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Showing posts with label narendra modi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label narendra modi. Show all posts

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Narendra Modi: One-term PM?

Gujarat is a small, relatively homogeneous state. Its people are entrepreneurial, focused on business and count their success in accumulated assets; not for them the glamour of a corporate career or the power of a government position. To them, government is somewhat ceremonial in the state and a complexity best avoided at the center. They want to just get on with it, providing for their families and future generations, with travel thrown in as a major diversion.
The Gujarati believes that governance with a light touch is best. For the first decade of its existence, the state government coasted along building assets: roads, power stations, factories, pleasant cities and not getting in the way of a thriving mercantile culture.
Things began to change with the decline of the textile industry, the backbone of Gujarat’s thriving economy. Politics began to dictate outcomes. The state was overwhelmed by civil disturbances including large-scale religious and caste riots. This set the stage for the populist Navnirman movement that gave way to the rabid bigotry of the BJP.
There are interesting coincidences surrounding the rise of the BJP in Gujarat and emigration from the state to the US. With the amendment of the US Immigration and Nationality Act in 1968 to allow relative petitions leading to permanent residence (green card) and citizenship, a veritable flood of middle-class people from Gujarat immigrated to the US through the 1970s. By the 1980s, they had established small businesses and begun to prosper.
Like most Gujaratis, the US cohort retained its insularity: not engaging with the host culture, refusing to blend in but especially remitting savings to families back home. Most of the money was transferred through informal channels. I can remember some people wanting to advertise in my India Tribune newspaper offering more rupees to the dollar and cash delivery to specified persons and addresses in Gujarat.
As the quantum of remittances in unreported cash grew, investible surpluses held by recipients also grew and were ploughed into real estate projects. An array of brokers and fixers emerged to facilitate such investments, usually by bending bylaws and circumventing other legal inconveniences. They became the forerunners of the BJP that came to dominate Gujarat politics, banishing the genteel idealists who served Gujarat since its formation.  In their place arose a horde of scofflaws and bigots to grasp at political power.
From these murky swamps emerged a man of overwhelmingly modest intelligence but with remarkable amounts of cunning, Narendra Modi. Starting out with the Kutch earthquake in January 2001, he successfully undermined the incumbent BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Modi used the earthquake to promote himself as a development icon. In reality, he merely coasted on a global disaster relief effort that was mounted in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Right at the outset though, his claims to have created an industrial and infrastructural miracle in Kutch were challenged by Edward Simpson, a highly-regarded anthropologist from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In his book, The Political Biography of an Earthquake: Aftermath and Amnesia in Gujarat, India, Simpson argued that not all the changes in Kutch following the earthquake were for the better, and that in the years following the quake, divisions between Hindus and Muslims in Kutch widened.
But with his headline management skills, Modi successfully staved off questions about his role in Kutch by focusing on the development story while stoking the communal fires. As he vaulted to the chief minister’s position after Patel’s ouster, Modi appeared to have crafted a winning election strategy in which the rhetoric was development but the actual organizational play was to polarize the electorate on an anti-Muslim platform.
The following year, 2002, he put it in play following the burning of the train in Godhra and asserted his dominance on Gujarat politics and on the BJP for the next 12 years without ever being challenged about outcomes and intent. Finally, it enabled him to vault to the Prime Minister’s office.
