Opinion | Narendra Modi Is Not Who America Thinks He Is (2023)


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Opinion | Narendra Modi Is Not Who America Thinks He Is (1)
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By Maya Jasanoff

Ms. Jasanoff is a professor of history at Harvard.

On Thursday the White House will roll out the red carpet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to “affirm the deep and close partnership between the United States and India” and “strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific.” A state dinner and Mr. Modi’s address to a joint session of Congress will crown months of fawning assessments of India by everyone from Bill Gates to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The message couldn’t be plainer: In Cold War II with China, the United States wants India on its side.

As an American of Indian origin, I welcome the economic transformations in India that in my lifetime have slashed the number of people living in extreme poverty, swelled the middle class and modernized infrastructure (though not enough to prevent a devastating train crash this month). I’m glad, too, that the rising profiles of India and the diaspora in the United States have mitigated the ignorance and stereotypes I so often encountered while growing up, when people balked at the spicy food, gasped at the poverty, mixed up the “Hindu” religion and “Hindi” language, and could scarcely place India on a map. Deeper, wider awareness of India in this country is long overdue. The outreach to Mr. Modi — the democratically elected leader of the world’smost populousnation, with polling favorability numbers recent American presidents can only dream of — appears, superficially, to make good diplomatic sense.

But here is what Americans need to know about Mr. Modi’s India. Armed with a sharp-edged doctrine of Hindu nationalism, Mr. Modi has presided over the nation’s broadest assault on democracy, civil society and minority rights in at least 40 years. He has delivered prosperity and national pride to some, and authoritarianism and repression of many others that should disturb us all.

Since Mr. Modi took powerin 2014, India’s once-proud claim to being a free democratic society has collapsed on many fronts. Of the 180 nations surveyed in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index, India sits at 161, a scant three places above Russia. Its position on the Academic Freedom Index has nose-dived since Mr. Modi took office, putting it on a course that sharply resembles those of other electoral autocracies. The Freedom in the World index has tracked a steady erosion of Indian citizens’ political rights and civil liberties. On the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, India has tumbled squarely into the ranks of “flawed democracies.”

A working paper from the Indian government dismisses such metrics as “perception-based.” Sadly, it is no “perception” that the government systematically harasses its critics by raiding the offices of think tanks, NGOs and media organizations, restricting freedom of entry and exit, and pressing nuisance lawsuits—most conspicuously against the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, who was recently ejected from Parliament after his conviction on a ludicrous charge of having defamed everybody named “Modi.” It is no “perception” that Muslim history has been torn from national textbooks, cities with Islamic eponyms renamed and India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, stripped of its autonomy.

Western commentators enthusing about the “new India” tend to breeze past such outrages as distractions from India’s economic growth and investment potential. But here too are troubling indicators. The share of women in the formal work force stands at around a paltry 20percent and has shrunk during Mr. Modi’s tenure. The share of wealth held by the top 1percent has grown since he took office and is now 40.5 percent, thanks to crony capitalism resembling the Russian oligarchy’s. Unemployment is rising, the cost of basic food is surging, and government investment in health care is stagnating. As for India’s readiness to partner on efforts to combat climate change — one of the Biden administration’s highest hopes — the Indian government has cracked down on climate activists and just removed evolution and the periodic table from the curriculum for under-16-year-olds in its ongoing assault on science.

The politics of Mr. Modi’s India are also affecting American communities, workplaces and campuses as the Indian diaspora in the United States grows. In Edison, N.J., marchers in the annual India Day parade last August drove a wheel loader, which resembles a bulldozer, bedecked with images of Mr. Modi and a far-right Indian government minister who has ordered the razing of Muslims’ homes and businesses, renderingsuch vehicles symbols of hate as provocative as a noose or a burning cross at a Klan rally. At Google, upper-caste Hindus tendentiously invoked “Hinduphobia” to rescind a speaking invitation to a Dalit activist, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, accusing her of hate speech. Those involved in a major academic conference criticizing Hindu nationalism were bombarded with rape and death threats. Across America there are now more than 200 chapters of the overseas arm of India’s fascist-inspired Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., of which Mr. Modi is a longtime associate.

