A day before Modi made BJP No.1 in Karnataka, foreign media sees him a leader with potential
On a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP emerged as the single-largest party in Karnataka Assembly elections, the Indian prime minister was dubbed by a foreign media in a piece as a leader who could make an impact.
UK-based Financial Times came up with a balanced piece on Monday, May 15, titled 'How India's Narendra Modi will shape the world" which said though strongman leadership was setting up a pattern across the world and people like Xi Jinping (China), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Donald Trump (US), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey) and Rodrigo Duterte (the Philippines) were making it evident, whether India's Modi also featured in that list "matters a lot".
The FT piece penned by Gideon Rachman said as the leader of the third-largest economy and also soon-to-become most populous country in the world, Modi's "position on the autocracy-democracy spectrum is ambiguous". It said the Indian PM's style is not "thuggish" as that of Putin or Erdogan and neither as "wild" as Trump and Duterte and that he is also "subject to far more checks and balances" compared to Jinping.
Yet, Rachman said from the talks he had during his visit to India last week, he felt there was a similarity with the experience he had in countries like the US, China and Turkey.
"There was the same anxiety among liberals about threats to press freedom and the independence of the courts. And there were familiar concerns that their country's leader is deliberately polarising society to fire up his political base," he wrote.
He said a comparison with Trump could be "most suggestive" for Modi as both have rose to power by campaigning in favour of a "silent majority", against "corrupt elites" and "allegedly pampered minorities". They are also said to be associated with a political discourse which is becoming increasingly extremist; "used identity politics to rally support" and saw Muslims as the "out group" who they can campaign against.
The FT article said this ploy is akin to "playing with fire in India" for the country has 180 million Muslims - the largest minority in any country of the world. It also pointed out the fact that not a single Muslim among 282 BJP members who were elected to the parliament in 2014 is a Muslim and every now and then, a fresh controversy comes up stirring up communal tensions.
It also mentioned about the recent event in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir where an eight-year-old Muslim girl called Asifa was gang-raped and murdered.
"Some local BJP leaders took part in marches and rallies in support of the accused killers, who were Hindus. Yet Mr Modi was slow to speak out. The case prompted 49 senior retired civil servants to write an open letter to the prime minister, accusing him of fomenting a "frightening climate of hate, fear and viciousness in India", adding that in "post-independence India, this is our darkest hour"," said the piece.
Modi's supporters are of the opinion that some horror stories will occur in a country with more than a million inhabitants.
"However, the fears of nationwide violence that accompanied Mr Modi's ascent to office in 2014 have not been borne out. Indeed, India saw much worse examples of inter-communal violence in the pre-Modi era, such as the anti-Sikh riots and killings in 1984," the FT article said.
Modi's friends believe that the PM's real agenda is development and economics and not those that are cultural. His allies in the business community were impressed by his reputation as an economic reformer as the chief minister of Gujarat who meant business.
The article further said Modi's performance nationally was a mixed bag. While the demonetisation drive of 2016 did not deliver as per expectations, other reforms like the good and services tax were likely to help India's long-term economic prospects.
"The GST is over-complicated. Even so, it has helped to break down barriers to trade between India's states, and widened the country's tax base," it said.
"A combination of strong economic growth, Mr Modi's personal popularity and relative social peace have helped to burnish the prime minister's reputation, turning him from a near pariah, who was once banned from entering the US for allegedly supporting communal violence in Gujarat, into a respected international figure," Rachman further added.
The piece concluded by saying that if Modi wins his second mandate in 2019, it would cement his position as one of the leading political leaders internationally but at the same time, would not end the worry that comes about his "political project".