Weekend Roundup: Modi Follows a Menacing Neo-Nationalist Trend


Kathleen Miles is the executive editor and cofounder of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.

Less than two years into Narendra Modi’s first term as Indian prime minister, an alarming brand of hyper-nationalism is rising. Ministers and right-wing followers of Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling party are labeling a growing number of student protesters, intellectuals and activists as “anti-national” simply for criticizing the government. The message is that you’re either with India and Modi or you’re not — and if you’re not, you may be accused of being a terrorist or of wanting the disintegration of India. Over 3,200 people were reportedly being held in January alone on executive orders without charge or trial.

Modi’s government appears to be a part of a neo-nationalist trend as inequality rises and economic challenges mount in India, China, Russia, Turkey and beyond. Like Modi’s, the governments of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have also recently ramped up nationalism and cracked down on dissenters in an attempt to retain legitimacy.

India’s economy is expected to grow more than 7 percent this year, one of the fastest rates in the world, but it’s struggled to create jobs, leaving millions feeling left behind, including thousands who recently protested. And it seems that Modi feels politically vulnerable — recently, he accused unnamed colluders of “hatching conspiracies every day to finish and defame me.”

In response, many fear that his Bharatiya Janata Party may be trying to replace India’s liberal democracy with an authoritarian Southeast Asian-style democracy that allows little political dissent. BJP politicians have also been fueling religious tensions with provocative speeches and proposals that target non-Hindus, particularly Muslims. Having lost key state elections, the BJP may be calculating that the race-and-religion card is their best bet to hold on to power.

Writing from New Delhi, Shivam Vij makes the case that Modi is using Hindu nationalism to deflect from the “palpable sense that he is unable to deliver” on campaign promises. Jesudas Athyal writes that establishing an Indian “Hindu nation” has long been a dream of right-wing Hindu nationalists and that they are seizing this moment to try to achieve it. Adrija Bose of HuffPost India suggests that an article from 2000 — warning of a “creeping fascism” by a “disillusioned and dispirited” Hindu right — reverberates today. From New Delhi, Aman Sethi details how the recent suicide of a low-caste student led to sweeping protests demanding equality and free speech.

With a more optimistic perspective from Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani claims Asia doesn’t have populism because societies that are hopeful of a better future choose safe candidates, whereas societies whose populations fear the future — like the U.S. and Europe, he says — are driven to try out fringe figures. Howard Fineman asserts Trump’s “fatal flaw” is the series of “gaping holes in [his] claim to be a model of America-first, globally winning business success.”

Miguel Urban, Podemos deputy and European Parliament member, wants the European Union to be democratically overhauled. Juan Fernando López Aguilar accuses European negotiators of becoming reckless in order to prevent the “prodigal son” — the U.K. — from leaving the EU.

Writing from Geneva, Lord David Owen worries that the Syrian civil war risks dragging NATO and Russia into direct conflict. In an interview with Alexander Görlach, Michael Ignatieff laments that the U.S. isn’t helping Europe with the refugee crisis the way it’s helped the old continent in the past. Writing from Athens for this week’s “Forgotten Fact,” Danae Leivada notes that Greece struggled with its migration policy even before the refugee crisis.

With a clean-energy moonshot, Bill and Melinda Gates aim to provide energy to the some 1.3 billion people who don’t have it, thereby reducing poverty and empowering women by saving them time. Sri Mulyani Indrawati applauds immense gains in the global fight against poverty and warns that we’ll need strong leadership to preserve and increase the momentum amid growing risks. A photo essay in our Other Entrepreneurs series profiles the daredevil painters of India.

Yun Byung-se, South Korea’s foreign minister, chronicles Korea and Europe’s growing partnership. Alexandra Ma gives us a rundown of the South China Sea dispute. Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden examine China’s presence in South America and say it is larger there than in Africa. Claire van den Heever explains how China is breaking into Africa’s mobile banking market via WeChat.

Regarding the recent Apple-FBI dispute, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart argues, “If law enforcement is required to show probable cause to a judge … that burden — not warrant-proof encryption — is the strongest protection of our privacy from state intrusion.” Wael Ghonim, a social media leader of the Egyptian revolution, describes the new social platform he launched, Parlio, which aims to elevate online discussions of politically and socially charged topics.

Jessica Schulberg tells us the Iranian elections Friday are unlikely to change much, “in part because democratically elected political bodies in Iran are controlled, to some extent, by unelected leaders who overwhelmingly align with [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and his conservative politics.” Also writing on the elections, Simin Nouri bemoans the fact that not a single woman was approved to run for the Assembly of Experts and that most women vying for parliamentary seats were disqualified. This week, we post the third excerpt from a graphic novel on what it is like to be gay in Iran.

Writing ahead of the U.N. General Assembly special session on drugs, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the U.N., maintains that it’s time to legalize drugs. Rafael Fernández de Castro and Rafa Fernández de Castro praise a new documentary about the drug war, “Cartel Land,” which got an Oscar nomination and won a George Polk Award. Roque Planas posits that if the U.S. wants to extradite El Chapo so badly, sending an ambassador might help — the seat has sat vacant for over eight months.

Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, in the fourth installment of his “Beyond 2050” WorldPost series, contends that as technology develops and makes extended space travel possible, humanity could begin to split into different species. Nathalia Ramos highlights the future of work through photos. Fusion illustrates how close we are to a 3-D-printed human heart. Finally, our Singularity series explores China’s recently announced plans to build floating nuclear plants on the ocean.


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CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

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