The United States has a long, deplorable history of bolstering violent, authoritarian regimes—including that of India’s archrival Pakistan during a war widely called genocidal in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. It has consistently overlooked human rights abuses and democratic backsliding in strategic allies including Israel and Turkey. The invitation to Mr. Modi, diplomats may say, is not intended to celebrate him or his regime but to strengthen important ties between two nations and their citizens at a critical geopolitical moment.



But let’s not kid ourselves. Mr. Modi — who before he became prime minister was denied a visa to the United States for allegedly condoning a massacre of Muslims in 2002 — has made himself the face of his nation, smiling benignly from billboards at every traffic circle, the sides of bus stops, the home pages of countless websites. We can be sure the photo-ops with Washington dignitaries will figure prominently in his re-election campaign next year. Far less certain is whether Mr. Modi will deliver the kind of strategic or economic partnership Washington is seeking.

Healthier ways to engage with India begin with understanding that Mr. Modi’s version of India is no less skewed than Donald Trump’s of the United States, even if Mr. Modi has been more successful at getting the media and global elite to buy into it. (The two leaders enthusiastically celebrated each other at stadium-filling rallies in Houston and Ahmedabad, India.) U.S. news organizations and research institutions must continue to support vital fact-finding and reporting, to counter Indian government propaganda and misinformation about everything from humanitarian abuses to Covid mortality figures. Companies seeking to do business in India should insist their partners uphold shared values and practices of nondiscrimination. Silicon Valley can do better at pushing back against India’s increasingly autocratic digital policy, to say nothing of standing up to censorship requests — which Twitter notoriously failed to do with respect to a recent BBC documentary critical of Mr. Modi.

U.S. legislators should pass bills to make caste a protected category and educate themselves enough to avoid the error made recently by the Illinois General Assembly when it set up an Indian American Advisory Council using terms that offensively marginalized Muslims. Employers should recognize that appeals to Hindu identity and “Hinduphobia” may themselves be rooted in anti-minority and casteist campaigns. Campus administrators should be prepared for efforts by Modi-aligned factions to censor the speech and research of faculty members, students and guests.

It’s also important to recognize the diversity in all senses of the Indian American diaspora — which encompasses progressives like Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna and conservatives like Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy — and to remember that Indian Americans are a disproportionately wealthy, well-educated subset of the broader South Asian diaspora, whose constituents have distinct needs and interests.

We should hold India up as a mirror to the United States — whose own abundant problems make it easy for Mr. Modi’s legions of supporters to accuse his critics of hypocrisy, racism and neocolonialism. It’s common to look to the history of European fascism for parallels with democratic breakdown in the United States in recent years, but India offers a troubling guide to how authoritarianism can sabotage a multiethnic democracy in the internet age.

Similarities abound: an out-of-touch elite, widening economic inequality, easily mobilized ethnic grievances, a changed information landscape. One especially sobering area to compare is the resilience — or lack thereof — of a once independent judiciary, which Mr. Modi has been angling to undercut.

Like the United States, India is an extraordinary, diverse, plural democracy with incredible talent and potential — and there is much, in principle, to unite these nations for the good. But as the president of one stumbling democracy joins hands with a prime minister bent on hobbling another, the project of global freedom seems one step closer to collapse.

Maya Jasanoff is a professor of history at Harvard.

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Is Modi a Democrat? ›

Image of Is Modi a Democrat?
The Bharatiya Janata Party is a political party in India, and one of the two major Indian political parties alongside the Indian National Congress. Since 2014, it has been the ruling political party in India under Narendra Modi, the incumbent Indian prime minister.

What is the role of Narendra Modi in India? ›

Narendra Damodardas Modi (Gujarati: [ˈnəɾendɾə dɑmodəɾˈdɑs ˈmodiː] ( listen); born 17 September 1950) is an Indian politician who has served as the 14th Prime Minister of India since May 2014. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and is the Member of Parliament (MP) for Varanasi.

Who is the prime minister of all India? ›

The BJP won the 2014 Indian general election, and its parliamentary leader Narendra Modi formed the first non-Congress single party majority government. Modi has served as prime minister since, his party winning the 2014 Indian general election.

