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Why Indian PM Narendra Modi doesn’t deserve the red carpet

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit South Africa at the end of the week, but VASHNA JAGARNATH explains why she won’t be attending the community reception planned for his arrival on July 7th.

Since the announcement that the very dishonourable Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, will be visiting South Africa I have been scowling into my beef biriyani. But this morning things got considerably worse. I had the egregious misfortune of stumbling across the South Africa Welcomes Modi website.

Two questions came to my mind with particular force: 1. How could anyone rally support for a man who is so problematic that he makes Zuma seem like a cute puppy wrapped in a red ribbon on Christmas morning? 2. Who and what is this so-called South African Indian community?

The short answer to the first question is that Modi is a fascist; a fascist who openly declares that he has been inspired by Mein Kampf. In fact, according to Mark Dery, during Modi’s 2015 campaign trail Mein Kampf became the 11th best-selling book in India. Modi is a fascist with blood on his hands, a fascist who has brought India a poisonous mix of hyper-capitalism and Hindu fundamentalism. For South African Hindus to rush to a stadium to celebrate Modi is a prospect at least as grim as whites rushing to a stadium to celebrate President Trump.

The idea that there is a homogenous South African Indian community all waiting to explode into nationalist fervour at a Modi rally is a fiction. To start, plenty of us are enthusiastic beef-eaters. Modi, as part of a strategy of redefining India as a Hindu state, has suppressed the beef industry. On March 3, 2016, the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Modi is the leader, banned the sale and eating of beef in the state of Maharashtra. The reasoning behind this is that beef eating is considered to be unholy by some – note some – versions of Hinduism. The first problem here is that an inclusive secularism has been cast aside in favour of an exclusionary form of (high caste) Hindu fundamentalism. Like most of India, Maharashtra is home to people who are considerably diverse in terms of religion and caste. Yet the beef ban has been imposed on everyone with the result that citizenship is, in practice, being redefined in an exclusionary way.

According to recent statistics, the beef ban has also had devastating material effects on minority communities in both urban and rural spaces. Since the ban, the price of cattle has fallen by 13%. Millions of farmers suffering from years of droughts are struggling to sell their cattle to raise alternate funding streams. Farmer suicides, which have been high in India in the last two decades, have nearly doubled in the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra. So there’s clearly no place for the beef eaters in the “community” getting ready to welcome Modi.

Another group of people who aren’t going to find any place in Modi’s fan club are people who are of Indian descent but who are not Hindus. That’s true for Christians, who have faced serious and sometimes violent hostility from the BJP. It is also true for secular leftists. But it is particularly true for Muslims. Modi’s rise to power was, in classic fascist style, organised around the scapegoating of vulnerable minorities – and Muslims have borne the brunt of this. Modi’s tenure as the state minister of Gujarat was marked by his complicity with an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 during which at least 2, 000 children, women and men were murdered and a further 200, 000 people displaced. There is compelling evidence that the pogrom was planned months in advance with the support of the state government.

Another constituency that will find no home in “the South African Indian community” readying itself for Modi is the LGBTQIA+ community. Modi’s government is so homophobic that it did not even let a bill to decriminalise homosexuality be introduced into Parliament.

The BJP is also committed to entirely reactionary ideas about the role of women in society. Gang rape has been used as a political weapon and as been a consistent feature of attacks on Muslims and Christians. Dalit women, as well as Hindu girls and women seen to be disobedient, have also been subject to rape and other forms of violence and abuse. The BJP has actively sought to police the sexuality and other freedoms of Hindu girls and women, including those involved in consensual sexual and romantic relations with men who are not Hindus. No woman who values her freedom, and the freedom of other women, can be part of any “community” that heralds Modi as some kind of hero.

And for anyone with socialist or social-democratic commitments, Modi’s hyper-capitalism can only be understood as a brutal attack on any idea of society as a collective project. It has also been a ruthless attack on the environment. The unchecked power of big capital under Modi has led to ruinous social, environmental and economic consequences. In Gujarat, he developed special economic zones that subsidised big business and allowed capital in the hands of few families to flourish as the cost of devastation for minorities, lower classes and castes. Many farmers in Gujarat have been left devastated, as vast tracts of land are non-arable because of the pollution caused by unregulated industry.

And, of course, under Modi, India has become an enthusiastic ally of the state of Israel. So if you are a feminist, a socialist, an environmentalist or concerned with the oppression of the Palestinians there is no place for you in any idea of an Indian “community” that sees Modi as some kind of political rock star.

South Africans of Indian descent have always been a diverse group of people in terms of language, religion, class and politics. Some were collaborators with apartheid. Others were committed to trade unions, the African National Congress, the Communist Party, Black Consciousness, etc. Many South Africans with ancestral links to India have very little contemporary connection to India. For some of us, the only languages that we speak apart from English are Afrikaans or Zulu. But there is also a deeply reactionary current that has links to the fascist religious organisations that support Modi and the broader Hindu fundamentalist project in India. It is these people who are now claiming to speak for all South Africans of Indian ancestry as they get ready to welcome their fascist hero.

