Whether it’s the primaries in the US, or the upcoming Assam and Punjab polls here, it’s clear that ‘business as usual’ will no longer cut it
Tonight, the United States of America begins electing its next President, and the septuagenarians polling atop each of the main parties have mouthed radicalisms, to much excitement and horror. On the right is businessman Donald Trump, who famously promised to wall the USA-Mexico border to keep out “rapists and criminals”, to ban Muslims from entering the USA, and to bomb the “shit” out of Islamic State (he’s also denigrated menstruation). On the left is Bernie Sanders, who famously promised to tax bankers and other carrion, to provide free college education and generally uplift the middle class by socialising USA’s economy.
Both Trump and Sanders have defied the pundits by consistently polling strongly despite their extreme positions — a measure of how America’s voters are tired of business as usual. In India, Modi won his overwhelming mandate by promising change, while in Delhi, anti-corruption crusader Kejriwal swept the polls. Pic/AFP
The Republican and Democratic primaries will lead to a gladiatorial showdown come November, and the first is in Iowa, a midwestern state that’s overwhelmingly white and Christian. Despite their extreme positions, both Trump and Sanders have defied the pundits by consistently polling strongly; in Trump’s case, far ahead of “establishment” moderates like the fella from the House of Bush, and in Sanders’, either even with or ahead of Hillary Clinton, who was supposed to be creating history as the first woman leader of the free world. How can these men — one who derides immigrants in a land built on immigration, and the other who unapologetically says ‘socialism’, previously taboo in American lexicon — command such staunch electoral support?
Simply, it is a measure of how America’s voters are tired of business as usual; how they feel their nation has veered dangerously off-course, and how they feel their nation needs a radical change of direction. The rise of the far-right Tea Party and the far-left Occupy Wall Street movement were warnings of this public disenchantment with the system.
These phenomena have been called a reflection of similar grievances and movements around the planet. Countries have increasingly nationalist governments, prodded further rightward by nativist parties like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, or even the British Tory Party, which had the UK Independence Party nipping at its heels in the last election (despite his majority, Prime Minister David Cameron could depart this year if he insists on staying in the European Union, against the wishes of the rest of his rightward-moving party).
But why look at the West when it’s been happening right here in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi won his overwhelming mandate by promising the voters change. “Achhe din aayenge,” he famously said, his strongman persona and straight-talk encapsulating the voters’ desire for a change in the way in which the country was being run. Now, to many, it appears he used the language of better governance to cloak a Hindutva agenda, because as far as change is concerned, his government is lately derided as UPA-3.
At the other end, anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal swept the Delhi polls, leaving established parties humiliated — thus even today, Modi’s Internet supporters deride the Aam Aadmi Party’s governance initiatives as “mob rule”, despite (or maybe because of) its popularity. These same geniuses also shout themselves blue that Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide at Hyderabad Central University on January 17, was legally not a Dalit, and that his eloquent suicide note blamed no one. No wonder, then, that Mayawati, after years of low-profile party-building, made a high-profile public comeback in the days after Rohith’s suicide.
Unrelatedly, some Modi supporters also celebrated Gandhiji’s death anniversary on Saturday by openly proclaiming their admiration for the assassin, Nathuram Godse.
The Indian voter’s demand for change will manifest in Assam this year, and in Punjab next year. Newly elected BJP president Amit Shah hopes that Assam will be a defribrillator for his party; yet neither he nor Modi are confident, since no one’s sure whether their failure to deliver change will weigh less than Assamese desire to change incumbent Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. In Punjab, the success of the AAP rally at the January 17 Maghi Muktsar Mela — Kejriwal, wearing a Patiala-style pagdi, drew massive crowds, even luring those who had arrived on Congress buses for Amarinder Singh’s rally — makes it likely that the AAP will win big and form the next government, even though the party has no local ‘face’. Punjabis are so disgusted with traditional parties that a local face isn’t needed, say AAP supporters.
Not just in India, but in America and elsewhere, people want radical change. With the way the global economy is spiralling downwards, this demand will only increase. Maybe we exist in a era of transition between political superstructures. What’s obvious is that ‘business as usual’ is a sure recipe for losing power. Don’t expect change when a man who couldn’t even manage Delhi cricket, presents — at the end of this month — the yearly budget for India’s one-trillion-dollar economy. Not even halfway through his tenure, Modi risks being consigned to the dustbin of history, by someone further to the right or someone way out in the left.
Journalist and writer Aditya Sinha is the co-author of Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org