Reagan’s America and Modi’s India: Part 2

Continuing ahead with this article from part 1, the current Modi government came to power in 2014. But many of the readers in India can recollect how the events before 2014 were at that time. When I recollect that time, I cannot neglect to compare it with the pre-Reagan times. Even though the local situation in both the countries is entirely different, but the underlying conditions were on a similar tone.

India just like USA before Reagan suffered its own set of debacles. If we trace back long before, it all started with 1984. The assassination of the prime minister of India, Mrs.Indira Gandhi sent a shockwave to the entire nation. Actually, it even changed the political scenario of the country. Because from 1947 till 1984, with few years of exception ( 1977-79) in between, India had been governed by the Congress party, under Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and then Indira Gandhi, single-handedly. Those years were the golden period of the Congress party. But after 1984, things changed overnight. Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi, reluctantly had to accept the position of prime minister. His term even though ushered in a new era of governance, but it also led to split of the party and nation in a deep way. Because it was during that era (1984-1989), that the conflicts of Punjab,Tamil and Sri lankans, Kashmir issue and polarization between Hindus and Muslims widened after Rajiv sided with conservative maulavis regarding Shah-Bano case. After 1989, India saw several governments, some of which were highly unstable and short-term. Unfortunately, Rajiv Gandhi’s unpopular term led him becoming a victim of terrorism in 1991.

The condition of India continued to worsen during 1990’s decade, both politically and economically. With the sole exception of Manmohan Singh and Narsimha Rao’s economic liberlization policies in 1991, nothing much good happened during 1990’s. Even though India tested its nuclear weapons in 1998, but it was soon followed by sanctions from USA, and also within 15 days, Pakistan also tested in response to India’s nuclear test. The Kashmir situation went out of hand, and in 1990, the Kashmiri Pandits had to flee the valley after the fatwah was released by the local conservatives accusing them of being kafirs. On the foreign policy front, India suffered a lot because of the fall of Soviet Union. The USSR had been India’s friend and supporter in international arena, and this sudden loss of support made India foreign policy adrifted. Further, the Kargil war in 1999 brought India and Pakistan almost near to the nuclear attack. India won the war bravely, but later had to suffer from Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of the India for the next 2000’s decade.

Even in the domestic side, the situation had worsened. Already the economy had staggered during 1980’s and even though the economic liberalization policy launched the Indian IT industry on a global stage, but other industries suffered. The politics reached the highest forms of decadence, with communal politics actively promoted in many parts of the country. Dictators came to power in states like Maharashtra, while Bihar became known for Jungle-Raaj due to the notorious Lalu Prasad Yadav’s rule. The Babri masjid incident led to riots and Bombay blasts in 1993. Later, this led to Godhra riots and Akshardham terrorist attack in 2002. Even our sacred parliament was not spared from terrorism by Pakistan and its ISI.

Later, even though the government became stable after 1999 for the next 14 years ( 1999, 2004 and 2009), but India still had to face terrorist attacks in places like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore etc. The train attacks in 2006, and 26/11 in 2008 rocked the city of dreams (Mumbai) to its core. Later, the news of corruption flashed everyday in the media, be it 2G scam, or Commonwealth Games corruption, Indian politicians were breaking their own record of committing higher level of corruption. All this made the public angry and just like the anti-Vietnam war, or anti-bomb movement in USA, India started its movement against corruption led by Team Anna . Even the horrific incidence of Nirbhaya rape in 2012 disreputed Delhi as being the rape capital of India. Those times were indeed full of uncertainity. Inspite of all the difficulties, India continued to move ahead. That India did not break up in parts like Pakistan in 1971 or Soviet Union in 1991. India had become weak but remained united.

And so, people yearned for a change, for a strong man to arrive on the stage. As said by Barack Obama regarding Reagan .”..because the country was ready for it…….”. Same happened for India as well. That year was 2014, and after 30 years of long and arduous struggle, the strong man India awaited desperately arrived on the stage. Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Modi’s arrival as a leader of India in many ways resembles the way Reagan changed America. Since 2014, he has ushered in a way of reforms and movements,some of which include Digital India, Demonetization, GST, removal of Article 370, Article 35 and Triple Talaq, Banking reforms, CAA, Farm laws, Swachh Bharat, International Yoga Day, Make in India, Ayushman Bharat, Jan-Dhan-Yojana etc. And in the foreign policy arena, his performance has been spectacular. Because not only has India successfully guarded itself from any terrorist attacks in its major cities ( except Kashmir), but also has retaliated back with a swift response to Pakistan with not one, but two surgical strikes, in 2016 and 2019 respectively. His astute diplomacy has led to elevation in the stature of India amongst western countries. Because of which, USA, Japan, Taiwan, France has become close to India, and at the same time, India has bonded strong relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE as well.

