"A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government".—Edward Abbey
Recently, a clearly infuriated citizen called Suman Singh, the wife of a former Indian army soldier, sent Prime Minister Narendra Modi a 56-inch brassiere. She was doubtlessly venting her frustration following the unending casualties at the LOC. Her gesture was a powerful reminder of the anguish, angst and anger brewing among the people over the government's ham-handedness over the complex, sensitive problem of cross-border violence. India appears effete, incapacitated, clueless—and the absence of a coherent policy is resulting in rising casualties.
India was sold a biceps-triceps foreign policy model that would easily railroad any opposition. Three years down, the government desperately needs a protein shake.
The lingerie sent an eloquent message to the PM: it was meant to rub salt into the gaping wounds of a government that won the 2014 elections on the back of repeated haranguing of the Dr Manmohan Singh government as "weak". "Chicken biryani diplomacy" was BJP's sarcastic taunt, winning them some public plaudits and huge social media traction. Modi boastfully promised instant solutions—a muscular, macho foreign policy that would make Pakistan shiver in trepidation. In short, he meant a directly confrontationist policy as opposed to the Congress-led UPA's strategic restraint; a jaw for a tooth policy was the new declared intent. In TV debates, Modi's self-congratulatory "56-inch chest" became a popular reference point. India was sold a biceps-triceps foreign policy model that would easily railroad any opposition. Three years down, the government desperately needs a protein shake.
Globally, there is a dramatic rise in an authoritarian leadership style. They may not necessarily be doppelgangers of tin-pot dictatorships, but they are not very different either. They have created a new political-government structure—illiberal democracy, which is essentially a diluted dictatorship. They adroitly camouflage their hardened fists behind clever velvety sophistry, raising the nationalistic temperature repeatedly because it delivers political dividends. They are masterminds at using sound-bite volleys delivered through hired creative writers which attract both the hoi polloi and the 9pm hashtag. Opposing them is virtual sacrilege, and their social media storm-troopers will invariably vilify you before hanging you from the tallest tree by the thinnest thread. Like Adolf Hitler, these leaders are democratically elected, so their acts of despotism are seen as possessing legitimacy.
Vladimir Putin's regime has seen several assassinations of dissenting voices in mysterious circumstances, such as Denis Voronenkov . President Duterte of the Philippines indulges in macabre braggadocio, claiming that he has killed drug peddlers with his own hands. A fear psychosis looms over Manila as suspected offenders may be summarily jailed and executed. Turkey's President Erdogan has ingeniously crafted a draconian law that makes him like a ruling monarch with unbridled powers.
Ultimately, historical grievances outweigh pressing current problems because human emotions overpower reality. Many authoritarian leaders fuel the pornography of hate that polarises society.
Several authors, journalists, social activists, public intellectuals, dissidents, political rivals are being jailed as part of a massive crackdown. Democracy is in serious danger under these elected representatives. Peru, Venezuela, Malaysia and recently Indonesia are seeing hardliner positions being taken. Donald Trump's whimsical unilateral conduct seems to have propelled him towards an imminent ignominious impeachment. Under Modi, India's position on the World Press Freedom index has fallen further. The modus operandi includes filing FIRs, criminal defamation suits, using the CBI/Enforcement Directorate, income tax raids, sting operations, fake news, and issuing threats. People are now getting frightened to air opinions on WhatsApp groups for fear of being arrested.
TV editors need to sing dulcet tunes to charm Big Brother, or else they are treated as perfidious betrayers of Mother India. As a spokesperson of the Congress party I am amused to be often asked by these sarkari representatives, "Why don't you give full marks to Mr Modi for this and that?" Frankly it is hilarious, but keeping a straight-face is an occupational pre-requisite. Over 75% of Indian mainstream media content is pro-establishment. It is the digital platforms and online portals (non-corporate funded) that are the new heroes of modern journalism. "Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets," said Napoleon Bonaparte. He would have done a ROTFL if he saw the servile, subjugated Indian media today.
Cultural nationalism and parochial sectarianism are the political strategies du jour. Marine Le Pen may have lost, but she has carved out a large constituency of rabid nationalists. Ultimately, historical grievances outweigh pressing current problems because human emotions overpower reality. Many authoritarian leaders fuel the pornography of hate that polarises society. This Viagra-fuelled leadership style is inspiring many voters to switch sides from the less flamboyant, moderated, facts-based troubleshooting solutions of the centrists or the liberals. Post-truth gets the gold medal.
Eventually, nothing is as powerful as a people's protest. And best, you don't need those bulging biceps or the 56-inch chest either.
A peculiarly vulgar vanity is symptomatic of this leadership—there is a ballooning of "I". Either they are paraded as breakthrough achievers or willfully targeted victims of the prejudiced left-liberal mainstream media. In the emerging political landscape, the middle ground is blurred or non-existent
The role of civil society becomes more important than ever in this chaotic minefield. For as long as citizens believe their adult franchise exercised every five years is enough, democracy will remain vulnerable. A continuous active engagement is a must. Even Putin faced a Moscow lockdown on corruption charges and large-scale demonstrations across Russia led by whistleblower Alexei Navalny, and Park Geun-hye lost her South Korean presidency owing to a massive public outrage. Eventually, nothing is as powerful as a people's protest. And best, you don't need those bulging biceps or the 56-inch chest either.