After the recent British election, a potential harbinger for the US in 2020 as well the Democrats inability to convert President Trump’s Impeachment into a popular mandate, a second Trump term is looking more likely. This is a cause for concern to say the least.
Ever wonder what Donald Trump will do if reelected without having to worry about the whims of the electorate in the future? Do you think about Charlottesville often and what would happen if Trump had unfettered power with a large Republican legislative majority after his first term was rubber-stamped with approval by the electorate?
One might look to Boris Johnson’s Britain for understanding the electoral trend of working class voters in an industrialized nation toward centre-right parties that re-position themselves as economic populists. However, if you want to get a sense for the cultural template, India’s Narendra Modi as CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently suggested on his GPS program, provides the template. In fact India’s current political climate, where a secular democracy has clashed with a theocratic authoritarian leader largely mirrors our own conflicts here at home.
So what exactly has Modi done since winning an overwhelming reelection in May 2019?
The Hindu nationalist Prime Minister who inherited a nation with a history of secularism in 2014 has radically altered the face of India in a very short period of time. His first term efforts at proactive change have become even more pronounced the last eight months.
His government pushed hard but ultimately lost in the courts on a measure to force the playing of the Indian national anthem before any movie in a cinema. For those who do not know, the cinema in India is an even more lucrative business than in the US, with Bollywood, netting a worldwide audience of 3 billion. Despite the law being struck down, vigilante justice to enforce standing during playing of the anthem has taken hold in the country.
Most Europeans find the American culture of playing the national anthem before sporting events and other happenings quite odd, and regressive. The American idea that was pushed by Elmer Layden the former Notre Dame football coach during World War II has stuck, but in modern society seems dated. Yet in India more often than not, the reactionary elements copy American behavior rather than European or traditional eastern philosophy. That alone should remind us inherently, many American ideas, institutions and thoughts are in itself illiberal.
Modi’s right-wing allies have started a cable news channel, Republic TV which broadcasts in both Hindi and English. Republic TV is the NewsMax TV or OANN of India, with some of the existing cable news channels shifting into FOX News mode. A lone English-language dissenter, New Delhi Television (NDTV) has come under great pressure to shift into a more “neutral” (pro-government mode)via various methods of transactional intimidation not dissimilar from the way we’ve seen Republicans beginning with Tom Delay and culminating with Donald Trump operate in the US.
In August, the Modi government abolished a constitutionally protected status for the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the nation’s only majority Muslim state. Since the special status was revoked, the Internet has been shut down now for over 145 days. The move, a reaction to a 30-year insurgency in the Kashmir Valley has met with large-scale condemnation in the west. Still Modi’s government seems to have public support its actions and the nation’s influential English language media, who are fearful of repercussions have been largely neutral on the issue.
Most recently, a new citizenship law passed by Parliament has inflamed passions. The law makes it abundantly clear that Muslim exiles to India aren’t entitled to the same rights as Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain refugees. What the law does is codify discrimination in a way that the Indian Constitution never permitted and Modi’s forerunners never seriously contemplated. The passage of the bill has awakened India’s intellectual class and led to massive protests at major universities, as young urbane Indians, accustomed to a secular life with western influence fight back.
Meanwhile right-wing groups like the RSS, an ideological heir to fascists and brown shirt traditions of the past are organizing and matching in support of Modi.
Much like Hitler, who took advantage of anger at the British, French and the-then young international order for punitive measures after World War I, Trump has fueled anger toward Europe, China and international institutions. Modi has similarly tapped into the India’s tradition of anti-colonialism to fuel resentment of international institutions, justifying extreme nationalism and religious bigotry under the guise of “sovereignty” and “Indianness”.
Trump as Zakaria predicts might be looking closely at Modi as a model. A second Trump term could mirror a second Modi term and that would be bad news for the traditional institutions and values of most living in the United States.