Weekly Geopolitical Report – An Alternative to Gandhi (June 15, 2015)

by Kaisa Stucke, CFA

Shortly after being elected into office last year, the new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited a memorial for Veer Savarkar, an Indian independence fighter, praising his lifetime of “tireless efforts toward the regeneration of our motherland.”  On its surface the move seems to be nothing out of the ordinary; however, the historical context of Savarkar as the father of the Hindu nationalist radicalism movement makes it somewhat controversial and a worry for the country’s religious minorities.  Savarkar was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, although the two men took radically different views on fighting for Indian independence.  As is well known, Gandhi supported the peaceful non-compliance movement, and his ideology welcomed all the religions of India.  History is written by the victors thus Savarkar and his take on the struggle for independence have not received widespread attention.  Savarkar argued for a more aggressive fight against the British and had strong views that India should be 100% Hindu.  The Hindu radicalism movement is more significant than is generally recognized and is currently enjoying a revival.

Prime Minister Modi has been in power for a year now.  Although he represents the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is considered to be the Hindu nationalist party, he was elected on the promise of economic reform, including infrastructure spending and labor laws.  It is too early to judge his economic effectiveness on a national scale, but he has a successful track record as the former head of the Gujarat region.  He is well-liked by voters, but he makes minorities very nervous as evidenced by the large-scale, religion-based riots that took place under his leadership in the Gujarat region.  He was cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the riots, and even received the support of some minority leaders during his campaign for his economic liberalization aptitude.  It does not help that some members of his party incite minority discrimination.  So far, Modi has been conspicuously silent in response to the inflammatory rhetoric from his party, which leaves observers wondering if he, in fact, agrees with it or is too weak of a leader to confront it.

There is no denying that Indian politics have been chiefly molded based on Gandhi’s peaceful non-compliance movement, which emphasizes equal acceptance of all religions within India.  It was a goal of the founders of the modern state of India to form a multi-religious constitution.  However, we could see a return to more Hindu-centric policies under the current trends.  This week, we will look at the resurgence of the Hindu nationalist movement.  We will start by briefly describing the political history of independent India, looking at Gandhi and Savarkar’s conflicting ideals.  Next, we will look at contemporary politics and explore the Hindu movement and its likely forms under Modi’s rule.  As always, we will conclude with market ramifications, both within India and for international markets, in general.

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