Asian roar

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Imagine a world where one man’s vision reshapes the future. President Xi Jinping, with his unwavering resolve, has tightened his grip on China, ushering in sweeping reforms and a new era of assertive diplomacy. His actions ripple through global markets, shifting economies and narratives alike. Under his leadership, China has become a force that commands attention, from the bustling streets of New York to the crowded markets of Mumbai. 

Xi’s strategy is as meticulous as it is bold. He has purged opposition within his ranks, securing a loyal cadre committed to his vision of Chinese supremacy on the world stage. His deft handling of relationships with giants like the US, India, Japan, and Russia has redefined traditional alliances and rivalries. For those watching, there’s a palpable sense of urgency – a recognition that we are witnessing the dawn of a new global order where China’s influence is inescapable and undeniable.

Meanwhile, the stage is set in India for a political showdown as the Lok Sabha Elections close. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to secure a third consecutive term with his charisma (for his critics – an engineered charisma) and steadfast leadership. Despite murmurs of an upset from the Opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), Modi’s decade-long tenure has undeniably transformed India into a formidable force on the global stage despite growing dissent, frustrations, and inequality in the constituency. 

Under his watch, India’s economy has flourished and its population of 1.5 billion stands as its greatest asset, driving innovation and growth. As the election results loom, the world watches closely, recognising that India’s trajectory under Modi’s continued leadership could redefine the balance of power in Asia and beyond.

China and India hold the key to unlocking the full potential of Asia, bearing the hopes and aspirations of 4.5 billion people in the region. This is undeniably Asia’s century, a period marked by rapid growth, technological innovation, and unprecedented influence on the global stage. As China leverages its economic clout and India capitalises on its vast human resources, both nations are poised to lead Asia into a new era of prosperity and power. The world can no longer deny these two giants’ pivotal role in shaping Asia’s future and the world. 

Anti-Modi narratives

Focusing on the Indian elections, many predicted an easy victory for Modi, yet doubt crept in during the campaign trail with various narratives at play. A section of Western media and their proxies crafted stories forecasting Modi’s downfall, challenging his bid for a third consecutive term. 

Historically, Western media narratives have often been critical of Asia’s rise and this election cycle was no different. For decades, one of Asia’s finest, Lee Kuan Yew, showcased the hypocrisy of Western media with one-sided narratives and it was the turn of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to turn the heat on the Western press this time.

Hundreds of op-eds and articles from around the globe were critical of Premier Narendra Modi, and the BJP mushroomed during the campaign trail. Some projected Modi as a face and Home Minister Amit Shah as everything else. It would have been a tremendous and balanced story if they had also mentioned the Bush-Cheney and Blair-Mandelson combinations without projecting only in Asia, as these things occur. Politics is universal; no one has a monopoly on the power play.

However, dissent is reasonable as it allows you to recreate your narrative compellingly, if necessary; otherwise some of it can be ignored. Premier Modi and the Opposition leaders, such as Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, all faced cyberbullying and hate from millions of social media critics. 

Dhruv Rathee, a young Indian YouTuber with 20.8 million subscribers, was adored by the anti-Modi section and hated by the Modi lovers. On average, his videos had 15 million views; some reaching 25 million views based on controversial subjects. Some of my colleagues who held independent or anti-Modi sentiments wanted to end Modi rule. Some were fearless and some were fearful. Young Rathee has shown the price of being daring, taking on a “tyrant,” as he narrated. Some enjoy money, some want fame, and some want power. Some want all three.

In our digital age, anti-Modi sentiments were widely disseminated and consumed. However, the impact on India’s 960 million voters will only become apparent in a few days as the world watches to see if these narratives swayed the electorate.

Modi and BJP campaign

The Modi and BJP campaign was bolstered by a decade of tangible successes, earning credibility despite facing numerous challenges and frustrations. Modi was presented as the definitive leader, synonymous with India’s recent economic strides and global presence. 

In contrast, the Opposition’s campaign lacked a singular anchor, relying instead on a collective team effort. Going up against a worldwide brand like Modi, with his track record of economic achievements, demanded a monumental and unified Opposition strategy. As election results loom, the question remains whether this collective effort was enough to challenge the incumbency and sway the electorate.

Modi projected himself as a divine gift to rejuvenate India and secure its rightful place on the global stage. This ‘messiah’ narrative is a familiar trope in political communications, evoking a sense of destiny and inevitability. 

The Opposition needed another charismatic leader or a robust alternative policy, action plan, and narrative to counter such an influential figure. However, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, the latest torchbearers of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, were criticised for their lack of imagination and coherence in their campaign. As a result, their efforts struggled to gain traction against Modi’s well-crafted persona and proven track record. 

It is seldom that a leader can blow his own trumpet. You need your allies to project how great you are. However, Modi said he was a godsend and gifted and his team said he was a godsend and gifted. It was missing in the Rahul and Priyanka duo. INDIA leaders like Kumar, Banerjee, Kejriwal, Yadav, Stalin, and Pawar seldom backed an anchor in cohesion. It’s understandable; all the above political brands are too big to sing hosanna for someone else. The fragile egos, personal interests, and political empires do not allow you to be united. Even in sports, all-star teams end up faring poorly. 

