For some time, the U.S. media has been preoccupied with
news from China, our nation’s newly-emerged principal
competitor on the world market and a potential political
Several years ago, a previous Chinese leadership abandoned
traditional Marxist economic policy and adopted a Western
model adapted to their continuing non-democratic (totalitarian)
political structure. Following the mainland Chinese
communist revolution in 1949, led by Mao Tse Tung, the
Chinese People’s Republic which resulted was globally
isolated and rigorously totalitarian with a Marxist economic
model. Allied then with the Soviet Union, the world’s
other large communist state, the Chinese went through a
series of unsuccessful and ruthless societal transformations.
In the early 1970’s, sensing a political opportunity, U.S. President
Richard Nixon went to China and initiated a “thaw” in
China has for most of recent history been the world’s largest
nation in population. Lacking political freedom and some
vital natural resources in spite of its large land mass, China
was unable to prosper under a Marxist model. Its population
approached and then exceeded one billion persons, many of
them living in rural areas.
It size, its potential for future conflict, and its recent partial
capitalist transformation, have made it a constant and
irresistible news story in the U.S. and Europe.
At the same time as the Chinese Peoples Republic was founded,
however, another Asian nation, India, formerly a British colony,
formed an independent democratic (but socialist) nation under
its founder Jawaral Nehru and his Congress Party. Nehru’s India
did not ally itself with Great Britain or the U.S., but was a
leading force in the emerging so-called Third World, a large
number of mostly left-leaning and developing nations which
remained more or less neutral in the Cold War. But Nehru often
sided cautiously with his powerful neighbors, the Soviet Union
and China. India’s religious problems and socialist economy
kept this huge Asian nation from true economic success and
domestic stability for decades.
Estimates recently suggest that India's population is now equal
to, or exceeds the population of China. In any case, each nation
now has a population which is greater than 1.2 billion persons.
Only in 1998, when the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) took control of the government, and turned
the Indian economy to free market capitalism under Prime
Minster Atal Vajpayee, did the sub-continent begin to take its
place in world trade and to thrive domestically.
In 2004, the leftist Congress Party, still controlled by the Ghandi
family dynasty, returned to power, and the Indian economy soon
stalled. At the same time, long-term tensions with its other large
neighbor, Pakistan (the other nation which was created from
colonial India), increased. Both nations possess nuclear weapons.
Now in 2014, Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist (and
pro-Western capitalist) Bharatiya Janata Party has been elected
prime minister in what can only be described as a voter landslide.
He and his party now have a clear majority in the Indian
parliament’s lower house and control the government.
Modi faces many internal social problems, including protecting
the rights of Hindu minorities, other religious minorities and the
large Moslem population, all of which have faced severe
discrimination in the past.
Indian society is quite divided by caste, religion, language and its
geography. Of the latter, the regional identities of Kashmir,
Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu are some areas which
constitute ongoing vexing problems for any India government.
Here’s how some demographics break down.
Hindus number 80%of the population; Moslems 13%; Christians
2.4%; Sikhs 1.6%; Buddhists 1.5%, Jainists 0.5%.
The population of Utter Pradesh state is 200 million,
Maharashta 112 million, Bihar 104 million, West Bengal 91
million, Andhra Pradesh 84 million, Madhya Pradesh 73
million, Tamil Nadu 72 million, Rajasthan 62 million,
Karnataka 61 million, Gujarat 60 million, and
Odisha 42 million. All of these India states are larger than
California, the largest U.S. state. There are also a number
of Indian states with lower populations.
The caste system in India had its origins in early Hindu
history, but virtually all religions in India, including
Christianity, have imposed a caste system. The practice
was beginning to disappear by the time the British took
over the subcontinent as a colony, but the British revived
the system as a means of exerting their control over the
population. Long criticized within and without India, the
caste system in illegal under the Indian constitution, and
recently “untouchables” (the lowest level of the caste
system) have been elected to the highest positions in the
government. Informal caste prejudice, however, persists in
modern India, although it is diminishing with each new
Hindi speakers number 400 million, Bengali 83 million,
Telugu 74 million, Marathi 72 million, Tamil 61 million,
Urdu 53 million, Gujerati 46 million, Kannada 40 million,
Punjabi 34 million, Oriya 33 million, Malayam 33 million,
Maithill 32 million, and more than 100 million speak more
than 200 native languages. English is an official second
language of India, but only about 50 million speak it fluently.
A combination of English, Hindi and other local languages
is called Hinglish, and it is spoken by about 350 million in
India (and many Indian immigrants also speak it in the
These numbers and statistics are astonishing by U.S.
standards, and make it difficult for Americans to properly
evaluate the extraordinarily complex political environment
The election of Narendra Modi is potentially the most
significant democratic election in the world in the 21st
century, especially if he and his party are able to revive the
free market reforms of his BJP predecessor Atal Vajpayee,
and resolve the myriad of subcontinental problems Mr.
Vajpayee could not accomplish in his six-year term.
The implications of this election for the United States,
European Union and the Middle East are potentially
tremendous. For this reason, as Mr. Modi and his party
take over and begin their leadership of India, we will
revisit their progress and stewardship going, hopefully,
[PRAIRIE EDITOR'S NOTE TO READERS: I have not been
to India, nor am I scholar of Indian history and culture.
Between 1966 and 2010, however, I had many encounters
and intersections with Indian political and cultural figures
and Indian life, including almost two decades of hosting
numerous Indian members of parliament (from all parties)
and future cabinet officers and governors as my active part
in the U.S.I.A. International Visitor Program. Before and
during that period, I also met with various Indian literary
and cultural figures. Some of my literary work was
translated by them into Bengali (Calcutta) at that time, and
throughout I have pursued a lifelong interest in Indian
philosophy, music, literature, art, dance and cuisine. The
above article is meant only to be a very brief outline of an
ancient culture and nation which is emerging once again as
a great force in the world.]
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.