Parallels between Modi’s India and Tsarist Russia

The slowdown of the economy, farmers’ march on the capital, the Government’s inability to pay salary on time etc. have remarkable similarities to Tsarist Russia before the Revolution

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Sujata Anandan

For many liberal Democrats like me, the results of the 2019 general elections were both depressing and sobering.

Unlike many entrepreneurs and cheerleaders in 2014 who had believed Narendra Modi would be their knight in shining armour after the horrible last few years of the UPA regime, I really had no illusions.

I had been reporting out of Gujarat for years and knew the hype of the Gujarat model for what it was – an empty boast that had no basis in even a sand's grain worth of truth. Small and medium entrepreneurs there believed that Modi ran the Gujarat government for just big industrialists but many of the big ones felt it benefitted just three – Ambanis, Adanis and Tatas.

Media was under pressure not to report the facts; farmers, apart from all the other problems they were facing, were having to lose their land to crony capitalism without compensation and, of course, even after the 2002 riots had died down communal toxicity was very obvious and frightening.

I was afraid all that would be replicated across India and not just remain confined to one corner of the country, that more than a 100 crore people would have to suffer the consequences instead of just the six Crore of Gujarat, bar a few, who were living in various states of misery for various reasons.

When Modi won a massive mandate in 2014, despite my better judgment, I was willing to be proved wrong and accept the better wisdom of the people, hoping he would turn a new leaf, change his ways and deliver on all his promises of achche din – what more could one ask for but a good peaceful, prosperous life in the country for all?

But I was not surprised when all the fears that I had harboured before the 2014 verdict came true. The only difference was now in the rest of India, people did not quite accept Modi and his policies without any questioning, the way they had done in Gujarat. And when, by March 2019, dissent and disappointment was at an all time high, I had thought and hoped for a regime change and course correction in the country that would pull India’s irons out of the fire and return it to a steady pace of economic growth and communal harmony.

When Modi won a massive mandate again, after the initial disbelief, I had once again hoped he will indeed use the victory to wipe out all the points of criticism of his previous government and return the nation to normalcy, both economic and communal.

However, everything that has been happening on both those fronts in the past two months has belied those hopes again. But they are now also beginning to remind me of the crash course that Tsar Nicholas, the second had set Russia on after his ascension to the throne.

Critics are fond of comparing Modi's fascist tendencies to Adolf Hitler’s. There is, of course, a similarity between the persecution of Jews in Germany and Muslims in India. But Hitler had the support of a lot of German elite because industrial growth in Germany at the time was pretty high and there was no unrest in any other section of society.


However, when Tsar Nicholas succeeded his father who had died young, Russian society too was pretty gung-ho about their nation and their ruler who they believed, like some Indians vis-à-vis Modi, that he had the God given right to rule. That utter belief in his invincibility led Nicholas to disregard all his failures and make serious mistakes that eventually led to his abdication and the Russian revolution.

For one, there was a major farm crisis across Russia with agricultural production at an all-time low. Then the factories started to shut down leading to a lot of labour unrest. The failures on the war front led to rebellion in the army. Then Grigori Rasputin, a Russian priest, came into the lives of the Tsar and Tsarina and his meddling with politics upset the noblemen of Russia, who had earlier offered the Tsar unquestioned support.

Rasputin got so bad that they conspired to eliminate him when it became obvious that the Tsar would not listen to better counsel. To combat the rebellion against autocracy, the Tsar gave the people a semblance of democracy by setting up a Duma (the Russian parliament) which was only that - a semblance with all autocratic decisions endorsed by the representatives, much like the Indian opposition is doing in parliament today.

The Tsar would not listen to advisors with better counsel and when peasants and labour groups marched to his capital in St Petersburg to present him with a petition of their woes and demands, he chose to run away from the palace rather than face up to the people who had still not lost faith in him and reassure them of his good intentions toward his people and his nation.

I see a parallel in everything that Modi and his government are doing today in India. Already the entrepreneurs - who I equate with the Russian noblemen who ultimately rebelled against the Tsar – are speaking up against the tanking economy. People are losing jobs in the thousands, there are no salaries to pay even public servants and when this financial crunch reaches the Indian Army, the Russian revolutionary nexus of peasants, workers and soldiers will be complete.

Modi's Rasputin is obviously Yogi Adityanath who has as little clue about how to run Uttar Pradesh as Rasputin had of Russia. The handling of Jammu and Kashmir could lead to a war with Pakistan which, in view of the recent renewal of ties between the Trump administration and Pak prime minister Imran Khan could prove as disastrous for India’s sovereignty as the war with Japan proved to imperialist Russia. Modi’s refusal to listen to the best minds willing to help him run his administration and his inability to face the people, including the media, and answer questions also have their Russian imperialist parallels.

Ultimately Tsar Nicholas had to abdicate. His brother Michael who ascended the throne in his place knew within two days that he would not be able to untangle the mess that Nicholas had made of Russia and gave up the throne to run away from the country altogether. India, of course, is a democracy and anyone succeeding Modi will be unable to throw his hands up in similar fashion.

However, more parallels have yet to come. Farmers have already marched on the capital and may march again. Soldiers have demonstrated too and unpaid workers might soon join their ranks.

But what I am afraid of is that an uprising in India will not be as homogenous as the one in Russia which was a straight fight between imperialists and commoners.

An Indian unrest is bound to be multi-layered, economic, religious, casteist and classist. All Indians will suffer and have to burn in a hell of their own making.

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