Narendra Modi

A Communist Student Is Igniting a Liberty Movement in India

If India's free market Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets away with his campus crackdown, it'll be bad for Pakistan


Successful societies create spillover benefits far beyond their own borders. America's market liberalism became a beacon for Western Europe, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries. Likewise, if India modernizes its economy


while hanging on to its tradition of democratic pluralism, it could transform the Muslim world, especially India's neighbor and nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan.

Sadly, however, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after two years in office, is taking only baby steps toward economic modernization — and a giant leap backward on pluralism. Nothing illustrates this better than the ho-hum budget and the paranoid anti-student jihad that the Modi administration has simultaneously rolled out in recent days.

Modi detractors and supporters alike agree that this year's budget is a left-wing spending plan by a right-wing administration. It is long on freebies and short on free-market reforms. Wall Street Journal commentator Sadanand Dhume, a market liberal who supported Modi, observes that this budget signals the end of Modi the reformer, and entry of Modi the political survivor.

The budget doubles down on precisely the kind of populist rural subsidies that Modi opposed when the Congress Party, whom he toppled, was in power, handing farmers income guarantees rather than productivity-boosting reforms. To keep within the deficit target, the budget actually cuts infrastructure investment by 12 percent, a really dumb move given how much India's crumbling roads and transportation affect the basic quality of life of every Indian.

Modi insists that he can't enact bolder reforms because the upper house of parliament remains in the hands of "obstructionist" opposition parties — a naked appeal for more power. However, even as he's unable to stand up to the left-wingers in parliament, he is moving swiftly to crush the left-wingers on university campuses.

A few weeks ago, the administration arrested several students at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, basically India's UC Berkeley. Why? They had organized a meeting to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru.

Guru was a Muslim convicted by the previous government for his role in a 2001 terrorist attack on parliament. He was hanged and buried in secrecy without informing his family. What's more, civil libertarians allege that his confession was coerced to appease the nation's majority Hindu population. So, as they do every year, JNU's lefty student activists recently held campus protests demanding secularism, equality, and socialism.

No doubt Guru is a questionable symbol for causes that range from the noble (secularism and equality) to the ridiculous (socialism). But instead of debating and discussing these ideas, as is appropriate to a free society, a Hindu student group on campus with ties to Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party gate-crashed one of the Guru events. They accused the activists, especially their firebrand leader Kanhaiya, of being a "Trojan horse" for Pakistan.

National TV channels such as Zee TV, whose owner is a known sympathizer of the militant wing of Modi's party, ran clips from the event showing Kanhaiya and others chanting "Long Live Pakistan" and "Death to India." And a Modi cabinet minister bandied around a tweet by one of the activists exposing his pro-Pakistan and anti-India sympathies.

Except the tapes turned out to be doctored and the tweet came from a parody account. A Zee TV reporter resigned in disgust at the lack of journalistic ethics of his organization. Another TV host aired a dark screen for his entire show to draw attention to the irresponsible manipulation of imagery to incite popular passions.

But that didn't prevent the government from accusing and arresting Kanhaiya and his comrades for anti-national seditious activity. Never mind that in order to do so it had to rely on a colonial-era interpretation of India's notorious sedition laws, which make it a crime not just to raise arms against the state, but even speak out against it. India's British rulers used this interpretation to throw Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters behind bars in a failed attempt to abort the Quit India movement.

Worse, despite orders from the court to arrange extra police protection when Kanhaiya was escorted in and out of hearings, given that Hindu lynch mobs were baying for his blood, cops stood by and let BJP thugs beat him up outside court.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the thugs, who, incredibly, included BJP lawyers and politicos, were granted bail within hours. But Kanhaiya remained in jail until a few days ago, his bail hearing postponed for weeks. Why? Because the police convinced the court that they were hot on the trail of new evidence of an anti-India conspiracy.

All of this only demonstrated the endemic corruption in India's justice system, precisely one of the things Kanhaiya, a PhD student who hails from a poor, rural Hindu family, was protesting. But it also reveals just how easy it has become in Modi's India to use the flag to gag dissenters. Kanhaiya is an unusually brave man who, hours after his release, delivered an epic peroration condemning the administration, its tactics, its narrow nationalism and demanding azadi — freedom But he has become a cause celebre and therefore has some immunity. It is unimaginable that his arrest won't have a chilling effect on speech on and off campuses, especially among Muslim activists, which was undoubtedly the idea behind the crackdown. Indeed, as one commentator put it: "An allegation of sedition in India has become like an allegation of blasphemy in Pakistan; an invitation to violence and an appeal to the basest tribal fears of citizens."

