Make India Great Again: The Defective Development Gospel

By Shelby House

Behold, the glib, bigoted politician everyone loves to hate. He is self-absorbed, and he loves to put his name on everything. He is nationalistic. He does not disconnect himself from groups that engage in racially-motivated violence, and he gives a special wink to groups that want to kick Muslims out of the country. But he is attractive because he is an ‘outsider,’ undoing years of dynastic politics. This shakes the party base. Many of the party’s founders disavow him, only to recant when his popular appeal becomes undeniable. His fiery speeches and charisma put him in sharp contrast against the scores of boring, old politicians, with all-too-familiar family names, running against him. And he is economically savvy—based on his record, voters see a chance for growth and development. That is, if you define “voters” as “middle class citizens from the dominant racial and religious group.” If you are picturing Donald Trump’s golden coif, you are not wrong—but the world has seen this phenomenon before in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).


In 2014, the BJP swept the general election and secured 282 seats in the 545-seat lower house called the Lok Sabha. The BJP is a right-wing political organization which explicitly subscribes to Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. According to the party, their conception of Hindutva is not religious or theocratic. Instead, the term refers more broadly to “cultural, territorial, historical concepts referring to a broad-minded, tolerant, catholic, inclusive tradition”—all Indians are Hindus, even the Muslims. Unfortunately, this vague and fuzzy definition does not accurately reflect the actions of the BJP or its partner organizations.


The BJP was founded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS), which is frequently called a terrorist organization. The RSS has been involved repeatedly in anti-Muslim pogroms, and the BJP has followed in step. In the 1990s, the BJP, along with the RSS and other Hindu nationalist outfits, led the charge to destroy the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The mosque, built in 1528, had become a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim violence due to Hindu nationalist claims that the mosque occupied the birthplace of the deity Rama. On December 6, 1992, the BJP and VHP led a 150,000-person rally at the site, and the crowd tore the mosque apart. Following this incident, riots rocked India, resulting in at least 2,000 deaths. Throughout the years, BJP manifestos have reaffirmed a “commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.” BJP leaders have also called for anti-conversion laws, and the party’s 2014 manifesto proposes a uniform civil code. This measure is seen as discriminatory to Indian Muslims who would otherwise receive accommodation for their religious beliefs. The BJP claims to represent secularism, and the group heavily watered down their Hindutva message to gain electoral support in 2014. However, the party’s history and platforms belie any commitment to secularism.


While the BJP’s history is disconcerting, Narendra Modi’s personal history with religious violence is even more damning. In 2002, when Modi served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the state witnessed three days of riots against the local Muslim population, which left “most certainly over 2,000 dead,” according to South Asianist Christophe Jaffrelot. In 2011, in a sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court, a senior police officer from Gujarat stated that Modi took no action to quell the violence, instead saying that the “Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson.” Since Modi has risen to power as prime minister, this convenient silence has remained the status quo. For instance, in September 2015, a Muslim man from Uttar Pradesh was murdered by a mob after a rumor circulated that he had consumed beef—angering the Hindu population, which consider cows sacred. Modi was criticized for waiting 2 weeks before weakly condemning the incident. One month later, a 16-year old was beaten to death in Jammu and Kashmir on the suspicion that he had helped slaughter cows. Days after this, a 20-year old was lynched in Himachal Pradesh on suspicion that he was smuggling cattle. Modi has remained silent, and he surely hasn’t taken measures to curtail this type of religious violence.


Nationalism and fear-mongering weaken democracy. While India has a thriving procedural democracy—elections go off without a hitch—Hindu nationalism threatens India’s commitment to secularism. State-sanctioned racial violence cripples the ability of Indian Muslims to live freely, dissent, and prosper in the Indian state, which harbors the third largest Muslim population in the world. As I wrote last April, India’s failure to accommodate its massive Muslim population also exacerbates tensions in problem regions like Kashmir, which is currently in an ongoing “bloodbath” that has been called a “replay of the Gujarat pogrom.” The oppression of minorities, in any state, revokes that state’s right to call itself a democracy. In the words of Dibyesh Anand, a professor at the University of Westminster, “democracy is not a number game… it is very much about minority rights and about individual rights.” If India—or America—wants to play a fascistic game of ethnoreligious majoritarianism, let us be clear about what the political system should be called: a theocracy.


