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The Truth About Why I Voted for Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his flaws but he has delivered tangible benefits to hundreds of millions and stands head and shoulders above opposition leaders, most of whom are dynastic, corrupt and incompetent. Even an anglicized upper crust Brahmin like me has voted for lower caste Modi because I believe him to be the best option in our 2024 elections.

LE BOURGET near PARIS, FRANCE – NOVEMBER 30, 2015 : Prime Minister of india Narendra Modi at the Paris COP21, United nation conference on climate change. © Frederic Legrand – COMEO /

June 02, 2024 07:38 EDT

I have a lot in common with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Like him, I went to a highly elitist school, and the only language I am really comfortable in is English. Like Indian National Congress (INC) leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, I am a Brahmin of high birth and almost an upper-class Englishman. I like my beef, I like my wine and I am an atheist. I simply cannot believe that a chap called Rama is a god. Myth and legend have morphed great kings or charismatic personalities into gods before, and Rama is no exception. Note that I do prefer the myth of Rama to the stories of Jesus or Muhammad. The idea that one book — the Bible or the Quran — could be the only word of god seems too fanatical, authoritarian and repulsive to my modern mind.

If you are reading me in Washington, New York or London, you will probably be shocked to read that I voted for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is gunning for a third term. How could a beef-eating, wine-drinking atheist vote for the Hindu fascist or, worse, Hindu supremacist Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is purportedly planning a final solution to India’s Muslim problem?

After numerous conversations with my Indian American granddaughter, who is addicted to The New York Times, and is protesting in favor of poor Palestinians in Gaza, I have finally decided to explain why.

Yes, Modi is deeply flawed…

Today, mania has gripped India. Modi has millions of bhakts (devotees). In fact, “Modi Bhakt” is now a bona fide term in Hindi, India’s national language. Of course, bhakti (devotion) is not a new phenomenon in India. It goes back centuries. When I was young, India was in the grip of Indira mania. Indira bhakts ruled the roost. I hate to confess, but even I was a minor bhakt of India’s first woman prime minister. Yet people like me felt Indira mania had gone too far when her lackey Dev Kant Barooah said, “Indira is India and India is Indira.”

Today, I feel Modi mania has gone too far. If you say something critical of our prime minister, millions of Twitter warriors give you rank abuse. This is partly because of our national character. Indians tend to have a weakness for personality cults. They easily become bhakts not only of politicians but also film stars, cricketers and even boring bureaucrats. These bhakts forget that their heroes are human and start treating them as gods.

Let us take the case of the late Jayaram Jayalalithaa. She became chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu because, as per rumor, she was the mistress of the charismatic film star-turned-politician Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran. This Brahmin lady incongruously led an anti-upper caste populist party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Tamils treated her as amma (mother).

If Jayalalithaa was the mother of the Tamils, Modi is now the paterfamilias of over one billion Indians. This father figure Modi is certainly autocratic. A chap in Fair Observer recently published an attack piece on Modi that claimed that the prime minister was worse than Indira Gandhi. This author is wrong, but he has a point. Before I carry on, I must point out that this wealthy gentleman was living in the US and making money during the Indira years. In contrast, I was very much in India and had to live through the Indira years. I can attest on oath that they were much worse than current times.

While Modi may not be as bad as Indira, he is charismatic, paranoid and likes to keep a tight grip on the helm of the state. Hence, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has expanded dramatically, ministers have become courtiers and Modi’s face decorates hoardings across the length and breadth of the nation. I know from friends and relatives in the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s parent organization, that Modi has sidelined every leader with a mass base in his own party. This is exactly what Indira did to the INC. Such top-heavy personality cults are certainly not healthy for democracy but are part and parcel of Indian political culture.

There is truth to the argument that Modi is a divisive leader. Indians inside and outside of the country have deeply conflicting views about him. For millions, the prime minister is almost a god. He has rebuilt the Rama Temple in Ayodhya, which was smashed to smithereens by an invading Muslim army five centuries ago, and restored Hindu pride. Yet for people like my granddaughter and many in India’s anglicized elite, lower caste Gujarati and Hindi speaking Modi is the devil incarnate. They argue that he climbed to power on the corpses of thousands of Muslims who died under his watch during the 2002 Gujarat riots. For such self-identified secular Indians, Modi is uncouth, uncultured and uncivilized. More importantly, they see the former roadside tea seller as antithetical to the values of the Indian constitution.

