mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Snubbed Modi Pushes Development, Claims Secularist Heritage

Disinvited from a prestigious annual event at the University of Pennsylvania, blocked from getting a US visa by lingering questions over his role in massacres, the man who may be the next prime minister of one of the world’s emerging superpowers addressed American supporters by video this weekend.

The several hundred viewers who gathered to watch the speech were given signs of Modi’s coming campaign: a strong push for youth-oriented spending priorities, especially education and skills development. This is smart politics in a country where the youth vote is huge.

Modi also spun the secularism issue. On the one hand, he says, he’s an Indian nationalist, and that means he’s interested in the wellbeing of everyone in India. Sounds inclusive and smart. But in his other hand, there’s a gift for the Hindu activists in the BJP as he connects his idea of national greatness to the ideas of the famous Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekananda is an interesting choice for a role model: he was a major figure in India and he is also an important figure in American history. Credited with introducing Hinduism to the West, he was offered (and refused) a teaching position at Harvard and made a huge impression on thinkers like William James. He helped revive Hinduism and linked it to stirring nationalist aspirations in India at the same time as he encouraged Indian economic and intellectual development.

There is still a long way to go before India’s election, but if the Modi bandwagon continues to gain momentum, Washington is going to have to do some serious head scratching about its relations with a man it dislikes but who could become the leader of the world’s largest democracy and a vital strategic partner of the United States.

Features Icon
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service