When did Modi come to us? ›

U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participate in a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on September 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet President Joe Biden on Thursday during his first state visit to the U.S.

How does the government work in India? ›


India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government.

Who is the political minister of India? ›

Prime Minister of India
Incumbent Narendra Modi since 26 May 2014
Prime Minister's Office Union Council of Ministers Executive branch of the Indian Government
StyleThe Honourable Mr. Prime Minister (informal) His Excellency (diplomatic)
TypeHead of government
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Who is No 1 prime minister in the world? ›

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as the world's most popular leader with an approval rating of 78 per cent.

How much money does prime minister get in India? ›

Salaries of government officials in India
Position in the Indian order of precedencePostNet Salary per month (including other emoluments and allowances)
1President₹500,000 (US$6,300)
2Vice President₹400,000 (US$5,000)
3Prime Minister₹200,000 (US$2,500)
4Governors₹350,000 (US$4,400)
17 more rows

Who is the most powerful PM in Indian history? ›

Indira: India's Most Powerful Prime Minister.

How many times PM can be elected in India? ›

There is no limit to the amount of time that somebody can be Prime Minister.

Who is the female chief minister of India? ›

Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal is the only female incumbent chief minister in India.

How many presidents are there in India? ›

There have been 15 presidents of India since the post was established when India was declared as a republic with the adoption of the Indian constitution in 1950. Apart from these fifteen, three acting presidents have also been in office for short periods of time.

How many times Modi visited USA? ›

The prime minister will undertake his first designated state visit to the US from June 20-24.
Visit No.YearDates
2.2016March 31-April 1
3.2016June 7
4.2017June 25-26
5.2019September 22
1 more row
Jun 20, 2023

Did the US have a prime minister? ›

Chile, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States never had positions as prime ministers. This contrasts with the presidential system, in which the president (or equivalent) is both the head of state and the head of the government.

Who was the youngest PM of India? ›

He took office after the assassination of his mother, then–prime minister Indira Gandhi, to become the youngest Indian prime minister at the age of 40. During his tenure, Gandhi introduced several initiatives and policies aimed at modernising India and promoting economic development.

Is there separation of powers in India vs USA? ›

In Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, it was observed: “That in the Indian Constitution there is separation of powers in a broad sense only. A rigid separation of powers as under the American Constitution or under the Australian Constitution does not apply to India.

Who has the highest power in India? ›

The vice president is the second-highest constitutional position in India after the president.

How does India's government make money? ›

The Indian government generates revenue from a variety of sources, including taxes, non-tax revenue, disinvestment, public debt, and foreign investment. Each of these sources is critical to ensuring that the government has the financial resources it requires to carry out its responsibilities and obligations.

Who appoints whom in India? ›

Council of Ministers

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President, who also appoints other ministers on the advice of Prime Minister. The Council is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.

Who is the first woman minister of India? ›

Rajkumari Dame Bibiji Amrit Kaur (née Ahluwalia) DStJ (2 February 1887 – 6 February 1964) was an Indian activist and politician. Following her long-lasting association with the Indian independence movement, she was appointed the first Health Minister of India in 1947 and remained in office until 1957.

What are the three types of government in India? ›

The Government works at three different levels in India. They are Local Government, State Government and Central Government.

Who is best president in the world? ›

Abraham Lincoln has taken the highest ranking in each survey and George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt have always ranked in the top five while James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce have been ranked at the bottom of all four surveys.

Who is the world strongest president? ›

President Putin of Russia has been named the most powerful person the largest number of times.

Who is the best leader in the world? ›

The following are some of the world's greatest leaders and the qualities that made them so outstanding.
  1. Mahatma Gandhi – The World's Most Influential Anti-War Leader. ...
  2. Martin Luther King Jr — Celebrated Civil Rights Activist. ...
  3. Nelson Mandela – A Freedom Fighter. ...
  4. Winston Churchill – A Steadfast Leader.
Apr 1, 2023

What is the average salary per month in India? ›

Average Salary and Wage in India

The average salary in India is ₹3,87,500 per year (or ₹32,840 per month).