There was one crucial difference, however. As Gujarat chief minister Modi delivered both seats in the assembly and a large vote share. As Prime Minister, he chalked up the first single-party parliamentary majority in three decades but with just about 31 percent of votes. And that’s where the rub lies. Nearly 70 percent of the electorate did not vote for him. Consequently, the questions began to fly thick and fast from virtually the moment he became Prime Minister.
To avoid these questions, Modi took to what Ravish Kumar, the highly regarded anchor of NDTV India, called “eventocracy” facilitated by a “comedia.” Essentially, this meant remaining silent until the questions became persistent and shrill and then with the active collaboration of mainstream media, changing the subject to emotive issues like nationalism, patriotism, terrorism and Pakistan. Or else staging events like the BRICS summit, Madison Square Garden, Wembley or campaign rallies in which the melodrama quotient is insufferably high with quivering voice and tears in his eyes: “beat me first, I have taken on vested interests that will not rest until they have killed me, give me 50 days.” Also high in these rallies is abusive content and whataboutery in which he mocks, derides and rails at opponents.
Easily, the mother of all diversionary tactics was demonetization, his draconian assault on the monetary system. Everyone but the mainstream TV news channels could see the widespread pain it inflicted on the average person but especially the poor and rural populations. But Modi and his cohorts refused to acknowledge just how vindictive and arbitrary it was. They laughed at first, saying the people lined up in banks and at ATMs were black money hoarders. Then they changed the subject to digital payments, cashless economy, and surgical strikes on terror funding and counterfeit banknotes.
But the questions still persist. No amount of headline management and propaganda including suspect opinion polls and feel good stories in the media can change the facts about demonetization: it was a disastrous ploy that hurt virtually the entire population of India; it was an ill-conceived attempt to divert attentions from legitimate questions about the palpable lack of governance; it was a body blow to the economy that could take years to nurse back to health.
Clearly Modi has no answers about the black money cornered by his November 8 announcement; he has no idea of when a semblance of monetary stability will be restored. But he is campaigning for the upcoming state elections as though his life depends on it, cleverly bending the narrative to suggest he is leading a fight against black money, never mind that he has been accused of taking payoffs from a dubious business enterprise and is engaged in a Watergate-style cover up, using government agencies and arbitrary transfers of inconvenient officials.
By staging event after event, finessing the narrative propagated by the pliant and unquestioning media, he hopes to dodge accountability. Many believe though this time, the impact of his idiosyncratic manoeuvre is just too overwhelming. In Gujarat 2002, where his victims were, by and large, a minority; demonetization pits the wishes and hopes of more than a billion citizens against him. That’s why Modi is going to such lengths to convince selected audiences he has the support of the vast silent majority that has suffered because of the black economy.
Back in the real world, many economists are predicting a massive deflation led by huge drops in employment, in investment, in trade. The GDP is expected to plummet to the original Hindu rate of growth.
The countdown begins now; at stake is whether people will be swayed by his fantasies or hold him responsible for the massive damage demonetization has perpetrated on the nation. The way things are going, he could be a one-term prime minister. But there’s no telling what other knee-jerk options he could pull out of his bag of amoral cunning.
(An edited version of this post will appear in http://timesofindia.com, January 14, 2017.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Misinterpreting the mandate

