By Kumar David –
The Twentieth Amendment augured authoritarianism in Sri Lanka, but though it laid the constitutional framework manifestation has not yet been toxic yet. Democracy in Gotabaya’s Sri Lanka is not lethally imperilled as is India’s subverted democracy, nor is demolition of democratic institutions and electoral impartiality being attempted on a Trump and Republican’t Party scale. A cynic would say “It has not been necessary”. Lanka’s president and government retain overwhelming support; the opposition effete and not taken seriously as an alternative government – Sajith is a pantaloon, the Left small, Muslim politicians purchased. The conjuncture of the two unfolding perils; the abys the pandemic is winding towards and the retarded-growth-debt-inflation imbroglio which earns censure in the copybook of liberal economists, has not alienated the masses yet. People are not wildly anti-Rajapaksa, so why should putative authoritarianism bring out water-cannon and rifle? Gota has no need to display the ugly side; the iron fist stays in the velvet glove. To switch to now fashionable terminology, authoritarianism remains politically ‘asymptomatic’.
Elsewhere the global march to authoritarianism seems unconcealed and unremitting. A knave called Francis Fukuyama theorised pompously in 1992, and all the world’s liberal clowns swallowed it as divine revelation, that the End of History had arrived and that a capitalist free-market world was the zenith of historical evolution; hear ye hear ye, the kingdom has arrived! He had in mind of course the pushback of Marxism, the discrediting of socialism and the triumph of economic individualism over collectivism. On this score he had the intellectual upper hand for a while except for the statist East Asia which was more resilient than capitalism in the prevailing conjuncture. Though he scored points for some years what he did not reckon with was that capitalism and liberal democracy would be blind-sided from the right; right-wing populism, racist-religious extremism, strongarm neo-fascism and eventually institutional authoritarianism. Though FF’s thesis has collapsed, I do not gloat. To pushback this blackest of devils left, democratic right, liberals and all civilised society need every ally they can find; Biden, Merkel, every anti-Hindutva Indian, the JVP, oppressed minorities the world over, and even the ilk of Franc Fukuy.
I have argued previously that “Trump is the last warning” meaning that if underlying socio-economic conflicts and contradictions at the root of the right-extremist-populist crusade (I sometimes call it populist neo-fascism which I defined in a previous essay) were not resolved America would slip into an abys into which it would crag the world. The issues at the root of resentment such as the hopelessness of the old working-class in eastern states and rural folk in the mid-west are known and need no recounting here. A bold restructuring programme going beyond liberal economics can approach these concerns but if the Biden-people stay true to their Ivy League credentials they will fall short. Bidden can’t afford to take his eye off the livelihood ball, crucial to working people, and focus excusively on fashionable elitist interests.
The ugly alternative is a wave of Trumpism which may recapture Washington in four years. Its ideological character has been laid out for all to see; trashing of electoral institutions, subverting results of fair elections, using the Presidential Pulpit for an unending stream of Gobblesian lies. It went further this week when Trump’s lawyer Joe diGenova demanded that fired cyber-security chief, Christopher Krebs, be “taken out and shot” for contradicting the Trump’s claims of voter fraud, and Trump loyalist Michael Flynn, pardoned last week, and many others have called for suspending the constitution, a declaration of martial law and fresh elections. Though democratic institutions have proved resilient and stood up to this wrecking-ball, damage has been done and they may crumble under sustained future assault. Though democracy has weathered the storm the bigger setback is not Trump, written off as an idiosyncratic looney, but rather the Republi-can’t Party. All but a few Republican’t Senators and Congressmen have toed Trump’s line. That they are damning the very ideals they deem precious in the land of the brave and the home of the free does not trouble them. Baffling!
Against this background the pulverisation of democracy in Narendra Modi-Amit Sha-Hindutva India is less shocking. The litany of Modi’s ‘achievements’ is beyond belief. Kashmir seems locked down in perpetuity, the police whose reputation was at a nadir has sunk lower, it hounds the poor, obliges the rich and prosecutes Muslim ‘suspects’ after anti-Muslim pogroms. The Electoral Commission whose independence was held in esteem since independence is in the process of being turned into a tool of the ruling BJP. The worst is that India’s Supreme Court, once respected for its jurisprudence and whose independence was held in the highest esteem before Modi’s current term, has become a pliant tool of BJP politics. The calamity of the Supreme Court best epitomises India’s rapid descent to banana republic status. The Economist (28 November 2020) carries a long report called “Subcontinental Drift” on the march of Modi-Sha-Hindutva authoritarianism.
All is not lost, Indian democracy like the American version will fight back though the cow-belt electorate will inflate Modi for a while. Fanning hatred of Muslims, China and Pakistan can pay rich electoral dividends. For now, resistance to Modi-Shah will come from the periphery outside the cow-belt; Mamata’s Bengal, the Dravidian South (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka and Telangana) and Maharashtra. The once proud Indian Communist movement (CPI and CPI(M)) have run out of steam and Congress is a jelly. A multipolar (political, ethnic and religious) alliance must be forged to defeat the BJP juggernaut. If democracy is vanquished in India, the Rajapaksas can rightly ask “Why retain it in Lanka?”
To touch on every major example in Africa (Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia and more and more), Belarus and the Central Asian -stans, Putin, Erdogan, Hungary and Poland is beyond the scope of this column, but readers well known that democracy is in the ICU is some and in the morgue elsewhere. In China the Han majority is unconcerned about the gross repression of the Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang. The super spreader of this autocracy pandemic is the same everywhere; hopeless and despair in livelihood concerns, racial or religious extremism, anger at material/financial inequality, and dangerous ideology. I spoke of combating this with a multipolar class, political and ethnic alliance. It can push back some of this not others. If the enemy can be split and a portion fragmented away conditions for victory will improve. Take Gotabaya; his political progenitors are militarism by choice and SLPP racism and corruption by inheritance. This alliance can be splintered and that would be a first step on the road to victory.