Lessons for Canada from the election of Narendra Modi and the BJP in India
When Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a decisive and historic victory in the Indian election, there was a palpable sense of grief among many progressive Canadians of South Asian descent.
The South Asian Research and Resource Centre in Montreal issued a statement under the headline "Narendra Modi—CEO for India Inc.", which detailed a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.
It occurred when Modi was the chief minister of the western state, which was the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.
"It is this man, the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’, who is now poised to have the highest and most powerful post in the land, who will now not only have fascist, Hindutva militias and gangs doing his bidding, but will use the entire nation’s resources to do so—including a huge security force," the centre stated.
The Vancouver-based South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy distributed the statement with its endorsement.
This came after a local magazine created by progressive South Asians, Radical Desi, published a cover story with this headline: "Say No to Narendra Modi". It featured a huge red X over his face.
And in late March, celebrated Indian author Arundhati Roy delivered a scathing denunciation of Modi in an extensive interview with the Georgia Straight in advance of her visit to Vancouver.
Roy described the man who is almost certain to become India's next prime minister as a "communal hatred-spewing saccharine person" who morphed into a corporate promoter willing to use military force to crush poor villagers who oppose industrial projects that will displace them off their land.
"The corporations are all backing Modi because they think that [Prime Minister] Manmohan [Singh] and the Congress government hasn't shown the nerve it requires to actually send in the army into places like Chhattisgarh and Orissa," Roy said.
So how did Modi win such a landslide in the face of such strong opposition from progressives?
Simply put, Modi sent a message to the masses that he's a strongman willing to take steps that other weaker politicians weren't going to consider.
His predecessor as prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is an intellectual and an economist, not known for playing the role of the tough guy.
As the Indian economy's growth slowed dramatically in the past couple of years, the public rallied around the leader who presented the most decisive personality.
It's not much different from Italians rallying around Benito Mussolini in the 1920s or much of Spain supporting Francisco Franco in the 1930s. In both instances, these fascist leaders ultimately created disastrous results.
Here in Canada, we're led by a prime minister who tries to appear like the most decisive politician in the land.
Stephen Harper has succeeded by portraying his opponents, most notably former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, as weak-kneed.
B.C. right wingers who call themselves Liberals used the same tactic against the NDP's Adrian Dix.
The lesson for progressives is to recognize that the right always campaigns this way. The only antidote is to appear equally decisive in response.
It worked for Barack Obama and it will probably also be a winning formula for the NDP's John Horgan in B.C.