Back in 2014, Narendra Modi’s landslide victory was hailed by columnists in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, who predicted that he would prove to be India’s Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, modernizing India’s economy with a revolutionary program of deregulation and privatization.
Abruptly withdrawing more than 80 percent of the cash in circulation in India, Modi appears today a very different kind of revolutionary: the type that emerged in many non-Western countries in the previous century.
This figure, variously incarnated as Ataturk, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek, pitilessly uses the power of the state to impose sacrifice and pain upon his compatriots, conscripting their bodies and souls in the all-important task of forging a virtuous new people and nation.
To many eyes, the initial verdict on Modi’s radical demonetization policy has been crushingly negative. Both Larry Summers and Kaushik Basu have described it as a blunder amid reports of financial sclerosis and extensive suffering, including dozens of deaths. According to Amartya Sen, “only an authoritarian government can calmly cause such misery to the people.” Even some of those who welcomed Modi as an economic modernizer now attack him for callously exposing Indians to unnecessary distress.
But, projecting their own fantasies and disappointments on Modi, they disregard a cardinal rule: “Believe the Autocrat; he means what he says,” as the Russian critic Masha Gessen put it in a recent article titled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-11-29/modi-s-rupee-ban-is-part-of-plan-to-remake-indiaThis obsession with the Japanese spirit of self-abnegation is no passing fad. Modi’s ideological movement of Hindu nationalism was inspired by ultra-nationalists of the early 20th century, who saw widespread suffering as necessary, and not just inevitable, in the urgent endeavor of creating a new ethical and spiritual community and a sense of cohesion. Looking for likely models, V.D. Savarkar, Modi’s greatest hero, came to admire Turkish nationalists as well as the Nazis.
These nation-builders believed, along with Nietzsche, the intellectual godfather of many early 20th century ideologies, that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I pointed out in an earlier column on Modi’s fascination with Japan that Hindu nationalists were especially admiring of the first Asian nation to become economically and military powerful through harsh self-sacrifice.
the wrong kind, that is.
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