If the defenestrated elites do not view Modi kindly, Muslims view him most unkindly. Maulana Syed Arshad Madani believes that Modi follows a majoritarian agenda, targets Muslims and triggers riots. Madani is the leader of the legendary Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind — a seminary in Deoband which our enlightened friends in the Taliban follow — and he believes that women and men should not study together. He takes the view that women playing sports is not a good idea. This learned Islamic scholar and many others less doctrinaire than him believe that Modi’s Islamopobic strategy helps the BJP win Hindu votes.

Even if we discount Madani’s trenchant criticism of Modi given his obvious bias, the prime minister has some obvious flaws. Like Indira before him, Modi is also arbitrary and autocratic. In 2016, the prime minister announced demonetization — the withdrawal of large-denomination banknotes — with little notice and no planning, leading to the death of thousands of small businesses. India’s GDP contracted and millions of jobs vanished. Arguably, this contributed to the unemployment crisis that plagues India today.

Under Modi, the Income Tax (IT) Department, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have run a reign of terror. Together, they are now called ICE and, as per rumor, they are running an extortion racket in the name of their political master. These so-called loyal bloodhounds of the prime minister target opponents, harass them and even lock them up. 

Sure, India is corrupt. Major politicians often have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars. So, ED, CBI and IT should certainly target the corrupt. The thought of ICE turning the heat on rapacious thieves robbing the country is highly seductive. However, the ICE gang only seems to target opposition politicians. Furthermore, when these politicians ditch their parties and join the BJP, their corruption charges magically disappear. The opposition calls this the washing machine effect, and they have a point. Note that the opposition behaves no differently when it controls the apparatus of India’s colonial state. Under Indira, every opposition leader and troublesome journalist was simply locked away in a dark cellar.

Those who live in nice neighborhoods in the West like my bleeding heart liberal granddaughter have to realize an important fact. For centuries, India has functioned through rule by law, not rule of law. Modi offers India more of the same: an Indira-light beer.

…but he has some real achievements

Now that we have gone through some flaws of the Modi-led BJP government, we have to examine some of its virtues, too. Are hundreds of millions voting for Modi simply illiterate and indoctrinated? Are they, in the words of John Stuart Mill, “not in the maturity of their faculties” and hence are making bad choices? Doesn’t this logic sound just a touch undemocratic, patronizing or even colonial?

Even an upper-crust Brahmin like me does not believe that most people are stupid. The reality is that hundreds of millions of Indians are not idiots. They are voting because the prime minister has racked up solid achievements. Above all, the Modi government has pulled off a significant reduction in poverty. It has achieved this by successfully rolling out a national biometric identification system called Aadhaar. The INC does deserve credit for conceiving this system, but it is the Modi-led BJP that implemented Aadhaar with vigor since taking charge in 2014.

Aadhaar enabled the government to open millions of bank accounts for poor people and deliver direct cash benefits to over 900 million individuals. In the past, an INC prime minister named Rajiv Gandhi, the son of Indira and the father of the current leader Rahul, admitted that only 15% of the allocated funds reached the beneficiaries. By cutting out the middlemen and streamlining the delivery of benefits, Modi has made a tangible difference to the lives of the poor.

The prime minister has focused on low-income households and provided them with public services for the first time in India’s history. More than 800 million Indian citizens get five kilograms (11 pounds) of wheat or rice every month. By 2019, the Modi government had already built well over 100 million toilets. Millions, especially women, now no longer have to relieve themselves in the open, and they feel a lot safer as a result.

In addition, the government has distributed cooking gas to poor households. The percentage of households with access to cooking gas rose from 61.9% as of April 1, 2016, to 99.5% as of January 1, 2021. Cooking with firewood and dried cow dung is labor-intensive, not to mention terrible for women’s eyes and lungs. Cooking gas makes kitchen work a lot less onerous for women and extends their lives. As Christopher Roper Schell explained in 2022, distributing these gas cylinders and implementing other welfare schemes has made Modi popular with female voters.

In 2014, 88% of villages in India had access to electricity. By 2021, 99.6% did. Under Modi, power generation has increased dramatically. The prime minister has also bet big on solar power. India is now the third-largest producer of solar energy in the world. Modi’s government has cut the red tape for installing rooftop solar and is making a big push to increase solar power production dramatically.

The Modi government has also supplied piped water to millions of homes and built no less than 25 million homes since 2016. While the government has fallen short of its goal to provide clean drinking water to all villages, it has made commendable progress. Building homes, providing piped water, constructing toilets, supplying cooking gas cylinders and distributing food grains have won Modi the support of the poor.

