By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
NEW YORK, USA -- The new prime minister of India, the former state governor of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who is alleged to have been involved in the 2005 Gujarat massacre of over 1,000 Muslims, has toned down his anti-Muslim rhetoric and has invited to his inauguration all leaders from neighbouring countries, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. All of this may disappoint Hindu zealots in India and the Caribbean, who are expecting him to fulfill his Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJD) party’s Hindutva platform promises.
The Hindutva ideology of Modi, who belongs to the rightwing extremist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has worried minorities. Already a group of Shiv Sena (soldiers of Shiva) activists are protesting against his invitation and overture to Pakistan. Shiv Sena is a radical Hindu group that is aligned to the BJD government. In 1992, they orchestrated the demolition of a 15th century mosque in Ajodyha that they alleged was built over a Hindu temple. Shiv Sena and the RSS also claim that the Taj Mahal was once a Hindu temple that the Mughal Empire razed.
Modi may abandon the BJD/RSS hard-line promises to end Kashmir’s special autonomous relationship with New Delhi, build a temple over the razed Babri Masjid and uniform India’s civil code, all of which would antagonize India’s Muslim minority, who represent about 15% of the population.
The new Indian leader has signaled that he wants stronger cooperation with Pakistan, China, and Japan. Ties with Afghanistan and Iran will continue to grow since they all see eye to eye on regional issues. Both Iran and India are investing a lot of money in Afghanistan and are keen to keep the Taliban in check. Modi will likely enhance ties with Iran and not succumb to Washington’s posturing. He will not abandon India’s commitment to invest US$100 million to complete the Chabahar Port in Iran, which will give New Delhi the best access to Afghanistan and Central Asian markets. Moreover, India depends heavily on Iranian oil to fulfill its energy needs.
Modi has a mandate like no other Indian leader in the past decades and it looks as though he is willing to take bold steps to normalize ties with Pakistan, like his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This is the perception in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, a proponent of free markets like Modi, since taking office has talked much about improving ties with India, especially through trade. Sharif believes that Modi has the mandate to do so and didn’t hesitate to be the first head of state to congratulate Modi.
The Pakistani prime minister has accepted Modi’s invitation to attend his inauguration on Monday, which is unprecedented and a sign of hope that India and Pakistan can move past the 1947 trauma.
In a recent rally, Modi told BJD supporters: “I want to tell the rulers whether it is of Bangladesh, India or Pakistan; if we have to fight, we should fight against poverty, illiteracy and other ills.”
Overzealous RSS agents and supporters of Modi in the Caribbean, who are expecting an Israeli-style government in New Delhi that will assert Hindu causes globally, may be disappointed. There is an intense debate among ordinary citizens, religious and political personalities about Modi in the Guyana media. There seems to be a concern that religious radicalism does not reach the shores of Guyana.
The Diaspora may not see a more a muscular India championing Hindu causes globally. Narindra Modi wants to change India economically and is looking build Indian industries, improve infrastructure, create jobs; and bring radical changes to India’s bureaucratic and political structures. The Modi that visited Guyana some years ago it seems is already shedding the saffron for secularism. Modi reaching out to Pakistan and with the presence of the Pakistani leader at his inauguration could indicate that the new Indian leader is keen to break from the Hindutva shackles, and emerge as the statesman of South Asia.
While expectations in Israel are high that ties with Tel Aviv will advance to new heights, Modi will not abandon India’s historic support of the Palestinians and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Modi may become the first Indian leader to visit Israel but he may likely travel to China, Japan, Russia and the Arab Gulf states before landing in Israel. Defence cooperation with Israel most likely will escalate but Modi will not antagonize the Umma which could affect ties with the Arab Gulf states, Iran, Malaysia and Indonesia. After all, millions of Indians work in the Arab Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and not in Israel. Modi is very aware of this reality that Indian workers in the Gulf send home billions of dollars to India, which supports the Indian economy.
In a related development, on Monday, the day of Narendra Modi’s inauguration, Pakistan will release 152 Indian prisoners who are being held in Karachi for illegal fishing in Pakistan waters as a goodwill gesture to improve bilateral ties. Sri Lanka will also release Indian fishermen held in their jails.