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(First published on January 25, 2020)

As world leaders and business leaders met at Davos, international media seemed consumed particularly by one politician who was not there and one country which was not adequately represented by its rulers: Modi and India that he seeks to remake in his own image. Image is important, of course, because India has remained in countless news cycles owing to the Modi government’s subpar performance and the breakneck pace at which it has introduced one controversial policy after another. And then to top it all you saw the IMF’s leadership, including its India-born chief economist Gita Gopinath, informing the world that India’s abysmal economic performance would adversely affect global growth numbers. The concern about India, particularly at the World Economic Forum, was to be expected; and similarly, the Economist’s cover. But there is more.

The Indian situation now enters a phase where Modi’s reputation also harms that of people who have one way or the other appeased him. So some accountability for appeasement is in order. An excellent piece by Alexander Sammon titled ‘Barack Obama’s Legacy Is Narendra Modi’ was published by The Prospect. This article is enough to open your eyes. When Modi won in 2014, he still was an international pariah. His role in the Gujarat violence of 2002 had earned him a visa ban by the US and various other civilised parts of the world. But then the Obama administration came into action. The ban was gone. Modi was invited to the White House and then the joint session of the US Congress. Since then Modi has largely been treated as a rockstar by world leaders.

Wrap your head around it. This is huge. Remember how Obama’s victory was greeted with a general sense of relief, jubilation and a Nobel Peace Prize? The hero of many, including this scribe; the charismatic prince of hope; he normalised Modi. Look at the implications through the prism of history. The world is observing the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp. The man responsible for those crimes back then was also normalised by someone. That someone would never be considered a hero. Back then the argument was centered around containing the USSR.

But the USSR was not primarily responsible for the two world wars. Germany was. This time the appeasement of Modi seems to stem from a desire to contain China.

Does it sadden you? It must. In comparison, the victory of the incumbent US president was met with paranoia, shock, and melancholy. And yet despite Donald Trump’s many peculiarities, he remains more circumspect. His insistence on obtaining maximum benefit for his fellow Americans means he does not offer similar carte blanche to anyone. America first, right? The rest is transactional.

We know that the US media reacted sharply to Donald Trump’s election campaign because he factored in many elements that any major candidate would not dream of touching with a barge pole. When something is affecting your society, you have to talk about it. That is a given. But as the world now discovers Modi’s government and the global ecosystem of his party, the BJP, played a pivotal role in the rise and weaponisation of the far-right around the world. So basically, even if the Indian far-right and its leader Modi were acceptable to Obama, he was not to them. How could he be? Look at his middle name. So, here is a lesson. You cannot escape the consequences of your actions.

Meanwhile, Obama’s appeasement policy and matching attitude of the American businesses has brought this day on us that despite the remarkable performance of the American economy, its main companies remain vulnerable to a global crash because of the Indian economic fragility. President Obama should also be thanked for creating a huge blind spot in the American media. When the media’s darling tells you that there is nothing wrong with Modi’s India you choose to ignore what is going on. Do you want to see how big this blind spot is? President Trump is facing an impeachment trial in the US Congress for allegedly asking a foreign country to help him win an election. Right? And the media is cheering. But just before this entire process started, a foreign leader visited America, held a rally of some twenty-five thousand US citizens and asked them to vote for the incumbent US president. No, not the president of Russia or Ukraine. Narendra Modi of India; in Texas; with Trump. The same media did not bat an eye. Democrats did not have any problem whatsoever. Right or wrong, this is the size of the blind spot. Now the US has shunned this complacency, but it might be too late.

Take another example. Israel recently held a big event to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. The theme was anti-semitism. Many world leaders attended it and Israel’s embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood shoulder to shoulder with them. But while the event and world leaders gathered to mark the occasion and spoke against the fresh tide of anti-semitism around the world, nobody seemed to focus on Netanyahu’s role in its revival. Israel’s leader who sees Muslims as the biggest challenge to Israel is known to appease the western far-right despite its manifest anti-semitism.

Why? Because the religious right thinks that a greater Israel will accelerate the march to rapture and the end of times. And the non-religious, racist, far-right or alt-right thinks that it is about the only way to get rid of the Jewish population in the West. This blind policy of appeasement has worked for Netanyahu who has still managed to cling to power in Israel. But for the Jewish population of the world, it has been a far less peaceful journey as hate crimes against the communities in whose name the Jewish state was created have risen sharply. If you want to know how this hate culture affects Israel, in the end, you need to read Turner Diaries, the neo-Nazi holy grail, that sees a West ruled by white supremacists nuking Israel.

There is no dearth of similar myopic examples. In the end, we have made the world an uglier and more painful place. Even though there was no need. If we all had done our jobs well and adhered to our professional responsibilities as well as our core values the world would have been a saner, safer place. Perhaps, there still is room for hope. But then somebody among the world leaders will have to stand up and start calling a spade a spade. The world awaits the next Churchill.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2020.

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