As the world cries authoritarianism on Trump, they would be wise to look instead to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It’s impossible to avoid looking for parallels when it comes to politics. Brexit, Trump, Geert Wilders, and Marine Le Pen have provided ample fodder for political analysts to condemn solemnly the rise of nationalism and the death of “liberal values.” But President Trump has been in office for a while now. Apart from fake hate crimes staged for political purposes, division and strife that were promised has not significantly materialized. On the contrary, most people are living their lives normally, almost unaffected by Mr. Trump’s election. This is the establishment’s worst nightmare: to have their utter irrelevance pointed out. In this regard, no one can top Trump or his friend across the pond, Nigel Farage.
However, the fears of a populist leader with an authoritarian streak are not completely unfounded. It’s precisely what India went through. Before 2016’s meme magic was 2014’s “Modi Wave.”
Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power spouting the now familiar anti-establishment rhetoric, attacking the Congress Party, which had formed the coalition government for two consecutive terms. The Congress was rife with corruption and scams, and Modi skillfully rode the wave of discontent to a clear majority for the BJP in the national elections of 2014. He promised ‘Acche Din’ (Good Days) for the country, combining inflammatory rhetoric, majoritarian politics, and populist economics.
Sounds like Trump? Maybe so, but only on the surface. Modi’s overwhelming desire to control and command gives him an air of megalomania that Trump could never dream of. His means of control may be covert, but the blatant disregard for property rights and individual freedom make him deserving of the title.
His unconventional economics, dubbed ‘Modinomics’, is certainly not populist in the traditional sense of the word. His budget does not resort to “priming the pump,” and, to give credit where it’s due, the fiscal deficit has been lowered. It is still a form of “new economics,” but suffers from the vanity of an economic theory that fails to identify human action as the prime driver of the economy. Modi’s plan lauds the apparent, “seen” government intervention as being part of its “inclusive development” program. Despite being called “far right,” the BJP is simply orange Socialism.
Ask any devotee (for the BJP has devotees, not voters) about what was causing the stagnation of the Indian economy under the Congress and the prompt response is: Black money and corruption. This is the Indian way of saying, “we just need the right guys in power and all of our troubles will vanish.”
India thus stands at a crossroads: do we embrace real freedom and capitalism or march down the road to serfdom singing praises to Dear Leader? Modi is consistently anti-freedom, and even his supposed critics are too lenient. They bash him in the headlines, only to fold and say that his plan was good in theory but just executed poorly.
The government, in its latest budget, has given ridiculous power to income tax officials to raid citizens and shake down the “evil hoarders of black money.” Gold is being regulated and taxed, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is set to cut rates again, no doubt to create a bubble they pass off as growth just in time for elections. And the wildest, most ridiculous move of them all: the demonetization fiasco and the war on cash.
Now that money is in banks, the overreach of power really begins. A plan is looming to tax every bank transaction, while charging sales tax anyways. It is not as if the goal is unclear; it has been made very clear that India must go “cashless” to facilitate this intrusive form of tax collection. What is really chilling is that people are cheering it on.
The brainwashing runs deep, too. People are convinced that they don’t own their money. The concept of liberty is eerily absent from Indian politics. The right to property was removed from the Fundamental Rights and made a constitutional right, which is to say that the government can do as it pleases with property by tweaking its own rules. The Indian constitution does not restrict government overreach in any meaningful way. Is this the India that will be a superpower by 2020?
The Modi wave was false hope for those expecting radical change. India just got more of the same old socialism that hindered wealth creation in a poor country. And while India does not yet have a full blown welfare state, the myriad government programs are just as bad, if not worse. It is important to be harsh in critiquing the government’s policies. To say “at least they’re trying” is dangerous. Intentions don’t matter. Actions do. And if Modi doesn’t cease his economic antics, the future looks grim for India.