Newspaper article International New York Times

Old Fantasies Are Distorted in India Vote

Newspaper article International New York Times

Old Fantasies Are Distorted in India Vote

Article excerpt

The Indian elections are largely about the rise of the fierce Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi and the political responses to his ascent.

For decades, India's business elite dreamed of an alpha-male dictator who would also be a university graduate and generally a wonderful person, while the intellectual elite waited for the revolution that would set everything right. The poor ensured that India remained a democracy by turning out to vote every time they were asked to. In tribute, the politicians ensured that they remained poor.

As India heads toward general elections in April and May, its 814,591,184 registered voters are being influenced by mutated versions of India's old fantasies. At the heart of the festive campaigns is a man who admirers and foes alike assert is a mass leader with dictatorial qualities; his alarmed opponents, headed by the governing party, the Indian National Congress; and an underrated revolutionary who wants to destroy all of the above and start afresh.

What the elections are largely about this time is the rise of the fierce Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi -- whose charm in no small measure derives from the sense of danger he exudes from having been accused of complicity in the 2002 riots in Gujarat State that resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand people, mostly Muslims -- and the political responses to his ascent.

The notion that Mr. Modi, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been the principal opposition in Parliament for 10 years, is the answer to India's woes has been propagated by the business community, which owns Indian journalism, and the urban middle class, which views the Indian National Congress as corrupt, inefficient and a reckless benefactor of the poor. The noise on social media, which is largely in favor of Mr. Modi, contains the low-stakes patriotism of Indian residents of the United States who do not have to live through the consequences of their long-distance affair with nationalism. They tend to be liberal Democrats in the United States, but political conservatives in India.

The man who has done the greatest damage to Mr. …

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