Narendra Modi ran the 2014 election campaign, asking for a mandate in his name; the party was secondary. In the event, he helped the BJP secure 282 seats in Parliament, an absolute majority. The last time any party singly won so many seats was in 1984 when the Congress won 404. Modi seems to have interpreted the mandate as an irreversible affirmation of his popularity as a leader, right up there with the luminaries who won India its independence, then nurtured its democracy and diversity and finally transformed it into a dynamic new player on the world stage.
There are two ways to understand Modi’s unrealistic assessment of his own popularity. One, he single-handedly took the BJP’s tally of 18 percent in the 2009 election to 31 percent from 18 percent, its traditional share of the vote. Two, Modi may have been right in interpreting that he broke through beyond the Hindutva vote to new constituencies with his message of development and governance. Clearly, though, that is a temporary surge that can disappear very quickly as Rajiv Gandhi found in 1989.
A mature leader with greater experience in national politics would have looked beyond the absolute majority. In 2004, when the Congress-led the UPA coalition to an unexpected win, Sonia Gandhi and her colleagues took the sober view that it was a rejection of the BJP’s “India Shining” narrative tacked on to the party’s baseline Hindutva agenda. Accordingly, the Congress view was the party’s communal core remained intact but new adherents, who had, by and large, voted the BJP for change, pulled out, disappointed in the lackluster performance of the Vajpayee government.
Likewise, had Modi been a more contemplative leader, he would have recognized that 69 percent of the electorate spurned both his Hindutva appeal and his promise of development and governance. Looking at a glass that is one-third full as a huge improvement over less than the traditional fifth, Modi thought he could do just about anything and get away with it. He was used to that in Gujarat, where his writ ran because the number of seats in the assembly matched the vote on the ground.
For a while it appeared as though the absolute majority in Parliament was a Teflon coating: Lalitgate, Vyapam, FTII, a series of faux pas in India and overseas, the loss in Bihar, the botched-up attempts to dislodge Congress governments in Arunachal and Uttarakhand, rank communalism and beef politics, JNU, Hyderabad, Pathankot, Kashmir, Uri…nothing seemed to stick. This emboldened him to swear and sneer at opponents, favour cronies and generally stride about the landscape like some colossus batting off scam and scandal, fraud and failure.
Until the demonetization, that is. On November 8, Modi’s megalomania finally went haywire. In one fell swoop, he knocked the bottom out of the nation’s money supply; with a dramatic announcement, he invalidated all 500 and 1000 rupee notes, a full 87 percent of the currency in circulation, valued at over 200 billion USD. The speech, as always cunning, contained a cadence of dog whistles that seemed to suggest that in his 30 months as prime minister, the Indian economy has become one of the bright spots in the world and in single-handedly achieving this, he had the support of 125 crore Indians.
His televised address will go down as the biggest display of chutzpah since George W Bush’s announcement of the “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003. Unlike Bush, who seemed to have become a neocons mascot and pretty much went along with the program, Modi conveyed the decision was his and his alone.
As the magnitude of the disruption became clear, Modi backtracked. A narrativewas issued suggesting the following: demonetization was devised by “concerned officials who wished to shield those in high positions in banks across the country from the consequences of the crony-oriented lending that they had been doing especially since 2006, the year when Narasimha Rao’s liberalization policy was fully substituted by the UPA into a faux Nehruvian economic policy that combined Fabian socialism with Wall Street ways.”
In other words, holdovers from the corrupt UPA are responsible. “Prime Minister Modi was presented with the issue in such a way that turning down the scheme was out of the question,” the narrative quoted “senior officials” as saying. It goes on to add that Modi “raised several queries, especially on the impact on the common man and only when it was conveyed to him that steps were being taken to minimize hardship did he agree to the measure.”
So there you have it. It’s all the doing of the corrupt UPA that still has its talons hooked into the bureaucracy. It’s not clear from this story if the Modi government plans to prosecute former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for promulgating this draconian edict.
As the shock and awe receded to reveal huge lines at banks and ATMs, millions of harassed citizens and dozens of deaths, it became apparent the demonetization was flawed. Certainly, the implementation was disastrous; increasingly, however, the intent has come into question. Modi needs to answer for this cynical, ill-conceived and mean-minded “masterstroke.” What are the reasons for it: to end the black money menace? To deal with counterfeit currency? To spike terrorist funding? To speed transition to a cashless economy?
If we accept Modi’s assertion that the demonetization was aimed at bringing black money into the system, there are questions of his government’s track record. With his photo writ large over advertisements, Modi has claimed that in two-and-a-half years, his government has brought black money worth 1.25 lakh crore rupees “out in the open.” This is braggadocio considering that in its last two years, the UPA government netted 1.31 lakh crore. This is just the kind of statistical fact checkthat people have started to make. It’s clear that other than his core supporters, no one is taking Modi’s assertions at face value anymore.
He may have the support of 282 MPs but has just 31 percent of the vote. Shouldn’t he have had wide consultation? Shouldn’t he have taken the opposition into confidence? After all, everyone is on the same side as Indians first and the Opposition would have supported any move that is in the larger national interest. The reason he didn’t, leads to questions about intent. Such a massive disruption should have been planned better. That it wasn’t, leads to questions about competence.
Just 31 percent vote share, dubious intent and evident ineptness are reasons for the nationwide protest that was reported all over the world as a massive uprising against demonetization. Most credible analysts believe that such a huge blow to the economy, to citizens will cripple India for years.
(An edited version of this post will appear in http://http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, December 3, 2016.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Trump or Hillary, American politics will never be the same again