This was exactly the fear about Modi when he was elected, given his track record of fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment. The hope, however, was that he would bury his militant Hindu nationalism and focus on inclusive economic development, as he promised during his campaign.

His current course, should he stick to it, won't only be a tragedy for India, but also for Pakistan and the broader Muslim world. Despite the rivalry between the two countries, average Pakistanis are great admirers of Indian democracy compared to their own repressive quasi-theocracy. Pakistanis routinely praise India's commitment to pluralism, free speech, and secularism (which Modi's Hindutva brigade has taken to deriding as "sickularism"), even acknowledging that their Muslim brothers and sisters are better off in India because they can speak freely and question their government.

If India manages to deliver more prosperity and better living standards to its people while hanging on to its political traditions, the reformist forces within Pakistan could well become unstoppable. India and Pakistan are cultural twins in every respect except religion, and Pakistani rulers will have a hard time deflecting attention from their own incompetence if their country palpably lags behind India. And a reformed Pakistan will stand as a model for Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran and other Muslim countries. These countries have become cesspools of Islamic terrorism partly because of the economic and political stagnation that they can't seem to find a way out of.

This is of course conjecture and speculation. India's success might change nothing at all. But its failure will certainly snuff out hope. That's why it's vitally important that the world urge Modi to make a course correction. Thirty-six U.S. congressmen did just that recently, when they wrote a letter to Modi expressing "grave concerns about the increasing intolerance and violence experienced by members of [India's] religious minority."

President Obama, who has emboldened Modi's bad behavior by his unabashed feting of him, should follow suit.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

NEXT: Harry Potter and the Pointless Outrage: J.K. Rowling Accused of Appropriating Native American Culture

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  1. So if one is trying to sell being a libertarian and free markets the headline is probably not a good idea. Anyone else agree?

    A communist student is igniting liberty while the free market prime minister is cracking down…ummmmmm?

    This guy doesn’t really sound all that free market due to this:

    “Modi detractors and supporters alike agree that this year’s budget is a left-wing spending plan by a right-wing administration. It is long on freebies and short on free-market reforms. “

      1. Hey, he’s attacking a Shikha Dalmia column. I thought that’s what we do here?

        Also, Cody Bellinger is 6 for 9 and getting good reviews.

        1. He has been shitting up the other immigration thread with all too tulpical questions and bad faith arguments. It’s Tulpa. Also, yeah, I saw that. I’m cautiously optimistic. Who’s Puig? Never heard of him.

          1. “…It’s Tulpa…”

            The smell has been getting stronger with the ‘is X a troll?’ questions. I’m sure Tulpa thinks that’s clever.

          2. Sorry if it bothered you i don’t really agree with the open borders is great independent of what a welfare state is like.

            1. No, it only bothers us that you’re a disingenuous sock.

              1. Whatever…you presented something that inherently conflicted with what you said before. If that bothers you when questioned on it, that isn’t my problem.

                For example you want to repeal all laws and yet have a private court system….that is contradictory.

              2. And the other thing you posted was just as asinine where you are being oppressed due to the state putting someone on trial for burning my house down…you know due process and 5th amendment type stuff.

                And then we had another MGW saying free movement is a natural right. Fine. But if that is a natural right, then that conflicts with the concept of property rights. Having private property and not allowing people on said property restricts their movement.

                1. They don’t really conflict since MGW was talking about free association. Just because he was wrong in that context doesn’t make free association and private property mutually exclusive.

                  Freedom of Movement as it pertains to U.S. law is talking about the ability to cross state lines, not property lines.

      2. So if one was to talk to a non libertarian and try to sell someone on free markets being a good thing and communism being bad. This headline is probably something you don’t want to show them imo.

        1. No more faggot cookies!

        2. maybe the editors of this magazine are not hyperpartisan hacks?

        3. I think the point of the title is that even a stopped clock can be right once a day. That, and to paint the current leader of India as a dirty mother f’in Authoritarian, which he absolutely sounds like one if he’s busting out Colonial Law to shut down freedom of speech. They should strike those statutes from the books, frankly I’m amazed that’s still a thing for them.

          That’s the thing about Freedom of Speech. It’s supposed to protect all political speech, not just the shit you agree with.

    1. Tor,

      Expect a dedicated Libertarian to have a confused foreign policy view. Pakistan and India are two countries full of good, reasonable people who would be happy to just get along, who live cheek and jowl next to murderously – devout – certainty – filled neighbors. These devout folks showed their respective devotion to both Hinduism and Islam during the post Brit departure partition of the Raj into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (at first, part of Pakistan organizationally). They showed that devotion by trying kill each other, each others friends and family, and by destroying or stealing as much of each others property as possible.

