Gordon Campbell on Narendra Modi, and the elections in India

On the upside, the gigantic election process that began yesterday in India is the largest exercise in democracy on the planet. Reportedly, a staggering five million people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the election process. The likely outcome is not quite so welcome. On current projections it seems that Narendra Modi is the clear frontrunner, while still falling just short of the 272 seats he needs to gain an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. According to polling reported yesterday in India’s Economic Times, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plus immediate allies within and outside the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will reach 265 seats, seven short of a clear majority. The actual polling will be staggered around India over the next month, and is set to conclude on 12 May. By winning, Modi will oust from power the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party dynasty of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. As the Economic Times points out, Congress is losing ground to Modi right across its former rural heartlands, mainly over issues of corruption:

The ruling UPA as a whole is expected to win just 123 seats, a drastic fall from a high of 228 [in the 2009 election] The pollsters seem to have absolute clarity about the leadership too. They say Modi has an approval rating of 34% while just 15% have polled for Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi…..While Congress is expected to lose votes across rural and urban India, BJP is shown to surge in both the segments taking its vote share to a high of 35%, nearly double the 18.8% it garnered in the 2009 elections. Corruption, according to the survey, remains the biggest issue with 73% of respondents feeling that UPA is very corrupt.

These internal problems of Congress have received far less attention from the global media than what the rise of Modi could bring in its wake.. There is plenty to be worried about. Modi’s brand of Hindi nationalism – he played a key role in stoking communal violence in Gujurat that led to the slaughter of at least 1,000 Muslims there in riots in 2002 – is only one area of concern, however. As Gujurat’s chief minister, Modi has also pursued a slate of extreme neo-liberal economic policies. As a result, Modi is the clear candidate of choice of India’s business elite. Reportedly, a whopping three quarters of India’s CEOs surveyed last year wanted Modi as the country‘s prime minister.

The elite’s enthusiasm for Modi is understandable. The economic wonders of the “Vibrant Gujarat” that Modi has extolled on the campaign trail have been wildly over-stated. Gujurat has always been relatively affluent, and its economic performance has been no better than similarly well endowed areas such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Delhi. Modi’s handouts to India’s mega-corporates on the other hand, have almost beggared belief. As Rohini Hensman points out in this excellent analysis on the OpenDemocracy site:

Gujarat’s growth has been achieved at the cost of handing control over its economy and its resources to large corporations. Modi’s largesse to corporations can be judged by the staggering subsidies offered to Tata, the automobile manufacturer, for its Nano plant and other projects. Although Tata proposed to invest only Rs 2900 crores (1 crore = 10 million rupees) in Gujarat, they received a state loan of Rs 9570 crores at only 0.1% interest – which they do not even have to begin to pay back for 20 years. This was in addition to getting land at throwaway prices, free electricity, and tax breaks.

Some of the background on the Tata Motors deal can be found here. Hensman continues:

Modi similarly bent all the rules to provide another huge Indian corporation, the Adani Group, with a power supply contract that will cost the state of Gujarat an excess Rs 23,625 crores over 25 years. Other companies, including Reliance Industries and Essar Steel, have received similar favours. So when these business leaders sing Modi’s praises and support his candidacy for PM, there is a strong element of quid pro quo. The scale of corruption in Gujarat is stupendous, and those who campaign against it have not fared well. With only 5% of India’s population, Gujarat can boast 22% of the murders and 20% of the assaults on Right to Information activists.

It may be the world’s biggest exercise in democracy. But surely India, and the world, deserve a lot better than Narendra Modi.