1. Why resistance to strongmen crumbles so quickly: Pankaj Mishra

Why resistance to strongmen crumbles so quickly: Pankaj Mishra

The election of Donald Trump, a self-confessed sexual predator and unrepentant racist, as the President of the United States is a calamity.

By: | Published: November 14, 2016 4:14 AM
US Presidential-elect Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R). (File Photo) US Presidential-elect Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R). (File Photo)

The election of Donald Trump, a self-confessed sexual predator and unrepentant racist, as the President of the United States is a calamity. But for those who experienced in 2014 the election of Narendra Modi, proud member of a minority-baiting alt-right organization, as India’s Prime Minister, the ascent of Trump induces deja vu. And to those who have witnessed the subsequent radical makeover of India under Modi, the prospect of Trump assuming supreme power brings on acute foreboding.

For what is threatened now in the U.S. is not just free trade, liberalism or a technocratic and professional class of politician accused of being out of touch with ordinary people. It is democracy itself — the central project of the modern world, in which people come together to form a political community that defines its shared laws, ensuring dignity and equal rights for each citizen, irrespective of ethnicity, race, religion and gender.

Anguish and despair must quickly give way to a fuller reckoning with the deeper reasons behind Trump’s empowerment. We must ask: Where do we stand, and where do we go from here?

Here the Indian experience can be instructive, if not uplifting. For over a decade, Modi was on the fringes of India’s political and intellectual life. Accused of supervising mass murder and gang rapes in the state of Gujarat in 2002, he was blocked from traveling to the U.S. and Europe. Journalists and pundits hailed technocrats such as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, for their secular outlook as well as economic wizardry.

Modi’s moment came only when economic growth, which had been largely jobless, began to falter. Corruption scandals exposed the liberal technocrats as a self-aggrandizing and inept elite, and the political party most identified with them — the Congress Party — was engulfed by a devastating crisis of legitimacy.

The stage was then set for Modi to rise. And so he did, eerily anticipating Trump with the accusation that his country was run by a foreigner (the Italian-born Congress leader Sonia Gandhi) and traitorous liberals, and overrun by Muslims and immigrants. To complete the analogy with Trump, Modi also boasted about the size of a male body part — his chest — while promising to make his country great again.

Modi’s electoral base was among Indians who felt cheated out of nearly double-digit but unevenly distributed growth. He managed to persuade them that the choicest fruits in India were being stolen by an arrogant and deceptive elite that promised meritocracy but perpetuated dynastic rule.

QuickTake India’s Aspirations

As Tocqueville pointed out long ago, people in the democratic age “have an ardent, insatiable, eternal, invincible passion” for equality, and “will tolerate poverty, enslavement, barbarism, but they will not tolerate aristocracy.” And so in the eyes of the aggrieved, the commonplace liberal accusation against Modi — that he was menacingly authoritarian — turned into an asset.

Two years of Modi in power have confirmed that he is a demagogue of a particular kind: one that has periodically emerged, since the 19th century, from a radically disillusioning experience of liberal democracy, from the latter’s failure to confer dignified citizenship or distribute equitably the benefits of economic growth.

It is now Trump’s turn to benefit from this angry disillusionment with oligarchic dynasts. His advent, astoundingly simultaneous with that of other demagogues, confirms that the U.S. has reentered the history of the modern world after its long 20th century exemption from the extensive political chaos that almost all other countries suffered. What happens next depends greatly on how America’s democratic institutions respond to Trump. And, here, India’s example is severely discouraging.

Hindu nationalists are colonizing state and society in India with contemptuous ease, staffing political and cultural institutions with loyalists. “Hinduize all politics and militarize Hindudom,” V.D. Savarkar, the chief ideologue of Hindu supremacism and Modi’s hero, once exhorted. This old fantasy of upper-caste Hindus is now finally being realized under the leader with a 56-inch wide chest. Clamoring for retributive violence against Kashmiri Muslims and Pakistan, the media is “falling like nine pins,” as former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said last month.

In many ways, the electoral apotheosis of a Hindu supremacist in 2014 has proven to be less shocking than the zeal of many affluent Indians, including former fans of the uber-technocrat Manmohan Singh, to rally to his side. Tocqueville may have been right to say that a “taste for well-being easily comes to terms with any government that allows it to find satisfaction.” In the U.S., much hope rests with those who refuse a similarly craven accommodation with a white supremacist.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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  1. A
    Mar 11, 2017 at 3:07 pm
    From a purely literary standpoint, this article is nothing more than a diatribe. The author has wasted precious editorial space in venting his personal angst. From a pure reportage point of view there is nothing to to take home but allegations out of nowhere. No research, no analysis, no respect for the reader in trying to force one's dislikes onto another. What kind of an editorial is this? Who ever asked Mr Pankaj Mishra for his opinion? A wyndham-Campnell Prize for non-fiction does not enle you to take readers for granted and lap up his bogeyman act and live in eternal fear. Francis Parker Yockey rightly said "A moment's reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force." Whatever, I just quoted Yockey because Liberals love quoting from some unknown un-spellable character as a subtle snobbery of trying to undermine the intellect of their readers and projecting themselves as their redeemers from some evanescent oppression that only the liberals know about. What a sham. Poor show on the part of 'The Financial Express' - trying to fear monger with no substance. Imagine what a dim image they must hold of their readers. Still expect us to buy your newspaper.By the way, I've always wondered, why can't the common have an editorial pice in the newspapers.They will write better than these so called 'intellectuals'.
    1. R
      Nov 14, 2016 at 3:05 am
      Which world does this fellow pankaj Mishra live?Sick mind.
      1. S
        Nov 14, 2016 at 3:47 am
        These are perverted secular and liberal people who think looking after adopted and dumping our own means we r educated and hv the right to teach the world the liberals r far from the truth our ancestors know and hv taught these r AC ROOM ARM CHAIR proponents who use the actual theory for political gains.That is why they look perverted.Our JNU campus is an example of their dirty labaratories.Such places hv cropped up in US also Americans r also facing the same problem is not with individual these liberal secular rats r stubborn don't want to see or accept reality.
        1. K
          Nov 14, 2016 at 3:49 am
          poor chap. living in his own world. better to ignore him
          1. Vish Ontoor
            Nov 13, 2016 at 11:19 pm
            It is bigots like Pankaj Mishra who need a realty check. They think it's only THEIR VIEW that matters and others are s! Elections are about a choice and tradeoffs. It's rare you find perfect men (or women). Indians had a choice between Rahul hi and Narendra Modi. Indians chose Modi. Elections were free and fair. Whether he like or doesn't like Modi is one thing, but who is he to question the choices of Indians? Sitting in London, making millions, such extreme leftists are in a bubble. Now I don't like Trump. I don't like Hillary either. But Americans have made a choice. Why are leftists like him protesting on the roads? That's nonsense!
            1. Rajendra Prasad Avvaru
              Nov 14, 2016 at 4:30 am
              What kind of analogy is this , comparing Donald Trump with Narendra Modi ? Some kind of ' Nutty ' writing ?
              1. X
                Nov 14, 2016 at 3:19 am
                le is wrong. It is the strong man who crumbles to the first resistance.
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