According to Christian belief, there is an afterlife. But first you have to die. That is roughly what Donald J Trump, Republican presidential nominee, tells his audiences.

"The system is rigged. It works against you. You are the fall guy, victim of big finance, international trade, unchecked immigration, violent crime... you name it. I can fix it."

But first you have to vote for him. Just as most people wouldn’t kill themselves to test the afterlife proposition, not many American are buying into Trump’s airy-fairy promises.

In the waning hours of the most bizarre presidential campaign in US political history, Latino and African American voters are rallying to vote against him; it’s pretty much the same for women. These are the major groups the Republican candidate has insulted with racist and misogynist remarks on the campaign trail.

One of the main reasons Trump was able to come so far also has to do with the systematic weakening of the liberal hold on the American imagination. It began in the 1960s, when Senator Barry Goldwater first hoisted the conservative standard, embracing a hawkish foreign policy and challenging the liberal agenda of social welfare and civil rights.

The Goldwater 1964 campaign was met with an aggressive response by the Democratic Party, the mainstay being a commercial that preyed on growing American paranoia about nuclear Armageddon and effectively destroyed the Goldwater candidacy.

In the following 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon became only the second Republican elected to the Presidency since 1932; the first was Dwight D Eisenhower in 1952. Eisenhower, the war hero, won the Republican nomination as a moderate, vanquishing Ohio Senator Robert Taft, who was supported by the party’s conservative wing.

During his six years in office, Nixon did not do much to further the conservative cause, first getting embroiled in the divisive Vietnam War, and later, in the Watergate scandal.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the conservative agenda was revived by Ronald Reagan and persisted through the decade. The single-term presidency of George H W Bush got caught up in the war for the liberation of Kuwait that had been invaded by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. It paved the way for Bill Clinton, whose two terms were marred by impeachment proceedings in Congress, having to do with an alleged dalliance with an intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The two terms that George W Bush served in office were eight years of intense ideological polarisation, which saw the rise of an extreme neoconservative movement, the religious Right and the populist Tea Party.

The liberal agenda receded on the domestic front, while on the international front, a militant, shock-and-awe nationalism in response to the attacks of 9/11 dragged the US into messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the two terms of Barack Obama, though there were important initiatives, both globally and at home, the liberal agenda continued to flounder under the onslaught of uncompromising Republican partisanship. An immensely popular president, Obama could not get his nominee to the Supreme Court to be heard, leave alone confirmed, by Congress.

As such, the solid liberal base got eroded in the Democratic Party, leading to the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a major challenger for the party nomination in 2016.

With an avowedly socialist agenda, Sanders divided the party into true believers (his adoring faction) and workaday supporters of Hillary Clinton.

By the time Clinton sealed the nomination, doubts had arisen that the loyalty of Sanders’ supporters may not be necessarily transferred to Clinton. This left a gaping hole in her campaign.

On the Republican side, the Bush inheritance saw the party fall into the clutches of extremists, replacing mainstream conservative themes of fiscal rectitude and globalisation with dubious themes of bigotry and isolationism.

Trump fell upon the riven party and launched a campaign that plumbed the depths of abuse and violence. Yet, miraculously, he convinced voters he was capable of winning.

When Trump is finally defeated, Republicans will be staring at a massive overhaul of the party’s organisation and reputation. What happens to country-club suburban membership that is typical of the party and to the "lock her up" less educated, poor and blue-collar whites that have emerged, egged on by Trump’s reckless exhortations?

What will be the new mainstream? Is the party doomed to fall into the hands of bigots and nativists?

On the Democratic side, will Hillary’s win bring the Sanders radicals to her side? Or will she have to contend with incessant sniping from the left of the party spectrum?

If she wins handsomely, she may have some breathing room before the ideological sniping begin. The question is whether the new normal will be considerably left of center under the influence of Sanders.

