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Moving Right

Moving Right

January 11, 2019 8:17 am0 comments

I was discussing Indian politics with a friend, a topic which admittedly I know very little about. But I do know that Modi came to power, like Trump, on a wave of (in his case) Hindu nationalism, and has, at the least, expressed controversial ideas about Hindu nationalism in the past, and possibly is even more complicit in violence against non-Hindus when he was governor of Gujarat (although it’s worth noting he has been investigated and cleared of complicity).

These things are not great, and to my friend, they were disqualifying of any support of Modi or his party.

However, unlike in Trump’s case, the alternative party to Modi, which held power in India for 49 years, was disastrous for the country, pushing socialist (arguably communist) policies which have stifled India’s growth and kept swaths of the country mired in poverty for decades. Modi is not just a Hindu nationalist, but comes as a reformer whose ideas about economic ideas, including free trade and liberalization, have been embraced by a hundred million plus Indians—including 8% of Muslim Indians—as a better path forward.

This is not unlike the situation in Hungary, where the right-nationalist Fidesz party came to power only because of the failure and incompetence of the socialist party that had dominated politics there for 16 years. Whenever Hungarians today have to consider voting against the party in power, which now controls the media, the judiciary, and arguably the voting process itself, they have to consider the historical performance of the alternative, along with their dissatisfaction of the status quo. Speaking with my Hungarian friends there, it has long been a running joke that not voting is the best choice, although Fidesz is now getting so bad that their political fortunes may finally be waning even amongst the most complacent.

The traditional narrative being propagated by the media is that right-wing populism has swept the world’s major democracies in the last decade because of a resurgence of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. The narrative completely ignores the possibility that, though these attitudes do exist and have always existed in human societies, they’re not the only reason people might choose to vote for a right-wing party, especially in each national context where the alternative may have made a royal mess of things. Given the open thievery and corruption of Brazil’s Worker’s Party, is it any surprise voters went with an alternative?

It’s a charitable explanation, but a likely one, that most voters may actually be trying to vote in their countries’ best interests, but like with any two-party system, you don’t get to pick and choose individual positions, so in when people move right they get nationalism along with reform. But that should be a familiar “Devil’s bargain” to anyone with a brain who has pondered pulling the lever in the voting booth.

It’s also unlikely that, contrary to the mainstream narrative, people have become more racist or xenophobic over time, and the data support this, along with other measures that try to gauge anti-immigrant sentiment.

So, does Modi’s nationalism disqualify his party from power in India? Obviously it’s an ongoing debate in the world’s largest democracy. But it’s worth noting that democracies tend to have a mediating effect on political positions. Politicians may have a history of incendiary or wildly radical beliefs, but when faced with a parliament that requires discussion and compromise to pass legislation, their worst impulses are kept in check. Notable exceptions to this trend see rhetoric growing worse and turning into action over time, whereas there’s little evidence in Modi’s case that he has become more extreme. In fact, the evidence shows quite the opposite. I hope it will be the same in Brazil as well. And in the US, well, that may be a lost cause. But at least we get to vote again soon.

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