Modi trumps “America First”

Nowadays, the Eastern and Western world share more similarities than ever before and recently, a phenomenon has risen to the surface of many political landscapes – populism. Being a largely reactionary political movement, a growing discontent of populations has led to a manifestation of populism. After Mr. Trump’s electoral win last January, many parallels have been drawn between him and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Both campaigns contained anti-elitist rhetoric and anti-corruption philosophies. Their similarities lie in their political tactics and ideology – populism. Mr. Modi represents a religious populist figure due to the religious makeup of India.

One of the core pillars of populism is anti-pluralism. Like Mr. Trump’s hostilities towards Hispanics and Muslims, PM Modi has a Hindu majoritarian perspective of India and is exceptionally unsympathetic to minorities. Since PM Modi was elected in 2014, Hindu nationalism has gained active momentum. Communal violence has taken a significant toll on Christians and Sikhs and even more so on Muslims, despite the making up 15% of India’s population. Violence includes lynching, threats, and attacks on places of worship. Indian authorities are notorious for not investigating attacks often led by right-winged vigilante groups such as cow protection groups. Many laws passed by the government, including the ban of cow slaughter, reflect Modi’s reluctance to condemn these acts of violence. PM Modi’s appointment of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu nationalist with anti-Muslim views, as chief minister of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, has added to the spike in anti-Muslim violence. Just as Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant sentiment contains a populistic “others”, PM Modi has his own image of outliers within his country. PM Modi’s barbed wire fence between India and Bangladesh is there for one sole purpose: To keep the “others” out.

Mr. Modi’s visions for India’s development and Mr. Trump’s for America are compatible. Mr. Modi explained, “I am sure that the convergence between my vision for a new India and President Trump’s vision for ‘making America great again’ will add new dimensions to our cooperation.” Mr. Modi has cultivated a “Made in India” initiative as an economic vision for India to be a global manufacturing power. This initiative focuses on job creation and enhancing skills in the 25 sectors of India’s economy.

There is no denying the rapid spread and volatile nature of populism. The world is full of people with a sense of violated ownership and ant-political sentiment. Modi and Trump are prime examples of the great political bridge between the East and West. It is hard to say what will come of this leadership and even harder to say whether or not populism truly is a fight against corruption or a new form of reactionary corruption. The element of religion in India within itself can make its version of populism more deadly.

Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his campaign from Bhuj
Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his campaign from Bhuj


“Father Lee Knows Best”

Unlike many military leaders in Myanmar and Cambodia, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore wasn’t a tyrant who brutalized or impoverished his people. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore was the longest-serving prime minister in the world for 31 years and even held advisory positions for his two successors including his son. Fortunately, Lee Kuan Yew’s 52 years serving in government guided Singapore to one of the leading financial centers and ranked third GPA per capita in the world. Many people believed that Singapore reflected Lee Kuan Yew’s principles as an efficient, unsentimental, incorrupt, inventive, forward-looking and pragmatic government.

Lee’s “Singapore model” including centralized power(one party dominant), clean government and a laissez-faire economy that was actually a soft form of authoritarianism: suppressing political opposition, free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship. Lee concentrated on attracting investment and creating jobs but enforced some rigid laws and regulations restricting media and political freedoms and even selling of chewing gum.

As an extreme example of his control, Since 2004, the government has not allowed buying or selling any gum, and there is a $700 fine for spitting out gum on the streets. One time, an American reporter asked Lee’s opinion about a scientific research result that chewing gum may help boost people’s creativity. Lee responded, “Putting chewing gum on our subway train doors so they don’t open, I don’t call that creativity. I call that mischief-making. If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.” Lee claimed that he wanted social peace but he never believed that democracy would work in Asia. He was immune to pressures for the political liberty in the British tradition even though he went to Cambridge University.

