cannot be defeated – such is his hold on the people of India. I also think that, sooner or later, all the states of India will be under the BJP. Most importantly, there is not an election today or tomorrow. You don’t have to defend Modi against all charges to improve his chances of re-election, since the next election is 4 years away. So what are you worried about? Why this tremendous insecurity?

I hate to break it you all, but your dear Modiji is not God. He is human. So he can fail.

Which means that your lives may not improve just because he is the PM — unless you raise your voice and make yourself heard. Raising your voice to make yourself heard does not mean you are being disloyal to Modi.

Think about it. Say you are a guy and you married a nice girl and have a family now. And say your wife complains to you and says that you are not helping her with housework or in taking care of your child. Are you going to say, “Why are you criticizing me? What’s your alternative? Rahul Gandhi?” Or are you going to say, “Why do you have so much hatred for me?” Or are you going to tell her, “Why don’t you go to Pakistan?” Or, if you have neighbors called Rahul, Jawahar, Indira, and Manmohan, are you going to say, “But I am doing better than Rahul, Jawahar, Manmohan, and Indira do for their families!” (Tip: Your wife won’t care.) If you keep saying “What’s your alternative? TINA!” then one day she might just leave you and find an alternative. Or she might just leave you and hook up with Rahul next door.

This is not how you talk to people in the real world when dealing with real issues in your life. Sure, your wife chose (elected) you. But she has a right to question you about whether or not you are living up to your part of the bargain. That doesn’t mean that she hates you. And in the same way, people who criticize Modi do not necessarily hate him. And just as your wife is not going to leave you just because she criticizes you, supporters of Modi can criticize him when his performance has been sub-par and still vote for him in the next election.


I just had an exchange yesterday with some old friends where I brought up the fact that petrol has gone up to Rs. 100 per litre. During the Manmohan Singh days, the opposition held marches to protest the hike in petrol prices to Rs. 70 a litre, even though that hike was created not by the government’s actions but by the global price of crude oil going up. The opposition then demanded that come what may, the government should have protected the people of India from any price hike.

But today, the price of crude is much lower than what it was during the time of the UPA II government ($60 a barrel today compared to $110 a barrel in May 2014), and yet the Modi government has raised taxes on petrol and diesel to make these essentials so much more expensive. There may be good or bad reasons for this, but the public can and should ask tough questions. Otherwise the only loser is the public – including Modi’s supporters, i.e., you. Mr. Modi has been supported by powerful industrialists like Mr. Ambani and Mr. Adani, and they have demanded concessions in return, and they have gotten it. What have you got, other than a temple in Ayodhya, the demotion of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir and the repeal of article 370, and the abrogation of Triple Talaq? How much have these moves affected you personally? Don't try to answer or rebut me; just reflect on this. I am not suggesting that Modiji has done nothing for the common people. I am just saying that in a democracy, every person has to look out for their personal benefit, otherwise his or her lot will never improve. And the road to that improvement is by asking tough questions. I am aware of all the schemes floated by the government for the benefit of the people. All I am saying is that asking hard questions about how well they work or whether they are working at all is not “anti-national.” It is essential to ensure that those schemes are not simply window-dressing. Consider, for example, the much-touted “Namami Gange” plan to clean the Ganges. Has anything substantial happened there? The Supreme Court itself has upbraided the government repeatedly for not doing enough. Again, do not try to rebut what I am saying. That is not the point. What I am saying that is that if you do not put the government in the dock to answer for their failings in the schemes they have floated, you will not get anything. The Ganga will remain dirty as ever. Who is the loser then? So do not fear criticism of the government, even if you like the leader. Criticism of the government only benefits you.

These are only some of the many concerns that have been raised about this government. There are many, many more, including the diminishing independence of the judiciary, the reduced commitment to the environment, crony capitalism, the treatment of minorities, the lack of scientific temper and the increased emphasis of unscientific products like gomutra (cow urine), etc.

Citizens should question these decisions, because if a government is not questioned, bad things will happen. There is a reason that checks and balances are inbuilt in a democracy – because even the best-meaning of leaders will commit mistakes, if not downright criminal deeds (I know you do not think Modiji will ever commit criminal deeds, but being human, at least he can make mistakes.) And even if you believe completely in Mr. Modi, he cannot possibly ensure that everyone in the BJP will be perfectly honest. And so whenever an attempt is made to dilute those checks and balances – even by the government you voted for – you should oppose it.

Now, I know that supporters of Mr. Modi agree mostly with his decisions. But when it comes to your personal hardship, there is no need to avoid tough questions. Modi’s government will not collapse tomorrow if you question him on things that affect you.

In my view, it is the duty of the alert citizen to constantly question and criticize the government, whichever party the government may be formed of. When elections come, you can always say that, despite all their flaws and mistakes, I like this leader, so I am going to vote for him or her. If you want to influence public opinion to convince people to vote for your favourite leader, nothing wrong with doing it at that time. But getting all riled up about someone criticizing your beloved leader, 4 years before the next elections, is foolish and unnecessary, especially in light of Mr. Modi’s commanding choke-hold on power at all levels in the country.

One of the things that critics of the Modi administration complain about is the erosion of rights, such as the imprisonment of a comedian for 30 days for a joke that he did not even make. Now you may not care about this particular case as the comedian is Muslim and you believe that he was about to outrage Hindu sensitivities. But remember, when not following due process becomes a precedent, it could affect even Hindus. Tomorrow, if a politically connected person with ties to the ruling dispensation gets into an altercation with you for some minor thing (say, a land or a money dispute) and puts you in jail, you will personally feel the pain of not having due process in the country. Just as the Muslim comedian could not get bail because a case was filed against him by the son of an MLA, so too, you might not be able to avail justice if you cross the powerful, even inadvertently. So these are things to be concerned about and protest. Even if you have absolute faith in Mr. Modi, surely you cannot have absolute faith in all Hindus in India or all leaders of the BJP or the RSS? So not everyone who is concerned and criticizes the government is doing it out of personal dislike of Mr. Modi. There are concerns that go far above a single individual.

Even in a loving family, only partners who speak out about what is bothering them or children who demand things get what they want. From the time our children are babies, they know that we love them; yet they cry (complain) because otherwise their needs will not be addressed. Complaining is not evidence of loss of affection or disloyalty. It is necessary to demand your rights. Those who do not demand their rights end up as losers.

Don’t be a loser. Be a winner. Accept criticism of your beloved leader. Reflect on it. It’s good for you and good for the country – and good for your leader, too.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Monday, 25 January 2021

The Consequences of Hubris: Modi’s Disastrous China Policy

The Consequences of Hubris: Modi’s Disastrous China Policy

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 24 January, 2021


India, under Narendra Modi, has made a huge strategic blunder over the last six years by adopting a confrontational policy towards China and a pro-US tilt in its foreign policy. China is far too powerful for India to contend with, and the Modi Sarkar has simply bitten off more than it can chew. The net effect of Modi’s policy towards China is that China today openly takes Indian land without opposition and without even a declaration of war, and India is too weak to evict Chinese forces from its territory or even, for that matter, oppose China. In light of India’s weakness and inability to stop the Chinese from taking whatever they wish, it is clear that India should have pursued friendly relations with China and perhaps even agreed to a land swap and closer alignment of its policies with Beijing in return for a permanent peace on its borders with China (and Pakistan).

India needs to reverse course and pursue friendly relations with China on terms acceptable to the Chinese. Failure to do so will mean ever-increasing losses of territory to China (and perhaps Pakistan) without any compensating advantages such as peace, and continuing erosion of India’s international stature.

It is better to swap land for peace with the Chinese than have them take Indian territory anyway without India getting anything for it.

Background: 2014 to 2020

The Indian government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has pursued a close partnership with the USA and a confrontational policy against China since 2014, both of which are marked departures from previous governments. Examples of the former are the 2+2 dialogues with the USA, which pull India into a closer and closer strategic embrace with the USA, and India joining the military alliance known as the “Quad,” the other members of which are the USA, Australia, and Japan. Examples of the latter are the 2017 standoff in Doklam on the India-Bhutan-China conjunction; Indian MPs’ support for Taiwan; the Indian Home Minister making statements about Aksai Chin (which is under Chinese occupation) being part of India and India working with Vietnam to explore the South China Sea for oil

Location of Doklam, the Tri-State Junction of India, China, and Bhutan. Source to Photo.

China considers the South China Sea its backyard and is extremely annoyed by India’s attempts to undermine its supremacy in the region. China also considers the USA its primary rival and interprets India’s growing closeness to the USA as a hostile action. It would be natural for any rational person to expect China to retaliate against what it clearly sees as hostile actions on India’s part.

Map of Kashmir Area Showing Aksai Chin, Which the Chinese Wrested from India in 1962. Source to Photo.

China was taken by surprise by India’s response in 2017 at Doklam, where Indian forces tried to stop the Chinese army’s attempt to build a road inside Bhutan near the site of the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, and the matter ended in a stalemate. But the Chinese were not put off. Their failure to achieve their objectives in Doklam only strengthened their resolve to forge ahead. Immediately after the ceasefire was announced, China resumed their construction of a road in the same area, as satellite photographs revealed, and even built a village 2 km inside Bhutanese territory. The Indian response was to pretend that nothing was happening and that the problem would go away if only they closed their eyes. Unfortunately for India, that did not happen.

Satellite Photos Showing the Construction of a Full Chinese Village 2 km Inside Bhutanese Territory Near Doklam. Source to Photo.

Things came to a head in May 2020, when Chinese forces crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de- facto border between India and China, but one that has never been ratified by either country – at several places in Ladakh, including Galwan. Despite several skirmishes, Chinese forces have made a significant gain in territory in Ladakh, of the order of 1000 square kilometres and, despite several talks between Indian and Chinese commanders to defuse the issue, the Chinese have not backed off. According to Indian defence analyst Col. Ajai Shukla, Indian forces have pulled back 12-15 km westwards into Indian territory in Depsang, 1 km in Galwan, 2-4 kms in Gogra and 8 kms in Pangong Lake. Col. Shukla called this the “largest loss of territory to China since the 1962 war.”

