6) Politics in India
Admittedly, my sense of politics in India was extremely limited before I went. (And certainly after, as well.) I paid attention to major developments in the country and that was about it. In fact, the only particulars I knew about in the political sphere came from The Daily Show.
There was an episode where they showed a version of an Indian CNN/FOX talk show. There were literally nine talking heads screaming at one another simultaneously. I couldn’t discern a single word or parse out any form of meaning, and bear in mind again that they were yelling in English. And lo and behold! one day in New Delhi, I flipped on the TV just to peruse, and I was greeted to ear-shattering bickering from nine heads dubbed, “experts” and “pundits.” Turns out the 24-hour news cycle in the world’s largest democracy (a cool 800 million voters) doesn’t fare much better than it does stateside.
India prides itself on its democracy. From the outset, democracy was always the goal (from many). And it was only when it became apparent that democracy was certainly going to be the law of the land that Muslims sought their own countries. Aside from Indira Gandhi’s (not related to that Gandhi) toying with “The Experiment,” the country has always been a democracy. In fact, this is one of the sources of the pride that kinda makes India, India. In any case, roughly 70% of the country supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is pretty astonishing number, because at the time of writing Trump’s approval rating is floating in the high 30’s.
Few things about Modi. He is from the state of Gujarat, bordering the Arabian Sea in the west of India. When he was Governor there, he was accused of (and later acquitted of) essentially turning a blind eye to Hindu extremists and riots ensued. A thousand were left dead (800 Muslims) with more than a thousand more injured. Many of Modi’s detractors point to this as solid evidenced of his Hindu nationalist bias. Many accuse him of supporting such a state, while he allows extremists to kill those who consume beef or push Hindi as the national tongue. 80% of India is Hindu, and 70% of the country support him, so that’s a hundred million Hindus who do not support him.
Why? Well, there’s still loads of poverty and education in rural areas is low as is infrastructure (everywhere). There are also issues with his handling of the demonetization of the 500- and 1000-rupee notes, as well as the implementation of his new tax. There’s also the handling of issues with Pakistan and China. That’s the hackneyed list of problems in India, and these issues do run deep. Very deep. However, I ran into another problem there, and basically it lies in restriction of freedoms.
India ostensibly has freedom of the press. It’s very hard to stifle everything that everyone says, and requires a lot of resources (as China knows well). If you wanted to write something against the state, you can. However, because of the heavy influence of Hinduism and more particularly Hindu nationalism, this would be censored immediately. They would do whatever they could to stop it from getting to print. They have control in the media, in government, in everyday affairs, and they could do terrible things to you, bodily or otherwise, to get the message across.
When in Mumbai, I met up with Clemente’s other cousins and they basically divulged this to me. They operated an art gallery that among other things included fascinating historical objects, with the ones currently on tap being 100-year old stained glass windows taken from an old church. Very cool. However, they also do a lot of screenings, and the one they were showing today? Well, avant-garde would be an understatement to the fullest. It was an interpretation of what would happen if the Indian gods came back down to present-day Earth. In reality, it was two naked people with Hindu gods’ masks on and genitalia flapping as they hiked in parks and danced on roofs. It was…interesting.
When I talked to the two of them, they said that this isn’t inherently illegal, but if Hindu nationalists were to find out about it, there could be trouble. It’s kinda like drawing a naked Muhammed; perhaps not the safest idea. However, because this is a private screening and not public, they’re okay mostly. In any case, I was surprised to hear them say that: “at the moment, politics in India are fraught,” which is surprising given Modi’s 70% approval rating. He revealed that politics right now are great for those in control, but for any opposition group it’s not so democratic.
Democracy exists in India, insofar as the elections exist. But beyond the ballot box, there’s little effective political action, and that’s where the “politics are fraught.” Limiting free speech isn’t usually an indicator of “world’s largest democracy.” For non-Hindus who want a say in the direction of the country, it’s not so easy.
In short, India’s politics are an experiment in the works and have a ways to go, but the potential is, oh, so high.
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