India the Malevolent Republic

REVIEWS, 14 Sep 2020

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, by K.S. Komireddi, London, C. Hurst and Co. 2019

This is a lively analysis of Indian politics since independence.  The book is divided in two parts, an account of the long period when the Congress Party was in power, and a second part on the values and activities of the government led by Narendra Modi. Komireddi”s views on the Modi government are clear.

“We inhabit the most degraded moment in the history of the Indian Republic, the culmination of decades of betrayals, the eruption of a long-suppressed rage.  But the good thing about bad times is that they force us to reflect, to see clearly.   The past five years have shattered so many illusions, dispelled so much fog.  We can begin to accept how we arrived here: a Via Dolorosa lined with corruption, cowardly concessions to religious nationalism, demeaning bribes to the minorities, self-wounding distortions of the past, and wholesale abandonment of the many for the few.”

As Komireddi writes,

There wasn’t a shadow of resistance as Narendra Modi stormed Delhi in the summer of 2014.  After six decades of faltering secularism, India yielded spectacularly to the Hindu nationalist insurgency…Modi was the hand grenade hurled by all those who had been sneered at, stamped upon, marginalised, subjected to cultural condescension and objectified for anthropological amusement by the preening cast of English-speaking elites fostered by India’s venal secular establishment.”

Modi did not come to power in a harmonious and peaceful country.  Rather, earlier governments had not met the challenges presented by economic, religious, and geographic divisions. As Komireddi describes pre-Modi India,

All around you was evidence of epic social upheaval: families wrenched apart, millions migrating from decaying countryside into expanding slums in the cities, thousands of indebted farmers killing themselves every year, massacres of peaceful protesters demanding land, the torching of villages by government-sanctioned militias, the mass corralling of defenceless tribal populations into pens for refusing to cede their land to mining barons, extra-judicial killings, and rape, plunder, torture, mutilation, murder of the poor…  As early as 1954, the ministry of home affairs reported that corruption had increased to such an extent that people have started losing faith in the integrity of public administration.  In the decades thereafter graft became a quotidian fact of life in the ordinary citizen’s interaction with agents of the state; there were few transactions unaccompanied by the demands for a bribe.”

Determined to concentrate power in his own office, Modi has been able to bring under his control the key processes of power: the military, the universities, the financial institutions and the support of the media. Komireddi notes that

Narendra Modi did not stage a coup.  He won a free election.  He has exhibited a disciplined outward commitment to the norms of constitutional democracy while vandalising the organs that secure Indian democracy. It is certainly a miracle that institutions, battered for decades by Congress, have survived at all.”

Modi faces two external challenges, a long-lasting hostility from Pakistan and an expanding powerful China.

“The animosity between Pakistan and India was always anchored in irreconcilable national ideologies.  One regarded itself as the authentic home of the subcontinent’s Muslims, the other until Modi came along, saw itself, at least in theory, as the incarnation of a pluralistic secular nationalism that transcended religion… If Pakistan’s neurotic nationalism makes it the most complex and urgent security challenge for India, China’s view of India as an obstacle in its path to a permanently predominant position in Asia makes it Delhi’s gravest long-term threat.  Beijing recognizes India as the only power in Asia with the potential to stymie China’s expansion.”

The tensions between India and Pakistan and India and China have led to violence in the past.  Thus, the situation must be watched closely and when possible, measures of tension reduction proposed. K.S. Komireddi’s book is a useful and easily read background to the issues at hand.


René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Sep 2020.

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