Ranjona Banerji: A vote against fascism & insularity

May 10, 2017, 05:56 IST | Ranjona Banerji

A French woman and European citizens celebrate the defeat of the French far-right party Front National near the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadero Plaza in Paris. Pic/AFPA French woman and European citizens celebrate the defeat of the French far-right party Front National near the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadero Plaza in Paris. Pic/AFP

The election of Emmanuel Mac­ron as the President of France on Sunday appears to have given the "non-rightwing" across the world a sense of hope, some relief in this roiling ocean of rightwing anger and hatred. I use the term "non-rightwing" because it's not easy to know what to call those of us who dislike or abhor or are even vaguely ambivalent about regressive, reactionary, narrow-minded, prejudiced thinking.

The term "left" is inefficient and inaccurate in this regard, "liberal" does not account for everyone and many people do not want to be connected with either term, often for valid reasons. Donald Trump recently discovered that he belongs to the same political party as Abraham Lincoln - or perhaps Trump sees it the other way around - and was suitably surprised and impressed. The term "republican" has come to mean narrow-minded, regressive, anti-poor and prejudiced to so many people that it is hard to correlate the man who fought to end slavery in America with today's Republican Party.

Marine Le Pen wanted a France that was more French by her own standards but was rejected by 66 per cent of the electorate. The people preferred a relative political novice. On a drive from Oxford to London this week, I saw UK Independence Party (UKIP) signs asking to replace multiculturalism with integration. UKIP, however, got smashed in recent polls. So did Britain's Labour Party as the UK gets ready for general elections and a predicted Conservative sweep. Brexit or Britain's exit from the European Union remains a massive bone of contention.

There is a theory that the world is making a turn to the right, heightened by political victories in India, the Philippines, Turkey, the USA and Britain. But Canada, the Netherlands and now France have demonstrated that not all people, no matter their fears and biases, feel that society as a whole must feed on hatred and insularity. It is hard to know where exactly to put Vladimir Putin of Russia since he seems to exist in his own bubble, with a preference for rightwing parties and politics in other nations. At any rate, a preference for people like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

For politicians everywhere though there is a warning of sorts here. Traditional, professional politicians are increasingly being rejected by the voter. Macron does not even have a proper political party. Trump crash-landed into a party having flirted with its opponent. Closer to home, the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party pointed to that same voter mistrust. Even if Kejriwal appears to be in trouble now, voter anger remains. The most traditional of all Indian political parties - the Congress - is feeling that heat.

How rightwing India has become or will become or should not become is still a matter of debate, in spite of some terrible realities around us. Various victories of the BJP give the rightwing strength and confidence. Together with that, we have some frightening, violent behaviour patterns emerging as the BJP's brother organisations flex their muscles. "Regressive" and "reactionary" are almost kind words when you try and apply them to people being murdered for transporting cows.

India's rightwing follows the same global principles of hatred and violence against the other. Together with that we have some interesting ideas courtesy the RSS of how Hindus should have more sex and also the sort of sex that produces tall, fair babies. The search for mythical rivers, civilisations, kings and bridges continues. The fact that neighbourhood relations are at all-time lows, that Kashmir is in turmoil, that demonetisation repaired nothing, have not yet seen any electoral effect. I use the word "yet" because nothing does really last forever. Anyone with any claims to understanding Hinduism - especially its so-called Hindutva champions - should at least understand that. I do not hold my breath however.

Until then, those of us who do not succumb are happy to be mocked and dismissed as lone voices. Whatever our sensibility, we are happy to stand against fascism in any form. The much benighted terms of left and liberal may need to be redefined or refreshed but, until then, they remain preferable to words like prejudiced and bigoted.

To have a closed mind filled with hatred may be a human impulse but it is not my mind. And perhaps, as France has shown, it is not necessarily needed when it comes to a sense of nationhood.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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