In the final chapters, the challenge presented by the BJP becomes clear: if secularism is no longer a core value of India, what is its future? The vision of a “Hindu Pakistan” is not inaccurate. But more striking is the comparison to Yugoslavia — a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state that is now a distant memory. “Indian civilisation is antique,” Komireddi reminds us. “Indian unity is rare and recent.”
Komireddi’s colourful prose and vocabulary – indurated, deterge, instantiation, gasconade, annealed – may not be to every reader’s taste. The book is more an essayist’s polemic than a journalist’s survey. It is, as it says on the cover, “a blistering critique” – some may prefer something more sober. But both the times and the subject demand anger, argument and urgency. Malevolent Republic supplies all three and is all the better for it.
Komireddi is unsparing in his criticism of Modi; so much so that he refuses to admit that any good has happened in India since 2014. There is no positive acknowledgment of the greater honesty in India’s foreign policy, and of the alliances Modi has forged with the US (and the West more broadly) to defend against an expansionist China. Komireddi shares the anti-Americanism of Nehru and Indira, and offers only grudging admission that the economy needs to be made more free if India’s population is to be employed at a rate that matches its demographic growth.
After pitilessly tearing through the leaders of the Indian National Congress for the first 100 pages, Komireddi slows down to stalk his real target: Narendra Modi, the leader of Congress’s rival, the Bharatiya Janata party. Here the prose is more measured and there are fewer inaccuracies. The author makes the case for Modi’s villainy in thematic chapters. Chapter 5 focuses on the development of a cult of personality around the leader, who took the helm in New Delhi in 2014. The next chapter chronicles the disastrous demonetisation scheme of 2016.