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Since 2014 we in India have been seeing a Modi wave. Elections after elections being won remarkably and at times even miraculously by the Saffron Juggernaut defying expectations and predictions leaving even the most tenacious journalists and pundits striving with all their might to have an eye on the ground reeling in disbelief. Like it or not, we the sensible observers know that the Modi effect is real. However what is more interesting to me is that this Modi effect has been spreading all around the world possibly to disastrous consequences.
Since May 2014 we have seen populist organizations and agendas winning elections all over the world. The most famous examples being the Trump victory in the US, the Brexit referendum and of lesser but even more ominous note the result of elections in Europe. Italy has thrown away a centrist government and now has an alliance in power composed of two extreme and opposite views, extreme leftist/anarchists of the South Italy and the extreme rightists of the North Italy. The two regions being polarized such extremely economically and culturally caused such extreme narratives to win from their own constituencies and forced to come to power at the Government. In Germany Angela Merkel’s coalition Government came close to be unseated by extreme right wing parties. Merkel may have breathed a slight sigh of relief but the pattern does sound ominous to future German elections. In Greece too we have far right groups winning unexpected mandates threatening to break Greek commitments made to EU in return for the bailout.
Now that we know that this trend of far right or I would say extreme ideology of populism winning power is real we need to understand why? How is that notions of extreme populism that seemed nonsensical just a few years back now have endorsements from a majority? Has the world been becoming more intolerant, more racist and more bigoted? Is there a true resurgence of Nazism and Fascism all around the world? Are we seeing the death of Pluralism, Liberalism and Democracy?
I am afraid we are. But the real culprits may not be who we think they are.
Let us consider US and India the two biggest examples of this trend in our world – One the most powerful and the other the biggest democracy in the world. In both nations demagogues have come to power on the backs of a silent but angry majority. In India it was the latent Hindutva anger that has seen BJP winning successive elections. In US it was the anger of the rural white population in the so called “Fly Over Country” that elected Trump as opposed to the conventional wisdom of a Hillary Clinton. Even today several years after Modi came into power and people have been disillusioned with several failed promises and rising jingoism the Saffron Juggernaut is gaining steam.
It is at this point that we should look at the genesis of this juggernaut. In India it was the years of political patronizing of the Muslim vote bank that led to a grievance being perceived by the majority Hindu population. Successive parties kept wooing the same segments of the population for the sole reason that they were expected to vote in bloc. They forgot that this attention being given to one section of population is likely to alienate the remaining section of the population. Muslims are indeed more marginalized and need more state support in several areas like education and civic assistance in several parts of the country and it is fitting in the progressive stream of thought that due attention be paid to such marginalized communities, however these parties should also have talked to or at least listened to the Hindu populations. Even though not being subjected to any injustice per se, Hindus felt that no attention was paid to them and that made them feel disenfranchised. The bastions of progressive thoughts – Media and Universities – They too failed spectacularly in this regard. Whenever lone voices spoke of Hindu marginalization it was brutally suppressed and brushed aside as right wing Hindutva fascism. The concept of neutral debate, the very practice of discussion between different streams of thought have died out in our Universities and Media. There is and has been only one acceptable narrative – That of the left, the communist ideology. Yes, the communist thought is far more progressive in theory than other systems of political thought but these communists forgot to be aware of the bane of Leftism – The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. So there was no longer the space or attention for the perceived or real grievances of a majority and the pressure started to gain steam.
Having no one to listen to one is a terrible state of affairs. In that case you tend to adulate anyone who speaks to you. Progressives were the ones who were supposed to give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized, however they forgot that when they became the establishment they created a whole new class of voiceless.
And it is these voiceless masses of Hindu Majority in India and White Rural Christians in US who have led to the rise of Modi and Trump. The same is happening across the world leading to Dutertes in Philippines to the BNPs of UK. The Juggernaut of the far right seems unstoppable.
So what is the solution?
The Media should start addressing this issue and start self-correcting. Today Media plays the most important role in polarization and creating of narratives for issues. Today’s media intelligentsia are unapologetically of the leftist breeds and markedly anti-right. It is high time Media stopped taking sides in these narratives and in fact started to adopt a more neutral tone. It is high time media realized its own biases and corrected itself, publicly and start listening to the hitherto demonized. It is easy to dismiss all the people who vote for Modi as mindless Hindutva mob who hate Muslims. It is easy to dismiss everyone who supports Trump as Racists.
The system is ripe for a correction of narratives. And it is time the so called progressives actually embraced the basic tenets of progressive thought – of actually being receptive to streams of alternate thought.