Either way, there is no doubt that American politics has been shaken up like never before and it will take time for new majorities to be established in both parties.

Is there a lesson for India in the US political maelstrom? Actually, there are striking similarities.

Modi captured the BJP at the Goa conclave in May 2013, leaving the old guard agape and soon after, installed his comrade-in-arms Amit Shah as BJP chief.

Just as they did in Gujarat, they sidelined just about every power center in the saffron party. In the process of elevating themselves to such rarefied heights, they appear to have lost touch with political reality and appear to be lurching around to find solid ground while using the sovereign power of government to stifle dissent and opposition.

On the opposite end, just as there is Hillary Clinton in the US, there is in India as well a member of a famous family that’s been around since the freedom struggle.

The Modi-Shah duo played a huge role in discrediting the Gandhis but now must face a sustained challenge from them. This is largely because Modi’s personality cult helped win a parliamentary majority but is clearly of no use in running a government. Their panic is palpable, their actions condemnable and their prospects dim.

In the US, the equivalent of Modi appears set to lose. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton could become not just the first woman president but the first wife to follow her husband to the White House.

(This article appeared in www.dailyo.in, November 7, 2016).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By raising Balochistan issue, Modi may have walked into a trap

Few people expected that the Narendra Modi government would begin to implode less than halfway through its five-year term. The denouement came on Independence Day when the prime minister in a throwaway comment at the end of his stultifying 90-minute speech, said, "I am grateful to the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK who have thanked me in the past few days. If people of Balochistan thank me, they are thanking the 125 crore Indians."

The remark provoked an outcry among the community of foreign policy experts, Modi was accused of reversing an age-old Indian position: do not meddle in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

Delhi’s line has been to brand their involvement in Kashmir as interference that is illegal and disruptive of regional peace. The Independence Day speech was labelled a shocking demonstration of foreign policy heresy, especially when you consider the nuclear threat.

First off the block in response was Salman Khurshid, former external affairs minister: "Is Balochistan a part of India? Doesn’t India believe in Panchsheel? Is it not a departure from that?" By raising Balochistan, Khurshid said, the government is "ruining our case on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir."


Warming to the theme, Congress issued an official statement to stress that the UPA had raised the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan as far back as 2005, 2006 and had brought it up directly with Pakistan at the 2009 Non-Aligned Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The Congress statement asked: "How does Prime Minister Modi propose to take the issue of human rights violations in PoK and Balochistan further? What is his government policy as also 'way forward' on the issue? Has Mr Modi raised the issue of these human rights violations even once in bilateral talks with Pakistan over last 24 months? Will his government take it up now: either in bilateral dialogue or at another international forum?"

Amazingly, the media interpreted it as "support" for Modi. Someone has sprinkled Modi stardust in journalists' eyes. To them, he can do no wrong even when he has consistently tripped on major policy issues, foreign and domestic. In this case, the media went a mischievous step further and tried to suggest a hiatus between the official statement of the Congress and what Khurshid said.


The Congress reaction was actually an endorsement of Khurshid’s comment and was aimed at showing up the confusion in the government’s blow-hot, blow-cold Pakistan policy and pointing out yet another reversal in the BJP’s approach.

Just to recap: The India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh included a mention of human rights violations in Balochistan. Sensing an opportunity to continue its campaign of heaping abuse on prime minister Manmohan Singh, the BJP went to town, without the slightest understanding of the great game, the strategic and tactical approaches of the great powers in the region.

During a July 2009 debate in Parliament, a major daily wrote, "The BJP launched a frontal assault on the government for compromising India's stated position on Pakistan in the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement and said the 'waters of the seven seas will not be able to wash the shame' brought on the country through this flawed initiative."

After that melodramatic flourish seven years ago, the BJP sat silent this August 15 as Modi appropriated yet another policy initiative of the previous government. Without the slightest embarrassment, the NDA government has adopted UPA policies they maligned in the past and tried to pass off as their own. This time, however, they may have walked into a trap.

