Vinod Mubayi

The phrase Gandhi abroad, Godse at home, often used by progressives to describe the two-faced actions of the Modi regime, also reflects a pithy summary of its basic character. Said differently, lying is the essence of the Modi BJP’s approach to governance. [For those too young to remember, Godse, a Hindu fanatic and RSS member, assassinated the Mahatma on Jan 30, 1948. While Gandhi’s moral presence within India and the world is too large for the BJP or its top leaders like Modi, a long-term RSS preacher himself, to disown Gandhi publicly, what they say in private is very different and many in the BJP’s second-tier leadership, like Member of Parliament Pragya Thakur, do not hesitate to praise Godse and the motives for his action publicly]. Thus, Modi while addressing the US Congress in Washington, DC talked eloquently of India as the mother of democracy, but he has no hesitation in resorting to the most blatant anti-democratic actions at home as witnessed by the ongoing repression of the NewsClick journalists in India.

Sushant Singh of Yale University in an article in Caravan magazine describes how this approach could now be reaching its sell-off date with the killing of a Sikh separatist in Vancouver:

“Godse at home, Gandhi abroad—the duplicitous mantra of Modi’s success appeared unassailable, reaching its zenith with the hosting of the G20 summit at Delhi, which included a choreographed trip for all leaders to Gandhi’s cremation site. Among the visitors was Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who, within eight days of that photo opportunity, alleged something that threatens to rip off Modi’s façade. The charge was made by Trudeau in a special session of parliament, lending it the maximum gravitas, authority and force that he could summon. Trudeau claimed investigations had suggested the possible involvement of “agents of the government of India” in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen.”

While formal proof of Trudeau’s charges is awaited, it is very unlikely that he would have gone public without substantial evidence and the US statements calling on India and Canada to get together to resolve the issue also suggest they believe Trudeau’s allegations are credible. India’s denials via lightweights like External Affairs Minister Jaishankar do not carry much weight while some of the macho remarks by Modi bhakts in the Indian godi media praising the killing give a different impression that suggests not only India’s complicity but also pride in the act.

Carrying out an act worthy of the Israeli Mossad on the soil of a Western democracy that is also a neighbor of the US carries within it the obvious risk of shedding or shredding the Gandhian mask Modi’s regime has worn abroad so it is pertinent to ask what motivated Modi’s (or, more likely, Doval’s) action. Some of it, perhaps, has to do with a sense of vanity of global power that Modi tries to project so forcefully: that India under him is a world leader and, in realpolitik terms, what is a world leader if it cannot do what the CIA or KGB or Mossad have been doing with impunity for many years? But much of this action, if what Trudeau alleged proves to be true, is likely motivated by the forthcoming elections in various Indian states later this year and the national elections next year. A lot of Modi’s shock and awe type of actions are tied to election strategy as was demonstrated by the Hindu-Muslim communal riots on the eve of his first victory in 2014, and the Pulwama episode before the 2019 elections. Modi and his party need an electoral victory to continue to hold executive power to legitimate their autocratic actions towards all other sections of society starting with the political opposition but including dissenting voices in the judiciary, the media, academia, the legal profession, trade unions, and many other organized groups. The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen for many years, in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, B.C., was discussed in the Indian media as a strike against a Sikh separatist promoting the anti-national politics of Khalistan in the border state of Punjab. It is common knowledge that sentiment for Khalistan peaked in the 1980s and barely exists on the ground in Punjab any more. Khalistan sentiment exists in sections of the numerous Sikh diaspora in the U.K. and Canada as a form of identity politics that is fairly common amongst immigrants. Sikhs, by and large, also strongly resent the efforts of Hindutva nationalists, including the RSS, to portray them as part of the extended Hindu community. Modi’s frustration with Punjab and the Sikhs is two-fold: his party has barely any representation in the state legislature after its alliance with the Akali Dal foundered; and the Sikh farmers had a prominent role in the national farmers movement against the black farm laws that Modi ultimately had to withdraw and eat humble pie while doing so. The raising of the Khalistan bogey by the BJP is likely meant to generate enthusiasm and consolidate votes among the Modi faithful by raising fears about another “anti-national” community before the coming elections.

Meanwhile the Godse effect is going strong in India with the persecution of journalists associated with the NewsClick website accused of some vague unsupported pro-China links. NewsClick was extensively investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the income tax authorities two years ago and exonerated as no evidence of illegal financial transactions was discovered. However, a tendentious and utterly irresponsible article on August 5, 2023 in the New York Times gave a new life to the Modi government’s effort to derail NewsClick and jail its founders as its reporting was apparently becoming a thorn in the government’s side. The New York Times article “A Global Web of Chinese Propaganda Leads to a U.S. Tech Mogul” was about a US tech entrepreneur Neville Roy Singham and alleged that Singham who maintains an office in Beijing was funding left-leaning sites and groups around the world to parrot Chinese propaganda. India was one of the countries mentioned in the article along with the digital site NewsClick that was said to have “sprinkled its news coverage with Chinese talking points.” While there was no indication in the NYT article that NewsClick had done anything wrong, it now finds itself in the Modi regime’s trigger sights with its founder and editor-in-chief and its chief financial officer arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act as terrorists accused of serious anti-national crimes. It is widely acknowledged that the NYT article was the spur to the Modi regime’s action. Kavita Krishnan, a former member of the CPI(M-L) and a democratic rights activist who was interviewed by the NYT for the article but refused to be quoted in it writes in Scroll (reprinted below) that “The newspaper must ask hard questions about whether it has allowed itself to become a tool for authoritarian propaganda and criminalization of journalism.” The senior journalist and former Chief Editor of the Hindu newspaper N. Ram writes in the Prospect (UK) magazine on August 24 that: “The targeting of NewsClick—a progressive, medium-sized digital media venture based in New Delhi—marks a new low for press freedom in my country, which has been caught up in a decade-long trend of uninterrupted downsliding in the “new India” of Narendra Modi. We have witnessed a state-engineered McCarthyite campaign of disinformation, scaremongering and vilification against NewsClick, together with the ever-present threat of criminal prosecution for its founder. The world should be watching in horror.”

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