• Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New 'Republics' under Modi, Sisi, Poroshenko

Mahmood Hasan

DURING the month of May 2014 there were three rather important elections in three regions of the world. In South Asia, Narendra Modi was declared the winner in the Indian Lok Sabha election on May 16. In Europe, on May 25, Ukrainians elected Petro Poroshenko as their new president. And in the Middle East, Egyptians elected General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as their new president on May 27.
Since independence, Nehru's 'democratic paradigm' (first Indian republic?) was based on some broad ideals. He strongly believed in 'democracy,' 'secularism,' 'socialistic economic order' and 'consensus' to incorporate the diverse interests of multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-caste India. The Indian National Congress ruled for most parts of the last seven decades with Nehru's ideals.
With the overwhelming mandate will Modi deviate from the Nehruvian ideals? Will Modi change the political discourse and create a new 'Republic?' Will India be 'Modi-fied?'
The tone of Modi's maiden speech at the Lok Sabha was inclusiveness. He promised to fight poverty, change India's image from 'scam India' to 'skilled India,' convert development into a mass movement like Gandhi's freedom struggle.
Modi's passion for market-based solution for economic growth will no doubt strengthen the corporate houses of India. It will also help the growth of neo-capital that may accentuate the socio-economic divide.  
By inviting the Saarc leaders to his investiture, Modi held out an olive branch to his neighbours. He has yet to outline his policies towards China and the West. Interestingly, he has appointed Ajit Kumar Doval as his national security advisor, who has strong views about so-called 'Bangladeshi infiltration' into India.
On the ideological, social and political front, the secular segment of the society is watching with trepidation how his ideological mooring to 'Hindutva' manifests itself.


Hindutva followers have termed Modi's rise as India's second 'Republic.' Some have described it as India's second independence. The contours of Modi's 'Republic' are slowly emerging. Recent steps by Modi do not speak of inclusiveness.
As far as Egypt is concerned, the country has gone full circle from military dictatorship (first 'Republic' -- Gamal Nasser) to democracy (second 'Republic' -- Mohammad Morsi) and back to military 'democracy' (third 'Republic' -- Al-Sisi).
The first Arab Spring ousted Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 and catapulted Mohammed Morsi of Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) to the presidency through multi-party democratic elections in June 2012. In a weird reversal, a second Arab Spring thrust Morsi into jail and brought General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to the forefront of the Egyptian political landscape.
Al-Sisi was 'elected' president with 93% votes. That election was clearly a one-horse race. The other candidate, left-wing Hamdeen Sabahi, was there to give the election a façade of legitimacy.
Significantly, the Mubarak era constitution was abrogated and a new constitution adopted under President Morsi. General Sisi further amended that constitution, banning the Muslim Brotherhood's political Islam from Egyptian politics.
The features of the first Egyptian republic essentially revolved around the personality of Gamal Nasser, the hero of the Arab world at that time. Anwar Sadat, riding on the legacy of Nasser, became immensely popular after the 1973 war against Israel. Hosni Mubarak, a 1973 war veteran, carried on without any challenge until the first Arab Spring.  
It was under Sadat and Mubarak that the liberal capitalist elite emerged as an influential power group. They controlled the economy, while the military was left to handle national security and sovereignty. Mubarak maintained a balance between the two power groups. But as the elite group grew in size and wanted more power, Mubarak became increasingly isolated and eventually fell.
Morsi's 'Republic' was undone when the overzealous Muslim Brotherhood drafted a Sharia-based constitution. His Islamist agenda sharply divided the Egyptian polity and invited the second Arab Spring. When the army generals suspected that Islamist elements were trying to infiltrate and indoctrinate the army, he was overthrown. The elite capitalist group played their part in full during the second Arab Spring. That ended Egypt's second 'Republic.'  
General Sisi will now have to resurrect a third 'Republic,' which will require him to reunite the nation as a liberal, tolerant society; eliminate the remnants of Muslim Brotherhood; revive the badly battered economy; maintain Egypt's sovereignty; and reestablish relations with the West -- particularly in view of what is currently happening in Iraq and Syria.
The woes of Ukraine are not yet over even after the presidential elections. Ukraine's current problems aggravated late last year because of massive public debt. Besides, rampant corruption had made the country almost bankrupt. Ukraine needed funds from the West to stay afloat. When President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin protégé, refused a European Union loan, violent demonstrations broke out in Kiev. Unable to contain the situation Yanukovych fled to Moscow in February 2014.
While Moscow openly supported Yanukovych, the demonstrations were instigated by the West in the name of democracy, freedom of speech, etc. The country today is badly split between those who support Moscow and those who want Western style government. The chaos led Crimea to break away and join Russia. Simultaneously, pro-Russian militants started an insurgency that threatens to break off eastern Ukraine and join Russia.
Billionaire Petro Poroshenko was elected president with 54% vote. Poroshenko has several difficult challenges ahead of him. Firstly, he will have to earn recognition from Moscow. Secondly, put an end to the insurgency raging in the east. Thirdly, revive the economy and put an end to divisive politics. Fourthly, he will have to stamp out corruption from his government. Finally, he has to get a new loyal parliament through fresh elections.
Ukraine, an east European country, is caught in the geo-strategic war between Moscow and Washington. Success of Poroshenko's 'Republic' will depend on how he walks the tight-rope, balancing between Moscow and Washington.
It will be worth watching how these three leaders impact their respective regions.

The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, July 07, 2014

TAGS: Narendra Modi . Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

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