22 April, 2024


Indian Politics: Modi Set For Hat Trick At Home; Caught In Dirty Tricks Abroad

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

After a few setbacks at home and abroad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the BJP to an impressive set of three victories out of four state elections in India’s heartland. If the grand old Congress Party was planning to do to the upstart Modi regime what the gallant Aussies did to Team India at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, the outcome has turned out to be more like – well, the exit of England in World Cup cricket. The BJP won clear majorities in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh; all three northern states won by the Congress in the 2018 state elections. 

The Congress managed to win a majority in Telangana in the south, displacing Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), the regional party that has been in power ever since Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014. There was a fifth election in Mizoram, the northeastern frontier state, where the ruling Mizo National Front has won again. 

The elections in the five states that were spread over the month of November, have been called “the semi-finals” before the final next year – India’s gargantuan parliamentary elections set for April-May 2024 to elect the country’s 18th Lok Sabha. Modi detractors were hoping for a good showing by the opposition that could have been the launching pad for a concerted challenge to Modi and the BJP in the general election next year. Instead, it is Modi who has come out on top and now seems well set to achieve his coveted hat trick triumph. 

Mixed Year

Prime Minister Modi has had a mixed year in 2023. At times he soared internationally, but as of late his overseas gloss has begun to wear off. In June, the Prime Minister made a state visit to the US, where he thrilled Hindutva Indian Americans who flocked to see him in their thousands; was feasted to a state banquet at the White House; and addressed the US Congress for a second time – joining an awkwardly elite club of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Benjamin Netanyahu. 

In August, he attended the BRICS summit in South Africa and played a balancing role between members and aspirants divided over the Russo-Ukraine conflict – that is now reaching a wintry stalemate to Putin’s delight and his detractor’s horror. The climax of India’s global projections was the hosting of the G20 Summit in September.

October and November have not been good for the global image of Modi and that of India that Modi seems determined to cast in Hindutva light. Already in September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made the sensational allegation in the Canadian parliament, accusing “agents of the Indian government” of involvement in the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian citizen and a Khalistani activist. India rejected the accusation vigorously and resorted to diplomatic harassment. Trudeau was ridiculed and reviled by pro-Modi Indian media and pundits. Now the tables have turned.

On 30th November, after weeks of media reporting, the US Department of Justice officially released a criminal indictment that had been filed in the US courts alleging a plot involving Indian government agents targeting Sikh activists around the world, with multiple assassinations planned in Canada and the US. All the information is now out in the public, but what is most concerning is that this information had been shared by US (and Canadian) officials with their Indian counterparts, including at the summit level between President Biden, Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Modi, before the Canadian Prime Minister went public with his government’s allegations.

Yet the Indian government officially rejected Canada’s concerns and created a diplomatic kerfuffle, while full well knowing that the dirty tricks of some of its agents were known to the Americans and the rest of the intelligence sharing five-eye countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and US). The US indictment and Canada’s allegations are not the only instance where the Modi government has been accused of intelligence operations and overreach. Other instances include the conviction of eight former Indian naval officers on espionage charges in Qatar, and operations targeting Khalistani activists in Pakistan, Nepal, Italy, the United Kingdom and Thailand. 

In the UK, just before the June killing in Canada, there were suspicions about the death of another Sikh activist, Avtar Singh Khanda, a 35-year-old who died in a Birmingham hospital after a short illness this summer. The foiled assassination attempt that is the subject of the US indictment targeted the US Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The US indictment will now rekindle the suspicions over Mr. Khanda’s hospital death in Birmingham.

Different Species

To India’s Modi nation, the intelligence overreaches abroad are not a source of embarrassment but a badge of honour, that India under Modi is coming of age in undertaking Black Ops that were once the forte of the likes of the CIA, KGB and Mossad. A sign of Modi flexing India’s muscle globally. The Indian opposition is nationally too weak to challenge this mindset even though it goes against every grain of what were the world views of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and which informed India’s foreign policy and defined its role in world affairs. It was non-alignment or equi-distance from competing powers. 

There were twists and turns under Indira Gandhi, but even she never wavered from maintaining India’s solidarity with the countries of the Global South. Tactically, she may have been the shrewd Bonaparte – as Hector Abhayavardhana, who knew Feroze and Indira Ghandi reasonably well, used to conceptualize – playing imperialism against the masses, and the masses against imperialism. After Narasimha Rao, Indian foreign policy took a markedly pro-western slant, which continued under succeeding Congress and non-Congress governments. But there was no paradigmatic shift either in foreign policy or the domestic commitment to constitutional secularism. Narendra Modi is a different species.  

The all-aligned philosophy of Modi and his Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has come a cropper with their controversial position on Israil’s non-stop retaliation against Hams and the devastation of Gaza. India was isolated at the UN, Modi kept away from a recent virtual BRICS gathering, and India’s pitch to be the voice of the Global South at COP28 in Dubai fizzled out because, as the Politico headlined, climate was crowded out at COP28 by the renewed Israel-Gaza war. But none of this made any dent in Modi’s electoral juggernaut in India. The intelligence cockups and foreign policy setbacks that would have extracted a hefty political price in pre-Modi India or in any other country that practises elections, were hardly an issue at any of the State Assembly elections. 

The opposition, which was solely the Congress in the elections, was too timid to raise them as issues. Going solo to take on the BJP was the Congress Party’s singular blunder. The background to this goes back to the formation of INDIA (Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance) – the multi-party alliance that has been in the making since June 2023, for the purpose of contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha election on a common platform and with a united slate of candidates. Early goings on seemed good, and the project received a terrific boost from the unexpected victory of the Congress Party in the Karnataka State Assembly elections in May. 