Satellite Photographs Showing Chinese Construction in the Galwan Valley in Indian Territory. Source to Photo.

This Chinese intrusion in 2020 has clearly terrorized Modi, to the extent that he has been wary of naming China as the aggressor in even a single speech since the Ladakh incursions. It is clear that Modi fears that China may encroach further into India, so he is being careful not to utter a word of criticism against China. What is also abundantly clear is that China can take what it wants at will and India can do nothing about it. After all, if India could, India would have already thrown the Chinese out of Ladakh.

Modi had been trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds as far as China is concerned – before the Chinese incursions in May 2020. On the one hand, he held lavish receptions for President Xi in India and took every opportunity to visit him, even wishing him on his birthday every year since 2016, a tradition that only stopped in 2020 after the Chinese incursion in Ladakh. It should be noted that Mr. Xi has never wished Modi in return. Modi has met Xi a total of 18 times, the most interactions by an Indian PM and a Chinese President, in India (Ahmedabad, Mahabalipuram, Goa), China (Xian, Xiamen, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Qingdao), as well as neutral venues (Brasilia, Ufa, Tashkent, Astana, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Bishkek, Osaka). 

Modi with Xi in Ahmedabad, India, in 2017. Source to Photo.

Yet at the same time, Modi has also angered Xi by trying to act as a big power in the South China sea, by agreeing to joint oil exploration in that sea with Vietnam. He has also pushed India into a close military partnership with the USA, which China regards as its natural rival. This alliance has turned more worrisome for Beijing with the Quad military alliance with Australia, Japan, and the United States. In addition, Modi has been silent as his own Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said in the Indian Parliament that Aksai Chin is an integral part of India, and as prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs, such as Meenakshi Lekhi, attended the swearing-in of the President of Taiwan. The net effect of this flip-flopping – between appeasement and provocation – seems to be that Modi’s peace overtures were seen by the Chinese just as a front for more nefarious designs.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah Proclaiming in the Indian Parliament in August 2019 that Aksai Chin is Part of India. Source to Photo.

The Chinese incursions in May 2020 seem to have brought home the realization to Modi that the Chinese can occupy Indian land at will and that India can do nothing to reclaim that land. Hence the radio silence on all Chinese actions since then, while stoutly claiming that China has not occupied an inch of Indian land. Such a narrative, of course, suits the Chinese, since if they are said to have not occupied any Indian land, they cannot be accused of being aggressors.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Claiming in Ladakh in July 2017 That "Not an Inch of Indian Land Can Be Taken." Source to Photo.

The Chinese Village in Arunachal Pradesh

The latest development in the saga of deteriorating relations between China and India is the recent news that China has built a village in Arunachal Pradesh, on India’s side of the LAC.

Photograph of Chinese-Built Village in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. Source to Photo.

The Indian government denied this fact, saying that the village the Chinese built was on their own land, on their side of the LAC. But in an absolute news shocker that was reported in the papers on 22 January, 2021, the Chinese spokesperson confirmed that indeed, China has built a village on the Indian side of the LAC. The Chinese admission punctures the lies of the Modi government to the people of India, many of whom still believe the previous lies of the government that “not an inch of India is under Chinese control,” as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said.

According to a report in the Hindu on January 21, 2021,

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday said at a press briefing, to a question about the construction, that China’s “position on Zangnan [or South Tibet, as China refers to Arunachal] region is consistent and clear.” “We never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “China’s development and construction activities within our own territory is normal. This is beyond reproach as it is in our territory.”

The Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper, in a report earlier this week, said the area “has never been recognized by the Chinese government.” “China and India haven’t demarcated the border line of this area yet. So they cannot accuse China of building a village on the Indian side,” Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, was quoted as saying.

So the lies of the Indian Government have been exposed. The Chinese have openly encroached on what India considers its territory, by their own admission, and there is nothing India can do.

The Chinese are quietly moving into India and taking what they want, when they wish. Our Prime Minister, despite his vaunted boasts of having a 56 inch chest, is watching powerlessly.

The Chinese have made their intentions very clear. They have said that they do not recognize the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. They call it “South Tibet.” It is, therefore, not inconceivable that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) will simply march down into Arunachal, first taking places like Tawang, which is very important to them because it is a centre for Lamaist Buddhism, the leader of which is the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India; but within probably a year or two, all of Arunachal Pradesh. And all of Ladakh will also likely be gone. Because the Chinese believe that these regions always belonged to them. The question for Indians is, what can India do about this?

The American alliance or the Quad will not be of much help to India in that event (they are of no use today either). Part of the reason for this is political, on Mr. Modi’s part. To even ask for help from America is to admit that India has lost territory in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Modi is very wary of admitting this, because he has created a “strongman” image among his fans in India, which would come crashing down if it were widely realized and accepted that he actually gave up territory without a fight. This is why members of the ruling BJP party have vehemently been denying that Indian territory has been lost.

Second, even if India did ask the US for help, it is highly doubtful that the US would go to war with China over a few border villages of India. It will probably ask India and China to work it out among themselves. If India had continued to maintain their friendship with their previous all-weather ally, Russia, the Russians might have used their good offices with the Chinese to help India, but that boat sailed a long time ago when India dumped the Russians like a hot potato.

How to Win Territory Without Bloodshed

Xi Jinping prefers dealing with a leader like Narendra Modi. And there is a reason for that. Wars are messy. They cause bloodshed and ill-feeling and can cause your own people to throw you out. There was a time when China could afford to lose a million soldiers in a war (the Korean War of 1950-53), but today’s China is a far more prosperous country than the China of 1951. Today’s China is a country where human lives have some value. Perhaps not as much value as in the United States, but certainly more than in India. Modi is very convenient for Xi in this regard. He lets Xi take whatever he wishes without a fight, without spilling valuable Chinese blood.

That is because Modi has not lost anything personally. His popularity is intact. After all, Chinese troops did not walk into Modi's house. Some remote parts of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are what we are talking about. Most Indians have no idea where these places are, and nobody is even going to talk about it – the media, which is completely in the grip of the ruling BJP, will ignore it even when China is in control of all of Ladakh and Arunachal. There is little political capital to be lost with the loss of Arunachal or Ladakh (well, one Parliamentary seat for the former and two for the latter, but these are in the noise as far as numbers go.) In fact, the entire Northeast is irrelevant to Modi’s plans for India, so it is likely that nobody from the BJP will mention it even if India loses that whole area to the Chinese. Modi and the BJP will pretend that it never happened, as they are doing now. India's Defence Minister will continue to claim that “not an inch of Indian territory has been occupied” even when Chinese troops are on the borders of Assam, as he did after the Chinese incursions in May 2020.

According to Hindu texts, the four ways of dealing with an enemy and resolving conflicts are saama (conciliation), daana (bribery), bheda (deception), and danda (punishment). But there is one more way of defeating an enemy: bhaya, or fear. This method is useful against leaders who are cowards and braggarts and whose populations are gullible. These are people who are so afraid of danda (punishment) that they give you whatever you want without a fight without the need for negotiation, bribery, deception, or violence. Modi is among those.

While the Chinese might take all of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, they will also leave a threat of invasion elsewhere if India does not behave itself. They know that India cannot defend itself against a two-pronged attack, and there is the constant latent threat that with Chinese help, Pakistan can annex Kashmir. This gives the Chinese leverage to extract trade concessions from India – namely, that Chinese products will not be subjected to any tariffs at all in India, and the giant Indian market will become an exclusive market for the Chinese. India, in effect, will be subject to Chinese economic slavery.

The Baggage of 1962

It is ironic that, for a man who made his career criticizing Jawaharlal Nehru on his Chinese debacle of 1962, Modi has made exactly the same mistake that Nehru made, viz., of underestimating the Chinese and their resolve. It was folly on Nehru’s part to take on the Chinese in 1962 after they had demonstrated the extent of their resolve in the Korean War against the Americans. The Chinese did not even have a nuclear weapon in 1951, and yet Mao Zedong decided that he would not allow American forces to be on the Korean-Chinese border during the Korean war. When General Douglas MacArthur continued to push American forces up to the Yalu river, the border between China and North Korea, after his successful counter-attack at Inchon (see map below), the Chinese attacked with overwhelming force, massacring the Americans. Even though the Americans eventually stabilized the front at near the 38th parallel (see the Truce Line in the figure), the boundary between North and South Korea, they had learned the lesson of not taking the Chinese dragon lightly.

Map of the Korean War, 1950-53. The Blue Solid and Dotted Lines Show the Furthest Extent of US/UN Troops in North Korea, Close to the Yalu River. Source to Photo.

As a highly respected world statesman, Nehru should have taken this very seriously. Yet, in the lead-up to the 1962 war, he pursued a “forward policy” whereby Indian soldiers established positions ahead of the Indian border, into Chinese territory. The reason for the policy was that the McMahon Line, which was considered (by India at least – China never accepted it) as the international border between India and China in Arunachal Pradesh, was a few kilometres south of the high ridges that would provide for adequate defence. Nehru therefore told the army to establish positions on the high ridges. He justified this move by saying that this was the real “intent” of the McMahon Line – to give the high ridges to India for its defence. This was part of the Indian forward policy. While Nehru's interpretation was reasonable, this was technically a violation of the international border that India had itself subscribed to. China, on the other hand, never accepted even the McMahon line because it was negotiated between the British Empire and Tibet, and because, in China's view, Tibet was not authorized to determine the boundaries of China. China claimed a boundary further south, into what is considered Arunachal Pradesh today. Nehru authorized the aggressive forward policy because he never thought the Chinese would react militarily, and that was his folly. Contrary to what many Indians think today, Nehru was not a coward or afraid of China. Quite to the contrary, he was too aggressive and just exceeded his grasp. And, despite the “Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai” (“Indians and Chinese are brothers”) slogan, Nehru was under no illusions and did not trust the Chinese one bit. He just never thought it would come to war.

The McMahon Line. Source to Photo.

The result of Nehru’s overconfidence is now history. India suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China. The Chinese took Aksai Chin and created a new LAC in Ladakh. But they moved back to behind the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh as before, even as they called it an illegal boundary.

