Modi victory could cause disquiet in West

By Liu Zongyi Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-5 21:48:02

India's marathon general election is moving into top gear. Current poll results show that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to win and Narendra Modi from the party is the favorite to lead the next government. But such a prospect caused some Indian and Western observers to claim that a Modi victory would lead to a period of authoritarian or even fascist rule in the country given his authoritarian style of leadership in his home state of Gujarat.

It's not difficult to understand Indians' attacks on Modi. They are either a result of partisan rancor or concerns over possibly deteriorating religious conflicts if Modi is elected, since after all, Modi cannot get away from the religious riots in 1992 and 2002.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi called for voters to defeat "divisive and autocratic" forces which would "destroy" the Indian ethos in a televised appeal. A group of renowned Indian artists and academics including Salman Rushdie, himself the victim of religious persecution for his acclaimed novel The Satanic Verses, signed a letter to the Guardian to express their "acute worry" that Modi's expected victory would deepen religious hatred.

But India has developed a stable and sound foundation of democracy. Former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency on the country in the 1970s which reduced India to a tin-pot dictatorship for 19 months. She was then discarded by Indian voters because of her "damage to democracy."

Today's BJP is not as powerful as the Congress Party under Gandhi's leadership which was overwhelmingly dominant in India. The BJP has to organize the government with coalition partners. It's very unlikely that Modi will become a dictator. 

The extreme nationalist stand of the BJP has changed. Modi as a prime minister will face different tasks from when he was merely a politician. Modi in the past used some stained political means to seek the support within the party. But if he assumes the prime ministerial post, he will be confronted with bigger challenges than local politics.

Western countries like the US imposed sanctions against Modi for his alleged role in the communal riots of Gujarat in 2002. The US still refuses to issue a visa to Modi now. Although Washington stated that they wouldn't choose a side in Indian elections and Modi also openly said the US visa ban on him wouldn't have a big impact on the US-Indian relationship, there is still visible disquiet about the prospects of the election in mainstream Western media.

In its manifesto the BJP promises a multilateral diplomacy and the establishment of "a web of allies" to further India's best national interests, which steers away from a tilt toward the US held by India in diplomacy in the past decades. This has caused worries from the West.

Western countries like the US hope to use India to counterbalance China, but they don't support India on issues of the country's core interests. The US withdrawal from its super-loose monetary policy led to a sharp devaluation of the rupee and capital flight from India and the US-designed Trans-Pacific Partnership excludes India.

Therefore, India has strengthened coordination with emerging countries such as China and Russia over a spectrum of global issues. 

India in the future will chase more strategic independence. The West has adapted to an India with a weak central government in the past decades. It is afraid that a strongman like Russian President Vladimir Putin will make India really strong and build the country into a challenger to the West economically and politically. The US is particularly upset with the enhanced strategic cooperation among China, Russia and India.

There are some Western media and observers trying to foment discord between China and India by hyping up nationalist Modi's aggressive statements on the border issue between the two countries. They underscored the possibility that India will ally with Japan and Vietnam to contain China after Modi becomes the prime minister.

In fact, it has been a policy for India to offset the negative effects of China's rise by enhancing strategic cooperation with countries around China. It's unlikely that Modi will change this policy. However, it doesn't mean he will strengthen the trend.

Modi was once a practical businessman. After he got into politics, he established good relations with China. A large number of Chinese enterprises invested in Gujarat, contributing to the economic development of the state. Therefore, ties between China and India may become closer under Modi's leadership.

The author is a research fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

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