By Ben Norton, originally published on Geopoliticaleconomy.substack.com.
The US is trying to divide the BRICS bloc and recruit India for its new cold war on China. Biden doesn’t care that far-right Prime Minister Modi is closely linked to fascistic Hindu-supremacist groups
India’s far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a historic trip to the United States this June.
President Joe Biden rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Modi, touting a “new era” to “strengthen our partnership for decades to come”, as the US seeks to recruit India for its new cold war on China.
The two leaders released a joint statement implicitly criticizing China and Russia.
Reuters made it clear that “Washington wants Delhi to be a strategic counterweight to China”, and that the two leaders signed “deals on defense and commerce aimed at countering China’s global influence”.
Britain’s establishment newspaper The Guardian declared that there is a “bipartisan consensus” in the US that India’s far-right government is a “linchpin” in Washington’s efforts to weaken and destabilize Beijing.
India is already a member of the US-led, anti-China military bloc the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), along with Japan and Australia.
The Quad is often referred to as an “Indo-Pacific NATO” or “Asian NATO”, and is explicitly aimed at encircling China.
Biden and Modi had a friendly meeting at the Quad leaders’ summit in Hiroshima this May.
Modi’s close links to far-right Hindu-nationalist groups
Inside India, Modi is notorious for his links to extremist Hindu-supremacist politics.
In the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, there was a massive pogrom in which hundreds of Muslims were killed. At the time, Modi was chief minister of the state. He oversaw the violence.
During Modi’s tenure leading Gujarat, state-sponsored school textbooks glorified fascism, teaching children about “Hitler, the Supremo” and the “Internal Achievements of Nazism”.
Modi is also a longtime member of the fascistic RSS paramilitary movement, whose early leaders praised Adolf Hitler and sought to model their religiously pure “Hindustan” off of the Third Reich, demonizing Muslims much in the same way as Nazi Germany demonized Jews.
In his 1939 book We, or Our Nationhood Defined, RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar wrote, “To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by”.
Modi’s far-right Hindu-nationalist party BJP is the political arm of the RSS.
BJP lawmakers have given speeches openly calling for forcibly “re-converting” South Asian Muslims and Christians. They also routinely incite against Dalits and other low-caste Indians.
In India today, left-wing activists are routinely attacked. Progressive media outlets that criticize the government’s neoliberal, anti-worker economic policies are raided. Their editors’ homes are ransacked by police.
US wants to use India to divide BRICS
Despite his close links to violent extremist groups, Modi has enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, among both Republicans and Democrats.
On his trip to Washington this June, Modi delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress. Politicians from both sides of the aisle lavished him with standing ovations.
While Biden welcomed fascist-linked Modi to Washington, he simultaneously smeared China’s President Xi Jinping as a “dictator”.
Back when Barack Obama was president, the New York Times noted that the fellow Democrat also had a close “friendship” with Modi.
Donald Trump’s relationship with Modi was even more intimate. The two far-right leaders symbolically held hands at a “Howdy, Modi” rally in Texas.
In 2021, Trump’s former CIA Director turned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted that Washington had tried to weaken the BRICS by supporting Modi (along with Brazil’s far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro).
“Remember BRICS? Well, thanks to Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi, the B and the I both get that the C and the R are threats to their people”, Pompeo tweeted triumphantly.
The US goal is very clear: recruit India to divide BRICS and isolate China and Russia.
Modi had nothing to do with the creation of BRICS. The bloc was founded in 2009 under his predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, from the opposition Indian National Congress party – the main rival of Modi’s far-right BJP.
The strains have become increasingly obvious. Former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar wrote this January that “India’s got the BRICS blues”.
Modi’s far-right regime in “India feels uneasy that the centre of gravity in BRICS is poised to shift further to the left”, he explained.
Bhadrakumar noted that Modi is an avid “acolyte of the US-led ‘rules-based order'” – that is to say, the US-led imperialist system.
These efforts appear to be working, at least partially.
In a bad sign for the process of Asian integration, India was supposed to host a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in July, but Modi cancelled the in-person meeting and downgraded it to a mere virtual call.
The Indian press noted that this “decision came as a surprise to many as the leaders of all SCO countries were expected to attend the summit physically in New Delhi”.
China, Russia, and Pakistan are fellow SCO members. Iran recently joined as well.
By cancelling the in-person summit, Modi indicated that the SCO is not a significant priority – while his trip to Washington was clearly at the top of his agenda.
That said, India is not totally subservient to the US.
India does still maintain close economic relations with Russia, largely because Moscow sells it oil at a big discount, along with cheap fertilizers. Russia is likewise the biggest supplier of weapons to India’s military.