More than his reforms or foreign policy, it is the positive atmosphere that he has created is what makes him so popular. When I was a kid, I used to hear from my parents and grandparents, about the freedom fighters who fought selflessly against the British for making India independent. The leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Bose spent their entire life for attaining freedom for the motherland. But then few years after independence, the politics got polluted with cynicism and selfishness. Especially in the last 30-40 years, we can hardly find any politician who is not crooked. But Narendra Modi is an exception. Though he is still an politician, and quite adept at playing all the political games. But when it comes to selfish gains, he is simply not a part of it. Most parties including the opposition parties agree on one thing that Modi has not worked for any personal, or family gains. He never showed greediness for power or money. His family lives very simply in the same old ancestral village. This quality of Modi makes him popular and respected. He has spent his entire life for the betterment of nation. His patriotism, his hard work and his down to earth nature made him won the highest power in the country, inspite of not coming from a well off family or even without an elite education.

Thats why, since 2014, a new wave of patriotism, opportunity and pride has been running in the country. Just like the 1980’s when Americans started gaining back the confidence to stand up to the Soviet threat, similarly India is rising up to beat Pakistan at its own game, and to keep China from becoming a dominant power in Asia. India has witnessed a spark of digital revolution, be it financial apps like BHIM, or make in India, or startup India revolution. Not long ago, we could name only a handful of startups in India. But today, many startups have become unicorns and places like Bangalore and Hyderabad are becoming known as India’s silicon valley and genome valley respectively. Indian movies have also come a long way from those old ‘maar-dhad, masala or romantic movies’, and the recent movies have become more nationalistic, social oriented and with a positive message to the viewers. Movies like Dangal, Uri, Haidar, Masaan, Neerja, Shahid, Madras Cafe, Queen, Raazi, Article 15, Pad Man, Udaan, Andhadhun, Udta Punjab and many more highlight the mature side of Indian cinema.

Also, it is worth noting that just as Reagan’s government was known to be a conservative government, with a christian dominance. Similarly, the current Modi government is also known for being right wing conservative with a Hindu pride. Even though it does not mean that they want to make India a Hindu nation, but the fact that Hinduism is being revived is beyond question. The sensitive topics which were ignored for the last 60-70 years such as cow slaughter ban, Ram Mandir, giving citizenships to migrant hindus from neighbouring countries, yoga, ayurveda, ancient Indian history and River Ganga rejuvenation are some of the top priorities of the Modi government. Even though the opposition, Pakistan or even some western countries accuse Modi of being anti-muslims, but this is not at all true. The fact that there has not been a single major riot in any part of the country shows the tolerant nature of both the religions. The only major thing that has happened in the last 7 years is that the leftist forces under the disguise of being secular ( which according to them means anti-hinduism) are being isolated. The left in India had its golden time during the Nehruvian socialism, and even had enjoyed considerable leverage over Indian politics even after the fall of Soviet Union, apparently due to China’s blessings. But since, last 7 years, they have lost the patronage and support of the people. However, few fringe elements of Lutyen’s media ( the self-proclaimed dynastic elite which owns major media networks in India, and has been historically close to Congress party, institutions like JNU and playing the minority card for decades) has still not accepted Modi, as for them he is not like them, who comes from elite background or some dynasty. But Modi and his team have steadfastly tried to form their own media network base using TV channels like Republic TV, and several youtube channels and talk shows. Even the big businesses like Ambani, Adani, Mahindra’s have sided with the government due its pro-business leader and policies. Also, the Bollywood which once upon a time used to be a breeding ground of nepotism, is now being seriously challenged by the newcomers, and even the public are tired of its eliteness, especially after SSR’s suicide. Educational institutions like JNU, Jadavpur university, AMU etc have been in news for either instigating protests against the government. It cannot be denied that there has been polarization in the university campuses, because for many decades since India became independent, these institutions have always carried a leftist or moderate stand. But due to the current government policies, there has been an emergence of right wing influence and the social media like twitter have become a new medium for right vs left fight.

But apart from all the ups and downs, it is quite proven that Modi government has been exceptionally stable, strong and aggressive when it comes to nationalistic policies, military, foreign policy, technology and social issues. And this is going to stay for a while. As said by one of the eminent Indian political scientist said during his talk, that from 1947 till 1989, was the golden period of Congress party with its flagship Nehruvian socialism with a secular pacifist touch. It resembled like the FDR period in America which started in 1933 and lasted until the early 1960’s. The middle period from 1989 to 2014 was a period of uncertainity. It witnessed the gradual decline of the congress party, but at the same time, the slow rise of the current ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP. And finally, since 2014, the golden period of BJP with its flagship right wing, pro-Hinduism, pro-military with a conservative capitalist touch. That’s why, I see so many similarities between Reagan’s USA and Modi’s India. Looking at the way Modi government is taking its giant leap forward, the financialization of the economy ( but through Indian way -Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and Make in India) has begun. Also, has begun the revival of Indian pride along with ancient value system which had been lost during the British Raj, and could not flourish under the Nehruvian ideology as well. Thus, the chapter of ‘Indian’ization of India has commenced.

