David Cohen’s superficial understanding of Indian politics: Pran Kurup

Guest post by PRAN KURUP

This article is in response to a piece published in The Hindu by David Cohen: “Is India about to elect its Reagan” An American backing Modi seems to have got BJP fans all excited, given that the western media has, for the most part, taken an anti-Modi stance driven largely by his rather suspect human rights record.

Cohen finds that Indian elites “look down their noses at Mr. Modi, cringing at the thought of being led by a common chai wallah who can barely speak English.” Cohen is completely wrong here and appears to have a superficial understanding of India and the controversies surrounding Modi.

India has elected any number of leaders over the years who rose from humble beginnings and don’t speak English. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former PM and BJP leader, is widely revered across the country though he never spoke English in public. Even to this day, you have so many elites who back leaders like Achutandanan from Kerala, Mayawati in UP, or Mamta Banerjee in Bengal. In fact, there are a whole host of Indian leaders who fit this “humble beginning, don’t speak English” profile. So Modi is no exception in this regard. 

Next, Cohen goes on to give Mr. Modi a clean chit for the 2002 riots, though the reality is that the case continues and is far from over. Given India’s judicial quagmire, it is highly likely that nothing will ever come out of it and if it does, it will probably be too many years too late. Meanwhile, human rights watch groups and various individuals who dare to write (or make documentary films) about Gujarat paint a very different picture. If you disregard the legal mumbo jumbo, perhaps where most elites  (and for that matter the folks in the US State Department who refused to give Modi a US visa) have an issue with Modi is his refusal to take responsibility for brutal killings that happened under his watch as CM of Gujarat. In fact, it is widely believed that Vajpayee wanted Modi to resign after the riots and the BJP lost the elections in 2004 because of Vajpayee’s failure to act quickly and decisively. One can never imagine Reagan or, for that matter, any American President not taking responsibility for anything that happens during their watch. In fact, such a comparison is highly unfair to Reagan.

On the issue of dealing with Pakistan, Cohen tries to advocate the right-wing Republican predilection for war and the use of force across the world championed by George W. Bush. However, India can achieve better relations with Pakistan not by a PM with a tainted past, and bearing a 56-inch chest and indulging in irresponsible inflammatory sloganeering (like many in the BJP) a la Bollywood style or by a timid approach personified by Manmohan Singh himself. The answer lies in a balanced, pragmatic, diplomatic approach, which lies well between these two extremes.

Next, on the issue of crony capitalism, Mr. Cohen is quite clueless or chose to ignore that Modi is widely believed by many to have doled out land to industrialists (see Nano story) in the name of development, in the process paying little heed to the concerns of environmental groups or the poor who have often been unfairly displaced from their lands.

According to a recent study at Princeton University, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades, America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Modi has already engineered a similar transformation in Gujarat by laying out the red carpet for any industrialist (“Doing business in Modi’s Gujarat” Forbes Magazine 12.3.2014) who wishes to set up shop in Gujarat. Not surprisingly, he travels around in the private jets of major industrialists from one snazzy campaign venue to another. His campaign is fueled by unlimited PR funds and the BJP has a war chest of over 800 crores, 80% of which is unaccounted for. Cohen is either completely unaware of all this or it fits in well with Republican coziness towards big business.

Cohen should also be informed among other things that – Modi and his party are against FDI in multi-brand retail, Babu Bokhiria continues to remain in Modi’s cabinet after being sentenced to three years imprisonment in the Rs. 54-crore illegal limestone mining case, there are 32 BJP MLAs in the Gujarat assembly facing criminal charges, and Gujarat has had no Lokayukta for over ten years now. Besides, when it comes to specifics, many have questioned even his governance credentials (see Outlook article). Rather than take criticism head-on and respond to them, after extensive public pressure, Modi has slowly launched into carefully choreographed appearances with friendly TV hosts, quite in contrast to Reagan who seized every opportunity to charm his audiences.

Last but not the least, the Republican party has been chasing the ghost of Ronald Reagan for the last few decades. They landed themselves George Bush in the White House, under whose watch reckless excesses by the financial whizzes on Wall Street brought the world to its knees and a quest for non-existent WMDs launched a host of wars that threw the world into turmoil. And now, the Republican party has been taken hostage by the tea party which will go to any lengths to stall “anything” that America’s first black President  proposes, including the healthcare law that has been upheld by the US Supreme court.

Given that the US is still recovering from the excesses of the Bush years, Cohen and his Republican friends must think again before advising India on racism, communalism, or any “ism” for that matter. At a minimum, he should get his facts right and, if possible, dig a little deeper to understand the complex social and political realities in India before doling out an endorsement.