Delhi’s historic friendship with Moscow goes back to the days of the Soviet Union, when the left-leaning Indian National Congress party rejected Washington’s first cold war and led the Non-Aligned Movement.
Modi’s government has not entirely rejected the foreign policy of India’s Non-Aligned past. But he has moved Delhi closer to Washington, and has increasingly antagonized China.
US ‘friendshoring’ plan faces steep uphill battle
The US is already India’s largest trading partner. Washington is now pressuring companies to “friendshore” operations, moving from China to India.
Some firms may do so, but thus far not many have. At the moment, “friendshoring” seems to mostly be a media buzzword.
Replacing massive, multimillion-dollar factories is much easier said than done. China also has capital controls, meaning Western investors can’t simply pull all of their capital out of the country on a whim.
Furthermore, the reality is that China’s workforce is very skilled, and thus very difficult to replace.
India does offer a massive market; its population just overtook China’s, making it the most-populous country on Earth.
But while India may now have more people, its economy is a mere fraction of China’s.
China has the world’s largest economy, when measured at purchasing power parity (PPP).
China’s GDP per capita (PPP) in 2021 was $19,338, whereas India’s was just $7,242, according to World Bank data.
The absurd Modi-Deng comparison: Kissingerian ‘triangular diplomacy’ won’t work this time
When he arrived in the US, Modi was immediately greeted by a Who’s Who of the ruling class. Not only political leaders, but also a motley crew of oligarchs like Apple CEO Tim Cook and US government-subsidized anti-government billionaire Elon Musk.
Hedge fund manager Ray Dalio met with the Indian leader and wrote excitedly, “I am pleased to be able to help PM Modi as he is a man whose time has come when India’s time has also come. He and India are in an analogous position to Deng Xiaoping and China in the early 1980s”.
This comparison is absurd. Modi and Deng could hardly be more different. And the conflict between China and India is nothing at all like the Sino-Soviet Split.
Deng’s reforms came after China had a revolution and implemented comprehensive agrarian and land reform – something India desperately needs.
China’s incredible development was only possible because of that foundational step, which allowed it to move into a new phase of massive industrialization, to develop the productive forces needed to provide the material basis for advancing socialism.
India never had a revolution. Its land reform after independence was very uneven and incomplete – and many of the progressive Nehruvian gains have since been reversed over decades of neoliberalism.
China has always implemented five-year plans. This partial planning has undergirded its marvelous economic growth.
Modi has no coherent economic development plan. Thus far, he has only continued the failed neoliberal model.
Some US corporations will probably increase “friendshoring” to India, but unless the country has a concerted, state-led industrial policy that uses strategic foreign investments, technology transfers, and joint ventures to develop its own local infant industries (with protectionist policies to save them from being devoured by Western competitors), Indian workers will simply end up being increasingly exploited by foreign capital, with few long-term gains.
In fact, Modi’s signature program “Make in India” has been a total failure.
Modi launched the initiative in 2014, immediately after coming to power.
He boldly claimed that India would become a manufacturing superpower, vowing that manufacturing would rise to 25% of GDP and create 100 million new jobs.
Instead, India lost 24 million manufacturing jobs and its share of GDP fell from 17% to 14%, as of 2021.
India’s Bloomberg affiliate reported in 2021: “Make in India has failed to achieve any of its stated goals. Rather, every indicator has worsened, be it the share of manufacturing in the economy or the number of jobs generated in manufacturing”.
“For all his rhetoric of reviving Indian manufacturing to compete with China, Modi has done much worse than his predecessor Manmohan Singh”, the website added.
Moreover, Modi’s far-right BJP is the polar opposite of the Communist Party of China. It has no coherent economic development plan either.
Instead, the BJP and its fascistic RSS movement are focused on promoting Hindutva and waging (an often violent) culture war on Muslims and Dalits.
Finally, the US economy is in a weaker position today than it was then – and is facing severe decline.
In 1980, the US made up just over 20% of the global economy (with GDP measured at PPP). At the same time, India’s economy was slightly larger than China’s, with 2.77% compared to 2.26%, according to IMF data.
As of 2023, the tables have completely turned. China now represents 18.92% of the world economy, bigger than the US at 15.39%, and significantly larger than India at 7.47%.
Comparing Modi to Deng totally misunderstands the vastly different material conditions in China, India, and the US, then and now.
The reality is that, this time, Washington simply doesn’t have the power needed to repeat its Kissingerian “triangular diplomacy”. US hegemony is in terminal decline.
India may at the end of the day recognize this, hedge its bets, and return to a more non-aligned foreign policy. But Washington is doing everything it can to prevent that.
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