However, much like Trump, Modi gained electoral support primarily on his record of economic prowess. Modi ran on a platform of universal application of “the Gujarat model.” As chief minister of Gujarat, the state’s economy boomed. On the whole, the province was richer, more job-wealthy, and more rapidly developing than the average Indian state. Indian voters hoped that Modi would apply this model to the whole country, leading to prosperity for all. However, while Gujarat could be lauded for its strong infrastructure and high GDP, the state lagged behind in poverty reduction and inclusive growth. With Modi at the helm, India’s growth has mirrored Gujarat’s. Modi’s economic policies have left behind the poorest of the poor and exacerbated wealth inequality in the country. India sacrificed social cohesion for the promise of development—and Modi has not followed through on this agreement. And while Trump can say he will be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” there is little evidence that he will live up to that promise. Even if he could, America should not sacrifice everything—particularly tolerance and secularism—for that flimsy promise.


While many on the America left see Donald Trump as a disturbing political joke, his trajectory is not unprecedented. When Donald Trump says that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters, we roll our eyes. Narendra Modi was complicit in the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims, and he still rose rapidly to power. Fears about development increase tolerance for ethnoreligious cleavages—which ultimately weakens the quality of democracy, society, and development. Paradoxically, successful development-only platforms have harmed development in the long run; typically, such agendas cater only to the upper-middle class and aggravate gaping inequality. Surely, this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt; Narendra Modi has more political savvy and eloquence than Donald Trump ever will. However, the similarities should prompt closer reflection about how much America could lose if we gamble democratic values for an economic quick-fix.

Arthur the Aardvark, Brexit, and the Global Force of Anti-Intellectualism

By Adithya Sivakumar

Do you all remember Arthur the Aardvark? The eight-year-old who cruised around with his friends through the streets of Elwood City navigating the struggles of being a third-grader? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take comfort that Arthur has been lauded as one of the finest examples of children’s television programming in the last decade, as well as being “just straight up awesome” (Sivakumar et al., 2006).


However, I’d like to turn your attention to one particular episode of this show. “Prove It,” episode four from the fourth season of Arthur, which concerned Arthur’s wonderful sister D.W. and her attempt to get her brother to take her to a science museum. In order to do so, she starts a museum in her own backyard, promoting theories such as the H in H2O stands for hose, and the ocean is created by sand moving so fast it turns into liquid. Annoyed and terrified about the effect D.W.’s “science” is having on the impressionable neighborhood children, Arthur takes her to the museum to show her how science actually works, thereby fulfilling her ulterior motives.


When I first watched this show as a young child, I have to admit, I was angry. How could D.W. promote such bogus science? How could people believe her? She had turned her back on reasoning and the very pillars of the discipline she claimed to espouse, all in order to achieve a mischievous end goal. No one would actually do that in real life, right?


Fast-forward a decade later to June 23, 2016. As the votes for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (E.U.) came towards a close, I experienced many of the same emotions as I did when I was in elementary school after that Arthur episode. How could the “Leave” campaign promote such grand anti-immigration sentiment? How could the British believe them? Why did they not follow the advice of countless organizations, foreign governments, and heads of state to stay for their own economic security? Was the attempt to bring Europe together after World War II all for nothing?


In both instances, I never realized the magnitude of the inequality that led to these drastic actions. For the children in Arthur, they had not been educated about all the intricacies of science, causing them to find some sort of refuge in D.W.’s explanations. In Britain, analysis showed that the town that had the most percentage of residents in favor of leaving the European Union, Boston, earned low incomes and had only 1 in 3 people carry formal qualifications. Leaving the European Union was not a large loss for these voters, as they had failed to see the benefits of European integration. In the town of Lambeth, where voters chose overwhelmingly to stay in the E.U. , incomes were more than 10,000 pounds more than the average voter in Boston, and there were twice as many professionals. These results indicate a widespread gap in socioeconomic status and education, a gap that in turn has affected how people respond to political commentary.