In 1962, India and China were roughly equal powers, and yet India lost the war because India was not as prepared for a war and simply did not expect war. Fifty eight years later, the Indian army is in full readiness for a war; however, China is a superpower both economically and militarily. Even if Indian soldiers were to bravely fight in a war, the superior economic might of the Chinese means that they can easily outlast India in a war of attrition, which will lead to another humiliating defeat for India. In addition, today Pakistan is an all-weather ally of China, and so they could use our preoccupation in any war with China to grab Kashmir.

GDP Per Capita of India and China Compared (USD), 1985-2017. Source to Photo.

Unlike in 1962, China today is a global superpower which is capable of challenging the USA for world supremacy. When your next door neighbor is the 800 pound gorilla, you do not try to annoy him. You do not try to irritate him. You try to keep him happy.

And that is what Modi should have done with China. The entire effort to make the US our prime strategic ally was one of the most foolish mistakes any Indian PM could have committed. The US is 10,000 miles away, and it cannot help in any meaningful way in an India-China war. Furthermore, the US is not interested in an actual war with the Chinese, notwithstanding all the noises emanating from Washington about Chinese aggression. It has its hands full with low intensity wars like the war against the Taliban, the war in Syria, and the war in Iraq. The last thing it wants is a major confrontation with China. And the Chinese know it.

What India should have done is the very opposite of what India did under Modi. One of the big problems in India’s China policy over the years is that it has been coloured by the 1962 war. To protect Nehru’s reputation in history, the Congress-ruled central government kept painting the 1962 war as an example of “China stabbing India in the back” over the years, whereas, in fact, it was a war that India had fully provoked and should have expected.

Times of India Headline on November 4, 1962, Alleging Treachery by the Chinese. Source to Photo.

Because of this legacy, India has avoided patching up the Indo-China relationship for decades. This has led to India having to prepare for wars along both its western and eastern borders for decades. This line of thinking misses something quite fundamental about the Indo-Chinese relationship.

India and China have not historically had any quarrel. There is no cultural hangover between the two countries in the same way that, say, China and Japan have, or indeed, as India and Pakistan have. That is the key difference between Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan relations. Pakistan is a sworn enemy of India because of the crucible of partition that was responsible for the genesis of both nations, and the Hindu-Muslim enmity that was the cause of that partition, and that has been growing in India with renewed intensity in recent years with the rise of a Hindu supremacist party, the BJP, in power at the centre and most of the states. This enmity has grown even more over the decades because of the Kashmir conflict and the associated cross-border terrorism since 1988, and the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. It might be fair to say that the India-Pakistan relationship will never normalize.

Pakistani General AAK Niazi Signing the Instrument of Surrender in Dhaka on December 16, 1971, with Indian General JS Aurora Watching. Source to Photo.

There is no similar fundamental difference between India and China. 1962 was an unfortunate war that should never have happened and was caused by many misunderstandings and missteps. The only reason this relationship was not patched up for decades is that for a significant portion of that time since 1962, India was ruled by Congress governments, who wanted to protect the memory of Nehru. A rapprochement with China might have meant (to them) making peace with the country that was the cause of their leader’s disgrace.

One would have expected things to change with the arrival of Modi; one would have expected that he would take a more pragmatic view of China, since he was not weighed down by the Congress baggage of 1962 that had weighed down all the Congress governments at the Centre ever since. Unfortunately, Modi and the BJP seem to have bought the Congress propaganda on 1962 hook, line, and sinker. This is not surprising since all history textbooks for schoolchildren since 1962 have been written to exonerate Nehru and claim that the Chinese engaged in an unprovoked war in 1962, essentially back-stabbing India after agreeing to the Panchsheel principles of mutual coexistence.

The Panchsheel Principles of Mutual Co-Existence. Source to Photo.

Furthermore, in light of China’s superpower status, Modi should have realized that India and Indians live today in a Pax Sinica. India has to be more accommodating of China today than at any other time in history. In the 1960s, Chinese products were known for their poor quality; today that nation is sending missions to the moon and is a pioneer in developing self-driving cars, to name just a couple of examples of worldwide technological leadership. It is an economic, military, and technological superpower.

Self-Driving Car in China. Source to Photo.

Taking all this into account, India under Modi should have pushed hard for a permanent peace on the borders. They should have conceded some territory in the same way that Pakistan traded the Shaksgam valley for peace in the 1960s. In fact, before the 1962 war, Zhou Enlai, China’s Premier, suggested to Nehru in 1960 that he accept China’s claims in Aksai Chin in return for China dropping all claims on Arunachal Pradesh, but Nehru arrogantly refused.

Pandit Nehru, India's PM, with Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Vice-President, Zhou Enlai, Vice-Premier of China, and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Indian President, during Zhou Enlai's Visit to India in 1960. Source to Photo.

Even without a peaceful relationship with India, China is dominating India economically. India exports less than $17 billion worth of goods to China today, while importing more than $65 billion from China. Chinese goods are seen everywhere in India and have already displaced Indian products in many sectors, including electronics, fireworks, and manufacturing. 72% of all cellphones sold in India are Chinese-made, even after the aggression by the Chinese in May 2020.

Market Share of Chinese Smartphones in India. Source to Photo.

Taking all this into account, India should have permanently buried the hatchet by offering land for peace and forging strong economic links with the Chinese. Indian foreign policy, barring the one disastrous mistake with China, has historically been very pragmatic. For decades, the Soviet Union was India’s strongest ally. While a large part of this affiliation was motivated by shared philosophies – India, being a socialist country, found the communist USSR closer to itself than the capitalist USA – geography also played an important part. It is foolish to align yourself with the Yankee eagle sitting 10,000 miles away while the Russian bear is right next door, and so, Indian governments in the past, very sensibly, did not make this mistake.

But the BJP has abandoned socialism completely. This is fine, but there was no need to abandon our relationship with Russia. After all, Russia herself is no longer a communist country but a totalitarian capitalistic country. There is no philosophical barrier that would have stopped the Modi government from continuing with the close relations with Russia that India had historically forged with the USSR. Instead, India dumped the Russians like a hot potato. The result of that foolish decision is that India today has nobody to lean on when things get rough in their neighbourhood. In the past, whenever things got hot with China, India could always rely on the good offices of the Russians to help them out with the Chinese. No longer.

The Way Forward

It is not yet too late. India should drop its belligerent attitude towards the Chinese and realize that this is a much bigger adversary than it can handle; that India exists in a Pax Sinica; and therefore India needs to offer their obeisance to their mighty neighbour. India needs to get down from their high horse and settle the border dispute in a way that China can accept. Otherwise India is needlessly and fruitlessly going to lose more territory.

However, things have changed a lot since 1962. In 1960, Zhou Enlai was willing to accept Aksai Chin in return for dropping claims to Arunachal Pradesh – but that will not be enough for China today, mainly because Aksai Chin is already in their control. What they will want from India today is allegiance and fealty – a stop to the westward tilt that has been the norm since Modi took over, and an acknowledgement of China’s great power status. India lives in China’s shadow today – militarily and economically. The Chinese will want to see India show deference to China in its actions. No more cosying up to Vietnam in the South China sea or friendly ties with the USA. They may allow India to keep the Dalai Lama in India and let him live out the last years of his life in peace, as long as India does not let him step out of his ashram in Dharamsala and does not let him make any provocative speeches, including visits to Arunachal Pradesh, as he did in 2017. There are consequences to being a neighbour of a great power. Indian commentators need to stop the hyphenation of India and China. India is not even in China’s league, and it is best that India recognizes this truth as soon as possible. Most of all, India is still a major power in the world and the biggest democracy in the world, and so, India acknowledging China to be a superpower is a big publicity coup for China. If India does all this, China might agree to settling the border question.

The Dalai Lama on his Visit to Arunachal Pradesh, 2017. Source to Photo.

And this is where it helps that there are no lingering hatreds between India and China, the way they exist between India and Pakistan. Because there is no such bitterness in the India-China relationship, things can be repaired. The Chinese may drive a hard bargain, but they do want peace. This is quite unlike Pakistan, who would like India to be completely destroyed. This is why, against all obstacles, India should push for a peace with China, even on unfavourable terms.

Modi needs to decide what is better – losing more territory and eventually losing face with the Indian public (as the truth must eventually come out), or reach an agreement with China that makes them happy – which might involve ceding some territory and offering obeisance and also stopping the antagonistic behavior. There are very serious consequences to not seeing this reality.

It is important to see how significantly things have changed in India’s own neighbourhood. India is losing friends to the Chinese as they have encircled India with their “string of pearls” strategy. Nepal, once one of India’s closest friends (and a Hindu country to boot) is now firmly in China’s orbit. China is building a railway from Xigatse in Tibet to Kerung on the Nepal-Tibet border to Kathmandu and continuation of the railway within Nepal. Such a railway would relieve Nepal of its dependence on India, which allowed India to bully Nepal in 2015 by imposing a blockade on it. India might soon be staring at Chinese troops on the India-Nepal border when Nepal is unable to repay its loans to China for the railway (worth about $5.5 billion) under the Belt and Road Initiative

The China-Nepal Railway Line. Source to Photo.

Sri Lanka is already deep in debt to China and China is in the process of making that country a dependent, as it already has done with Pakistan. Sri Lanka has ceded the Hambantota port to China for 100 years because it cannot afford to pay them for the cost of the building of the port. China is also building the Port City near Colombo at a huge cost of $15 billion – again, an amount that Sri Lanka cannot pay back, which means that China will own some more real estate in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh recently signed a number of agreements with China that extensively deepened their dependence on the Chinese, with $24 billion in loans from the Chinese to Bangladesh and a total of $40 billion in Chinese investment in Bangladesh. It is just a matter of time before Bangladesh becomes an economic vassal of China and allows the Chinese to establish a military base in Bangladesh. What is clear from all this is that all of India’s main neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are all firmly in the Chinese zone of influence. India can never hope to compete economically or militarily with China for influence in South Asia.

Aerial rendering of Proposed Port City in Colombo. Source to Photo.

