‘Good days are coming’. This was the slogan of Narendra Modi, the unabashedly populist maverick who took the Indian subcontinent by storm in 2014. Never before, or since, has the appeal and allure of populist politics been so acutely presented in a single phrase, perfectly encapsulating the vague promises and assured determination of this new form of politics.
While the world becomes more and more complicated, and the tired legs of Neo-liberalism wane, people look to something simpler, to someone who says simpler things. It is here that populism thrives and grows.
They provide surety, they give people answers to unanswerable issues, and they say what people want to hear
We see this across the globe, Trump in America, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Netanyahu in Israel, politicians who position themselves as the anti politician. They provide surety, they give people answers to unanswerable issues, and they say what people want to hear.
This is, in many ways, a direct rejection to the sensible, middle ground politics of Clinton and Blair, a new form of firebrand leadership.
Yet, underneath the nostalgia and behind the roaring crowds, populist leadership can hide regressions in moral values, peace and democracy.
As racial tensions rise in America, Brazil takes a backwards slide into militarism, and annexation in Israel pushes the dreams of peace further out of view, the damaging effects of populism in India remain largely unchecked by the voices of the left in the west, allowing Modi to largely slip under the popular liberal radar.
But; while it may be convenient for us to ignore politics beyond the comfort of what we know, what happens in India, a place called home by over 1 billion people, matters.
It is certainly easy to see why Narendra Modi, the son of a humble tea seller, militant defender of Hinduism, and charismatic speaker, appeals to much of the Indian conscience.
Since his initial landslide victory in 2014, his promises to electrify villages, increase the availability of health care and give every Indian a bank account have been largely achieved, and in good time.
These economic successes have allowed the perception of him as an extreme Hindu nationalist to take a backseat in elections
These economic successes have allowed the perception of him as an extreme Hindu nationalist to take a backseat in elections, instead positioning himself to stand upon his financial vision, rather than his social one.
Yet, despite attempting to squash this radical perception in order to draw a greater electoral base, he is still seen by many of his supporters as the defender in chief of the Hindu people, a role, he has in part, positioned himself in.
It is important to remember; when assessing the danger of Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism, the country that India is. India is called home by over 180 million Muslims, and 20 million Sikhs.
So when Modi stokes the flames of religious conflict with phrases such as ‘we will respond to a bullet with a bomb’, in reference to tensions with Pakistan, 200 million Indian lives, and many more globally, hang in the balance.
Evidence for the real danger of Modi’s ideology of Hindu superiority extends far beyond rhetoric, infecting itself directly into government policy.
The stripping of regional autonomy for the area of Jammu and Kashmir, the only majority Muslim area in India and the controversial citizenship amendment bill were both passed in 2019.
The latter makes it more difficult for Muslims to gain Indian citizenship than other religious minorities, and both policies act as deeply threatening real world examples of a program of social exclusion, targeted at Muslims, ordered, thought out and currently being executed by the popular, son of a tea seller prime minister.
This national movement towards the suppression of Islam, similar to other schemes in Israel and China, can only worsen if Modi’s premiership continues through the next election.
The extremity of Modi’s seeming goal to strip Indian Muslims of their rights to call themselves Indian, cannot be understated
The extremity of Modi’s seeming goal to strip Indian Muslims of their rights to call themselves Indian, cannot be understated. His form of populism atop suppression can no longer go ignored by liberals in the west.
Just as we use the power of social media and the autonomy of our voices to draw attention to injustice in our own country, we must, like Orwell, fight tyranny beyond the shores and comfort of Britain. It is finally time that the west admits, India matters.
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