When Nationalism and Security precede Roti, Kapda aur Makaan

The ‘Scientific American’ magazine, in its distinguished 175-year career, has never done this before.

Published: 20th September 2020 09:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th September 2020 09:28 AM   |  A+A-

The ‘Scientific American’ magazine, in its distinguished 175-year career, has never done this before. It has endorsed US Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Donald Trump. The magazine has so far not taken political positions; but for the November poll it has broken a long tradition and come out against Trump for being dismissive of science. “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people -- because he rejects evidence and science..The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September,” said the editors of the publication. 

Will such endorsements add up to make Trump lose? The latest Reuters-Ipsos opinion poll of would-be voters says Joe Biden is ahead by 9 points, but it appears a 41% vote is holding solid behind the President. A lot depends on how the 9% undecided and fence-sitting voters go. There couldn’t be a worse handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Unemployment soared to nearly 15% in April, with 20.5 million people losing their jobs. Yet the President pretended nothing was amiss. Officials like the Director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NAIID), Anthony Fauci, who disagreed with the President, have been publicly humiliated. 

Illustration: Tapas Ranjan

Yet there is a whole constituency out there who believe it is more important to keep the US of A safe from restive hordes of blacks, Latinos and the rest of the world out to steal their wealth through riots and unfair trade. White supremists, Christian Evangelists, those for no gun control, those against migrants, and those who hold on to their ‘Suburban Lifestyle Dream’ are a very large swathe of America; and Trump is still their man. 

A global phenomenon 
It’s not just a US phenomenon. If we see the number of dictators and human rights abusers who have got elected on popular vote, the learning is Roti, Kapda aur Makaan does not always click. In an unstable world, people shrug aside these basics to plum for what they think is ‘nationalism’ and ‘security’.  

Jair Bolsonaro, a fringe right-wing candidate in Brazil’s presidential elections in October 2018, pushed two decades of left-wing, Workers Party rule into history books and won resoundingly. That Bolsonaro supported Brazil’s brutal 1964-85 period military dictatorship did not matter; he was offering to rein in crime and murders. The country in 2018 alone had seen over 60,000 street murders and the drug lords ruled the roost. Bolsonaro’s promise to send criminals to jail is all that mattered. 

Today, the Brazilian President stands a quixotic overseer to the largest death rate per thousand of Covid-19 victims, and has allowed Amazon’s rich forests to be systematically burnt and cleared by gangs of illegal entrants. The environmental disaster is so chronic that the European Union is considering blocking trade with Brazil till the decimation of the world’s largest green lungs is stopped.

‘Ballot’ autocrats
Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte is in the same mould. His repressive presidency has invited sanctions and warnings from the world over but that is little deterrence. Since he took office after a popular vote in June 2016, he has run a justice system based on death squads. Till last December, some 5,000 such extra-judicial killings had been recorded. He says he wants to end drug-trafficking; but few of the top operators, known to be close to his ministers, have been ever caught. All this matters little. Last May, half of the seats of the Philippines’ Senate came up for midterm elections and it was a complete sweep for the President’s supporters.  

The list of autocrats who continue to rule using the ‘nationalist’ card has is quite impressive. Recep Tayyab Erdogan of Turkey has virtually been in control first as Prime Minister and later President since 2003. Riding popularity for his ruthless suppression of Kurdish separatists, he has grabbed constitutional power, and imprisoned thousands of journalists and bureaucrats. And, despite demolishing his currency, and tipping the economy into recession, he still keeps the popular mandate. 

Perhaps this background will now give some context to the discussion at home why the blow delivered by demonetization in November 2016, followed by the GST mess, the soaring unemployment, and now the virtual freeze of the coronavirus lockdown have all failed to dent the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Keeping the country safe sometimes precedes Roti, Kapda aur Makaan.

But democracy and the ballot box have strange ways. Just when everyone thought Recep Erdogan in Turkey was invincible, a little known Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu handed Erdogan his first big defeat in March last year when he won the Mayoral elections in Istanbul by a narrow margin. Erdogan, true to his style, had the elections annulled and there was a second run-off in June. Imamoglu won this round again albeit by a bigger, 770,000 margin!


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