There is one bold act for which Modi does not get enough credit. Speaking from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on August 15, 2020, India’s Independence Day, Modi broke a big taboo by highlighting menstrual hygiene. He announced a scheme to start 6,000 centers to distribute more than 50 million sanitary napkins for just one rupee (₹1 = $0.01, so just one cent). India has had many women leaders, but no politician before Modi demonstrated the empathy or the courage to publicly address this issue. For centuries, millions of Indians have regarded menstruation and menstruating women as unclean. By making this issue a priority, Modi demonstrated great political courage and moved Indian society in the right direction.

Modi has not only succeeded in what Fair Observer’s Editor-in-Chief Atul Singh and geopolitical guru Manu Sharma call Sanatan Socialism — traditional Hindus like to call their religion Sanatan Dharma, the “eternal order” — but also followed decent policies on national security and the economy. The Modi government has acted more robustly against Pakistan and managed to control domestic terrorism so far. It has also delivered robust economic growth and built infrastructure at a record pace.

Even opposition leader Shashi Tharoor, a handsome devil rumored to have murdered one of his wives, has given Modi his due on the infrastructure front. In an op-ed for Project Syndicate, Tharoor lauded the Modi government for “the rapid construction of much-needed infrastructure, including new airports, ports, and highways, enabled by streamlined procedures, quick approvals, and extensive reliance on private contractors.” He went on to say that Modi’s “infrastructure boom has changed the face of many parts of India, and the work continues, with large new investments in modernizing India’s railway network.”

The Modi government has also won praise from American software gurus. I was struck by Wes Kussmaul’s piece in Fair Observer which lauded Indian achievements in building the “India Stack,” an indigenous set of technologies for the digital age. If you live in Europe, you are now living as a serf in what Yanis Varoufakis calls the era of technofeudalism. You search for everything via Google, use Google Maps to get from one place to another, buy your stuff off Amazon, post images on Instagram, send messages on WhatsApp and perhaps love your fancy iPhone. You operate very much within the system created by American tech giants who make your life convenient but squeeze every cent out of you for the privilege of doing so. In India, we are also living under the same technofeudalism, but at least we are trying to revolt.

India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) enables me, my driver and my vegetable vendor to buy everything from train tickets to onions using our phones. In our daily lives, we barely use cash anymore. Kussmaul tells us that India has been able to leapfrog Western economies and gone from cash to digital payment systems at extraordinary speed. In June 2016, UPI had no transactions. Fast forward to April 2024 and it recorded over 13 billion transactions in the month. Since 2021, India is the leader in the global real-time payment market followed by China and South Korea.

The Modi government is trying to develop BharOS, an operating system for use in government and public systems. In addition, it has been developing digital infrastructure called the India Stack. As per the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “the India Stack is revolutionizing access to finance.” The IMF estimates that 1.2 out of 1.4 billion Indians, nearly 90% of the population, have signed up for Aadhaar. Bank accounts are linked to this digital identity, enabling direct cash transfers to the poor. Payments through UPI enable the poor to engage in daily digital transactions using their phones.

Developers are building Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) based on the India Stack to solve many hard problems. This combination of public digital infrastructure and private entrepreneurship is unique in the world. The US has handed over its digital infrastructure to modern-day robber barons like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. As stated earlier, Europeans are serfs to American tech barons and Europe is a digital dinosaur. The Modi government has shown great vision in implementing Aadhaar, UPI and the India Stack as well as pushing for BharOS.

There is really no alternative

When Indira was the de facto queen of India, many said that she benefited from the “there is no alternative” (TINA) factor. In fact, they had a point. Indians had high hopes when Morarji Desai replaced Indira in 1977, becoming the first non-INC prime minister of the nation. However, Desai turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. Well-meaning but narrowminded, this doctrinaire Brahmin sold the Research and Analysis Wing down the river because he suspected India’s premier intelligence agency to be a touch too loyal to Indira. 

For good reason, Pakistan awarded this useful idiot its highest award: the Nishan-e-Pakistan. A late relative told me the story of Desai’s stupidity in the sort of gory detail that you do not get on Wikipedia or any online source. Sadly, we Indians do not put things into writing, and a lot of my relative’s knowledge is lost. Suffice to say, Desai was a dunce. His successor Charan Singh was worse. Unsurprisingly, Indira stormed back to power in the 1980 elections, barely three years after losing to Desai, Singh & Co, despite her god-awful track record during the Emergency.

