NEWS
14/11/2019 6:44 PM IST

The Problem With Jair Bolsonaro And Modi's Friendship

Brazil's President Bolsonaro is set to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day Parade in 2020.

MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV via Getty Images
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a BRICS summit meeting at the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. 

On Thursday, the government announced that Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro will be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade next year.

Reports said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently in Brazil for the BRICS summit, invited Bolsonaro, who accepted “with pleasure”. The right-wing leader, who was sworn in as Brazil’s 38th President on 1 January 2019, will visit India in 2020 with a big business delegation. 

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Each year, India invites the heads of other states as the chief guest for its Republic Day celebrations on 26 January. In the past, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, John Major, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe have been among the chief guests. But Modi’s invitation to Bolsonaro and his bonhomie with the Brazilian leader is a cause for worry in particular.

Bolsonaro’s politics — be his take on the Amazon fire, women’s rights or LGBTQ rights or democratic rights in general — are deeply problematic to say the least. 

When he was sworn in, HuffPost reporter Travis Waldron wrote in a long, deeply reported analysis piece that “Bolsonaro has modeled his ascent to power on the rise of Trump, whose own victory was built on years of democratic erosion”.

Waldron pointed out that, like other rightwing leaders, while Bolsonaro has claimed his rise to power was due to a “populist revolt”, his actual backers were the old financial elites.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told HuffPost India that Bolsonaro was a “political kindred spirit” to PM Modi.

He has gone out of his way to call Bolsonaro who the world tries to distance themselves from and is critical of, Modi reaching out to him is a sign that Modi thinks he is in good company,” she said over the phone.

Bolsonaro’s relationship with the rest of the world has been ridden with controversies. While he is considered close to leaders such as Donald Trump (a fellow climate sceptic), like the US President, he has had open spats with other world leaders, especially those who criticise him. 

In August, when French President Emanuel Macron criticised Bolsonaro’s administration over the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest and asked that the issue be discussed at the G7 summit, the Brazilian President first hit back through tweets, lamenting the “the colonialist mindset that is unacceptable in the 21st century”. He also made sexist comments about the physical appearance of Macron’s wife Briggit, leading to a back-and-forth that would not give anyone confidence in the Latin American leader’s diplomatic skills. One of the lowlights? Bolsonaro’s vow to stop using Bic pens from France.

Bolsonaro also had a spat with Norway and Germany over preserving the Amazon rainforest, where deforestation has been surging.

Here are some of the biggest blots on Bolsonaro’s track record so far.

He fuelled the fire. 

While the Amazon fire was raging in August, Reuters reported that in 2019, Brazil reported the highest number of forest fires since 2010, an 83% increase over the same period of 2018.

After he took office, Bolsonaro ignored international worries about deforestation in the Amazon and said that he wanted to open up protected lands for development in order to spur economic growth. Farmers in Brazil set illegal fires to forests to create land for cattle and crops as the far-right leader cut back on government efforts to reduce deforestation. 

Christian Poirier, the program director of Amazon Watch, an environmental nonprofit, had said in a statement. “This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil’s economic growth. Farmers and ranchers understand the president’s message as a license to commit arson with wanton impunity, in order to aggressively expand their operations into the rainforest.”

Earlier this month, an indigenous warrior who protected the Amazon rain forest was shot dead by loggers. Sonia Guajajara, leader of Brazil’s pan-indigenous organization APIB, said that “the government was dismantling environmental and indigenous agencies, and leaving tribes to defend themselves from invasion of their lands”.

Not a fan of women 

When Brazilian football star Neymar was accused of sexual harassment, Bolsonaro sided with him, bluntly saying, “I believe him” even before the investigation into the allegations was complete.

HuffPost Brasil’s Marcella Fernandes reported that the president’s remarks “sent shockwaves across Brazil, a country where experts say reporting rates for sexual crimes are lower than they should be”.  

In 2014, Bolsonaro not only told Congresswoman Maria do Rosário that he would never rape her because she was not “worth it”, he also bragged about the incident on Twitter. Bolsonaro said about his own daughter, “I had four sons, but then I had a moment of weakness, and the fifth was a girl.”

Bolsonaro had also compared maternity leaves to “more labour rights”. “Because women get more labor rights than men, meaning they get maternity leave, the employer prefers to hire men … I would not employ [women equally]. But there are a lot of competent women out there,” he had said.  

‘Proud Homophobe’

The LGBTQ community in Brazil were scared when Bolsonaro was elected to power. Reuters had reported that while in 2011, he had said he would rather have his son “die in a car crash” than him be gay, in 2013  he called himself a “proud homophobe”.

While Brazil’s Sao Paolo prides itself for one of the largest yearly pride parades in the world, homosexual people are still afraid to be open about their sexuality. 

Recife-based small business owner Paula, who had requested Reuters to not use her surname, had said, “His victory is already encouraging and legitimizing countless acts of violence throughout the country… We are alarmed and afraid – not only of losing our legal rights, but of losing our freedom and our lives.”

Big fan of violence and war, not democracy 

Bolsonaro is also in favour of torture, violence and war. In August, Bolsonaro hailed a military official, convicted of torture, as a national hero. “I am in favour of torture, you know that,” Bolsonaro had said in 1999 in an interview.

In the same interview, he had said only a civil war could change Brazil, and not elections: “Elections won’t change anything in this country. It will only change on the day that we break out in civil war here and do the job that the military regime didn’t do: killing 30,000. If some innocent people die, that’s fine. In every war, innocent people die.”

In the same interview, he had said he would shut down Congress if he were President, saying, “Let’s go straight to the dictatorship.”