Modi, the saviour

Modi’s projection of himself as India’s saviour draws parallels to historical figures like Ashoka, Napoleon, and Alexander the Great, who also cast themselves as divinely-ordained leaders. After his transformative embrace of Buddhism, Ashoka positioned himself as a benevolent ruler destined to bring peace and prosperity to South Asia. Similarly, Napoleon portrayed himself as bringing order and reform to post-revolutionary France. At the same time, Alexander the Great saw himself as a destined conqueror, spreading Greek culture across the known world. 

In the book ‘Discovery of India’ (written in 1946), the great Jawaharlal Nehru (first Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964) writes: “Often, as I wandered from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audience of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name derived from the mythical founder of the race. I seldom did so in the cities, for their audiences were more sophisticated and wanted strong fare. But to the peasant, with his limited outlook, I spoke of this great country for whose freedom we were struggling, of how each part differed from the other and yet was India, of common problems of the peasants from north to south and east to west, of the swaraj that only could be for all and every part and not for some. 

“I told them about journeying from the Khyber Pass in the far northwest to Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin in the distant south and how everywhere the peasants put me identical questions, for their troubles were the same – poverty, debt, vested interests, landlords, moneylenders, heavy rents and taxes, police harassment, and all these wrapped up in the structure that the foreign government had imposed upon us – and relief must also come for all. 

“I tried to make them think of India as a whole and even to some little extent of this wide world of which we were a part. I brought in the struggle in China, Spain, Abyssinia, Central Europe, Egypt, and the countries of Western Asia. I told them of the wonderful changes in the Soviet Union and the great progress made in America. The task was not easy, yet it was not so difficult as I had imagined, for our ancient epics, myths, and legends, which they knew so well, had made them familiar with the conception of their country. Some there were always who had travelled far and wide to the great places of pilgrimage, situated at the four corners of India.”

I quote him again: “Sometimes I reached a gathering, a great roar of welcome would greet me. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ – ‘Victory to Mother India’. I would ask them unexpectedly what they meant by that cry: who was this ‘Bharat Mata,’ Mother India, whose victory they wanted? My question would amuse them and surprise them, and then, not knowing exactly what to answer, they would look at each other and me. I persisted in my questioning. At last, a vigorous Jat, wedded to the soil from immemorial generations, would say it was the ‘dharti,’ the good earth of India, that they meant. What earth? Their particular village patch, or all the patches in the district or province, or in the whole of India? And so question and answer went on till they would ask me impatiently to tell them all about it. 

“I would endeavour to do so and explain that India was all this that they had thought, but it was much more. The mountains and the rivers of India, and the forests and the broad fields, which gave us food, were all dear to us, but what counted ultimately were the people of India, people like them and me, who were speared out all over this vast land. ‘Bharat Mata,’ Mother India, was essentially these millions of people, and victory to her meant victory to these people. You are parts of this ‘Bharat Mata,’ I told them, you are in a manner to yourselves ‘Bharat Mata,’ and as this idea slowly soaked into their brains, their eyes would light up as if they had made an extraordinary discovery.”

Rahul and Priyanka, the great-grandchildren of the great Jawaharlal Nehru, were leading the anti-Modi campaign. The above paragraph could have been their campaign narrative, but it was Modi’s campaign line for the last 10 years – and for the next five years, if he succeeds in securing a third successive term on 4 June. 

Religio-political wars

‘Bharat Mata’ was the underlying campaign theme for Modi 3.0, which took Nehru’s ‘Bharat Mata’ concept to a different level. Nehru was widely regarded for his stand for secular India but there are severe questions and critics of Modi’s path for India – weaponising Hinduism for political power. In India, approximately 80% of the population by religion are Hindus and 14% are believers of Islam as per the 2011 census. As per census reports, a 1951 to 2011 comparison shows a 5% reduction of Hindus and in the same period a 45% growth of believers of Islam. 

The religious political wars have become the norm again; even the rise of Muslim political leadership in the United Kingdom has been the talk of the town recently, with Sadiq Khan holding onto the Mayorship of London since 2016. In Indonesia, vote bank politics are shaping up, with Islam as a shield; in Russia, the orthodox church plays a role in politics; and in the US, Christian nationalism is on the rise. 

Unfortunately, over centuries, humankind has been divided by religion. Instead, can religion unite people? Can a rejuvenated Bharat show the way for tolerance, diversity, and harmony to the world? 

In the last 30 years, India rebranded its main cities from colonial names to national names. Today, Bombay is Mumbai, Calcutta is Kolkata, Madras is Chennai, Bangalore is Bengaluru, Poona is Pune, and Banaras is Varanasi. If Modi succeeds in securing his third successive term on 4 June, will we see Bharat instead of India? Bharat will be Modi’s Ashoka moment. If that occurs, this will be one of the most significant brand changes in humanity’s history.

Xi and the ‘Chinese dream’

Like Modi, Xi crafted a narrative positioning himself as the chosen one, uniquely destined to lead China into a new era of greatness. Xi didn’t rely solely on revolutionary or economic credentials like Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping. Instead, he blended these legacies, portraying himself as the leader who could fulfil China’s historic rejuvenation mission.