Insiders say the most recent Congress statement had the Rahul Gandhi imprimatur. For all the abuse he has endured from the BJP and its army of internet trolls, Gandhi has managed with great aplomb to get under Modi’s skin. His "suit-boot sarkar" tag has stuck to the government, forcing it to make major U-turns on key issues.


For example, about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Mr Modi said in Parliament, "I will ensure MNREGA is never discontinued. It is proof of your failings. After so many years of being in power, all you were able to deliver is for a poor man to dig ditches a few days a month." This was in February 2015 when he was riding high on his 2014 election victory.

His remarks came in for scathing criticism from across the political spectrum. A few days later, in his Budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley said exactly the opposite. Calling the scheme a "national priority", he said: "Our government is committed to supporting employment through MNREGA. We will ensure that no one who is poor is left without employment."

Rahul Gandhi’s interventions have served to unnerve the government. It is now widely acknowledged that Modi has nothing original to offer. His reference to Balochistan in his August 15 speech was consistent with this trend.

It was the same in Kashmir that his government’s bungling has brought to the brink; unable to formulate a cogent response to the fire in the Valley, Modi sent his home minister scurrying to Sonia Gandhi and some other opposition leaders for help.

Policy bankruptcy has become the hallmark of Modi’s "maximum governance".
Great at posturing but innocent of substance, Modi will find that he is now in a pickle. It’s almost as though the Congress is using him to expose his own duplicity.

Given his penchant for managing headlines and the unprecedented servility of mainstream media, especially television news, Modi and his acolytes will try to shrug off their terminal lack of governance.

However the evidence just keeps piling up…Lalitgate, Vyapam, beef violence, cow politics, sartorial and oral faux pas, lack of investment and jobs, insanely high food prices, more taxes, ridiculed foreign trips, pseudo-nationalist hoopla, hostile judiciary, perked-up opposition.

The first electoral debacle was Delhi, next was Bihar, they held out in Assam but then fell apart in Uttarakhand and Arunachal.

Now they have fires to fight in Kashmir and Gujarat. The sheen has certainly worn off; now the credibility is eroding.

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, August 2016.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Modi-Trump conundrum: Hindu revivalist, American carpetbagger

American historian Eric Foner is a Pulitzer Prize winner from Columbia University. His area of specialty is the Reconstruction, the rebuilding of the American south after the Civil War.

Sensing money-making opportunities in the Confederacy of the so-called "slave states" that lay prostrate in 1865 after the four-year Civil War, many soldiers of fortune made their way south.

They swept through the defeated states buying up assets and parlaying them into fortunes.

Named after the cheap baggage they carried, these "carpetbaggers" were reviled as vultures, come to feast off the decay of the South.

That’s what Donald Trump is: a carpetbagger come to grab at the remains of the Republican Party.

Reeling from assaults by an assortment of increasingly extreme right-wing groups that began to flourish during the administration of George "Dubya" Bush, the party fell down an ideological mineshaft.

Pulled in many directions by neocons, evangelists, white supremacists, soldiers of fortune, gun nuts, religious bigots, the party seemed to lose its bearings.

Jockeyed by loose associations like the Tea Party: a grab bag of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-corporate, anti-bank, anti-welfare, anti-tax, anti-government isolationists… anyone with a pet peeve, the GOP seemed to jettison its traditional conservative agenda of lower taxes, national security and fiscal rectitude in favour of divisive social nostrums such as abortion, school prayer, gun control, immigration.


From this miasma emerged Donald Trump to claim his prize: the presidency of the United States that includes not just the most powerful financial system in the world and the world’s greatest military machine with global projection capabilities, but more important, the most destructive nuclear arsenal known to mankind.

Like India’s Narendra Modi, Trump is an unrestrained megalomaniac; he says the most egregious things but nobody knows what he stands for except showmanship.

Like Modi, Trump seems willing to embrace the most egregious forms of bigotry, something America is not used to and India is finding hard to deal with.