On the other hand, being deferential to China has many advantages, chief of which will be that they will guarantee the peace on our borders. China already has invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan, worth $62 billion today. It is not interested in a war between India and Pakistan, because such a war would threaten its investments in the CPEC. If India were to become friendly with China (even with a power relationship acknowledging China as the senior partner), China would put sufficient pressure on Pakistan to curb their terrorist activities. If India can ensure peace on both her western and eastern borders, it would be a huge fillip to economic growth in India.

The CPEC Projects. Source to Photo.

The choice is between China taking Indian territory without a fight and without giving anything in compensation and India striking a “land for peace” deal with China. India will lose territory either way, but with the latter option India can at least ensure peace.

The age of the American empire is ending. The age of the Chinese empire is beginning. It is important to decide which side of history India will be on.

Some may say that what I am proposing is a capitulation, a surrender to the Chinese. But the history of the world has shown that very few countries have been truly independent – a few countries have always dominated the world. Only those at the top of the food chain can afford to be independent in their actions. The rest have to make compromises to survive. The world has always been dominated by a few superpowers over the years – for example, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the British Empire, and most recently, the Soviet and American Empires. Could any country afford to be truly independent in its actions during the Cold War? Even India has been guilty of duplicity, many times. Nehru famously claimed to be non-aligned, but he would not openly criticize the Soviet Union’s actions in Hungary in 1956. And the Indian government under Indira Gandhi, while unwilling to criticize the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was quick to criticize the Americans for building a military base in Diego Garcia, saying that they were opposed to militarizing the Indian Ocean.

Some friends of mine have also told me that they fear that the Chinese cannot be trusted, that they will enter into an agreement but later will demand more concessions. If that does happen, India will have to deal with it. India is in a disadvantageous situation with China. It has been 8 months since the incursions in Ladakh when China occupied about 1000 sq. km. of Indian territory, and India has still been unable to retake the territory that China illegally occupied. India is not in a position to hurt China economically either. Despite all the bluster about boycotting Chinese products, China’s share in India’s mobile phone market has not diminished. Indians clearly value their pocketbooks more than their patriotism. So India really has no choice but to sign a peace deal with China on unfavourable terms.

Such things are normal in international relations. It is just like planets being forced to orbit a massive star because of its gravitational attraction. Einstein said that a massive star distorts the fabric of spacetime and forces nearby objects to move around it in orbits, bending even light. Similarly, the presence of a massive country (economically and militarily) like China forces other countries to orbit that country in deference to its size and follow its lead. It is meaningless then to talk about absolute independence.

To take a different metaphor, we can think of Aesop’s fable about the oak tree and the reeds. The oak tree stood proudly when the mighty winds blew, whereas the reeds bent low and sang a mournful song. The oak tree arrogantly told the reeds that he did not need to bow down before the winds because he was strong. The reeds replied, “do not worry about us. The winds do not harm us. We bow before them and so we do not break. You, in all your pride and strength, have so far resisted their blows. But the end is coming.” When the storm ended, the oak tree had been uprooted and lay dying, but the reeds were still alive.

What will India do under Modi? Will she be pragmatic like the reeds? Or will she die like the oak tree by refusing to bend before China?

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

A Foreigner’s Guide to Understanding India’s Social, Political, and Cultural Issues

A Foreigner’s Guide to Understanding India’s Social, Political, and Cultural Issues

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 15 November, 2020


This India explainer contains essential information for the non-Indian to understand several key issues about India, including the Hindu-Muslim problem; the two-nation theory of Jinnah that still plagues India today; the problem of caste-based discrimination in Hinduism; the influence of British rule in India; the Westernization of India and its post-Independence leaders; the role of English in India; the state of women in India and the problems that India inherited from the past; the progress in the rise of the status of women in India; the science and technology deficits in India that allowed foreign cultures to dominate India for centuries; the defects in the Indian educational system that were remedied by the introduction of secular education in English; and the reactionary response to the progress achieved by a liberal democracy for 70 years from those who had benefited the most from that liberal democracy. The article explains the rise of the BJP and its leader, Narendra Modi, as a consequence of these reactionary responses, charts the recidivism that is characteristic of India today, and concludes with an assessment of where India is headed as a nation.

An epilogue also addresses the broader implications of what is happening in India, and relates it to what is happening in the rest of the world – the rise of racism, discrimination, violence, and tribalism the world over.


I was recently corresponding with a good friend in the US, a White American whom I knew from graduate school. Whereas usually we do not discuss India, I did share with him one of my recent posts on Facebook about the economic policies of the current government and the debate between supply-side and demand-side economics – something of relevance to the US as well. Since this was a post about India, it contained some specific India-related context.

In response, my friend shared with me a couple of articles from the Washington Post about India with his reactions to them. It became immediately obvious that

  • The current situation in India is of significant interest in the West, and
  • My friend could not relate to even the most elementary concepts about India such as caste, and did not really understand the Hindu-Muslim problem.

I realized then that while we Indians take the background of these issues as obvious, they are not at all obvious to most outsiders due to the sheer complexity and historicity of the issues involved. This should not be a surprise to those of us in India — we would be equally illiterate about the scope of the problems facing other countries.

That is why I thought of writing this explainer on current Indian issues for non-Indians: a concise summary of the principal social, political, and cultural issues of India, and their historical causes (Although, at nearly 8000 words, some may contest the adjective “concise,” given the scale of the problems involved in India, I would argue that 8000 words is indeed concise. You could write an entire book about this subject.)

Understanding these issues is crucial to understanding the future trajectory of India, and given India’s importance in the modern world, the future trajectory of the world.

Muslim Rule in India

India was a largely Hindu country until the end of the 10th century CE. There were other religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, but they had been relegated to the status of minority religions by the 10th century, and Hinduism reigned supreme throughout the land. It was then that the large-scale Muslim invasions started.

The early invaders, such as Mahmud of Ghazni, were plunderers who looted and went back to their countries outside what is considered the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan and Afghanistan), but the first Muslim empire was established in India at the end of the 12th century by Muhammad of Ghor after defeating the ruler of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan. For the next five centuries, Muslims dominated power in India. These Muslims came from foreign countries, but settled in India. They spread their religion, Islam, mostly through vigorous proselytization and through differential treatment of Muslims. Even though Muslims were a minority in India, you could get ahead in life if you were a Muslim, maybe get a position in the administration, so they were able to convert a lot of people to Islam. This changed the demographics of the Indian subcontinent. Today's India has about 14% Muslims.

The last Muslim dynasty to rule India also ruled India the longest, for about 200 years. These were the Mughals, whose dynasty started with the invasion of Babur, who defeated the ruling Muslim king of Delhi in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526. The Mughal empire was strong under his successors – Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan, and Aurangzeb – collectively known as the “Great Mughals” - with the empire starting to crumble after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

Thus, for centuries, Hindus were under the yoke of Muslim rulers. Now, in Islam, Muslims are considered first-class citizens; Christians and Jews, who are considered “people of the Book,” (the “Book” refers to the Old Testament, which is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are considered second-class citizens, and those who do not believe in either the Old Testament or the Quran are considered infidels or “kaffirs.” These are third-class citizens. And so, to Muslim rulers, Hindus are kaffirs.

In Islam, kaffirs exist at the mercy of the state. Technically, they have to pay something called a “jiziya,” or a “religious tax” to guarantee their survival. Essentially, this is protection money. Any nonbeliever has to pay this tax, and Hindus had to pay this tax for centuries under Muslim rule, whereas Muslims did not have to.

Not all Muslim rulers enforced these strict rules, but some Muslim kings were highly bigoted and imposed severe rules on Hindus, such as jiziya. In particular, the Emperor Aurangzeb demolished many Hindu temples and built mosques on top of them. He also forcibly converted many people to Islam at the point of a sword. Other Muslim kings, but not all, have also been guilty of these excesses. In particular, Mahmud of Ghazni, in his sack of the Somnath temple in the modern Indian state of Gujarat, famed for its riches, is said to have broken the “shivling” (stone symbol of the Hindu God Shiva) and incorporated the stone pieces in the steps of the Jama Masjid (the Grand Friday Mosque) that he built in Ghazni in modern-day Afghanistan with the looted wealth from India.

Because of all this history, there has been bad blood between Hindus and Muslims for centuries. This is not to say that Hindus and Muslims did not live in peace at all – indeed, there are several unifying forces between Hindus and Muslims. Many of these come from art. The Mughal rulers, in particular, were great patrons of art. The Taj Mahal, the emperor Shah Jahan's monument of love to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was built using the labor of thousands of Hindu craftsmen. Most Mughal art and architecture is a fusion of Hindu and Muslim art forms. A second syncretic art form is that of the Mughal miniature, which is a fusion of Hindu, Persian, and European styles. Music is another important bridge between the two communities. Indian classical music took a completely new form after it acquired patronage under the Muslim empires of India, starting with the Delhi Sultanate and continuing with the Mughals. The music acquired influences from Persia, and new musical forms were created, which survive and thrive to this day in what is known as Hindustani music. Other syncretic musical forms which survive in India to this day are Ghazal and Qawwali, both of which derive from a branch of Islam known as Sufism. These art forms are enjoyed by Hindus and Muslims alike. The influence of Sufism in India goes beyond music. Sufi saints in north India are venerated by both Hindus and Muslims, and people from both communities visit these shrines to pray for their desires to come true.

However, of late, the negative aspects of the shared history between India's Hindus and Muslims appear to have taken centrestage and have tended to overshadow the positive aspects of the relationship.

British Rule and Introduction of Western Ideas

In 1612, the first British traders approached the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, to ask permission to trade in India. Their trading company, called the East India Company, gradually transformed from a trading company to the company that ruled India by taking advantage of the constant warfare between Indian kings. In 1757, they achieved their first significant military victory in the east of India to gain their first territory in India, Bengal. From here, within a century, the British had completely conquered India, and the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan) became part of the British colonial empire.