The commentator Cherian George described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.” Lee was proud to describe himself as a political street fighter more feared than loved. He was a master of “Asian values”: the good of society took the first place before individuals and autonomy. In fact, people trusted Lee to keep order and bring prosperity. Lee managed to build strong working relationships with other Southeast Asian leaders. Lee made a ground-breaking visit to China in 1976 when other countries was still deeply suspicious of Beijing’s role in supporting in chaos and received Deng Xiaoping in Singapore two years later. Lee stepped down as prime minister after 31 year in 1990 and was succeeded by Mr Goh Chok Tong. He was appointed Senior Minister on Nov 28. In 2011, he stepped down from the Cabinet and died in March in 2015.

Following Lee’s retreat from government in 2011, Lee’s People’s Action Party lost 40% of the seats in parliament to the opposition in the same year. Lee’s party is not enough for young Singaporeans anymore. Especially after Lee Kuan Yew died in March, 2015, the young generation want more opportunities to speak up. One example was Amos Yee, a teenage boy who uploaded a video titled Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead several days after Lee died. Yee was arrested and convicted for a serious criminal charge but many people supported and praised him. They saw him as a free speech advocate who inclined to openly speak up against the system as a kind of hero, and worthy of praise.

Experts believe that now it is the moment for Singapore to embrace democratic principles fully because people are increasingly unhappy with one-party rule and growing income inequality. Lee’s leadership and legacy directed Singapore from old British chaotic colony to an economically prosperous country. However the problem with successful dictators is that there is no guarantee the successors are capable enough. There was only one Lee. Now Singapore may be more ready for practical pluralism.

Jayalalitha Jayaram – India’s Mother and Backbone

Jayalalitha Jayaram was one of India’s most powerful politicians as well as the first female and the youngest chief minister to have been elected in the state of Tamil Nadu. She was an ambitious, relentless populist authoritarian leader who motivated her followers to take extreme but necessary measures. Jayalalitha started out as an Indian film actress and eventually became a politician and government official. She served three terms as chief minister and was the leader of the All India Dravidian Progressive Federation (AIADMK), a political party based in Tamil Nadu. Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran, with whom she made dozens of movies not only founded the AIADMK but also served as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He introduced Jayalalitha to the political world and, to some extent, served as her mentor in both the movie industry and politics.

As the first woman opposition leader of the AIADMK, Jayalalitha made her party feel powerful, even invincible. With her charisma she drew the people of Tamil Nadu to her and won their trust and admiration. Having acquired a larger-than-life persona as a leader, she was seen as a motherly figure and called “amma” (meaning mother) by her followers. She took initiative where necessary, improving environmental conditions and focusing especially on welfare programs. She made water harvesting structures mandatory for all buildings in Tamil Nadu. She established subsidized food canteens, gave away food mixers and grinders to families and supplied thousands of students with free laptops and cycles. As the generosity of giving away food is a great cultural value in India, Jayalalitha established not only an economic bond with the people of Tamil Nadu but a cultural one, thereby obtaining her populist credentials.

An authoritarian leader, Jayalalitha ensured that her party was dependent on her alone. She even encouraged extreme displays of devotion, having her top-bureaucrats and party functionaries lie full-length at her presence and press their faces against the floor. She was said to make this a spectacle. Jayalalitha inspired an unusual passion in her followers. Throughout her time in office, her supporters would tattoo themselves with her image and chop off their own fingers to draw her portrait in blood. When she faced political setbacks, like being convicted of corruption and imprisoned in 2015, some of her followers publically lit themselves on fire. When Jayalalitha died from a cardiac arrest in 2016, Tamil Nadu declared seven days of state mourning and shut both schools and colleges for three days. Her death caused civil unrest as Tamil Nadu’s citizens began stockpiling food and gasoline or rushing away from Chennai for safety. Nearly 300 of her supporters committed suicide or, as natural causes of death are counted as expressions of allegiance in India, died of shock. Over 6,000 security personnel had to be deployed in Chennai to control her grieving followers’ vigils, riots and self harm. Jayalalitha’s follower’s dramatic displays of devotion that even continued after her death show what a strong and lasting impact she made on her country. Her death resulted in a political vacuum.