      The Brits unified hundreds of Kingdoms in their Raj, giving many the common lingo of English and a unifying English culture for the elite and middle class. The lower middle class has greater indigenous culture dominance, with a mix in these days of the WWW that means all with a smartphone can organize. Given the long Indian tenure of Socialist organization, and years of cooperation with the Soviets for some of that time, Modi might be well informed on how hard it can be to combat Socialism and Communism. Knowing this, he might be wise to try to crush a burgeoning Communist leader on campus. Campuses are easy to infect with cults like Communism.

    2. Narendra Modi is not libertarian and not pro-market but he is the most pro-market among the crop.

      The author of this article Shikha however is a certified communist and she has written a article promoting an ultra-left student while blaming the Prime minister all communists love to hate.

      This is sheer incompetence of Reason’s editors to employ a communist journalist to report about India. As a person of Indian origin I find it really sad.

  2. Modi detractors and supporters alike agree that this year’s budget is a left-wing spending plan by a right-wing administration.

    There’s word for that… but it escapes me at the moment.

    1. Is the world also synonomous with the phrase “stupid party”?

      1. Yep. The whole effin’ world.

    2. Bi-partisan, right?

  3. India! We ought to be better than China!

  4. Likewise, if India modernizes its economy while hanging on to its tradition of democratic pluralism, it could transform the Muslim world, especially India’s neighbor and nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan.

    How’s it going to that? Culturally appropriated Indian magic?

    1. Sort of like how China modernizing the economy made North Korea simmer down and become a liberal democracy.

      Oh wait.

      1. And the China-N. Korea case sounds much more plausible. And yet there sits North Korea, surrounded on all sides by advanced modernizing or modernized economies.

      2. Um. North Korea IS liberalizing. Free markets are popping up all over the place there. They are almost self-sufficient in food.

        1. Are they 3D printing it?

        2. Not sure if joking or serious.

    2. Well, if India gets too strong, Pakistan might feel they need to pre-emptively invade. If Indian army starts kicking their ass, Pakistanis might use their nukes, prompting India (which has a lot more) to use theirs, and that will certainly transform it.

      Otherwise I have no idea. “Those stupid assholes will see how great we are and will seek to emulate us/return to our warm embrace” is what I’d expect from a nationalist, but Dalmia, for all her many flaws, doesn’t strike me as one.

      1. Would things have been better, worse, or the same badness without Partition in 1947?

        1. Well, that’s an interesting counter-factual. No Partition would mean Muslims not being supremacist assholes who refused to live in federation where they are outnumbered (I’m assuming Indians and Muslims murdering each other in places would still happen). Or, it would mean Indians choosing to fight and defeating Muslims (which, at the time, my money would be on the Muslims). It would be worse overall – even if first generation of Muslim (God, I needs a better word for Pakistani equivalent) leadership were about integrating, subsequent generation would still turn towards separatism, egged on by Saudi-trained clerics. So, probably marginally better for Pakistan, worse for India, blood would still flow and there’d be a partition.

          1. Perhaps they swapped inevitable unending bloody sectarian war for an eventual nuclear standoff. So far, there have been net fewer deaths but we live with some threat of mass extermination.

          2. I see np real peace in the world as long as Muslims exist in large numbers. I really need to get the de-muslimifier ray invented ASAP. To change them all back. Problem solved.

        2. Better. Pakistan is what it is because their government got funding and direction from Saudi Arabia. If that whole area was India, they’d be like Indian Muslims ie largely peaceful.

          1. V.S. Naipal, Among the Belivers. Read it – it’s from 1980.

            Pakistan is what it is because that is what its founders wanted. Indian Muslims are descendants of people who didn’t want to live in such a country. Those who did LEFT AND MADE PAKISTAN.

            Saudis made it worse. They did not create Pakistan.

            1. Pakistanis are to India what Canadians are to the US

    3. How’s it going to that? Culturally appropriated Indian magic?

      “We’re going to convert them – into nuclear ash!”

    4. Why would a non-Muslim country modernizing, etc. transform a Muslim country? They already have any number of non-Muslim countries that have modernized, etc., and your hard-core Islamist countries, especially including Pakistan, seem to take the opposite lesson.

    5. This is anti-Modi pro-communist pro-Islamic-terrorism peace.

      There is no relation between what India does and how it affects Pakistan. India is developing at fast pace where as Pakistan seems to be going deeper in civil war. I don’t think it is India’s fault besides that India wants to be a non-religion based nation where as Pakistan wants the entire subcontinent to be Islamic.