Moving back to India..

Since moving back to India, it has been quite a different experience. After all, I had stayed in India for more than 20 years, and it was only 5 years back, that I had moved to the United States. That was a big cultural and financial shock for me, and few months back, when I decided to move back to my country, I was expecting another shock ( not cultural or financial, but habitual).

Yes, by habitual I mean I had become quite used to certain things which developed nations like United States have. They include amenities like clean and pollution free air, zero blackouts or incessant supply of electricity and water, exceedingly high speed internet, corruption free bureaucracy, less traffic, less people or crowd on the roads ( sometimes even deserted roads as I had seen only homeless people walk on the roads in USA), automated and fast self-checkout process in banks, stores, or gas stations, display of courteous speech along with good manners with greeting “Good Morning”, or “How’s it going” to everyone we met, and almost every conversation ending with either “Nice to meet you” or “Have a good day”. Even holding the doors for the next person, carefully following the traffic rules, and taking super extra care in the parking lot. I had become used to these basic rules in America( which are not so basic in other parts of the world yet). I was amazed by how fast I had become “Americanized” in just 5 years, even to the extent of becoming comfortable using toilet paper, as we Indians prefer using water ( which is more hygenic, medically proven, cost-saving and environmental friendly)

But after returning to India, I feared how am I going to manage in a country which was known for polluted air, huge crowds, frequent blackouts and shortage of running water, traffic jams, almost reckless display of ingratitude, or lack of manners or greeting in public places, red-tapism in bureaucracy and internet speed which had not passed beyond 2G yet. But after coming to India, its been a wonderful and pleasant surprise on many occasions. First of all, India is still a developing country, and a lot of developments are still in progres. But when compared to the 2010’s India to the current 2020 India, I see a lot of positive changes in India, thanks for the Narendra Modi government.

Apart from politics, as we all know how the current ruling party has sweeped in reforms and changed the way the world looked towards India. But to gauge the real change, we need to see how things are going in public life, by traveling, visiting places, govt offices etc. Hence, after moving back to India, first thing I had to do was reach home safely amidst the burgeoning Covid crisis, just like United States has. Hence, I quarantined myself for 15 days, and it was a good experience to stay in hotel for 7 days for which I had paid quite a hefty amount. The reader might refer my post to know about this travel experience during corona times.

Then, after coming back to my house, I had to make arrangements of some basic things which are needed in a civilized world. So, first I had to take a local simcard, and currently in the Indian market, Jio is the most preferred provider. Hence, I went to Jio shop,within few minutes, I got the Jio simcard, which offers 4G internet speed with 2GB/day bandwidth at the lowest cost in the world ( Rs.600 for 84 days, which comes around $2.8 per month). Even a Starbucks coffee is more expensive than that!

Then I started searching for WiFi connection at home so that I can connect all the smart devices in the house such as Smart TV, Alexa Assistant etc. Based on my past experience few years back, I did not expect great service, speed or even was worried about how much time it might take to start the service. And after reading some reviews in Pune region, I decided to select You Broadband. I contacted them to start a new connection, and within few hours, their representative reached out to me regarding my request. Then he asked to submit the specified docs through Whatsapp, and after sending them, my account was activated. Next day morning, the technician visited my house to setup the fiber connection. I purchased a router and was assisted through video calling for router setup. By the end of the day, my WiFi connection was started. I was surprised with the fast installation, video calling assistance and Whatsapp based docs verification system they are using to assist the customers. And against my presumption, the speed is very good ( I had selected the 50 Mbps unlimited package) and at a very low cost of just Rs.1024/month ( $14/month). In USA, I used to pay around $50-60. Hence, I was satisfied with this experience.

Then, I had to take care of groceries, and I visited the local Indian Walmart in my region, which is the More retail store, owned by Aditya Birla group. Though it isn’t as big as Walmart stores are in USA, but it had all the groceries and food available. I compared the price of food items and found out to be way cheaper than what I used to pay in the States. But some items like toilet paper rolls, kellogg cereals were more expensive, maybe due to the fact that in India, we have more options for breakfast, and not many eat cereals during breakfast. And I was not surprised why toilet paper rolls are expensive in India.

The most surprising thing was use of paper bags instead of plastic bags which are commonly used in Walmart and other stores in the States.

Then, I had heard of ‘twitter diplomacy’, and about it’s use in India for reporting social issues etc. So, I decided to give a try. I updated my twitter profile, and started sending tweets about bank account issues, electricity wire being fallen on the road etc. I was amazed by the immediate response from the respective authorities. I had never used twitter for reporting issues and had relied on traditional ways like calling, or emailing. But the transformative use of social media like twitter in India has made easier for the common man to report issues or any hurdles in the process.

