At the end of June, the Biden administration, the Democratic Party, and Congress rolled out the red carpet for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After a grand ceremonial reception at the White House followed by an elaborate state dinner, he was welcomed by members of Congress with an embarrassing “Modi” chant. This pomp decisively demonstrates the agenda of US imperialism today: enlisting the Indian regime as a counterweight to China in the New Cold War.
India is now the fifth-largest economy in the world and the world’s most populous country. It is also home to the world’s largest working class, with over 523 million workers. For all these reasons, it is seen as a “linchpin” by the US ruling class in their strategy to challenge China.
Modi, a very young recruit of Hindu fundamentalists, first made his political mark as Chief Minister of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, overseeing the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims by the Hindu right wing in 2002. Since 2014, Modi and his deeply reactionary Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have headed India’s central government, presiding over surging violence, especially targeting Muslims and caste-oppressed communities, and carrying out egregious attacks against activists and dissenters.
Modi’s regime has presided over what is estimated to be the worst unemployment crisis in nearly half a century, with over 450 million working people having given up hope looking for jobs. The number of extremely poor people has shot up just since 2018, and Indians made up 80% of those who became poor globally in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The masses in India currently face a searing cost of living crisis. Meanwhile, India ranked third in the number of billionaires, after the US and China.
Modi, Biden, and the New Cold War
Biden and the Democrats outdid Trump’s 2019 “Howdy Modi” welcome, and it reveals the bipartisan nature of US imperialism, as it openly embraces the Modi regime to build a bloc against Chinese imperialism in the New Cold War.
As the US and Chinese economies decouple, both imperialist powers are rushing to carve out their own economic and political blocs in a race for raw materials, markets and military allies. India is a crucial piece of this puzzle, as US manufacturers look to move supply chains out of China. In 2022, the US displaced China as India’s largest trading power, with a record $191 billion in trade. Indian officials want to raise that figure to $500 billion by 2030.
The Indian ruling class is also in its own regional imperialist contest against China, and there have been no fewer than four deadly Sino-Indian military conflicts in the last decade. As a result, the Indian ruling class has moved increasingly towards a military alliance with the US, joining the “Quad” Alliance, also known as the “eastern NATO,” and steadily increasing the share of arms it buys from the US. During Modi’s visit, Biden and Modi struck a deal for much closer military cooperation, with a planned $3 billion purchase of American Reaper drones by India and a transfer of General Electric jet engine technology, considered one of the crown jewels of the U.S. defense industry, to enable India to launch a domestic fighter jet manufacturing industry.
One thing is certain: neither American nor Indian working people will benefit from any strategic alliance between the two capitalist regimes. Only the ruling elite of both countries, who will continue to carry out brutal attacks on the working class to further their agendas, stand to gain from these agreements. The guest list to Biden’s lavish state dinner in honor of Modi is telling: several Indian and American corporate figures, including Asia’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. It’s the billionaire class that ultimately pulls the strings and enriches itself while working-class people from Boston to Bengaluru suffer.
Rise of Hindutva Forces in the United States
As the Hindu far right has consolidated power in India, Hindu fundamentalists have found a real base in the US. Groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a dangerous right-wing organization with direct ties to Modi and the BJP, are active in the US. The VHP is infamous for its role in the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims, and also was one of the loudest opponents of the historic ordinance banning caste discrimination won by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and a working-class movement.
In June, just two weeks before Modi’s visit, the first Hindu American Summit was held in Washington DC, organized by right-wing supporters of Modi and the BJP, and attended by organizations and individuals associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paramilitary wing of the BJP. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, fresh from the debt ceiling negotiations, was the keynote speaker at the event. Much like right-wing authoritarian Turkish President Recep Erdogan in Europe, Modi has made campaigning in immigrant communities abroad a key component of electoral campaigns at home.
The growth of the Hindu far-right in the US has been aided by both capitalist parties and has been accelerated by the development of the New Cold War.
From the US to India, We Need a Working-Class Movement to Defeat the Right Wing and the Billionaire Class
The Squad, who boycotted Modi’s Congressional address, failed to issue a call to action to working people, union members, and activists to expose Modi’s agenda and the dangerous rise of Islamophobia in India. Prominent member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Ro Khanna, in fact requested Kevin McCarthy to invite Modi to speak to Congress! In his letter, Khanna nakedly justifies this by declaring India “the most critical partner to countering China.”
This comes on the heels of the failure of the Squad and other progressive Democrats like Congressmember Pramila Jayapal to oppose Biden’s funding of NATO’s brutal proxy war in Ukraine.
In the US, the ruling class today is carrying out attacks on women, LGBTQ people, and the labor movement. Millions of working people face a serious cost-of-living crisis. Both the Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in this. Similarly, though the BJP has been the party in power, the Congress Party and other Indian parties have not mounted a serious fightback or offered any solution to the crisis. Moreover, they have their own track record of having sold out hundreds of millions of working and oppressed people, while helping to enrich a few.
In India and in the US, we need to build mass movements of working and young people, led by the rank and file of the labor movement, to fight on demands such as living wages and taxes on the rich to fund public services instead of pouring billions into the weapons industry. And this battle needs to be linked to the fight against all forms of oppression. We saw how the courageous movement of Indian farmers, joined by union members, handed Modi a historic defeat by forcing him to withdraw exploitative, pro-agribusiness policies. And ultimately, this needs to become a struggle against the system that permits such outrageous inequality: the corrupt and broken system of capitalism.