What is MLA full form? ›

Answer: The full form of MLA is Member of Legislative Assembly. The full form of MP is Member of Parliament.

What is the salary of CM of Punjab? ›

Salary Bhagwant Singh Mann

Bhagwant Singh Mann (Politician - Chief Minister of Punjab - India) earns a salary of ₹27,60,000.00 per year.

Which is the strongest state in India? ›

Answer: Uttar Pradesh is indeed the most powerful state of India. The political party which controls the state of Uttar Pradesh controls the centre as simple as that.

Who is the youngest PM in history? ›

William Pitt the Younger (28 May 1759 – 23 January 1806) was a British statesman, the youngest and last prime minister of Great Britain from 1783 until the Acts of Union 1800 and then first prime minister of the United Kingdom from January 1801.

Who is India most popular PM? ›

PM Modi remains India's most popular leader, Rahul Gandhi's approval rating rises: Survey.

Who is elected as President for 2 times in India? ›

Dr Rajendra Prasad is the president of India, who held office for two consecutive terms from 1952 to 1962. He was elected as president of India in 1952 and 1957. Further Reading: President of India – Article 52-62.

How long a President can serve in India? ›

Ans. The President shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office.

Can a person be two times President in India? ›

There is no bar on the number of times a person can be the President of India. However according to Article 58 of the Constitution he must be an Indian citizen of 35 years or above and eligible to be a member of the Lok Sabha. Download Solution PDF.

Who is the youngest woman Chief Minister in India? ›

In 1977, she became the youngest ever Cabinet Minister in the Government of Haryana at 25 years of age. In 1979, she became State President of Janata Party, Haryana State at the young age of 27. Sushma Swaraj was the first female Spokesperson of a national political party in India.

Who was the longest serving Chief Minister of India? ›

Pawan Kumar Chamling (born 22 September 1949) is an Indian politician and writer serving as the 5th Chief Minister of Sikkim from 1994 to 2019. He was the longest serving Chief Minister of Sikkim and India, surpassing Jyoti Basu. Chamling is the Founding President of the Sikkim Democratic Front.

Who handles the foreign affairs in India? ›

Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Who is the first president in India? ›

Rajendra Prasad (3 December 1884 – 28 February 1963) was an Indian politician, lawyer, Indian independence activist, journalist and scholar who served as the 1st President of India from 1950 to 1962.

How many presidents were there in India after independence? ›

Draupadi Murmu became the 15th President of India on July 21, 2022. List of all Presidents of India from 1947 to 2023: Draupadi Murmu is serving as the 15th President of India and is the first tribal woman to occupy the top constitutional post in the country.

What are the powers of the president? ›

XXV; 3 U.S.C. § 19. Sections 2 and 3 define specific presidential powers and duties. Section 2, Clause 1 describes exclusive presidential powers: namely, the Commander in Chief authority, the power to require written opinions from the heads of executive departments, and the pardon power.

Where is Modi staying in us? ›

PM Modi to stay at Willard InterContinental in Washington. All you need to know | Latest News India - Hindustan Times.

How many people like Narendra Modi in India? ›

Overall approval
Area polledSegment polledApprove
GlobalAll adults71%
GlobalAll adults70%
IndiaAll adults74% (30% outstanding)
IndiaAll adults78% (30% outstanding)
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How popular is Modi in India now? ›

Modi is often credited as being the most popular leader in the world, solidified by a Morning Consult poll from last week showing that his approval rating in India is 76%.

What is the chief minister equivalent in the US? ›

The Secretary of State - United States Department of State.

What is the difference between a monarch and a prime minister? ›

Though the king or queen may be regarded as the government's symbolic head, it is the Prime Minister who actually governs the country, thus in Britain the Queen reigns, whereas the Prime minister rules.

What is the difference between the US and the USA? ›

There is no difference between the United States of America (USA) and the United States (US). Both of the terms refer to the country located in North America. They are the same and are often used interchangeably.