The British stripped India to the bone for their greed and impoverished it, but they did two things that were beneficial to us Indians. One is that they welded the various diverse kingdoms and provinces into a united “British India.” The other is that they brought western ideas to India – science, technology, the ideas of liberal democracy, and all the combined knowledge and wisdom of western civilization from Plato up to the modern age. One aspect of this, which has benefited India a lot, is the knowledge of English, which today is the lingua franca of the world.

Unlike the Muslim rulers, the British did not settle in India. To them, India was only a colony to be exploited. They allowed Christian missionaries to convert people, but in most of India, Christians, even today, are a minority, except in the north-east states, where some states are almost 100% Christian.

The British needed people to govern a huge country like India. They could not import officers from Britain to man the entire government. So they started setting up Universities in India where they could teach upper-crust Indians the ideas of the west so that they would have an officer class that would understand how to govern India according to the vision of their British superiors and with whom they could communicate in English. The amazing thing about British rule in India is that most of the junior officers in the administrative service were Indians, and the entire army was composed of Indians; and yet, the British ruled India for 200 years.

British rule allowed many of the better off Indians from wealthy families to study in London. Many of independent India's future leaders studied law in the elite law colleges of London and became successful and wealthy barristers in India. Some of these elites realized that something was very wrong in the colonial slavery that bound India to England, and started the freedom movement. Mohandas K. Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi, who is considered the “Father of India,” was a barrister at law in London before he first moved to South Africa to practice law. While in South Africa, he began to understand the injustice perpetrated by the White government against people of color, and started to preach nonviolent struggle. Gandhi later brought the same ideas to India when he moved from South Africa. India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was also a lawyer educated in Cambridge, who had a successful practice in India before he took up the leadership of the freedom movement, guided by Gandhi.

When India became independent in 1947, it was leaders like Nehru – western-educated, liberal, scientifically inclined, believers in equality – who took power. They wrote the Constitution of India, which was modeled on the liberal Constitutions of the US and Britain.

But they were very different from the masses of India whom they ruled. Most of the Indian population was illiterate and stuck in the dark ages. Many still are. And therein lies the existential problem of India.

The Two-Nation Theory

When the time came for the British to leave India, the Muslims of India, led by a man called Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said that the Muslims, who were at the time about 30% of British India, would not feel safe in a Hindu-majority India, now that the British were not around to keep the peace between the two communities. They claimed that Hindus would revenge themselves on the Muslims for centuries of Muslim rule, and the only way to prevent this was the partition of India into Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority countries. In two regions of British India, the far west and the east, the percentage of Muslims was high enough to convert these provinces into the Muslim nation that Jinnah wanted – and these two regions together became Pakistan in 1947.

In 1947, before the partition of British India, Nehru and Jinnah held out two visions of a post-Independent future of the subcontinent. Jinnah propounded the “two-nation” theory, which essentially postulated that Hindus were one nation and Muslims another, and these two nations should go their separate ways. Nehru, inspired by the pluralistic values that he absorbed in Europe, pitched for a secular India, where people of all religions would be equal under the law. Jinnah wanted an Islamic Pakistan. Nehru and other Indians tried hard to convince Jinnah to buy into the pluralistic vision of a united India, but Jinnah stuck to his guns and partition happened. Partition resulted in a pluralistic and secular India, and an Islamic and theocratic Pakistan.

But Nehru and his party, the Congress, did not necessarily speak for all of India. There were many in the India that remained who believed in Jinnah's “two-nation” theory and said that if Pakistan should be the home for Muslims alone, then India should be a home for Hindus alone, a “Hindu” nation where Hindus would be the first-class citizens and others would be second-class citizens. This feeling has grown in the 70 years since Independence, and today I would say a majority of Hindus in India today feel that Nehru and the other Congress leaders made a historic mistake in 1947 by not making India a Hindu nation when they had the chance. This is one key issue driving Indian politics today.

Later, in 1971, Pakistan was further split on linguistic lines to form Bangladesh in the east. Pakistanis from the west spoke the Urdu language and those from the east spoke the Bengali language, and the Urdu speakers of West Pakistan had started to discriminate against the Bengali speakers of East Pakistan. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, in a war in which India helped the Bangladeshis. The 1971 war, in effect, was proof that Jinnah's Two-Nation Theory was wrong, because it proved that the Muslims of British India could not remain united as a nation on the strength of their religion alone.

Pakistan has also been engaged in conflict with India to wrest the Kashmir valley from India. In 1947, “Jammu and Kashmir” was an independent princely state ruled by a Hindu king, even though most of his subjects in the Kashmir valley were Muslim. There were many princely states in British India at the time of independence, and they were given the choice to either join India or Pakistan or remain independent. The king of Jammu and Kashmir chose independence, but almost immediately Kashmir was attacked by Pakistan. The panicked king then asked for military assistance from India to defend his country, and was given it to repel the invaders in return for accession to India. Kashmir acceded to India and the Indian army was able to keep the Pakistanis at bay; but a significant portion of Kashmir had been lost to the Pakistanis. This has been a sore point between India and Pakistan, because both countries claim the Kashmir valley – India due to the king’s official accession to India and Pakistan due to the region’s Muslim majority. India and Pakistan have fought four wars over Kashmir, and Pakistan has been funding and arming an insurgency in Kashmir for over 30 years now.

Since the conflict has its roots in the religious composition of Kashmir, this too adds to the already inflamed state of relations between Hindus and Muslims in India.

Hinduism and Caste Discrimination

Most people who have not lived in India do not really understand caste. Caste is very different from class. You can be born rich or poor. That does not decide whether you will be rich or poor in your entire life. President Bill Clinton was born into fairly humble circumstances and rose to become President of the United States. Others, like President Donald Trump, have inherited huge fortunes and squandered it away.

But caste is a unique feature of Hinduism. Caste is a marker of social status, and is earned only by birth. You cannot gain or lose it. Once you are born into a particular caste, that remains your caste all your life.

A higher caste person will not marry a lower caste person, and the two may not even eat together in traditional Hindu society. Lower caste Hindus will not even sit at the same level as higher caste Hindus. Often, if the higher caste Hindu is seated on a chair, lower caste Hindus will sit on the ground in front of them. Even today, there are frequent instances where lower caste Hindus are killed merely for walking through higher caste neighborhoods or for riding a ceremonial horse on their wedding – they are expected to “know their place” in society. Higher caste people get to do more interesting, enjoyable, and lucrative things; lower caste people are doomed to miserable occupations, generation after generation. For example, Brahmins, the highest caste, are supposed to spend their time in learning, become teachers, etc. Kshatriyas, or warriors, the next highest caste, are supposed to fight as soldiers and generals or rule as kings. Vaishyas are the merchant or peasant class, and come third in the pecking order after Brahmins and Kshatriyas. At the bottom of the ladder are the Shudras, or manual laborers, who will do the carpentry, fishing, and other trades. Even below these are the untouchables, also known today as the “Dalits,” who have to work in the leather trade, cremate dead bodies, and do manual scavenging of human excreta. The jobs for each caste are decided in advance, and someone born into one caste cannot change to another in his life. The untouchables are termed so because it is considered polluting for an upper caste person to even be touched by an untouchable. Some upper-caste Hindus consider even the shadows of the untouchables inauspicious and go for a purificatory bath if the shadow of an untouchable falls on them. Within each category – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, or Dalits, there are hundreds of sub-castes.

Hindus believe in reincarnation - that the body dies but the soul is reborn in a new body. Hindus believe that higher caste people have “purer” souls, and lower caste people have progressively more impure souls as you go down the caste hierarchy. The purity or impurity of their souls are determined by their actions in previous births – if a person does good deeds in this life, his soul is purified, and he may be born in a higher status in his next life, and if he does bad deeds in this life, his soul is degraded, and he may be born in a lower status in his next life. Therefore, if someone is born into a low and degrading caste, it is believed that he has himself to blame for his actions in a previous life that have brought him to this pass. Hence, he cannot complain about the degrading duties imposed on him by virtue of his caste. This is known as the theory of karma. Needless to say, the theory of karmic reincarnation cannot be practically tested, as nobody has verifiable knowledge of their previous lives, if at all rebirth of souls is a fact.

Caste has been the basis of social injustice in Hinduism for thousands of years. On the basis of this theory, people belonging to certain castes were denied even basic education because their souls were believed to be so evil that any education would only be utilized for evil. They were therefore effectively prevented from doing anything except the most menial and degrading occupations. People from lower castes who tried to get educated were often punished by death or mutilation.

In 1891 CE, a remarkable man was born into a family of untouchables. Despite suffering countless indignities in his life because of his low caste, this man, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, managed to get a Masters degree from Columbia University and a doctoral degree from the University of London in Economics, as well as a law degree from Gray's Inn in London on the basis of his prodigious intelligence and his perseverance. In my estimation, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (or Babasaheb Ambedkar as he is often respectfully called) was the greatest Indian public intellectual of the 20th century. And he was a Dalit.

Ambedkar returned to India in 1917 and became the leader of the Dalits, demanding the ban on untouchability in Hinduism and demanding equal rights for them. His tireless efforts made it impossible for Indians to ignore him, and he became the Chairman of the Drafting Council for the Constitution of India and the first Law Minister of independent India. Under his leadership, India drafted a Constitution that banned any form of discrimination against Dalits.

But the mass of Hindus has never been convinced. Hindus, by and large, continue to observe caste discrimination whenever possible. Most Hindus choose their life partners only after first verifying caste compatibility. Atrocities against lower castes continue. People are even today routinely murdered – often by their own parents – because they dared to love someone of a different caste.

One of the signature measures implemented at Ambedkar's instance was the reservation of jobs (Affirmative Action) for Dalits in schools, colleges and government jobs. Upper castes in India have been trying to undo this for decades. Such is the opposition to the upliftment of Dalits among non-Dalit Hindus that every measure taken by the government to improve their lives is sabotaged by non-cooperation and obstruction by the people who are supposed to implement them. The result is that even after 70 years of reservation, Dalits have not progressed as much as they should have.

The Status of Women in Hinduism

To a newcomer to Hinduism, the presence of female Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon might seem like an enlightenment. After all, the Abrahamic religions only have a male God. Christianity talks of His Son Jesus, not of His Daughters. Women are never at the top of the religious hierarchy.

