“The issue confronting India, as indeed the entire Western world, is the rise of populist leaders challenging liberal, pro-globalisation post World War II order, mixing xenophobia, religion and voodoo economics. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s closest adviser and former head of Breitbart News, apocalyptically senses the coming confrontation of the Christian world with ‘jihadist Islamic fascism’.
He spelt this out in a 2014 Rome interview. Capitalism’s crisis, he argued, is loss of its Judea-Christian roots as evidenced by ‘secularisation’ of the West. Yogi Adityanath and his sponsors would concur”, says the author – KC Singh.
Two weeks after the counting of votes, with a controversial Yogi ensconced as UP Chief Minister, and the surprising lackluster performance of the AAP in Punjab, analysts and politicians continue to mull over the outcome.
The AAP questioned the sanctity of EVMs, arguing that sworn affidavits by party loyalists exceed actual ballots in some booths. They may be underestimating the guile of ‘simple’ village folk, although Election Commission’s hesitation to double-check the paper trail in some constituencies raises questions. While the Supreme Court examines this aspect, trends from abroad may hold an explanation.
Like the AAP, European Pirate parties rose from issue-based politics as an alternative to traditional parties in Sweden in 2006. They grew rapidly there and in Germany and Iceland, winning two seats even in the European parliament in 2009. The 2009 Upsala Declaration spelt out their platform encompassing greater government transparency, privacy and civil rights reform, open data access and direct democracy by co-opting citizenry in decision-making via the Internet. In Germany, additionally, the rights of the LGBT community and basic income guarantee were added.
Their growth, however, has been disappointing except in Iceland. Germany saw the bickering which is a daily fare in New Delhi. In Iceland, the Panama Papers scandal, compelling the prime minister to resign, gave them an impetus. The real problem has been that public opinion has moved past their issues to existential dilemmas like terrorism, immigration, economic stagnation due to perceived impact of globalisation and the consequent ethno-religious resurgence. The AAP needs to recalibrate its message and broaden the leadership bench-strength to tap contemporary India’s aspirations that go beyond corruption. That issue too, usurped by Modi’s demonetisation juggernaut at present, needs to be redefined.
In Punjab, the principal reason for the AAP’s fading at the finish line was lack of experienced and credible faces. The Hindu minority and Sikh elite thus gravitated towards the Congress as the only viable alternative to the detested Akali Dal. Punjab wanted change, but also feared chaos, as did people in Europe when assessing Pirate parties. As a result, Punjab may have missed its chance for radical governance reform. Though still early days but an education minister who knows no Punjabi, a culture minister fixated on television earnings and an industrialist as power minister are hardly symbols of accountability and governance change. The battle was for more than red beacons on cars.
In Italy, new politics shaped differently, albeit with motives shared with Pirate Parties. Five Star Party (M5S) founded by popular comedian Beppo Grillo, a European Bhagwant Mann, and Gianoroberto Casaleggio, aimed to marginalise traditional parties seen as responsible for constant stagnation and impasse. They won mayors of Rome and Turin, like the AAP, but unlike it, are leading in the 2018 national election race. In his defence, while Arvind Kejriwal contends with an ascendant national leader, Narendra Modi, Grillo and associates step into a vacuum.
The BJP sweeping UP and nominating Yogi Adiyanath as Chief Minister is replete with danger. For Gorakhnath math’s head to be so elevated raises questions about mixing religion and politics. The math, which allows non-Brahmin leadership, has a chequered past. Its head, Yogi Digvijay Nath joined the Congress in 1921. However, his suspected role in the Chauri Chaura incident involving police firing and in revenge burning alive of the entire police post personnel forced Gandhiji to withdraw the Non-Cooperation Movement. Yogi and the math thereafter parted ways with the Congress.
Yogi Adityanath’s rise invited adverse editorial comment from the New York Times, which the Modi government has slammed. President Donald Trump, a fellow victim of the same paper, promptly telephoned to congratulate Modi on his electoral success. This would be a first for the US President as state elections are a domestic issue best left alone by foreign leaders.
The separation of religion and state began the post-1648 Treaty of Westphalia, ending 30 years of religious wars in Europe. French Cardinal Richelieu’s concept of ‘raison d’etat’ or interests of state as the determinant of all actions, instead of religion or dynasty, brought secular thinking into inter-state affairs. Papal desire to control the Holy Roman Empire ended with its decline and ultimate demise by start of the 19th century.
Arthur Koestler in Yogi and the Commissar argues there is little common ground between the two as one concerns man’s relations to the universe and the other to society. While Sikh Gurus did espouse the concept of ‘Miri-Piri’, implying the dual role as temporal and spiritual guides, in reality, the Badal trio – father, son and the bahu – were above the dictates of the Sikh clergy. The secularisation of the Akali Dal has been complete, but the BJP’s UP experiment defies history.
In Shia Islam, the debate is still unsettled. Traditionally, the Shia clergy considered all governance as profane and thus beyond their pale. Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, in exile in Iraq, developed the concept of Velayat-e-Faqih, or the rule of the most jurisprudent. He reasoned that till the return of the 12th Imam, who was in occultation, the wisest among the clergy must guide the ruler to stymie misrule. The revered living Iraqi cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, contests this thesis, subscribing instead to the quietist school requiring clerics to remain in the background.
The issue confronting India, as indeed the entire Western world, is the rise of populist leaders challenging liberal, pro-globalisation post World War II order, mixing xenophobia, religion and voodoo economics. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s closest adviser and former head of Breitbart News, apocalyptically senses the coming confrontation of the Christian world with ‘jihadist Islamic fascism’. He spelt this out in a 2014 Rome interview. Capitalism’s crisis, he argued, is loss of its Judea-Christian roots as evidenced by ‘secularisation’ of the West. Yogi Adityanath and his sponsors would concur.
How then can the demonised and beleaguered forces of liberalism respond? The recent defeat of Dutch nativist Geert Wilders provides a clue. D66, a collection of earnest pro-European liberals, improved seats by 50 per cent and Green Left tripled its strength by contesting and not dodging the narrative of Wilders with a counter-vision, as The Economist notes, centred on tolerance, openness and internationalism. The question is, who shall bell the Indian cat? Hopefully, Aristotle was right when he said ‘nature abhors a vacuum’.
(The author is a former Secretary,
Ministry of External Affairs, government of India)