Modi already controls the resources of a trillion-dollar economy, the world’s largest armed forces and a nuclear weapons stockpile of which little is known whether of its size, its technological sophistication, its chain of command.

In that sense, he is way ahead of Trump.

For those of us who have been shocked and awed by the rise of Modi, it appears depressingly possible that Trump could win the election in November this year.


Modi springs from a revivalist Hindu cult and has raised bigotry to a winning election manifesto.

A narrow worldview bred by prejudice against Marx, Muslims and Macaulayites, his bigoted agenda, Hindutva, was asserted by denigrating opponents and then weaving a fantastic web of deception about El Dorado, aka achhe din.

The origins of Trump, according to recent revelations, can be traced to the wide-open frontier ways of his German-born grandfather, a saloon keeper, who celebrated guns, booze, debauchery and devil take the hindmost.

The grandson’s candidacy has been powered by his own wealth, both inherited over three generations and accumulated in his lifetime.

His financial success represents the most unsavoury strand of capitalism that combines avarice, violence and a belief that poverty is a mark of personal failure.

Modi and Trump share qualities that define the word redneck: a visceral hatred for an establishment they seek not to crash but destroy; a lack of aesthetics including clothes and churlish public behaviour; an overt appeal to violence and hate.

And yet, neither Modi, despite his chaiwalla deception, nor Trump springs from poverty; they both emerged from the margins of social class and project without much finesse that they are victims of relative deprivation.

There is one crucial difference between the two.

Trump emerged from the decline of the mainstream Republican Party that began with Richard Nixon on down through Reagan and the two Bushes. He simply seized the opportunity, carpetbagger style, to catapult himself into the reckoning.

Like it or not, he mocked the Republicans, I am your party nominee by acclamation from the white detritus, the kind of people you wouldn’t admit to your country clubs or the towers I built for you; the kind of people who thronged my grandfather’s Seattle saloons at the turn of the 19th century.

Completely unnerved, the Republican establishment finds itself without a cogent response to Trump’s extreme and ever-changing manifesto but especially to his sweeping primary wins.

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works ye Mighty and despair," Trump seems to mock them.

For his part, Modi also cocked a snook at India’s established liberal democracy. India is a Hindu nation, was his claim in the 2014 election.
He attacked and denigrated the Congress Party, the mainstay of the UPA coalition government that gave India ten years of unprecedented growth and a new spirit of inclusion.

Using innuendo and lies, Modi succeeded in his shock-and-awe campaign portraying the Congress as a corrupt, anti-Hindu force that perpetuated poverty and neglected infrastructure.

It was an amazing act of chutzpah that enabled his party to win an absolute majority in Parliament with just 31 per cent of the popular vote.

Just as Trump had a free ride in the primaries, raining curses and indignities on the journalists, Modi has enjoyed a two-year stint unquestioned by media.

Like Trump, he has kept journalists at arm’s length: no interviews, no press conferences; only one-way communications: government press releases, radio addresses, tweets and social media posts. And there was, of course, the interview with Arnab Goswami.

Now it is beginning to catch up, this brazen lack of accountability. The social media, in which he reigned unchallenged, have now become channels of opposition and ridicule.

Also, new digital alternatives have emerged to the mainstream media: influential news portals, widely circulated blogs in the digital editions of mainstream newspapers and television channels and numerous other outlets to reach audiences by the million.

Trump evaded hard questions in the primaries because his rallies frequently were overwhelmed by violence between supporters and opponents.

He nevertheless used the platform to denigrate his opponents as people who did not want to "make America great again", a dog whistle appeal to racists, misogynists, the sullen white trash in their survivalist camps and costumed meetings.

It remains to be seen if Trump can handle post-primary national scrutiny in the same scruffy way. India’s Modi will also find it difficult to repeat his sucker punch campaign in 2019.


Comeuppance looms on the horizon for both the American carpetbagger and the Hindu revivalist.

(An edited version of this post will appear in Education World, July 16, 2016.)