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.

Reagan’s America, and Modi’s India! Part 1

I am an avid reader of history. I love history. One of the most important reason is that it helps me to understand the common links between past, present and to some extent future as well. Many historians will debate on this, but as I am not an academic or historian, so I will keep this restricted to a general overview of the similarities between different periods of time.

India and America, the former being the world’s largest democracy and the latter being the world’s oldest democracy. Both these countries have shared many other similarities, besides the form of government. Both had freed themselves from the clutches of British imperialism, however at different times in history. America is known as a country of immigrants (atleast until Trump and its followers denied it under the false notion of being a White Man’s land) and ‘Melting Pot’, while India specializes in its ‘Unity in Diversity’ and also known as ‘Bowl of Salad’ on a similar note. America has the statue of liberty, while India just erected the statue of unity, the world’s highest statue. America started hollywood, while India started its own bollywood. Indians have digested American burgers, pizzas and coke, while Americans have imbibed the Indian Yoga, meditation and spirituality. Thats why, many historians have linked both these countries as being natural allies.

Going further, its interesting to study some similar events in both these countries. Infact. I would say India has always looked upon USA as a country to be worth followed. Most Indians have a positive image of USA. This might be because of its immense wealth, opportunities, technology or even for achieving the ‘American Dream’. But unlike England or Australia, which carry the guilt of British colonialism, United States does not have any such baggage when it comes to relations with India. Infact, Pandit Nehru had envisioned India to be a beacon of democracy, unity and diversity just like USA. Even though he and his Nehru-Gandhi family channeled India towards Soviet socialistic model until 1990’s, but the USA before 1947 was always admired by the Indian intellectuals and political elite. That’s why, we see many of India’s top physicist, nuclear scientists, politicians studied in USA before coming back to serve India.

It was only after the WW2 from 1947 until the end of cold war, that USA earned its notoriety for being a bully, and masquerading human rights with its hidden banner of neo-colonialism. After the fall of colonial powers, England and France in 1945, India and the rest of the world saw how USA continued the colonial legacy by imposing its own set of rules to impose democracy or dictatorship as needed, unfair trade practices and waged violent coups, and wars. Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan and many more have seen the dark side of American superpower. And this policy continues to date with some exceptions and change of policies.

But amidst all this, there was a time when USA also had its own set of problems. If Americans reading this article would recollect the swinging 1960’s and 70’s decades, they would agree with me. Except with the only pleasant surprise of 1969 Moon landing, everything else shocked the nation. Starting with the JFK assassination in 1963, followed by assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, Vietnam war and the hippie movement, student protests against war in Vietnam, and thereby closure of many university campuses, Nixon’s shocking comeback in 1969, which further lead to its own set of events such as Watergate scandal and impeachment of Nixon in 1974, Energy crisis due to Israel-Ara war which triggered an oil embargo from the Arab nations in 1973, government corruption, hyperinflation, defeat of USA in Vietnam war by 1975, weak Ford and Carter presidency which caused economic recession and events like Iran hostage crisis in 1979 till 1981. The killing of John Lennon, the champion of hippie movement and Beatles founder, in Dec 1980 can be marked as an end of this swinging decades after which Reagan entered this arena as the President of USA in 1981.

The era from 1981 onwards which officially lasted till 1988 until his term end, but the effect of which lasted for several years to come. It became known as the ‘Reagan era’ or in economic sphere, as ‘Reaganomics’. Ronald Reagan who was the popular republican governor of California won the Presidency with the message to make America great. But unlike Trump’s false promise, he did take actions to restore the lost pride of America. His presidency ushered in wave of economic reforms such as financialization of America, deindustrialization of rust belt, tax cuts, heavy military spending, anti-gay/LGBTQ rights, the ‘Christian-i-zation’ of America by expanding conservative church influence, aggressive foreign policy against Soviet Union, stars wars and the onset of Sci-Fi era, and laid the foundation of winning the cold war by defeating Soviet Union at its own game in Afghanistan and military technology.

As Barack Obama interpreted how Reagan changed the nation’s trajectory:

I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think that people . . . he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

Barack Obama

His presidency led to a conservative America, which was white people dominant. Infact, Reagan’s presidency and victory in cold war can be compared to FDR’s presidency and victory in WW2. Just that the latter was republican while the former was democrat. But just as FDR pulled USA out of the clutches of the Great Depression, similarly Reagan did that during the 1980’s. Reagan electrified America with a renewed energy and enthusiasm, and that’s why we see the movies, TV shows, commercials, music during that era all bustling with a pride of being an American. The Wall street went all high due to the financialization of American business. MBA’s became the most sought out degree, and business/management became the trend over manufacturing which led to the collapse of rust belt. Also, silicon valley started becoming famous with its innovative startups like Apple, Microsoft, HP, Zerox Palo Alto and Oracle dominating the Bay area. Hollywood rode itself on this American ride by making movies which were more patriotic, historic or Sci-Fi such as Indiana Jones, Terminator, ET, Stars Wars, Top Gun, Delta Force, Back to the Future, Full Metal Jacket, Raging Bull, Rambo, Aliens and many more.

Reagan presidency achieved the goal of rebuilding America to beat the Soviets who had challenged them in technology, space race, economy, military and foreign affairs. Thus, Reagan restored the pride of Americans back on the world stage. Here’s the famous Reagan-Bush campaign ad in 1984 which depicts the new change he had brought in America.

But on the flip side, it was this Reagan era which led to the fall of American manufacturing subsequently. It started during 1980’s and continued during the 1990’s and 2000’s until the Great Recession, when later it was realized by the industry. Traditional manufacturing companies like GE went into GE Capital, and this financialization of America turned out to be one of the factors for 2008 sub-prime crisis. The Reagan era policies also led to the rise of China in the manufacturing sector, which led to the emergence of China as an economic power. Also, the Reagan era led to the support of Taliban in Afghanistan as well as providing enormous economic aid to Pakistan, which led to ousting of Soviets from Afghanistan. But this turned out to be just a pyrrhic victory as the same Talibans and Pakistani ISI which were heavily funded with American tax payers money, and weapons from military-industrial complex led to the 9/11 and two Iraq wars. War for oil became the hidden policy from Reagan era onwards which was later vehemently persued by Bush senior in the Iraq vs Kuwait war (1991) and Bush junior in the war against terror, again in Iraq and Afghanistan (2002 to 2007)

Modi’s India to be covered in part 2. Until then, stay tuned..

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