Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pit Bulls of the world unite (with middle class backing)

To the liberals world-wide, Vladimir Putin is a real pain in the backside (p-i-t-b or pit-bull).  

Here is how the present, past and future presidents of the USA describe Putin: President Obama has called Vladimir Putin “the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” putting on an unsmiling, tough-guy “shtick.” Hillary Clinton just compared the Russian president to Hitler. The State Department says Putin’s reasoning on Ukraine amounts to “two plus two equals five.” Republican House Speaker Boehner branded him a “thug.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said he is “in another world.” And George W. Bush complained that debating policy with him was “like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong” and called him “cold-blooded” to his face  

(the last accusation is remarkable as this would be a word for word description of GWB by the same liberals).

It is unlikely but another pit-bull may get hold of the atomic button and there is the same sound of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing form the liberals (Neha Desai Biswal just about managed to confirm that he will get a visa).Great power is (a bit) about managing great expectations and it is clear that the UPA regime has not managed to do it well (in a way this is the inverse India Shining syndrome- UPA has done a lot for rural India - employment guarantee schemes etc., but the corruption, inflation and other vices has caused the urban voter to defect).

It is certainly the case that the Indian middle class finds a champion in an autocrat like Modi, just like Russians back Putin. But while Putin has vast gas resources at his disposal by which he can blackmail Europe, Modi will be running on empty for now (if he is smart he will push for an under-sea gas pipeline from Iran to India bypassing Pakistan). He can certainly be more assertive towards Muslims (just like Putin towards Crimean Tatars and Chechnyans). He can clamp down on Christian missionary led conversions though I doubt it. If he manages to annoy US/Europe they will stop the visas (not just for him). It is not clear at this point how Modi can resuscitate the India Shining campaign. But then again, Putin also faced a long and lonely journey to the top.

The scariest scenario (for the west and the liberals) will be for Modi, Putin and Xi Jinping (also Iran) to join hands together (even symbolically) and for India to align with an axis of autocrats. This will require a super-diplomatic effort but certainly big money can/will enable this and the middle-class will be vociferous in its support. China (unlike USA/West) is not hung up about minority rights and may even persuade the Maoists to switch to jaw-jaw mode (in exchange for locking up rights to all the mines). China and India may also find common ground in working against Islamists from Taliban-held Af-Pak. If Modi can manage some movement in this direction he may be (like Putin) unstoppable.

Here is the million-dollar question- which model will appeal to the voters- the white-commonwealth model or the dark-autocracy model? The opinion makers (middle-class) will tell us to relax and enjoy the ride, greater prosperity will cancel out all the negatives (just as muslims from Bengal are coming over to Gujarat to earn their daily bread). A billion votes (814 million to be exact) will decide the future this May. Yes folks, this is the most momentous general elections ever (after 1977).

At the risk of over-statement, there seems to be a bizarre similarity between the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in the western strategic community over the events in Ukraine and the agonized lamentations of India’s minuscule liberal community over the possible outcome of the forthcoming general election. In both cases, the target of derision is a leader that many see as forthright, decisive and nationalist and others view as illiberal, authoritarian and even fascist.

There are obvious similarities that can possibly be drawn between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the man who may end up as India’s Prime Minister in May. Apart from the fact that both evoke polarized responses — adored by supporters and loathed by opponents, the rise of both Putin and Narendra Modi can be explained by broadly similar circumstances.


Putin took over a Russia that was unreconciled to its steep economic decline and loss of self-esteem. In just 14 years, whether ruling directly or through a proxy, Putin affected a dramatic U-turn in the country’s fortunes. The post-Soviet Union stereotypical images of starving pensioners queuing in the snow for food hand-outs and gangster-infested cities were replaced by those of cocky oligarchs buying up Chelsea FC and prime real estate in London, and crime lords running global operations stretching from Moscow to Goa.

All stereotypes have a basis in reality but only partially. Yes, Russian society has traditionally been prone to excesses and high-handedness. However, the reason why Putin commands the respect of most of Russia (and Russian speakers in the other regions that once constituted the Soviet Union) seems obvious when seen from an Indian, rather than European or American perspective. He restored the glory of Russia and put it back in global reckoning.

....But Putin’s bid to reclaim Russia’s status as a Great Power was only possible because the economic and political foundations for an enhanced role have been firmed up over the past decade. In India, on the other hand, the fierce desire of the past 25 years to transcend mediocrity, shoddiness and look the world powers in the eye has floundered. It is not that the UPA government has no achievements to its credit. India has progressed but it has seriously under-performed in terms of its potential. More to the point, there is a growing mismatch between the philosophy of governance of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council and the impatience of a young India that wants a more fulfilling life with lesser impediments in the path of personal success.


regards