But in India, Goddesses are widely worshipped, and in many forms. There are temples to Goddesses across the length and breadth of the country. They occupy an equal status with male Gods in the temples.

Yet, the life of the real woman in Hinduism is not exalted. For centuries, it was the custom to burn a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her dead husband. This cruel and evil practice was called Sati. If the woman was not burned alive along with her husband, then she was made to wear white robes with no colour at all, was not allowed to wear any ornaments or decorations, and her hair was shorn off. She was not allowed to eat anything tasty, was not allowed to go out of the home, was considered inauspicious, and was asked to spend the rest of her life in a corner in the home, invisible. The reason for both burning the widow and making her life hell is that people were afraid that a single, unattached woman would attract married men and cause them to become unfaithful. So, in the same way that the Taliban today forces women to cover up from head to toe to stop the men from committing sin, Hindu widows were also made utterly unattractive in order that they would not tempt men. To compound the problem, not too long ago, the practice of child marriage existed in India, in which small girls were married to men much older than they were. Needless to say, this meant that a teenage girl might find herself a widow when her 60 year old husband died, and had to spend the rest of her life in this living hell. Many widows ran away from their homes and went to cities to live as prostitutes rather than endure this horrific state of affairs.

Hindus were content with this state of affairs for centuries. The decisive step to end part of the horrid state of affairs was made by the British Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, when he passed the law in 1830 declaring the practice of Sati illegal. He was opposed by a petition signed by thousands of well-to-do Hindus in India, and the matter went to the Privy Council in London, which upheld Bentinck’s law.

Similarly, the right of widows to remarry and actually enjoy their lives instead of being condemned to a living hell was drafted by Lord Dalhousie, another British Governor-General of India, and passed by Lord Canning, yet another British Governor-General of India.

Hinduism is patriarchal, and what this means in practice is that only sons can perform the funeral rites for parents in order that the souls of the parents go to a better place after death. Needless to say, this means that daughters are less valued than sons, because they cannot do this most important duty for their parents. Consequently, daughters did not receive a share of the paternal inheritance.

One consequence of this hankering for male children is that many couples keep giving birth to girls until they have a son. This leads to large, unaffordable families. In addition, the practice of dowry is widespread in India, and so girls are seen as a burden, especially in poor families, which often leads parents to not invest at all in their education or skills. Another consequence is that women are forced to abort fetuses if pre-natal scans reveal the gender of the unborn baby to be female. This has led to relatively high sex ratios in some parts of India, such as 890 females for 1000 males. To stop this, the government passed a law banning pre-natal sex determination in 1994, but the procedure continues to be performed illegally because of huge demand from the Indian public. High sex ratios mean that men in north Indian states, where female foeticide is most widespread, have problems finding women to marry.

Since Independence, under the aegis of government policies enacted by liberal, pro-women governments, more and more women have been able to get an education. A lot of this has not gone down well with traditionalists in India. In particular, educated women are more assertive, and are not likely to be bulldozed into decisions regarding whom they will marry and how many children they will have. Financial independence also means that women will not continue to rot in abusive marriages. Women who work challenge concepts of male superiority, especially because they take their education more seriously than men and, as a result, may earn more, because they are more qualified than their husbands.

In villages in north India, even today, the local laws are decided by what are known as “khap panchayats” or village councils. Many of these khap panchayats have ruled that girls should not wear modern dresses, that they should not use mobile phones as it allows them to socialize with boys and perhaps enter into marriages that are not sanctioned by the elders. These instances illustrate the conflict that Indian women are experiencing even as they have enjoyed greater freedom since Independence, mostly under the watch of progressive, liberal governments.


Until the 10th century CE, Indian science and technology was at the forefront of the world. Indian mathematics was world-famous and gave the world the decimal system of numbers. What are today known as Arabic numerals were, in fact, Indian numerals that Arab mathematicians had learned from India and published in books in their countries. These were, in turn, translated in the west. Indian mathematics was world-famous, and their exponents, such as Bhaskara, Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, and Brahmagupta were centuries ahead of their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, this mathematics was primarily not used to service the physical sciences but used to predict the motion of planets. The motion of planets was only needed to aid in the pseudo-science of astrology. Kings as well as commoners used to believe in astrological predictions, and these in turn depended on the positions of planets and constellations, and so anyone who could predict these with great accuracy could, in theory, predict the future better. Physical sciences were not studied in India; and due to general ignorance in India about the West, the scientific advances of the West in physics and chemistry were not known in India until the advent of British rule.

The failings of Indian technology were made painfully clear when India was repeatedly defeated by Muslim invaders. To take an example, the first Great Mughal, Babur, was the first person to introduce cannon to India. Babur, in turn, had learned about artillery from the Ottomans, and his artillery general was an Ottoman veteran. Indian kings did not know what to make of it, and had no answer to it. The Mughals were one of the three so-called “gunpowder empires,” the other two being the Ottoman empire and the Persian empire. The Indian kings only had elephants, and the elephants were terrified by cannon fire, thus nullifying the one major advantage that Indian kings had possessed in warfare for centuries.

However, Mughal cannon did not keep pace with the development of cannon technology in Europe. Other local powers in India copied Mughal technology, but it had fast become outdated relative to European artillery. As a result, when the British arrived in India, their technology was far superior to that of any of the local kings, including the Mughals. Indian kingdoms always had to beg Europeans for artillery. The Maratha king Shivaji tried several times, unsuccessfully, to persuade the British to sell him cannon because he knew how significant their technology was; but the British demurred every time, saying that they were traders and did not want to take sides – the cannons they had, they said, were for their self-defence. Other Indian kings tried to make alliances with the French to get artillery. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the great Sikh king of the Punjab, for example, had French artillery generals commanding his artillery. But Indians did not have the capability to make their own artillery or to even understand how to use them effectively, because they did not understand the science of ballistics behind it, as the physics of projectiles was a western discovery. They did not even know of Isaac Newton and his laws. Whatever they understood of cannon operation was by watching their foreign generals; but not knowing the science, they could not improve on the weapons or even optimize their use.

The industrial revolution happened in Europe, and Indian kingdoms were not acquainted with the language of western science to even hope to keep up with Europe. Steam power was a western invention, and Indians did not even know how to utilize it effectively. Indians lacked the workshops needed to produce the precision metal parts that were needed for the interlocking gears that were used in these machines. This meant that the Indian textile industry was at a disadvantage relative to that of Great Britain. Powerloom technology, which relied on steam, was capable of much higher productivity than Indian handlooms. This, in turn, doomed the Indian handloom industry.

What happened to the textile industry was a microcosm of what happened to the Indian economy as a whole. By 1700 CE, close to the death of the last great Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, the Mughal economy made up roughly 27% of the world GDP, larger than that of China or Europe at the time. At the close of British rule in India in 1947, that percentage had gone down to 3%. While authors like Shashi Tharoor blame colonial exploitation for this decline, and while there is definitely truth in such assertions, and while it appeals emotionally to the grievance industry in India, what is probably a more likely cause for this decline is that Indian industry simply could not compete with British industry because the industrial revolution happened in Britain and not in India, resulting in widespread adoption of steam power and automation, whereas most Indian industrial processes were manual. Indian industry simply could not compete with the West in terms of productivity, even though it had niche products such as Dhaka muslin which relied on a very high level of manual skill.

The Indian Educational System

The deficit in technology that led to the decline of India as a world power was indicative of a fundamental weakness in the educational system in India at the time of the arrival of European powers. For centuries, India had fallen behind in science. Physical sciences were not even studied in India, because of a general arrogance about Indian superiority – the idea that Indians knew all there was to know.

Nothing illustrates this better than the educational system that existed at the time the British took over, in the early 1800s. An educated Hindu would end up studying Sanskrit, master the Vedas and other texts of Hinduism, and maybe a little elementary arithmetic. Only the Brahmins really went to school.

There were two dominant court languages that one had to master in the pre-British era: Sanskrit and Persian. Just as knowledge of Sanskrit was closely tied in with knowledge of Hindu scriptures, knowledge of Persian was associated with the Quran. Neither system provided a good secular education, with the exception of some mathematics. After all, the main purpose of an education was perhaps to get an administrative position in the government or the Court, concerned perhaps with the administration of revenue, the collection of taxes, or otherwise issuing general public notices in the official language.

This state of things was changed by the Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, in 1835, on the advice of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, part of the Governor-General’s Council, when the official language was changed from Persian or Sanskrit to English.

The move to teach English in India paved the way for the building of great public Universities, and this brought the entire literature of the western world to India, including all the rapid advances in science and technology that had been made in Europe that Indians were completely unaware of. This made Indians realize just how backward their land was.

The Reckoning

Once the British had complete control of India, which was achieved after they quelled the last pocket of resistance in India from the few kings who tried to put up a final resistance in the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion, and once English was the language of education for all Indians, a new generation of Indians grew up under this new, unified system.

This was the reality they had to face. The military of India had proved to be inadequate against the military of first, the Islamic invaders, and later, the British. The science of India was very backward compared to the science of the West – Indians were unaware even of the basics of physics. Due to western education, Indian students studying in school learned that practices like Sati and the treatment of widows were wrong – ideas that their parents and grandparents did not necessarily agree with. Indian technology was behind the technology of Europe, because we had been left out of the industrial revolution. The western medical system proved capable of treating and curing many diseases that usually had meant a death sentence in pre-British India. All the modern developments in the world were recorded in European languages like English, and so adoption of English was the fastest way to catch up and fill the yawning gap in knowledge between India and the West.

A few Indians understood the state of things and embraced the new system with enthusiasm. These became the doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers of the new British India. Some of them also became the assistants to the British administrators of India after passing the Indian Civil Services exam, and became the new elite.

But not all were happy with these developments. One of the people credited with the revival of Indian values in India, Swami Vivekananda, wrote about the state of things as they existed in the late 1800s:

The child is taken to school, and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool, the second thing that his grandfather is a lunatic, the third thing that all his teachers are hypocrites, the fourth that all the sacred books are lies! By the time he is sixteen he is a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless.