Then, I had to open a bank account as my previous Indian bank accounts were no longer operational. With the demonetization, and digitization wave ushered in India since 2016, I found out many banks in India like Kotak Mahindra Bank, DBS India, SBI, Axis Bank etc are providing online bank account opening, with multiple options like zero balance account, instant account opening feature, all online using their apps. All the verification is done online except the finger print verification, for which we have to go to the bank. But in case of DBS bank, they even visit our house, and take fingerprint, which saves our time. Then, India has started the Unified Payments Interface system for bank transactions using mobile apps such as BHIM, PhonePe etc and its a lot easier than credit or debit cards. I don’t need to carry any cash or even cards ( in a nutshell, no physical wallet) and I can do all the purchase at the stores using BHIM UPI app. This is great for a country which heavily relied on cash till few years back.

Then, even in the food industry, just like DoorDash and GrubHub in USA, we have Swiggy and Zomato which are provide door to door food delivery service. I ordered some food to checkout their service, and as promised I got the best service just like I used to get in the States. The delivery person wears a uniform company, and due to covid, they provide contactless delivery as well. Even in transportation arena, India has Ola to compete with Uber. I found the Ola drivers very cordial, helpful and had taken all the necessary provisions to provide a contactless, and safe ride.

I also happened to travel to Baroda to visit my relatives. Though the travel experience using Gujarat Travels was not at the best, but the booking system by RedBus, GPS tracking of the bus, active social media monitoring done by RedBus, and immediate responding to feedback posted conveyed the message that things are improving in this sector as well. I have a separate post written about this experience. Gone are the days when we used to wait for the bus, and the bus used to come delayed hours later, and there was no way our feedback or grievances could be communicated to the authorities. But now the customer has the voice to raise opinions, post feedback on social media etc.

After relocation, I had to take care of some government provided documents, and even though there hasn’t been much improvement here like banking, telecom, or retail services has, but the process has been partially digitized and many payments are done online. This reduces the corruption in bureaucracy which until few years back had plagued Indian system horribly. Thanks for digitization and active social media platforms, its getting better with time.

Though as mentioned above are some of the new changes which I have seen recently after coming to India, but still many things need to be ameliorated. The customer service is not like what I had seen in the United States. Except Apple, I never faced any trouble reaching out to the other customer service in USA for problem resolution. But in India, it still takes considerable effort to get it resolved, which could be attributed to the fact of India having a huge population and due to which the load on the customer service is relatively higher than United States. Then, we do have pollution ( though it has reduced due to lockdown measures), there are blackouts sometimes, traffic rules are violated sometimes, honking is considered a normal practice, the roads are still small, or dirty, with digging work being done in few places. People are too busy and hence no one cares to greet each other with any American manners. Usually, it boils down to get to the point and get the work done when talking with any one in the stores, or banks.

But as compared to my American habit of not walking out at night alone due to the fear of being mugged, or having the fear of being assaulted by some homeless, or sociopath with a gun, I do not have those fears in India. I had traveled to places like St.Louis ( which has one of the highest crimes rates in the country), New York, downtown Atlanta etc which are known for some violent neighbourhood and shady places. Looking at the current riots, protests, and anti-immigration stand, being an Indian, who is brown skinned made me concerned about my safety whenever I traveled alone at night in US. Atleast I feel a sigh of relief that I no longer have to worry about it while in India. I am not saying that it was unsafe in USA everywhere. There are many good places where everyone is welcomed, and I really liked them. But still, a feeling of being alone in a group remained. After coming to India, and being a part of the society, I atleast do not hesitate to go out at night, and come back safe though I cannot say the same to girls as still their safety is always a concern during night time.

Finally, this isn’t to compare the pros and cons of India and America. There are many on both sides. I was fortunate to have stayed in the United States for 5 years, and it was a great learning experience. I saw the good side as well the not so good side of America. But for India, it has been a time of big changes, and more needs to be done in coming years. Many of us want to make India a developed nation like America. I am not sure when this is going to be, but however developed we might become in future, or however we might try to emulate the American habits such as eating in McDonalds, Pizza, Burger King, drinking Coke, using Iphone, Facebook, Instagram, even buying Tesla, etc but there are some Indian traditions and culture which will always inspire the world, especially Americans and Indians who are staying in America for years, to come to visit India or even come back to India as I have done so. Be it Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, Larry Brilliant, Ram Das, Krishna Das who visited India and which inspired them to change the world, or be it the diversity, food, religion, spirituality which is unique for India, however Americanized or Westernized we might become.

I miss America, but I am also glad to be back to my motherland!