  5. Two articles in a row about Indians? YOUR BIAS IS SHOWING, REASON.

  6. Social justice? So, even in India, college students are a bunch of whining pussies?

    1. They learned it from YOU, America!

      1. I’m pretty sure they learned it from Britain.

      2. Since SJW’s believe in late term abortions, we need to adopt a policy of aborting the subset 75th-95th trimester fetuses who are attending American universities and whining about ‘safe spaces’ and ‘social justice’. Clearly, these fetuses are defective. they should be terminated immediately, and any viable organs and tissue harvested for beer money.

    2. “Social Justice” in other parts of the world sometimes ends with a lot of people being killed. Pol Pot, for instance, claimed to be fighting for Social Justice.

      Here in America, it really just comes down to hashtags. So be glad for that.

      1. The parasite has adapted. Killing the host is not a viable long term strategy.

  7. Self professed free market government executes left wing agenda. Commie students protest.

    I am having a hard time finding the good guy in this.

    1. Often, there are not any good guys in a fight. A lot of people have a hard time understanding that.

  8. So how does one say “Trump” in Hindi?

    1. Trump.

  9. “President Obama, who has emboldened Modi’s bad behavior by his unabashed feting of him, should follow suit.”

    So Hindus killing Muslims: Obama says ok.
    Muslims killing Christians: Obama says meh.
    Muslims killiing Jews: Obamas says “Blame Netanyahu”
    Atheists killing Buddhists: Obama fellates the leadership of the PRC.

    Jews killing Muslims (in self-defense): Obama says “How dare you stir up tensions!”
    Christians killing Muslims (while trying to save other Muslims): Obama says “I ended the war in Iraq”.

    Got it!

    1. Well, from where I’m sitting it’s questionable whether they are actually atheists; they seem to have deified Mao.

  10. Mahalingam?

    1. That was supposed to be in response to Bear’s 4:18 post.

  11. Modi has delivered some reform but not nearly enough, and he hands out freebies. He sucks.

  12. President Obama, who has emboldened Modi’s bad behavior by his unabashed feting of him, should follow suit.

    This is incredibly hypocritical for a magazine that supports normalizing relations with Cuba.

  13. A Communist Student Is Igniting a Liberty Movement in India

    Besides being against Modi, is there anything that Commie Boy is *for* that could be called Libertarian?

    1. It’s a Shikha article. Don’t try to make too much sense of it.

    2. Yes, I’m failing to see any libertarian angle at all.

  14. Shikha Dalmia is a leftist in India.

    The student in question supports Islamic separatism and a convicted terrorist in India and his mentors support Maoists groups in India.

    He come from a University called JNU which was created by soviet friendly PM to ensure that pro-communist intellectuals get a “safe space” so they dont create too much trouble for her.

    I am surprised how Shikha gets space in reason magazine.

  15. Communists, liberty? This is turning reason onto its head! How does Shikha Dalmia’s leftist claptrap get to infiltrate this site? Ignorance is no excuse.

    The devastating damage caused to India and the aspirations of the majority of its people by over 60 years of elite-imposed socialism from the sort that Shikha fronts is incalculable. While Modi is hardly the paragon of free markets or limited government, he’s infinitely better than the corrupt dynasts who perpetuated poverty in order to foster dependence. The communist social scientists of JNU provided the foot soldiers and capos to run this real world Animal Farm, and their cries for free speech and liberty run hollow in light of how they squelched alternative viewpoints on campuses across India and maintained a stranglehold on media outlets and the message that Indians received for at least three generations. It is only with the advent of social media that non-leftist voices began to be heard to challenge the leftist orthodoxy.

  16. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the swing to market forces by their Chinese markets sent many of these suddenly rudderless Indian leftists to universities in the US where they soon dominated the social sciences, humanities and gender studies, and began to undermine the US from within. They have additionally formed strong networks with left-leaning media outlets here and in the UK, like The New York Times and The Guardian, who serve as an amplified echo chamber for their one-sided slanted reporting of India’s slow climb out of the morass of dependent socialism.

    Shikha Dalmia exemplifies this kind of upper class, elite, we-know-what-is-best-for-you journalism, which doesn’t reflect or represent the aspirations of overwhelming majority of STEM-educated Indians, mostly from less privileged backgrounds, who are the country’s best hope for a brighter future. They have largely reposed their faith on the Modi government to promote entrepreneurship and a business friendly environment that was previously never allowed to thrive by the moribund socialist-inclined bureaucracy. Whether Modi will deliver remains to be seen, but the communists and their failed ideology are certainly not a viable option for India, no matter how Shikha spins it. Having her opinions here is like having Alexander Cockburn write on Reason!

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