Many Indian intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda were unhappy and unwilling to come to terms with the reality that there were flaws and gaps in the traditional Hindu knowledge base. They would have liked Indians to believe that the Hindu system was perfect. For this reason, Vivekananda, in his teachings, emphasized whatever positive content was in Hindu scriptures and did not dwell on the many negative things in Hinduism. He wanted Indians to have pride in their culture, and created an illusion that their culture only had good things by sweeping the nasty parts under the rug.

But reality taught another group of Indian leaders quite the opposite. These, led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, embraced the path of Westernization and modernization to fix the gaps in our understanding of the world in the years after Independence. Our schools and colleges were based on the model the British had left us. The measure of the success of the British system can be seen from the fact that even in British India, a Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to an Indian, Professor CV Raman, in 1930. Another great scientist, Har Gobind Khorana, got his Bachelors and Masters degrees in the Government College in Lahore before moving to England for higher studies in 1945, two years before Independence. Khorana got the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1968.

Nehru, who ruled India as its first Prime Minister, worked very hard to bridge the gaps that had been revealed to Indians by its historic failures. He built great Universities such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO); built a network of coal and steel plants to hasten the industrialization of India; built a network of dams to harness hydroelectricity; and started the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Nehru surrounded himself with scientists and rationalists, and was committed to a scientific vision for India. Nehru was also a staunch believer in democracy and secularism, both ideals he had imbibed from the West. His 17-year reign was a very important reason for India’s political stability after Independence.

A Clash of Civilizations

While Nehru did the right thing in continuing with the British model of education, he and his allies in government were unable to make this model penetrate deep enough into India. The result was that Westernized education, which was the ticket to prosperity and a good life, was restricted to a small, well-off segment of the population. The great mass of the population was unlettered.

Nehru’s economic policies and those of his daughter Indira Gandhi, who succeeded him as Prime Minister, did not help. These policies instituted state socialism as the official economic policy and shackled the natural creativity of Indians. As a result, the students who graduated from the IITs that he built did not find a market for their skills, and this led to most of them leaving India and going to places where these skills were more valued, like the USA.

Indira Gandhi’s policies impoverished India and led it to the verge of bankruptcy. In 1991, faced with a balance-of-payments crisis, and in danger of defaulting on its debts, India approached the International Monetary Fund for assistance, and was told that it would get assistance only if it instituted free market reforms.

With no choice, the Indian government of the day complied, and the ensuing economic reforms resulted in an explosion of economic growth. In the next 25 years, it is estimated that continuous economic reforms have led to about 140 million Indians being pulled out of wretched poverty. The party that was mostly in power when this transformation was achieved was the Congress Party. It was the ideological successor of the party of Nehru and Indira, but had made a 180 degree turn in economic policy.

The resulting economic prosperity led to a newly rich middle class in India. India benefited from the Information Technology (IT) boom, which made huge metropolises out of towns like Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Pune. Riding on the coattails of the newly minted middle class was a lower class whose condition was rapidly improving. What was happening was trickle-down economics in a very real way. As the middle class burgeoned, an attendant service class also boomed – a class of car and bus drivers, clothes launderers, maids, au pairs, watchmen and security personnel, food and goods delivery personnel, waiters in the booming restaurant industry, and the like. The prosperity in the cities led to lower unemployment both in the city slums and in the villages from which people were moving to the slums, leading to a growing urbanization in the country. This was driven largely by a rapidly growing private sector.

Having solved their problem of making a living, this newly rich middle class and the classes they were helping up through their lifestyles finally had time to think of India’s place in the world. And when the Hindus among them reflected on India’s journey in the last several hundred years, they were not happy.

  1. They had been humiliated and made to feel powerless, first by Muslim Invaders first and then the British.
  2. They had learned that their science and technology were backward – that even their current prosperity was only possible because of western advances in science and engineering.
  3. They had learned that their religious texts were considered backward in the world because of evils such as the caste system.
  4. They had understood that their ticket to prosperity was a knowledge of English, not the myriad languages of their country. Many of them felt uncomfortable in and inadequate with English, and this inadequacy greatly troubled them.
  5. They had seen that their ancient medical system was inadequate against most maladies – and that their own lives could not be guaranteed without western medicine.
  6. They were troubled by the equality of women that the policies of liberal democracy had achieved. Even though women occupy a lower status in Hinduism, women in modern India have become more and more empowered. They can divorce their husbands and bring up their children themselves because of their education, something that was unthinkable 100 years ago.

It is against this backdrop that we need to understand who Narendra Modi is and what he represents.

The BJP, the party that Modi leads, and other right-wing Hindu organizations offer the perfect antidote to the conflicts plaguing the modern middle-class Indian.

  1. They say that all of India’s problems today are because of Muslim invaders, the Hindus who collaborated with them and converted to Islam, and the British colonizers. Thus Hindus today can exorcise their humiliation of centuries by revenging themselves on the Muslims of today and making them second-class citizens. (There are no British descendants of any significant number living in India today for Indians to revenge themselves on.) This is best done by making India a Hindu country, where adherents of other religions have no rights.
  2. They say that although the West appears to be far more advanced than India, ancient Hindus were far more advanced than even this; that the ancient Hindus possessed atom bombs thousands of years ago; that, even though the archaeological evidence does not suggest this, the Hindu civilization is actually 5000 or 7000 years old (or even older, depending on your fancy); that they possessed airplanes 5000 years ago, far before Orville and Wilbur Wright discovered flight; that Indians knew all about astrophysics and quantum mechanics long before even physics as a science was discovered in the west; and so on.
  3. They assert that the caste system is not the evil subjugation of some humans by other humans but a “division of labor,” as though someone freely chooses to perform the job of cleaning toilets when he has a choice of being a CEO. Thus Hindus today can close their eyes to the persecution of low caste people and convince themselves that the evil is not in Hinduism but in some perverted individuals.
  4. They claim that Indians should not be educated in English but that they should be taught in their own languages, if necessary by translating all the works of science and technology into Indian languages – even though they themselves have risen up by their limited knowledge of English.
  5. They claim that ancient Hindu medical texts had the remedies for all illnesses – some have even claimed that Covid is treatable by ancient Hindu medicine. These remedies just need to be rediscovered.
  6. They view the emancipation of women resulting from the liberal policies of the Congress as a wrong, and believe that women should be confined to the home to raise children and cook for the men.

So today, there is a conflict in India between two Indias:

  • One, a liberal, pluralistic, scientific, and rational India that does not see its minorities as enemies; that believes the evil of caste should be rooted out; that believes that knowledge of English is a liberating influence because it gives a person access to the world of technology and progress; that believes in freedom of speech and expression, and the freedom to criticize tradition and religion;
  • And another, a backward-looking, hidebound, superstitious, and ritualistic India that seeks refuge in the myth of a great past civilization; that believes in caste hierarchies; that believes in the Muslim as an enemy; that sees English not as the international language of technology but as the language of a colonial oppressor; and that reacts violently to any criticism of its traditions, however justified they may be.

The overwhelming majority of upper caste (i.e., non-Dalit) Hindus (who form roughly 66% of the population) today subscribe to the latter worldview. They are the power behind Modi.

Since 2014, Modi and his party have led a frontal assault on the secular framework of India. The Constitution has still survived, but barely. I am among those who believe that it is only a matter of time before the Indian Constitution is amended to make India a Hindu state. The BJP, Modi’s party, has already been modifying textbooks in many states where it is in power to spread the BJP’s ideas on how ancient Hindus already had all the knowledge that the modern world is only now rediscovering, that Hindus of ancient Indias had flying craft, that Hindus of ancient India possessed the techniques to revive the dead, and so on. The same textbooks claim that the caste system is a marvellous organizing principle of society.

All this is happening even while India is nominally a secular state and before the official conversion of India into a Hindu state.

But even without that formal structure, you can easily mete out injustice to groups you do not like. Muslims do not get a fair shake in Modi's India today because they have to deal with Hindu police, Hindu lawyers, and Hindu judges. The same goes for Dalits. It is not very different from the systemic injustice that Blacks face in the USA.

For nearly seven decades, India had been a bright shining light in the world – a successful Third World country that was the envy of most of the Third World for its liberal democracy and for its scientific achievements. India has been praised for its ability to maintain unity and tolerance in spite of its staggering diversity in religion, language, and culture. While many other Third World countries, many of which became independent at the same time as India or in the next decade or two, descended into chaos, India was the rock of stability that the entire world looked up to. While socialism slowed India’s economic growth considerably for the first 45 years of its independent history, the economic progress achieved in the last 30 years as a result of free market reforms seemed to indicate that the one gap in India’s journey as a young nation, viz., its lack of economic development, had finally begun to be bridged.

But the events of the last 6 years have seen India take a giant step back. We have seen this country turn its back on 70 years of religious and cultural tolerance, and majoritarianism is now ruling the roost. A country that used to be a model of openness and rationality has gone into a shell and is living in the past and in superstition. A country that made giant strides in the emancipation of women is now harking back to conservatism, much as Iran did in 1979. A country that bravely implemented social reform legislation designed to remove the blot of caste discrimination that has scarred India for millennia is now turning its back on the same.

Values like liberalism, freedom of speech, scientific thinking, openness - all of these are at risk of being completely wiped out in India. India today is very close to becoming a Hindu version of Iran.

My guess is that it will happen in the next five years.

Epilogue: Implications and Future Outlook for India and the World

A foreigner who is trying to understand India and who has made it to this point might wonder, “What happened?”

Because, after all, what I have chronicled in the preceding nearly 8000 words could also be titled, “The Decline and Fall of the Secular Liberal Indian Republic.” The alert reader would be wondering, “Why did the wonderful liberal values that Nehru try to inculcate among Indians – tolerance, a scientific outlook, openness, a world free of prejudice, whether religion-based or caste-based – why did these values not take root among the people of India? Why has the India of 2020 essentially rejected the values that Nehru and his comrades in the freedom movement, such as Patel, Rajaji, and Azad, as well as Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution, adopted as the values of independent India?”