In one instance during the Brexit campaign debates, when confronted with reports that respected organizations and groups had pointed out recommended against leaving the European Union, “Leave” campaigner and U.K. Justice Secretary Michael Gove said, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organizations… with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”


And that, folks, speaks volumes.


This statement elucidates a large factor in the majority of the U.K. rejecting the overtures of U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and other seemingly respected individuals and institutions: anti-intellectualism. The establishment commonly uses academia and intellectualism to support their claims, which may or may not lead to good results. The establishment might use scientific data to push forward claims of global warming or the efficacy of vaccines, but those opposed to the establishment conflate these scientific positions into a larger establishment narrative, and therefore reject them in alarming numbers. That being said, academia and government do not always have a beneficial goal in mind. The theory of eugenics pushed in intellectual circles in the early 20th century can be regarded as a driving factor for the implementation of the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States.


Additionally, socioeconomic gaps exist worldwide and have manifested in similar ways politically, mainly in a distaste for the establishment and for experts. In the Philippines, this led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign was based on his anti-crime campaign to purge the nation of criminals in any manner possible, implying the reintroduction of vigilante death squads that he oversaw as mayor of the city of Davao.  Disgusted with crime and perceived inaction by establishment parties, voters swept Duterte into office, despite calls to stop him from the incumbent government and human rights organizations concerned with his previous record of extrajudicial killings. In Austria, a far-right candidate who proclaimed “Islam has no place in Austria,” lost the presidential election by 0.6%, a movement attributed to anti-immigration sentiment in the wake of the influx of refugees into the European Union; his opposing candidate, also an outsider was backed by the chancellor of Austria, as well as the supporters of the two major parties in the country. In fact, an Austrian constitutional court has just invalidated the election results, leading to another potential grab for power for the aforementioned candidate.


Why should all this affect you? If you are a college student at Vanderbilt University at this moment, you are a target of anti-intellectualism. An academic institution such as Vanderbilt is largely seen as elitist, even with the diversity of opinions that are harbored on this campus. We have the privilege of being educated here, but that does not mean we have the privilege of flaunting our education over others. Education can bring us into respected positions, but these positions often may give off an air of elitism that goes widely unrecognized, so whenever we attempt to espouse a position, we fail to realize that our opinion will inherently carry more weight than one given by a person that did not have an opportunity to pursue an education. This, in turn, causes resentment and rejection of those considered “educated.”


These actions have dire consequences, especially in light of how the UKIP, the major party in favor of leaving the European Union, convinced many voters to chose to leave the EU by primarily emphasizing fears of immigration. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, stated in response to a question about the similarity of his campaign and that of Donald Trump that “The problem you’ve got in the U.S. is illegal immigration. Our problem is legal immigration to half a billion people.” Compounded with posters proclaiming refugees as undesirable, many voters choosing Brexit did say their decision was influenced by immigration, a sentiment that certainly reverberates across the Atlantic. By using scapegoating instead of educated, well-reasoned arguments, political forces are able to tap into inner prejudices and divisions between different groups (evidenced by the uptick in hate crimes against minorities and immigrants across the U.K. after votes were counted),  and therefore using them to achieve a political goal.


Education is a privilege. Our best goal and hope for this generation and the broken political world is to prevent academia from being distorted and being derided, a hope that can only be accomplished with discarding a sense of elitism, recognizing our privilege, and attempting to have thoughtful, civil, and educational debates with others concerning issues surrounding politics and other disciplines. The longer we disregard populist sentiments, the easier it is for groups and individuals to exploit divides within communities, causing false information being fed not only to the innocent neighborhood children of Arthur, but also to vast segments of our population, leading to life-changing moments like that in Britain.