Like Indira, Modi benefits from the poverty of credible parties and competent personalities in Indian politics. The INC is no longer the party of Mahatma Gandhi. It is a fiefdom of the Nehru dynasty. The remarkably handsome Rahul Gandhi, Indira’s half-Italian grandson, is the big boss of the INC. He has walked from the south to the north of the country, and this fit hunk is probably well-meaning too. Yet Rahul is wedded to the socialism his family imposed on India and is proposing what Atul Singh calls “Latin America-style populism” in India. Rahul is promising jobs for everyone, free cash every month to the poor and more. To pay for these freebies, his adviser Sam Pitroda is threatening an inheritance tax that is terrifying the middle class but would still cover a mere fraction of the lavish expenses the INC is proposing. In fact, Rahul’s promises threaten to make India a South Asian Argentina and send shivers down my spine.

There is also another tiny matter that bothers even a Brahmin like me. I see excessive dynasticism as the bane of Indian culture. It is rampant not only in politics but also law, business and Bollywood. Atul has incessantly mocked me for supposedly having higher status than him per our caste system. For far too long, caste was defined by janma (birth), not karma (deed). This caste mentality has led to the extraordinary power of the “lucky sperm club” in India. Rahul is the shiningest star of this club. Indira’s grandson may not be stupid, but he lacks real intelligence, judgment and experience. Surrounded by sycophants, Rahul has no dirt under his fingernails. He is the boss of the INC only because he belongs to the Nehru dynasty. This dynasticism afflicts politics in all of South Asia, not just India. In large part, I voted for Modi to keep Rahul out of power because I have had enough of the Nehru dynasty for one lifetime.

Apart from the BJP and the INC, we do not have national parties. Let us take a look at South India. Kerala, a state of over 34 million people on the southwestern tip of India, is ruled by communists. They have succeeded in increasing literacy and improved the state’s ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI). However, businesses find it tough to operate in Kerala, and jobs are hard to find. Malayalees, Kerala’s skilled people, work around the country and abroad, especially in the Persian Gulf. Fundamentally, the land known as “god’s own country” lives off tourism and remittances. Hence, communism sort of works. Elsewhere in India, communist parties are now practically extinct.

Tamil Nadu, a state of over 81 million people on the southeastern tip of India, is ruled by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The party traces its roots to a social equality and social justice movement that was rightly tired of discrimination by snooty Brahmins. Even as a Brahmin, I can see the appeal of DMK’s early subaltern philosophy. Ironically, the DMK is no longer a champion of equality or justice. Just as North Korean communists have installed a Kim monarchy, the DMK is in thrall to the Karunanidhi family.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi served as chief minister of Tamil Nadu for over five terms between 1969 to 2011. He was a gifted writer and canny politician. As early as 1937 (ten years before independence), he became a student leader opposing the imposition of Hindi as India’s national language. In a spectacularly successful career, Karunanidhi ruled Tamil Nadu for almost 20 years. His political rival was the once slim and then portly Jayalalithaa, whom I described above. Her party, the AIADMK, is now a spent force. In contrast, the DMK is still ruling Tamil Nadu and its leader is none other than Karunanidhi’s son. Believe it or not, his name is Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, named after none other than the murderous Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin.

M.K. Stalin is certainly not bloodthirsty like his namesake. However, the choice of the name reveals his dynasty’s preferences. To be fair, Tamil Nadu is a state that has done well in educating its people, boosting its industrial production and developing a decent economy. However, I have a nagging suspicion that Stalin is far too happy to flirt with Tamil nationalism to win votes. In 2022, he met with a Tamil extremist convicted of killing Rajiv Gandhi, the good-looking father of the handsome Rahul Gandhi, causing much disquiet among old Rajiv loyalists. Yet in 2024, Rahul called Stalin his “elder brother,” and both are part of the 28-party INDIA alliance seeking to topple the Modi-led BJP. Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.

North of Tamil Nadu lies Andhra Pradesh (54 million people) where Yeduguri Sandinti Jagan Mohan Reddy rules as chief minister. Like Rahul and Stalin, Reddy is yet another member of the lucky sperm club where members inherit top political jobs from their fathers. From my fellow Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers in Andhra Pradesh, I have heard many juicy tales about the Reddy clan’s corruption. Apparently, their Christian faith has not given these Reddys any sense of sin, and they fail to avoid the temptation of self-enrichment at the cost of taxpayers.

The other two southern states of Telangana (nearly 40 million) and Karnataka (over 64 million) are ruled by INC. In fact, there is only one other INC chief minister in the country, and he rules the northern Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh (less than seven million) on the China border. All three INC chief ministers hail from humble backgrounds, but they are regional satraps who pay obeisance to Rahul just like Mughal governors did in the 18th century. The fact that the INC rules only three out of the 28 states of India is telling of how far the grand old party has fallen since 1947.