Maybe because liberalism and a scientific outlook cannot be imposed on a people. These values have to be lived by a people and adopted by those people. Nehru and his colleagues were inspired by these values by the examples of America and Britain, and they had great admiration for the egalitarian values that were enshrined in the foundations of these democracies. They hoped that India, too would be able to enshrine these values in our democracy.

But it was only the leaders of independent India who had been exposed to the idea of these freedoms and the benefits they bring. The mass of the Indian public had lived a very different reality for millenia – a reality in which inequality, caste discrimination, class discrimination, religious intolerance, misogyny, and tribalism were the norm. And you cannot erase these long-standing, deeply held beliefs by a Constitution or by laws.

Perhaps a couple of examples will help understand how deep-rooted these prejudices are. One of these is from the public domain and the other is a personal example.

The first example is that of the great musician of the Hindustani Classical music sphere, Ustad Amir Khan (1912-1974), widely considered one of the greatest vocalists of that tradition. A younger contemporary of his is the much lesser-known Gokulotsavji Maharaj, who is the head of a religious Hindu institution, who modeled his singing style very closely on that of Ustad Amir Khan, by listening to his recordings. The interesting thing, though, is that Gokulotsavji Maharaj never met his musical idol, Amir Khan, because Gokulotsavji Maharaj is the head of a very orthodox Hindu sect and Amir Khan was a Muslim. So deep are the divides in Indian society.

The second example is that of my late aunt, who used to type movie scripts in Tamil for a fee decades ago. In those days, the late M. Karunanidhi, who would later become the Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu, was a very popular story and script writer for Tamil movies. He would hand write the script and my aunt would go to his home and type the script in Tamil. My mother tells me that in those sessions, Mr. Karunanidhi would tell my aunt, “I know you Brahmins will not eat anything at our home, so can I get you a bottled cold drink from the nearby store as a refreshment while you do your job?” (Karunanidhi belonged to a low caste in Hinduism and was one of the leaders of the DMK party, which was founded to fight caste discrimination.) While this was from a time soon after Indian independence in 1947, it still illustrates how deep-seated caste discrimination is.

That this kind of discrimination continues to this day is illustrated by a news story from last month, in which an elected village chief was made to sit on the floor while her subordinates sat in chairs at a meeting because the village chief is a Dalit.

This is why Nehru’s attempt at transplanting the values of the Enlightenment to India did not succeed, and are not likely to succeed in the future. India has taken an irreversible turn towards illiberalism and rejected the values of the Enlightenment, because India’s divides are too deep to be bridged by intellectualism.

But what of the countries from which the values of the Englightenment originated? The whole world is seeing a rise in intolerance. Four years ago, the USA elected Donald Trump as its President, and with Trump’s rise, America has been polarized as never before. Economic factors definitely played a major role in Trump’s rise in 2014, but equally important is the rise in racism, which has intensified as America has changed from a white-dominated society to one which is much more multiracial and multiethnic.

Four years later, Americans are not much better off economically, and yet, in the election that has just concluded, Donald Trump almost won again. Almost 50% of America voted for a racist, misogynist, foul-mouthed believer in White Supremacy. The apparent defeat (it has not been officially confirmed yet as of the date of this post) of Donald Trump, if confirmed, is no relief for those who do believe in the values of the Enlightenment. That Joe Biden had to win such a close victory despite Trump’s monumental mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic tells us that the US was extremely close to electing Trump for a second term. And there is no guarantee that they will not elect Trump in 2024, if indeed he stands for re-election. More than 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The divisions in America do not look like they are going down; instead, things are only getting worse from the point of view of liberal values.

Let us look at the United Kingdom. The UK stunned the world four years ago when it decided to break away from the European Union that it had joined in 1973. What happened to make the UK leave the EU? Many observers have concluded that the real reason for the UK to leave the EU was racism. Being in the EU meant that people who might have immigrated into Europe from the Middle East and Africa and become citizens of European countries could now settle down in the UK, thus changing the demographics of the UK, and many people simply did not like this. People in the UK already had a foretaste of this in that immigration from Eastern European countries into the UK had dramatically increased in recent years, and many residents of the UK did not like this change.

So, in both the US and in the UK, the reason for illiberalism seems to be a rather homogeneous population gradually being replaced by a multicultural one over several decades. One might then ask, were the principles of the Enlightenment, which are supposedly the ethical and moral basis of several western countries, including the US, the UK, France, written in a day and age when these countries were fairly homogeneous, when these countries could faithfully follow the principles of the Enlightenment without any conflicts, and so were never tested until now? Is that why, when put under the kind of pressure they have been subjected to lately because of immigration and globalization, these principles have been found unpalatable by the residents of these countries? Did these countries adopt these principles as the bedrock of their civilizations without understanding their full import and without an understanding of what might happen if their demographics were to significantly change?

This is a seductive theory – that Western nations have always believed in the principles of the Enlightenment but are now at a crossroads – but collapses on further interrogation. To understand why, let us understand what the Enlightenment was and what its timelines were.

The Enlightenment was a movement that started in the 16th century and continued until the end of the 18th century. Some of the key ideas of the Englightenment were the ideas of the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to ownership of property, the primacy of reason, the idea of evidence-based reasoning, scientific thinking, religious and cultural tolerance, fraternity, the separation of Church and State, the idea of a Constitution enshrining principles of behavior, and the limitations of kingly authority. This is why we find in the American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, the following sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“ This is why the motto of France is “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).

One of the chief thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment was John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher. Locke is considered the Father of the Enlightenment. In 1689, Locke wrote his famous “The Two Treatises of Government.” This seminal work argued that all men are created free and equal; that the only legitimate governments are those that have the consent of the people; that no country has the right to seize the property of another through war and conquest. Locke argued that inalienable and natural rights of human beings were life, liberty, and the right to property. In 1692, Locke wrote his seminal “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” in which he argued that the State and its Courts could not determine the truth of religious beliefs and hence advocated both a separation of Church and State and religious tolerance.

With this understanding, let us now look at the histories of the UK and the USA and ask if they have, in truth, believed in these principles that they profess to hold dear. The USA became an independent country in 1776, following the War of Independence with the British. At that time, America was a fairly small country, containing only the original 13 states. The majority of the country was in the hands of various Native American tribes. Pursuing a policy of imperialist expansion, Americans both deprived Native American tribes of their territory as well as indulged in a genocide of Native Americans. By the middle of the 19th century, the Native American tribes were almost completely annihilated as a consequence of the combination of imperialist warfare and genocide. How does this square with the principles of the Englightenment, and in particular, with Locke’s principle that a war does not entitle the conqueror to the conquered’s property or territory? How does it square with Locke’s principle that the life of every human is a fundamental, natural right?

Likewise, the US is a country that actually practiced slavery until its abolition during the Civil War in the 1860s. Even after this, until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Blacks did not have the same rights as Whites. How do these actions follow principles of the Enlightenment? Locke said that liberty was one of the unalterable and natural rights of every person, yet slavery made a mockery of that right. Likewise, the discrimination that blacks have endured for centuries shows that in truth, Americans did not believe that all men were created equal.

Let us look at the British. Locke, the Father of the Enlightenment, was an English philosopher who died in 1704, but the British Empire, that giant vehicle of enslavement of nations around the globe, took off in earnest only after that. The East India company won its first battle in India in 1757, and by 1857, Great Britain was in control of all of India. The colonization of Africa started in earnest in the second half of the 19th century, and all European powers were involved in what is called the “Scramble for Africa” – a race to enslave the African continent. All of these “liberal” countries are said to have been influenced by the Enlightenment. There was even a conference in Berlin from November 1884 to February 1885 where 14 countries – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the US, France, the UK, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire – sat together to decide how to carve up Africa for the purpose of exploitation and enslavement. “Life, liberty, and the right to property” went out the window right there.

One would have to conclude that when push came to shove, no country has actually believed in the ideals of the Enlightenment, especially those that relate to the rights of the individual and the rights of sovereign nations to take over the property of other nations and other peoples. These individual rights are the basis of jurisprudence in each of these western countries, and they are the basis on which justice is delivered to their own citizens; but these countries did not think that other countries and peoples were deserving of these same rights. Locke said that all men were created equal, and all men had the right to life and liberty. He did not say that only citizens of western countries had these rights. The American Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal,” not “all Americans are created equal.” Yet the Native American and the Black were not considered equal to the White Settlers when the goal was their exploitation. And certainly the British have never believed that all men are created equal.

This is why I believe that, on being threatened by the “browning of America”, Americans will go back to the behaviors they exhibited when they felt threatened hundreds of years ago, by the Native Americans – when their greed for land overcame whatever principles they might have held dear. Just as it was necessary to dehumanize the Native Americans then in order to grab their land, today Mexican immigrants are being dehumanized by calling them drug addicts and murderers, and Black men are shot at the slightest pretext by racist White police officers.

The West has never believed in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment has only served as a basis for the internal justice systems for its own citizens, but the West has always completely disregarded it when it came to those it did not consider as their own. I am, of course, talking here mainly about the aspects of the Englightenment related to the rights of individuals and countries. But the Enlightenment is failing in the West even on other grounds, such as the separation of Church and State and the role of scientific thinking and reason. Many American states are considering passing laws that allow teaching of creationism as an equally alternative “theory” theory to evolution. Americans' belief in science has also significantly waned, as evidenced by denial of climate change, questions on whether Americans actually landed on the moon, and several of President Trump's outrageous claims, especially in the fight against Covid, where he was only too happy to embrace any quackery claims in preference to real science – claims that were enthusiastically embraced by his more than 72 million followers.

If the Enlightenment could not succeed in the countries where it originated, what hope then of it succeeding in a country like India to which it was transplanted by a bunch of western-educated Indian idealists?

What we are seeing around the world is that civilization is simply a veneer, and humans will revert to their venal and tribal selves whenever the going gets tough. This is why racism, discrimination, violence, and tribalism are increasing the world over, from Trump in the USA to Johnson in the UK to Erdogan in Turkey to Bolsonaro in Brazil to Orban in Hungary to Modi in India.

And things are only going to get worse.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.