North-South Divide

The state elections in November were expected to be used as a pilot opportunity for the (INDIA) alliance parties to field common slates of candidates in the five different states. Then the Congress got back to its old ways, spurned calls for seat sharing by other parties, and went on its own in each state except for handing a handful of seats to the Communist Party (CPM) in Telangana. The Congress apparently thought that it would do well in the three Hindi belt states that it had won in 2018, and new victories would give the Party a better bargaining position for seat sharing in next year’s national election. Now that its cynical scheme has backfired, it would be an uphill task for the Congress Party to mend fences and regain the trust of the other parties in the alliance.

The election results clearly show the north-south divide in India’s electoral politics. The BJP seems unassailable in the Hindi-belt states in the north, but seems unable to make a similar impact in the southern states. Besides the South, regional parties are also powerful in the eastern states. Much is being made by Congress supporters about the Party’s victory in Telangana, but victories in the South are hardly adequate to be competitive nationally. Among the opposition parties, the Congress controls state governments in just three states – Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana. Non-Congress INDIA alliance parties are in power in eight states, and  two eastern states are governed by parties that are not allied with either BJP or the new INDIA alliance.  

With so much disaggregation, it would be impossible for the opposition parties to pose an effective challenge to Modi and the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election. The BJP victories in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan were influenced by a host of factors – the Modi effect, the Central Government’s welfare programs, a deep war chest, strong grassroot level organization, and attractiveness to a new cross-section of voters that includes the youth, women, the more educated, and the more marginalized caste groups. The encompassing canvas of course is the ideology and experience of Hindutva, which has tremendous purchase in the interior Hindi states but little resonance in the coastal and southern states. 

All in all, Narendra Modi seems set for a hat trick next year, notwithstanding allegations of dirty tricks abroad. The state elections in November could have been an effective launching pad for a united opposition to mount a reasonably significant challenge to Modi’s bid for a third term. By its decision to go solo in the state elections, the Congress Party would seem to have irreparably botched what a few months ago looked set to grow into a very palpable challenge to Prime Minister Modi and his BJP government. 

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Latest comments

  • 11

    If ol’ Ranil wears that orange headdress Modi is wearing ……… he might have at least one trick that has eluded him so far ……. if not a hat trick.

    Ranil lacks razzmatazz …….. he’s just plain simple boring ……. with the same outdated crude bag of tricks ……. and no vision

    • 4

      Today’s news, according to new UNDP report, SB Lanka ranks among top 5 most unequal nations in Asia Pacific nations along with China, India, Thailand, Myanmar. In Lanka top 1% own 31% of the total personal wealth ( any guess who that top 1% is ?????) and bottom 50% own LESS than 4%. Further it says, 33.5% populace ( one in three ) currently grappling with vulnerability and deprivation. Thanks to 75 years of politicking. Regardless , many will be voting for Mafia Family members. ( vividly remembering the recent lecture on GDP, by mother of all Kaputas )

  • 5

    that headgear makes him look mad.Thank god our ranil is sane.Imagine him in that headgear.

    • 7

      Caught In Dirty Tricks Abroad
      Caught a home too, but the media that backs him are more effective in suppressing stories. His deals with Adani are a disgrace.

    • 9

      Show some respect for customs and tradition. Different regions have their own styles of headgear and one wears to show respect to the community. I too donned a Punjabi head gear for a wedding. Every male attendee did.
      Did not Tamils wear elaborate turbans? Some still do.

  • 8

    According to one investigative media ( Insider) India always had few of their senior RAW staff, officially posted ( under security related issues) in most of their Western diplomatic missions with the knowledge of host nations. The head was in UK and USA / Canada / EU Counter parts reported to him.Reportedly the whole RAW mission was shut down after controversies of violating protocol. India seems to have accepted ( by not defending) alleged activities in US and UK but not Canada??? .

    • 1

      It takes time.
      Let us wait patiently.

  • 1

    Narendra Dharmodas Modi (NDM) has taken a disciplined approach in developing India to hitherto unknown heights. As usual there may be widespread squalor and poverty amongst a large section of population, but he has made the backbone of the country strong, and those who have do have call the shots. NDM did not want any of his party fellows to come to his mother’s funeral and he appeared as a private citizen. Quite a lot of his “supporters” who are propping up his image and having money seem not to follow a disciplined and an ethical approach and one such example is pitch-fixing in cricket. The local and global situation is such that NDM may not pay a price for that and other indiscretions of NDM’s supporters right now. But later when things might go wrong everything can boomerang on him. The number 2 in the political hierarchy appears to be Rajnath Singh. But he is no match for Modi. So, the entire BJP seems to rest on NDM. In any case, the hat-trick of NDM is a foregone conclusion and pitch-fixing was unnecessary. Hence NDM must caution the supporters to be principled for his own sake.

    • 3

      “Hence NDM must caution the supporters to be principled for his own sake.”
      Even Adani?

    • 4

      “Narendra Dharmodas Modi (NDM) has taken a disciplined approach in developing India to hitherto unknown heights. “
      I just viewed:
      The ‘heights’ seen from a different perspective by a former Finance Minister shows a different picture.

    • 4

      India is currently reaping the benefits of institutional creations and reforms initiated by past governments and individuals with genuine concerns for the country’s future. It is riding the wave of economic and technological growth that is happening in the underdog countries across Asia and beyond. It would be really hard to work against this momentum to keep a country impoverished and uninformed. Only a few nations, like Sri Lanka, have produced and voted in leaders capable of this feat and they have never failed to live up to that reputation.

      Even without Modi, India would likely be in a similar position, perhaps slightly ahead or behind. Modi is good at not being in the way of the ongoing growth momentum driven by intelligent individuals. While acknowledging this, one can still criticize him for potential damage to the trust factor between sections of the Indian society.

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