Jayalalitha was a bold leader who took extreme measures when she saw it was necessary. She won her elections by running alone instead of forming coalitions like other parties did. She used people to her advantage gain back power, like general secretary Vaiko whom she had previously imprisoned for 19 months. Unforgiving and authoritative, Jayalalitha obsessed over defeating her enemies. Critics even say that her authoritarian leadership style lacked democratic values. She challenged Tamil Nadu’s sexist, male-dominated politics that failed to restrain her rise to power. After her release from imprisonment in early January 1997, she quickly and seemingly without much effort returned to power, mainly through her welfare work. From her party she commanded respect and loyalty, and her commands were responded to with extreme expressions of dedication, as she herself remained loyal to her beliefs and intentions and led her state with confidence.

“Taliban Khan” Takes a “Conventional Swing” at America

     Imran Khan is the face of populism for the quickly modernizing Pakistan, speaking for the growing number of young and aspirational middle-class Pakistanis. Formerly the captain of the renowned and nationally cherished Shaheen’s Men in Green, Pakistan’s national cricket team, Khan took the political scene by storm in 2012 with his incredibly successful run for presidency. His entrance was opportunistic, as the country had just emerged from a 70 year military dictatorship and was currently seeing many members of the previously dominant PPP (Pakistani People’s Party) brought up on corruption charges. Preaching development, modernization, and an overall better life for the millions of lower-classed Pakistani’s, Khan appeared ready to change Pakistan for the better.

Khan became the leader of the populist PTI Party, the Pakistani Movement of Justice whose main goal is to empower the people to feel more influence and connection to the government. After a time of military dictatorship and harsh regulations, Khan believes that it is time for political change to enhance the future of Pakistan. Tragically, despite the millions of working-class Pakistani’s who donned the PTI colors of red and green daily and the thousands of foreign Pakistani’s who flew in to vote for their country’s future, Khan found himself defeated by the PML-N Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on election day, 2012. In retrospect Khan’s million middle-class voters amounted to nothing when compared to the ten million illiterate farmers who supported his career-politician of an opponent, a reality that has forced him to mold his beliefs into something more universally appealing, a thing not so kindly received by the west.

His policies and rhetoric preach anti-Americanism, a fitting policy considering that 87% of Pakistanis consider America an enemy. Khan, an admittedly devout Muslim, views America’s influence in Pakistan as uninformed and unhelpful. He believes the American government is ignorant to the devotion and principles followers of Islam uphold and, that American’s see religious devotion and immediately think extremism. America has been active in Pakistan for over 8 years, and Khan is fairly correct when stating that the War on Terrorism has made little progress. With violence appearing unsuccessful and extremist anti-Americanism on the rise, Khan intends to turn to a solution staunchly opposed by US policy, he wants to bring the Taliban to the debate table.

This rhetoric is terrifying to both America and the greater West, but it should not come as a surprise. The Taliban have incredible clout politically within Pakistan, acting far more politically than the cave-dwelling suicide bombers many envision. During the previous election season, Taliban militants promised not to bomb the rallies of both the currently dominant PML-N Party and Khan’s own PTI Party, with other rally-bombings preventing the rise of other political groups. This, coupled with Khan’s hatred of the crucial anti-Taliban drone strikes and the US interventions within his country, provides more potency to the fear that terrorists may soon have a formal seat in the Pakistani government. It’s not as if Pakistani citizens all support terrorism, but a growing number have begun questioning the western opposition to the Taliban, something apparent in Khan’s overwhelming victories in the Northern areas most strongly influenced by the Taliban. Even Khan himself has publicly stated that the war on terrorism is fruitless, believing that ”We are not winning the war” and furthermore that “ All the Taliban have to do to win the war is not lose it”. Khan sees negotiations as the best route to peace, something America views as surrender to the Taliban.