Who is the oldest living PM? ›


Of the seven former prime ministers currently alive, the oldest is John Major (born 29 March 1943), who is 80 years old. If he reaches his 93rd birthday on 29 March 2036, he will surpass Callaghan's record and he will become the longest-lived prime minister.

Who was the oldest prime minister? ›

Oldest prime minister

Gladstone's final elected term started after he won the general election in 1892. He was 81 years and seven months old at the time.

Who is the oldest MP in India? ›

Chandrani Murmu of BJD from Keonjhar constituency became the youngest member at the age of 25 years, 11 months and nine days and Shafiqur Rahman Barq of SP from Sambhal constituency became the oldest member at the age of 89.

How are prime ministers elected? ›

The speaker nominates a candidate, who is then elected to prime minister (statsminister) by the parliament if an absolute majority of the members of parliament does not vote no (i.e. he can be elected even if more MP:s vote no than yes).

Who was the prime minister in 1952? ›

Winston Churchill was an inspirational statesman, writer, orator and leader who led Britain to victory in the Second World War. He served as Conservative Prime Minister twice - from 1940 to 1945 (before being defeated in the 1945 general election by the Labour leader Clement Attlee) and from 1951 to 1955.

How many years Congress ruled India? ›

After Indian independence in 1947, Congress emerged as a catch-all and secular party, dominating Indian politics for the next 20 years.

Who is the chief minister of Assam? ›

Image of Who is the chief minister of Assam?
Himanta Biswa Sarma is an Indian politician and lawyer serving as the 15th and current Chief Minister of Assam since 2021. A former member of the Indian National Congress, Sarma joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on 23 August 2015.

Can a country have a president and a prime minister? ›

A semi-presidential republic, or dual executive republic is a republic in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet, with the latter two being responsible to the legislature of the state.

What powers does the prime minister have? ›

The Prime Minister is the leader of His Majesty's Government and is ultimately responsible for the policy and decisions of the government. As leader of the UK government the Prime Minister also: oversees the operation of the Civil Service and government agencies. chooses members of the government.

How does Canada vote for prime minister? ›

The leader of the party most likely to hold the confidence of the House of Commons becomes the prime minister. Most MPs are members of a political party, although candidates may stand for election as independents unaffiliated with any political party.

Who was the forgotten prime minister? ›

Perceval was the last British prime minister to wear a powdered wig tied in a queue, and knee-breeches according to the old-fashioned style of the 18th century. He is sometimes referred to as one of Britain's forgotten prime ministers, remembered only for the manner of his death.

Who was the first black prime minister? ›

Ramsay MacDonald
The Right Honourable Ramsay MacDonald FRS
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Preceded byStanley Baldwin
Succeeded byStanley Baldwin
In office 21 November 1922 – 22 January 1924
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Who was PM when Queen Elizabeth was crowned? ›

Robert Menzies was the incumbent prime minister when Elizabeth became queen.

When was Congress declared illegal in India? ›

In retaliation, most Congress leaders were arrested on 9 August 1942, and the Congress was declared as an illegal organisation.

How many states does Congress rule in India? ›

A chief minister is the head of government of each of the twenty-eight states and three union territories (UTs) (Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Puducherry). According to the Constitution of India, at the state-level, the governor is de jure head, but de facto executive authority rests with the chief minister.

What is the political ideology of India? ›

India is a parliamentary secular democratic republic in which the president of India is the head of state & first citizen of India and the prime minister of India is the head of government. It is based on the federal structure of government, although the word is not used in the Constitution itself.

Who was the first president of Assam? ›

He also served as President of the Assam Chhatra Sammelan in 1928. He also bought the first bicycle and the first motor car in Guwahati. In 1921, Assam Provincial Congress Committee was formed with its headquarters at Guwahati and Kuladhar Chaliha as its president. Phookan became the president.

Which party is govt in Assam? ›

Chief ministers
13Tarun GogoiIndian National Congress
14Sarbananda SonowalBharatiya Janata Party
15Himanta Biswa Sarma
25 more rows

What is the name of the Assam Party? ›

Asom Gana Parishad (translation: Assam People's Council, abbr. AGP) is a political party in the state of Assam, India.


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