We should not be entirely surprised by the enthusiastic support in some quarters for Modi. Before the onset of World War II, Adolf Hitler received enthusiastic support from some Americans with German ancestry. Reactionary nationalism is often a temptation for diasporic communities.

But as the reactionary nationalists beat their drums for Modi and his fascist politics, those of us who are deeply appalled by Modi and what he stands for, will make it clear that those who choose to fete a violent fascist leader do not do so in our name.

Vashna Jagarnath currently lectures at the Department of History at Rhodes University. She writes and researches on Indian Cinema, and the history of Pan African intellectuals. Her PhD looked specifically at the various ways Gandhi shaped and impacted upon early 19th and 20th century South African public sphere.

Featured image via Flickr
10 Comments
  1. Mangama Love says

    This is a badly researched article! What Vashna has written – “Modi, as part of a strategy of redefining India as a Hindu state, has suppressed the beef industry. On March 3, 2016, the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Modi is the leader, banned the sale and eating of beef in the state of Maharashtra.” is wrong. It was a previous Congress government of Maharashtra which actually brought in the beef ban. The ban was challenged in High Court, and by the time Court decided on this matter, the Congress government was elected out and the current BJP government was in power. This is what actually happened in Maharashtra. And, please understand that the central government run by Modi has no power to implement the beef ban. It is a matter to be decided by each state government. There are many other similar mistakes in this article.

    About Vashna’s comment “Many South Africans with ancestral links to India have very little contemporary connection to India” – This is expected. You are South Africans. Live in and love your country. No one is expecting you to have connections with a far away country from which your ancestors came. But, after reading this article, I understood one more thing – many South Africans like Vashna have no contemporary knowledge of India. At least I would expect you to study and research about what you are writing, if you like to claim that you are an expert!

  2. Jharna Dixit says

    Vashna…..claiming herself a history lecturer….I feel pity of those students who attend her lectures…..what a clue less article with absolutely zero knowledge of the subject.
    Writing negative might give u some sort of attention but it also shows yr shallow ness.
    you don’t know anything about Bharat….so just keep yr this stupid intelligence with u ………

  3. Amal says

    this is such an important piece. Thank you Vashna for writing it. South African Indians can barely digest the truth that Gandhi was a racist, how will they ever understand that this Modi chap is nothing but a capitalist hate monger?

  4. sandeep says

    haha! wow. so much a hatred. I understand her struggle to write so many lies. Hatred takes you no where dear. “suppression of beef industry “, ” hindu rashtra ” lol. I knw you would never grow up.I wish you dn’t spoil kids with such a hatred. Sad! pathetic!

  5. Dr.Abhilash says

    Disappointing article.. poorly researched…never again reading an article by VASHNA JAGARNATH or by thedailyvox….. Disappointing… no further words

  6. Deena says

    If you are on a trolling or attention seeking mission, congrats you succeeded. This DailyVox is nothing but a pro-Muslim fundamentalist site (judging from the amount of anti-non-muslim articles).

    Would you dare write an article with the sentence ” have been scowling into my PORK biriyani.” when writing an article with the subject of a muslim leader? How about an article about countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran etc, which suppress the PORK industry? You wouldn’t dare do this because you know the threats of violence and death (fatwas) you would face.

    Where was your article when the terrorist leaders of Hamas visited SA and addressed Parliament? The same leaders who called for the murder of Jews (human beings) and destruction of a country (Israel) recognised by the United Nations? You failed to condemn them.

    Where are your articles about Saudi Arabia where apartheid is practised against non-muslims who are BANNED from entering the cities of Mecca and Medina because they are considered infidels and whose lives are worth less than Muslims?

    In Israel, there are not cities forbidden to its Muslim citizens, muslims have equal rights in Israel, including the right to vote. Even in India, they have equal rights and despite being severely outnumbered by Hindus they are not persecuted (unlike their non-muslim humans in muslim majority countries)

    This article and site is written to incite hatred and is gutter journalism at its worst. I came here after a retweet by Shaeera Kalla (former Wits SRC). Disgusted that she supports such hatred, not surprised as she is also brain-washed into hating anything non-muslim.

    1. Azad Essa
      Azad Essa says

      Calm down Deena. You are mixing way too many things up. Please point to an anti-non-muslim article on the site? Please go ahead, I dare you. Else stick to trolling Shaeera. You might actually learn something.

  7. suvarnkumar sinh says

    varshna wants to write like she represents all indians in SA. 10K will go to the stadium, so please talk for yourself only.

    modis record as PM will speak for itself. anc must take notes

  8. Myanc says

    Well…..we went to the Dome. Despite poor ticket distribution, unnecessary queuing and dodgy seating arrangements, it was an amazing evening. The entertainment was good, if not great. The speech by Shri Narendra Modi was truly inspirational and uplifting. He ‘preached’ inclusionism, patriotism, togetherness, and reinforced the need for South Africans of Indian descent to continue to serve our country to the best of our ability. Fascism…??

    1. Rumi says

      Unfortunately, the pro-islamic fundamentalists who run DailyVox, will doing anything (including use of lies) to promote hate and discord in the community and in SA.

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