The space vacated by the INC has been filled by regional parties around the country. A full list of them would make this long piece even longer. So, I will highlight two parties that have a strong support base and will give you a flavor of India.

The first is the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) founded by Mamata Banerjee in 1998. This ex-INC leader became the first woman chief minister of West Bengal in 2011 and continues to rule this state of over 100 million people. Didi (elder sister), as Banerjee is called, is a feisty and charismatic politician. Yet she is a regional leader with no appeal outside of her home state, just like M.K. Stalin. The Didi-led TMC defenestrated the communists who had been in power for many decades. Yet she has not been able to either increase per capita income or living standards during her time in office. My IAS friends tell me that her goons beat up her opponents more thoroughly than the infamous communist cadres. Didi yells at some of these friends from time to time. 

If Modi has cultivated the Hindu vote, Didi has wooed the Muslim vote. In fact, some TMC Muslim leaders are said to be criminals. In February, party leader Arabul Islam was arrested in a murder case. Later that month, another leader named Sheikh Shahjahan was arrested as well. Villagers of his native Sandeshkhali accused him of land grab and sexual assault, and celebrations broke out in the village on news of his arrest. A Bengali soldier in the Indian Army personally told me that Shahjahan had taken over his land. As per his account, this Muslim mafia boss had been taking over the land of serving soldiers in the defense and paramilitary forces. Our soldier went on to tell me that the TMC had been turning a blind eye to Shahjahan’s criminal activities because he delivered the local Muslim vote to Didi.

For all its faults, the TMC is a powerhouse that dominates West Bengal. So, the party has little incentive to play second fiddle to anyone in its backyard. Thus, forming an alliance with the imperial INC, which she quit to form the TMC, becomes difficult. Formally, the TMC is a part of the left-leaning alliance. However, Banerjee claimed that the INC proved unreasonable and so the TMC had “decided to go it alone in Bengal.” Although Didi is a Brahmin, she is self-made and has no intention of kowtowing to Rahul, demonstrating the superficiality and brittleness of the INDIA alliance.

It is time for me to shine the light on the second party: Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Kejriwal emerged as one of the leaders of the anti-corruption movement against the INC, catching the fancy of many middle-class Indians. He began the AAP on the tailwinds of the movement and signaled national ambition from day one. In 2014, he ran for the Lok Sabha (House of the People) — the lower house of the Indian parliament — against none other than Modi. The BJP leader trounced the AAP leader in Varanasi, the temple town Mark Twain called “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend.”

A year later, Kejriwal became chief minister of Delhi for the second time, winning 67 out of 70 seats. In 2022, the AAP won the Punjab elections as well. To some it seemed that the AAP would emerge as the national alternative to the BJP, replacing the moribund Nehru family-led INC. Instead, the AAP is embroiled in a scandal involving liquor licenses. Supporters argue that the BJP is stitching their leaders up in a politically motivated investigation. Another scandal, which has nothing to do with the BJP, is far more damaging.

AAP leader Swati Maliwal has accused Kejriwal’s aide of beating her in the AAP leader’s own home. From 2015 to 2024, Maliwal headed the Delhi Commission for Women. In January, she entered the Rajya Sabha (the Council of States) — the upper house of the Indian parliament — representing Delhi. Rumor has it that she was Kejriwal’s mistress and the AAP leader’s wife got the aide to give Maliwal a thrashing. That rumor may be entirely untrue, but it damages Kejriwal’s reputation as Mister Clean Anti-Corruption Crusader.

I have another more fundamental problem with the AAP. It is a populist party bereft of principle. The party has definitely improved Delhi’s schools; it has delivered some primary healthcare, and it has resuscitated Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on local democracy. Remember elected mayors in India still lack any power. Unelected 30ish-year-old IAS officers rule cities, towns and districts like feudal lords with no accountability. They answer upwards to their chief ministers, not downwards to the voters. By championing local democracy, the AAP has done one good deed. Yet the party does not practice what it preaches. Kejriwal has purged the party of many of its founders, cut all the tall poppies and created such a personality cult in the AAP that makes Modi look good by comparison.

In a nutshell, Indians do not really have an alternative to the Modi-led BJP in these elections. The INDIA alliance is a polyamorous marriage that would dissolve immediately into infighting in the unlikely event it won power. Too many of the alliance’s leaders are corrupt, populist and incompetent dynasts. Democracy is always imperfect, as Americans know too well. As of now, they face a choice between a convicted felon and a doddering 81-year-old losing his mind. Indian voters have better options. Like me, they prefer the scruffy street dog to the palace poodles.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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