How Modi is using patriotism bogey to justify India’s arms race

Like the questionable Rafale deal, even the Russian arms deal has escaped careful scrutiny by experts and media.

 |  6-minute read |   23-10-2016

A wheelchair-bound disability activist and writer, who is the son of an Air Force veteran and brother of a decorated Army officer, was recently assaulted by a couple in a Goa movie hall for not standing up during the national anthem.

Bollywood producers are being subjected to state-supported extortion in cahoots with a Mumbai-based thuggish political outfit for working with Pakistani artists. Anyone asking for clarification on the present regime’s propaganda on the surgical strikes is immediately being branded as anti-national and pro-Pakistani.

The patriotic fervour, which the BJP unleashed in the country after JNU's “anti-national” sloganeering controversy, has reached a crescendo after its overt politicisation of the Army’s reported “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan last month. Hysterical television media has been helping the regime in its effort to intoxicate the gullible citizens with crude patriotic overdose.

Patriotism is loving one's country. It sounds innocuous and noble, but when it degenerates into chauvinism, xenophobia, and jingoism, this patriotism becomes extremely dangerous and suicidal. This is what had made Albert Einstein hate “all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism”.

Patriots are often viewed as people who support their country's leaders under any circumstances. The idea of “love it or leave it” can be politically beneficial for the party in power, but there is no doubt it breeds distrust in society and weakens a country’s solidarity.

Patriotism like racism can place some people above others. Patriotism in India is taking that turn and fast becoming the language of Hindutva forces. Besides being socially destructive and politically devious, the hyperpatriotic emotions can be economically delusional.

Instead of focusing on a more vibrant and productive economy to be a powerful and secured nation, patriotism justifies higher spending on armaments. Any question on the nature and character of defence deals can be often projected as an unpatriotic act.

In the post 9/11 period, the world witnessed how George W Bush fooled “patriotic” Americans to ruin the country’s economy with increased military spending and waging wars. When good arguments could have been made for cutting military spending of the country, lawmakers and media in the US desisted from doing that because of fear of being branded as unpatriotic.

India under Narendra Modi is going through a similar phase.

bush--embed_102316050446.jpg Post 9/11, the world witnessed how George W Bush fooled “patriotic” Americans to ruin the country’s economy with increased military spending. (Photo credit: PTI)  

According to a survey by Pew Research Centre published on September 15, 2016, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of Indians support increased defence spending. In a country like India, where unemployment has shot up to a five-year high in 2015-16 and the nation is home to nearly 200 million undernourished people, which is the highest in the world, and more than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in the last 20 years due to economic hardship, the popular clamour for higher military spending is highly disturbing.

By repetitively warning of enemies like Pakistan and China and creating fear of foreign-sponsored terror attacks in the minds of the Indian people, the Modi regime in cahoots with a powerful section of media has effectively made most people so blinded by the ideals of patriotism, that they fail to see the real priority for the country. India is seeing a rapid rise in the number of its mindless gung-ho patriots.

India is already the world’s biggest arms importer. In the 2015 Budget, the Modi government had increased the country’s military spending by 11 per cent to reach $36 billion. In the 2016 Budget, the defence spending for 2016-17 has further gone up to $51 billion, 2.25 per cent of the country’s GDP. No one in the country questions the logic behind this huge jump in military expenditure while there is a sharp reduction in the country’s spending on the social sector, for fear of being branded unpatriotic.

In September this year, India signed a deal with France to purchase 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fighters for the price of nearly $8.5 billion. This deal is hugely expensive in comparison to the UPA government’s negotiation in 2012 to pay $10.2 billion for 126 of these jets (to acquire 18 aircraft in fly-away condition and manufacture the rest in India) and also excluded the possibility of technology transfer to India.

Besides a half-hearted customary criticism by the Congress, “patriotic” opposition and “jingoist” media have refused to take the regime to task for this highly skewed Rafale deal. Before the BRICS summit this month, Modi also signed a major arms procurement agreement with Russia.

Besides jointly producing 200 small, twin-engine Kamov Ka-226T helicopters, the deal also includes an S-400 Triumf long-range air defence missile system from Russia worth over $5 billion. Like the Rafale deal, the Russian arms deal has also escaped careful scrutiny by experts and media.

India is also finalising its negotiation with Israel before Modi’s planned visit to that country to sign a number of military deals, including laser-designation pods and anti-tank guided missiles worth over $3 billion. The Modi regime has not only signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the United States, it has also become the second largest arms supplier to India with around $4.4 billion worth of deals in the past three years.

India is hastening the process to buy 22 Predator drone aircrafts, besides talks are on for acquiring jet engine technology and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Even the president of the US-India Business Council sees tremendous future opportunity for American arms manufacturers to expand their presence in India due to its current hostility with Pakistan.

The Modi regime has not only gone on a shopping binge of readymade military hardware from foreign countries, it has also promoted some of its industrialist cronies without previous experience in the arms production sector, like the Ambani brothers, to collaborate with foreign manufacturers for joint production in the name of “Make in India”.

Some retired generals, who benefit from their liaison with foreign arms manufacturers, are also active in promoting war hysteria in TV debates to legitimise the regime’s arms purchases on a massive scale. Arms dealers have become hyper-active in Lutyens’ Delhi in recent months to fight for their share of the pie as it has become clear from the Varun Gandhi “honey-trapped” allegation.

By actively building a warmongering media frenzy and promoting the fervor of fanatical devotion to the country, the Modi regime is creating an atmosphere where people are afraid of exercising their right of criticism of government decisions related to the defence sector. Besides the lure of political dividends, the warmongering helps the regime push ahead with huge arms deals with questionable means without being subjected to regular scrutiny by the opposition or the media.

Research clearly shows the robust connection between war and underdevelopment. As the World Development Report 2011, which had focused on war and development issues, confirms, war is development in reverse. War hinders development and intensifies and consolidates poverty.

However, supporters of the Modi regime in the name of “patriotism” intimidate anyone who disagrees with the government’s warmongering postures and its abandonment of the “development agenda” and diversion of scarce resources of a developing country towards massive arms purchases.

Also read: India's patriotism starts with saas-bahu and ends in Bollywood

 

Writer

Ashok Swain Ashok Swain @ashoswai

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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