March 23, 2017

Taking a Right Turn

~ By Siddhant Mishra

It began with Narendra Modi in India, in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies managed to register a thumping win, and received a huge mandate by the people. While the result was not a shock, the margin of victory was something that left even political analysts and psephologists stumped.

Yet, if one thing was certain, it was that Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s message of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas’ had resonated with the masses, and people voted for the NDA cutting across caste lines. But that was not all about this election. What ended the 10-year scam-tainted rule by the Congress-led UPA, actually marked the beginning of a global wave that has been continuing till now.

Next to keep this run alive was David Cameron in the UK. While he has lost his job since, following the historic Brexit vote that took the UK further to the right, other European nations seem to be following suit. Not only is an anti-EU sentiment gaining strength, Far-Right parties seem to be gaining ground as poll projections have shown. However, the one that tops the list is Donald Trump’s stunning win that has shot him into the White House. Riding on a Right-wing ‘populist’ wave, Republican nominee Trump managed to see off Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton comfortably, despite opinion polls suggesting the race would be neck-to-neck and that Clinton held the advantage.

The fact that globally, the Left is on a decline and the Right is consolidating, has not gone unnoticed. While this has rattled socialists worldwide, it has also signified the emergence of a new revolution – against the alleged ‘appeasement’ politics of the Left as well as rising corruption. It could be no coincidence that the world seems to be taking a ‘Right turn’ simultaneously. There are pressing issues that explain the phenomenon.

First, the debate surrounding the refugees from the war-torn Gulf has found its way into the electoral agenda of both the Right and Left. Refugees fleeing from the Middle East found their way into Europe, and with crime rates shooting up, a sense of fear gripped the natives. The ensuing chaos resulted in incumbent governments losing public support. In Germany, people have become disillusioned with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though Merkel is tipped to win a fourth term in the elections scheduled for September, her support has since dipped. Far-right ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) shot to prominence after escalating attacks on her open-door policy towards refugees. Subsequently, the AfD managed to rake up a 21% vote share in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerenia, Merkel’s home Constituency, back in September, and made significant gains two weeks later in the Berlin city polls, registering a record 14% of the vote.

Similarly, in The Netherlands, Geert Wilders’Party for Freedom (PVV) is tipped to end up as the single-largest in theDutch Parliament after elections. Riding on a similar anti-establishment wave, Wilders has pledged to de-Islamise the country, shut down mosques and close borders with the EU, a message that has resonated with Dutch voters fed up of the EU’s dominance.

Yet another Far-right outfit, the National Front of France, headed by Marine Le Pen, leads in the opinion polls, indicating she will make it to the second round of voting, ahead of Centre-Right Republican candidate Francois Fillon. Like her European counterparts, Le Pen too, stands for exiting the Union and de-Islamising France.

On the Pacific side, Australia’s “One Nation party”, headed by Pauline Hanson (called the Australian Trump), is weaning voters away from the ruling coalition, riding on a similar wave of anti-Islam and anti-Asian ideology. The party, according to the Australian media, has doubled its support base from November.

While an outright win for any of the Far-Right parties was never guaranteed, the win of Trump came as a shot in the arm. Donald Trump’s campaign was focused on protecting American jobs, playing tough with illegal immigrants, building a wall on the Mexico border and the “Muslim ban” rhetoric, a line of argument echoed by the European Far-Right. Trump’s win was an indication that the fear that had allegedly gripped locals on the issue of rising crime and the threat of the influx of refugees, were real.

But what could significantly be gauged from this trend, is the voice of the silent majority. In a liberal politically-correct world, it has become a fashion to resort to appeasement politics, while the majority is expected to compromise. Cutting across borders, people seem to be losing faith in socialism, while more pressing issues remain undealt with. While unemployment, economic slowdown, and rising terrorism remain core issues, people have lost patience with the constant denial of the liberal elite, who tend to focus more on pseudo-secularism and anti-capitalism.

The difference, however, seems to be the aspect of social media. With the Left having spread its influence in the academia, media and intelligentsia worldwide, where Right voices aren’t allowed to rise, social media gave an equal footing to the Right, which was long in the shadows and seized the opportunity for redemption. While social media helped in giving a platform to the Right, which constantly focused on the selective outrage of the Liberals on issues and the pro-minority bias, it simultaneously aided in creating a reach into inner territories of countries, which had not happened earlier.

It was here that the battle was won and created a wave that saw a shift in favour of the Right. While societies have become more polarized, and constructive debate is hardly possible in a world where both the Right and Left resort to slandering and abusing the other, the Right Wing, while making clear its stand on issues of economy and social identity, managed to call out the liberals on their selective outrage and pro-minority bias especially in the case of religious radicalism, a charge the Left couldn’t effectively defend, and fell prey to.

In India, voters from different communities and castes put their faith in Narendra Modi’s BJP, which now has spread its wings in territories it was earlier not strong in, during Assembly and Civic polls, over the last three years. Modi’s development agenda has won supporters, and bold moves like the scrapping of high denomination notes has hardly managed to dent the party’s fortunes.

Though the political scenario in Europe and the US is different from India, if there’s one aspect that could be seen uniformly across geographies, it was that of religious fundamentalism.

A call for putting greater checks on illegal migrants from Bangladesh and militants from Pakistan, in India; the European right’s anger on the open door policy for refugees; Trump’s call for the Mexico wall as well as severe restrictions on the entry of Muslims from certain Middle Eastern countries – coming at a similar time, couldn’t be a coincidence.

However, it is no given that the wave in favour of the Right will remain. While common grounds remain, certain differences in ideologies and policies mean the Right lacks unity. While the opposition to laws being dictated by Brussels remain firm across Europe, France’s Le Pen, on the lines of Trump, calls for protecting the French identity, and is openly anti-globalisation.

Britain’s UKIP, which spearheaded the referendum call for Brexit, however, has embraced free markets. Geert Wilders, while calling for closing of mosques and de-Islamising the Netherlands, has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights and LGBT rights. Though tipped to get maximum seats, other Dutch parties have refused to support the PVV to form a coalition government, indicating a hung parliament.

Germany’s AfD has been marred by anti-semitism and Nazi-like tendencies, which cause infighting and subsequently a drop in support. Moreover, the emergence of centrist figures like Emmanuel Macron in France, and Martin Schultz in Germany, has resulted in a sharp drop in popularity for the National Front and AfD respectively.

It would be unfair to call the BJP or Modi’s win as a win for the “Far-Right”, given the party’s ideology, though based on Hindutva, largely refrains from being anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant, and has off-late given more significance to development and anti-corruption.

To believe that Europe or Australia could ride on the populism wave of the US would be a strong assumption to make. A win for any of the Far-Right parties is far from certain, but projections show that they have become serious contenders after long.

(Author is a freelance journalist)



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