Just as Ashoka, Napoleon, and Alexander the Great used the mantle of destiny to consolidate their power, Xi presented himself as the harbinger of a ‘Chinese dream’ – a vision of national renewal and global prominence. Through sweeping reforms, an assertive foreign policy, and strategic purges within his party, Xi solidified his position, projecting an image of stability and certainty.

These modern leaders harnessed historical narratives of messianic leadership in China and India, crafting personas destined to elevate their nations. Modi and Xi’s stories underscore a timeless political truth: when a leader casts themselves as a divinely favoured saviour, it becomes a formidable task for any opposition to mount a practical challenge without an equally compelling vision or figurehead. As a result, their nations stand at the forefront of Asia’s rise, shaping the region’s destiny in profound and lasting ways.

Enter Arvind Kejriwal

In China, the one-party rule under Xi ensures a controlled political landscape. However, in India’s vibrant democracy, winning a third successive term is an uphill battle for any leader. Modi’s stature and the BJP’s well-oiled political machinery present formidable challenges. Yet, amidst this daunting scenario, INDIA began to find momentum in the middle of the campaign. 

Emerging against all odds, this coalition started to resonate with voters, presenting a united front capable of challenging Modi’s dominance. Its late surge introduced an element of unpredictability, with many fearing an upset. The alliance’s ability to galvanise support and craft a compelling narrative in the final stages underscored the dynamic and resilient nature of Indian democracy, where even the most entrenched leaders can face significant challenges.

Not many would agree with me, but the Arvind Kejriwal fiasco and his subsequent jail term significantly disrupted INDIA’s momentum. Suddenly, amid a carefully orchestrated campaign, the focus shifted entirely to Kejriwal. This unplanned and unwarranted incident highlights how fragile political campaigns can be. 

In the high-stakes arena of political campaigning, unexpected events can swiftly derail even the most well-planned strategies. INDIA, which had begun to find its footing and generate genuine enthusiasm, was blindsided by the controversy surrounding Kejriwal. Instead of pushing forward with its collective message, it was forced into a defensive position, grappling with damage control and standing for Kejriwal.

Power struggle on the cards

If Kejriwal survives his legal battles and Modi secures another victory, the political arena is set for a dramatic power struggle. Kejriwal, driven by boundless ambition and armed with a reputation for grassroots activism, could challenge the leadership of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi within the Opposition. His relentless focus on anti-corruption (but he is booked for corruption now) and governance reforms resonates strongly with urban middle-class and disenfranchised voters, positioning him as a compelling alternative to Modi. 

This rise would inevitably clash with the Gandhis, who have long been the faces of the Congress Party and national politics. As Kejriwal’s influence grows, a fierce battle for dominance within the Opposition is likely to unfold, with his soaring ambitions threatening to overshadow the traditional leadership of the Gandhis. This internal struggle could redefine the dynamics of Indian politics, with both sides vying for the mantle of a chief challenger to Modi’s BJP.

‘Messiah’ narrative

The ‘messiah’ narrative is not confined to Asia. Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2017 was a masterclass in creating a narrative more significant than life itself. With his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, he cast himself as the saviour of a nation that, in his telling, had lost its way. This powerful, emotionally-charged message resonated deeply with many Americans who felt left behind by the political establishment.

Trump’s unconventional, often irrational approach allowed him to dominate the news cycle and overshadow his opponent, Hillary Clinton. While Clinton campaigned on experience and policy, Trump ran circles around her with his relentless energy and brash rhetoric. His ability to tap into the fears and hopes of voters, combined with a relentless focus on his narrative of national rejuvenation, ultimately won him the day. Despite his unpredictability and contentious style, Trump’s message struck a chord, propelling him to a victory that defied conventional political logic. 

Trump vs. Biden in 2024 will be a great watch. The US needs a strongman at the negotiation table with Xi, Modi, and Putin. If the former President runs, he will inevitably invoke ‘Make America Great Again’ with more vigour than in 2016. The US is not Reagan’s US anymore. It’s easier to talk about the inner core desires of Americans for pride. The pride they grew up with is slowly vanishing by the day.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s a blood sport. It’s all about the art of possibility. It’s about capturing power and, most importantly, sustaining power. The below from ‘The Panchatantra’ sums up the world: ‘All things in the world live off one another, using many different strategies to do so, some peaceful, others not so peaceful. Think.’

Rulers live off their lands,

Physicians off the sick,

Merchants live off the consumers, 

They learned from fools;

Thieves live off the unwary,

Almsmen off householders;

Harlots off pleasure seekers,

And workers of the whole world.

Snares of many sorts are carefully set;

Day and night, they lie in wait, watchful,

Surviving by sheer strength – fish eating fish. 

Fish eating fish — for survival. Once in power, you would not want to leave. Politics is a microcosm of human life. ‘Messiahs’ are not immortal and there is a downside. The sustainability of the narrative depends on not only the leader’s code of conduct but also his followers and the machinery. 

In the midst of this, Asia is rising. There is hope for the world.

Source: The Morning