     This isn’t the first time Khan has come into conflict with America. From birth he was a problem, coming from the nationalist and historically violent Pashtun tribe, a group America views as extremist. Maybe Khan has a point. Maybe the west has a distorted viewpoint of Islamic devotion, and maybe it is appropriate to provide even the most extreme groups with a formal audience. We may not want this, but it is obviously in the interest of the Pakistani people, who share both a majority opposition to the foreign policies on terrorism and a majority interest in change. Khan is seen as the populist savior of Pakistan, possessing the influence and skills necessary to move his country out of the dictatorship it once was. But it is his direction that worries the U.S.. Despite his interest in freedom and his constant promotion of the common man, Khan’s visibly extremist policies are cause for concern. He embraces the calls of his people with a clarity and directness that causes only concern to the Western World.

No More Bogeymen at Bedtime for India

In March of 2017 Narendra Modi appointed Yogi Adityanath Chief Minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. This controversial and “firebrand” leader has become known all over the world for his populist ideals and his anti-Muslim policies. He has convinced the Indian people that he will shoo away the Islamic bogeymen, and many have welcomed the plan with open arms. Yogi Adityanath practically defines the idea of an anti-Muslim populist and religious nationalist.

Until this appointment Modi had spent most of his time in power furthering a secular agenda. Most of India expected Manoj Sinha to fill the post, as he is currently a stable and balanced leader in India. Uttar Pradesh’s CM plays a very large and public role, and because of this profile a CM is typically seen as a possible future Prime Minister. So the choice of Adityanath was quite controversial and shocking to many. One of the biggest controversies surrounding Adityanath is his leadership of a vigilante organization, the Hindu Youth Brigade or Hindu Yuva Vahini, a group known to use extreme violence against Muslims who are believed to be disturbing Hindus.

One event did especially change Adityanath’s views— at least for a little while. After leading the Hindu Yuva Vahini into the city of Gorakhnath, a city with growing tensions between Muslims and Hindus, Adityanath was arrested for the trouble he caused. After this arrest Adityanath became much more tentative in his religious crusades, taking a much more behind the scenes approach to leading his Hindu nationalists and restraining himself from publicly insulting or disrespecting Muslims. But the Indian people still know that he oppposes Muslims and keeps the Hindu agenda, one of the thing that, sadly, has made Adityanath so likable to the Indian people. While he tried to take a more mainstream approach to his views, he is still seen as a far-right populist.

India’s history of religious violence and tension has been brought to the forefront of the country’s focus again with the choice of Adityanath. Many of Adityanath’s political objectives have been focused on turning India into “a Hindu rashtra or state”, saying “I will not stop till I turn UP and India into a Hindu rashtra.” Some of his policies obviously favor the Hindu religion, like in his ban on the consumption of beef. This nationalist personality and blunt oratory, like when he said that women are “weak, and liable to turn into ‘demons’ when they take on jobs or activities traditionally reserved for men”, has helped him win the favor of a large majority of the Indian people in past elections and further his populist agenda. However he did claim that he would not discriminate due to religion within his state government, but his past and his ambitions would say otherwise.

Adityanath is clearly an anti-Muslim populist. He blames Muslims for many issues that face India, like the lack of an adequate amount of jobs. He directs his anger towards a religious group, Muslims, a trademark characteristic of a populist. He evidently wants religious uniformity, another aspect of populist leadership. While much of India’s Hindu population loves Adityanath’s fiery rhetoric, the Muslims of India, who make up around a sixth of the population, worry about the capabilities of Adityanath. His ideas and the support he has in India is indicative of a global issue; all over the world people fear and hate Muslims because of the stigmas that have been created against them due to the many Islamic terrorist groups that have caused issues worldwide. In India with 1.3 billion people, 172 million of whom are Muslims, the potential for irresponsible words to spark communal violence is a very real threat.