Why the West finds Modi’s rise inconvenient
April 14, 2014
Newspapers across the Western world are falling over each other with articles condemning Narendra Modi’s likely rise as India’s Prime Minister. From The Economistto the Guardian, from Germany’s Nürnberger Nachrichten (calling Modi ‘racist’) to theNew York Times, commentators are wringing their hands over the loss of the ‘soul of India’. The ostensible reason give is the 2002 post-Godhra riots in which approximately a thousand people were killed — both Muslims and Hindus, which is routinely referred to as a ‘pogrom’ or even as a ‘genocide’.
The West is of course intimately familiar with genocides and pogroms. Western civilisation has wiped out diverse peoples and cultures including an estimated 100 million Native Americans in the American Holocaust and about 6 millions Jews in the European Holocaust. The witch hunts by the Christian Church in Europe’s Middle Ages killed thousands of medicine women and the two European-initiated World Wars of the 20th century killed another hundred million people between them. Communist ideology imported from Europe into Russia resulted in the deaths of several million more under the hands of Joseph Stalin.
Western concern for India’s Muslims is cited as the main reason for opposition to Modi. It is worth remembering that, more recently than the Gujarat riots, the America-led invasion of Iraq resulted in an estimated hundred thousand to nearly half a millionMuslims being killed. This Bush-Blair war had bipartisan support in US Congress, including 58 per cent of Senate Democrats who supported the Iraq Resolution. The Western Left and Right collaborated in this project. The liberal New York Times helpedmanufacture consent for the Iraq war. These hundreds of thousands of deaths, are not labeled as “the Iraq genocide”, but are merely “collateral damage” from the war. Despite the false pretext for this war, neither Bush nor Blair were tried in their countries for war crimes, unlike Modi who went through multiple rounds of judicial scrutiny in India.
Given this history, the West’s apparent concern for Muslims is too facile a reason for the trenchant opposition to Modi. Riots have happened in independent India under many different governments. The British policy of divide and rule had instigated the division of India on religious lines, leading to large-scale displacement and killing. After independence, simmering conflict fanned by politicians broke into riots, most often during the rule of the Congress. In Gujarat in 1969, nearly 5000 Muslims were killed under Congress rule, yet the Chief Minister was not ruled satanic. Unlike in Gujarat 2002, where scores of Hindu rioters were killed in police firing to stop rioters, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots under Rajiv Gandhi hardly saw any such preventative action. However, Rajiv Gandhi was never demonised in Western academia and media. What is special about Modi?
In his book ‘Clash of Civilizations’, Harvard professor Samuel P Huntington laid out his thesis that basic differences in civilisations will result in a clash. In his book he identified ‘Western’ and ‘Hindu’ civilisations among the major distinct civilisations of the world. While Huntington’s thesis has been criticised, we must accept Huntington’s view as an important way the West looks at the world. Huntington was deeply embedded in the institutions of American power. He was the White House Coordinator of Security Planning under President Jimmy Carter, a consultant to the US Department of State, founder and editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a professor at Columbia and Harvard.
The rise of Modi bothers the West because the BJP and Modi, unlike the Congress, appear to stand for the Hindu civilisation. This view may not be far off. Unlike the other parties, the BJP’s manifesto, explicitly invokes continuity with Hindu kingdoms of the past. It sees modern India, as not just born today, but as a continuity of an ancient civilisation. This threatens both the Christian Right and the Secular Left of the West, the two prongs of Western civilisational imperialism. The Christian Right sees the rise of a Hindu civilisation as threatening its conversion agenda, the Left sees it as a “religious” threat to the expansion of Western secular universalism.
Fed on Doniger-esque caricatures of Hinduism and partisan account of the Gujarat riots, they are inclined to view the rise of a Hindu party as an extremely distasteful and incomprehensible existential threat. Just as the a handful of British people ruled India with the help of a large number of Indian sepoys, the intellectual Indian sepoy army that has internalised the Western worldview, view this rise with the same distaste and actively write against it in India and abroad.
The Hindu civilisation doesn’t have the proclivity towards genocide that shows up in the history of the West. Nor does it fit into the categories of “Religious Right” and “Secular Left.” Monotheism has an issue with diversity and a record of persecuting religious minorities since it is based on exclusive theologies that view the other as Satanic. The Hindu civilisation naturally respects different traditions and has a record of diversity and pluralism, including providing refuge to small minorities such as the Parsis and the Jews without any persecution. It aims to raise human consciousness through harnessing the tendencies of the mind. It has had no concept of the “heathen” or the “kaffir.” Neither does it subscribe to the clash of civilisation but to “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or ‘one world one family’.
An India based on Hindu civilisational values is not a threat to its diverse religious groups nor to the West. Indeed it may help civilise, or rather Sankritise it, to make it more refined. This has already been discovered by millions of Westerners practicing mindfulness meditation, Yoga, Vipassana, Sanskrit chanting and other Indian spiritual practices as a way to refine the mind and senses. We can only hope that the mainstream of Western Civilisation will also move away from its tendency towards genocide and towards becoming more Sanskrit. India under Modi is less likely to experience religious violence than it has in the years under Congress regimes since independence because of the humanising effect of Hindu culture. India is finding its soul, not losing it.