Tory devotion to ‘dear friend’ Modi speaks volumes about post-Brexit Britain in need | Nick Cohen

NOTarendra Modi and the Hindutva right are turning the world’s greatest democracy into the world’s ugliest democracy. Muslims are denied the security of full citizenship. The independence of India’s courts, civil service, electoral system and media has been horribly compromised as the Bharatiya Janata Party creates, if not a one-party state, at least a state where only one party can win.

Far from criticizing Modi or maintaining a diplomatic distance, the British Conservative government endorses Modi’s policies and prejudices.

Indian opposition politicians have been in the United Kingdom for conferences organized by the Indian diaspora and meetings with politicians and academics. Not a single representative of our ruling party was among the hundreds they met. Tory ministers and backbench MPs gave every appearance of a collective decision not to engage with any opponent of the Modi regime.

On May 16, there was a reception in parliament for Salman Kurshid, a former Indian minister, Pradyot Manikya, chairman of the Indian Regional Progressive Alliance of India, and other opposition figures that anyone concerned by India would be happy to interview. Conservative MPs said they would be there. But they never showed up. Labor politicians said Priti Patel had ordered a boycott. I forwarded the allegation to the relevant Tory MPs, but they did not respond to my emails.

She calls Modi “our dear friend” and praises his “dynamic leadership”. But maybe the order came from an operator below his pay grade. Anglo-Indian activists said a boycott need not be initiated by someone as big as the Home Secretary. UK BJP activists just have to tell a Tory MP with a strong Indian vote in his constituency to stay away and they would obey.

Tellingly, none of the British opponents of Modi I interviewed would be registered. Even in the UK, crossing the BJP is causing its activists to lag behind and, in one nasty case, demanding that the critic’s parents be kicked out of their temple.

Kurshid and Manikya aren’t well known in the UK, but Rahul Gandhi has the glamor of royalty. As the son of Rajiv and Sonia, grandson of Indira and great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, British politicians should want to meet him for his sheer celebrity value. Once again, not a single Conservative minister or MP was in parliament last week to salute one of Modi’s most vocal opponents.

When Gandhi came to London in 2018, India’s Conservative Friends said he organize an event for him in parliament. At that time, conservatives wanted good relations with India but did not take sides in its political struggles. Or so they said. Just before Gandhi took the floor, they canceled the reception. Indian journalists reported that the BJP had made its displeasure known. And in conservative circles, what the BJP wants, it gets.

For conservatives who criticize the identity politics of the left, this should be the moment they see the face of the left looking in the mirror. Like the “anti-imperialists” and Islamism, or the pro-Israel right and Zionism, the conservative party is now so aligned with the BJP that it allows the most oppressive versions of religion and ethnicity to define an entire religion or ethnicity. Hinduism is no longer a spiritual belief but a nationalist belief.

The Indians are no longer the 1.4 billion inhabitants of the country, but the Hindus and the recognized minorities, whose place is assured, but not the Muslims, who face tests for migrants before being assured of citizenship.

The secular ideals of 20th century India are too easily dismissed as a Western imposition. They were as much a reaction against the West as the West: in particular a reaction against the British Empire’s attempts to divide and rule the subcontinent on the basis of ethnicity. Now, divide and conquer is back with demonic energy, with a large share of scapegoating served up on the sidelines.

The culture of canceling bigotry follows. Britain’s Tory politicians now tacitly agree with the BJP that opponents of Hindu nationalism are not ‘real’ Indians or Hindus but are, in the daunting phrase of Boris Johnson’s Brexit-time allies, “the enemy within”.

There are decent democratic reasons for the Conservatives to appeal to Indian voters. Refugees from African nationalist persecutions in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have been model meritocrats. Idi Amin and his contemporaries stripped them of everything in the 1970s, but fled to Britain and worked hard to ensure prosperity for their children.

Naturally, the Conservative Party could call on their support. Equally naturally, conservatism appeals to the more recent influx of high-caste Indian professionals. The idea that minorities have a duty to vote for left-wing parties is in itself a kind of racism. In happy societies, your ethnic or religious identity is not your destiny and it is to the credit of the Conservatives that Indian voters do not think it is the racist party of the leftist nightmare.

If pleasing Indian voters means not being in too much of a rush to confront BJP sympathizers within them, that’s democratic politics for you. It’s not as if anti-Hindu sentiment on the left isn’t already pushing them into the arms of the conservatives. The desperate Labor MP Navendu Mishra wrote in 2021 of a “hierarchy of racism” within the Labor Party and certain groups, notably Hindus of Indian descent, being “fair game”.

And then there is Brexit. There is always Brexit. Desperate that a trade deal with India shows it hasn’t pushed its country into absolute economic and strategic failure, the Johnson administration will bite its tongue if silence helps it secure a trade deal with India. ‘India.

Whether it is keeping silent out of necessity or choice is an open question. During his tour, Gandhi spoke well about how the BJP was “strangling” the independence of every potential opposition centre. “There is not a single institution that is not attacked and this is done systematically. The judiciary, the press, the bureaucracy, the electoral commission… each institution is systematically occupied by people who have a particular ideology.

With some modification to reflect local circumstances, this description would also apply to Boris Johnson’s Britain. The Conservatives are not in an alliance of electoral or diplomatic convenience. They are in love.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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