5 thoughts on “David Cohen’s superficial understanding of Indian politics: Pran Kurup”

  1. Pran Kurup has written an excellent rebuttal to David Cohen’s very uninformed and misleading appreciation of Narendra Modi. It appears that without bothering to read about the excesses and violations that Modi has perpetrated on the people of Gujarat that he has ruled for 15 years, Cohen has penned an exaggerated appreciation of the man. First of all Ronald Regan though a right wing Republican politician, respected the US laws and the rights of ordinary US citizens. In contrast Modi has viiolated so many laws in India and has mnuscled so many upright citizens and dogooders in India. The tragedy is that the Congress govt and PM MM Singh could not build enough courage to enforce the laws of the land on the lawless actions of Modi in Gujarat. Regan can be compared with AB Vajpayee, another right wing BJP politician but not Modi. Even the Tea Party wing of Republican party, though extremists and racists, largely exist within the framework of the laws of US. In Gujarat Modi has let loose and has promoted the hegemony of the newly minted robber barons of India who are multiplying their wealth manyfold while there is massive price rise of daily use commodities, massive corruption at the lowest level, much lawlessness practiced by the police that directly oppresses the common people, the lower middleclasses and the poor who are fully half of the population of the country.

    Most of the world media has brought out these ugly facts about Modi. However the Indian media has been literally sold out to the robber baron industrialists who are funding Modi’s super-expensive publicity and election campaign. The media is totally blacking out the campaign of other parties and is giving saturation publicity to Modi’s and BJP’s campaign. Modi’s senior aides (Amit Shah, Togadia, Giriraj Singh) are openly threatening Modi’s opponents and minorities by declaring that if Modi wins in the election, they will be expelled from India.

    Between BJP and Congress parties it has become a race as to who can spend more money in the 2014 election campaign,. Independent sources have estimated that this election campaign may cost about $5 billion. Note that the 2012 US Presidential election campaign cost $7 billion. India is a very poor country with very poor infrastructure, facilities, civic amenities, that simply does not compare with US in any way About one-third of Indians live in slums in very poor circumstances. Would not using most of this $5 billion for improving the lives of the poor, building infrastructure, providing employment sources, educational sources have been a better use of these $5 billion?

    It is tragic that Cohen is looking at India exclusively from the viewpoint of the super rich robber barons whose only motive is profit, and for whom the increasing miseries of the ordinary people, increasing fascism and increasing heavyhandedness of the extremist politicians is of no consequence.


  2. Arvind Kejriwal is boon & ray of hope to poor and helpless people whereas he is “Mahakaal to corrupt people”……..


  3. Nice reply to Mr. Cohen, I also want to add some more issues which Mr. Cohen had ignored knowingly or un-knowingly. Modi’s capitalist oriented approach of development has ignored a large mass of common people such as 15% population of tribes. reports says, Modi government’s performance in taking action related to forest right act’s implementation and settlements of claims is weak, and state is worst performer in this, among all states (Sandeep joshi’s article, the Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-gujarat-tribal-people-get-a-raw-deal/article5873973.ece). On the other hand villagers of “Kutchh” face water scarcity and floods (search Lyla Mehta’s articles and reports). There are large number of irregularities noticed by CAG in Modi government that we all know. rehabilitation and compensation processes for sufferers related to Sardar sarovar and other projects are weak, people in Kutchh area have more Infant mortality rate compare to other regions where Modi government is focusing more and more, because of their Vibrant Gujarat type mode of development. Modi’s development is half and biased development. on the issue of Indian harmony I would say yes, India is really a nice country and people are comfortable with each other and they will definitely resist against people who spread hatred. and unfortunately Mr Cohen do not know that such hate politics oriented groups and politicians are in favour of Modi (for example; Shivsena, MNS and other fundamentalist groups) and Modi is in favour of them. and on the issue of tea seller so I can say that There are various kinds of tea sellers, one’s shop would be near to any political office, another can be a more Flunky and buttery to biggies. Thus only tea seller is not enough we should dig more about a person to know more about his success, here in case of Modi, he was not only a tea seller (so called, because some say he owned canteen), but a also member of RSS. therefore we should think about multiple identities of a person while judging his/her current status. being only a tea seller and being a T seller, part of a Group like RSS are two different things. and yes what would we expect from Mr. Cohen, his brief info at the last showed that he presents the similar mentality which was dominant in Bush’s regime. A highly capitalistic and autocratic regime. he should read more about terrorism (so called). because American state organized wars are also terrorism for countries where without any reason civilians face attacks.


  4. the system is corrupted .so everything is .so correct the system accordingly to ensure people power among the politicians and bureaucrats


  5. The words mentioned above in my comment have been proved 100% true by the people of Dehli INDIA………


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