Monday, November 09, 2015

The Rise Of Fascism In India And In Myanmar Suffered Severe Blows At The Polls Sunday


DWT has a history of opposing Indian fascist leader Narendra Modi. We tend to oppose religious bigots and genocidal murderers like Modi anywhere in the world, but especially in places we love, like India. Writing from New Delhi in 2007, when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat (not Prime Minister of India as he is today), we warned that his party, the BJP is a classic right-wing political party, representing the status quo interests of the exploitative/owner class.
In a thriving democracy like India, how does a party concerned exclusively with the welfare and prerogatives of .001 percent of the population, and espousing one prepackaged conservative nostrum after another, even hope to win votes? The BJP never needed Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove or the Southern Strategy to succumb to the siren song of the Dark Side's exploitation of social tensions, racism, xenophobia, religionist hatreds and-- it being, even here, a George Bush world-- fear of "Islamofascist terrorism."

Except here in India, that kind of talk can-- and has-- turned very, very deadly. In Gujarat over a thousand Muslims-- men, women and children-- have been brutally murdered, their homes and businesses burned and looted, just five years ago as a step on the ladder to Modi-power. This is called BJP-inspired Hindutva, sometimes called Moditva, in honor of his George Wallace-like encouragement for the mayhem.

Just last week Chief Minister Modi bragged about having suspected Muslim "terrorists" dealt with extra-judicially-- by having them killed. Sobrabuddin Sheik's wife was also hunted down and murdered after Modi disposed of the husband.
Modi's fascist party came to power last year and he was named Prime Minister. Yesterday his party's divisive agenda was judged harshly by voters in Bihar, India's third most populous state (103,804,637 people), as the BJP was swamped in local elections. And Modi was the focus in a state his party won just 18 months ago.
Modi was the indisputable face of his party's campaign in Bihar. He led the campaign, addressing 26 public meetings across the length and breadth of the state.

What's more, his trusted aide Amit Shah, who is also the BJP president and chief poll strategiser, camped in the state and spoke himself at more than 70 meetings.

Mr Modi came to Bihar promising jobs and development in a reprise of the campaign which helped him to sweep to power in federal elections last year.

In fact, his party and its allies won 31 of the 49 parliamentary seats in Bihar in 2014.

But the prime minister's lustre has somewhat diminished since. In what was a protracted five-phase election, his party's campaign ramped up the rhetoric, asking voters, among other things, if they wanted "a [Bihar] government… that protects terrorists."

Amid growing countrywide concern over rising intolerance and Hindu hardliners running amok, Mr Modi and Mr Shah raised the sensitive issue of cow slaughter and consumption of beef-- the cow is regarded as sacred but polarises opinion in Hindu-majority India.

They invoked Pakistan and accused his rivals of stealing affirmative action quotas for minorities. Things became so bad that the election authorities stepped in and proscribed two provocative BJP campaign adverts.

Mr Shah told a rally that if "by any chance" his party lost Bihar, "then firecrackers would be let off in celebration in Pakistan". Mr Kumar met the BJP's high-pitched campaign with a measured response, addressing concerns over equitable growth and development. Meanwhile his ally, Mr Yadav mined the caste vote successfully, making sure that not many voters strayed to the BJP.

Mr Modi and his party, say analysts, have a lot of lessons to learn from the Bihar verdict.

First, running a campaign that uses development, caste and religion does not always work. Voters should be more respected for their wisdom.

Secondly, voters appear to be increasingly sceptical of Mr Modi's promises of growth and development. Many believe the Bihar verdict shows he hasn't convinced many people that he has the ability to deliver on his key promise.

Even some of his most ardent supporters say Mr Modi has run a lacklustre and underwhelming government in the past 18 months. The tyranny of expectations is beginning to bite. The needless provocations of some of his noisy lawmakers and ministers and the radical fringe are giving his government a bad name at home and abroad.

Thirdly, Mr Modi is seen as a less invincible and strong leader. The rout in Delhi shattered the aura of invincibility. The Bihar debacle proves that the enthusiasm has waned further. Many are wondering how a prime minister with one of the largest poll victories in India's history is unable to rein in hardliners in his own flock.

Finally, the BJP should now be ready to face a reinvigorated opposition - in tatters after last year's debacle.

Although it still remains India's strongest party, Mr Modi's binary politics-- either you are with us, or against us-- has effectively helped unite a rag-tag opposition, which now believes that it can take on the BJP by forging similar coalitions as in Bihar. Even the Congress, lacking fresh ideas and led by a reluctant leader, appears to have staged a modest recovery.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress Party-- vaguely equivalent to our own pathetic Democrats-- termed the victory "a message against putting Hindus against Muslims and making them fight to win elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become arrogant. He should work on toning it down as it will benefit him and the country. Modi should stop campaigning and start working."

Modi needed a victory in Bihar because the upper house of Parliament-- which is appointed by the states-- is not controlled by the BJP and has blocked some of his legislative initiatives. The NY Times' David Barstow reports that [t]he defeat also means that Mr. Modi will enter the winter session of Parliament without the political momentum he craved to force through major overhauls of taxation, labor rules and land use that he sees as critical to accelerating India’s growth and attracting more foreign investors" and that the election has "played out against a raging national debate over whether Mr. Modi’s India is becoming increasingly intolerant of secularists, Muslims and political dissent in general. According to the police, four Muslims were attacked and killed by mobs of Hindus in the past six weeks because they were suspected of stealing, smuggling or slaughtering cows."
Hundreds of writers, filmmakers, scientists and academics have protested what they see as rising intolerance by signing petitions or returning awards they had received from government-supported bodies.

“This is a victory of unity over divisiveness. Humility over arrogance,” Rahul Gandhi, a member of the grand alliance, said in a statement. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, called the election a “defeat of intolerance.”

...Given the depth and breadth of the B.J.P. rout, the results on Sunday called into question the vaunted political acumen of Mr. Modi’s version of Karl Rove: Amit Shah, the B.J.P. president.

Mr. Shah had much to prove in Bihar after a surprising electoral defeat for the B.J.P. in Delhi, and he took personal command of the Bihar election. In campaign billboards across the state, his image was nearly as prominent as Mr. Modi’s. He was also responsible for one of the most incendiary speeches in the Bihar campaign, when he predicted that firecrackers would be set off in celebration across Pakistan if Mr. Modi lost.

On Sunday, thousands of Biharis had a ready retort for Mr. Shah. Across the state, they lit firecrackers.


I was living, briefly, in West Berlin before the Wall came down. There were already holes in the Wall and the border guards weren't generally taking it that seriously any longer, so my German friends used to go over into East Berlin whenever they felt like it. It wasn't as safe for Americans but I had to do it, right? It gave me an eerier feeling than anything I had felt in the more relaxed Communist bloc countries I had spent time in-- basically Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. And the next time I got that same eery feeling-- well actually it was a Stalinist feeling was when I visited Myanmar in 2007-08. I just checked and I was making the comparison between East Berlin and Yangon almost a decade ago! East Berlin, I wrote in 2007, "didn't look free and romantic; the oppression, tyranny and decrepitude were apparent and tangible... and chilling. It scared and repulsed me. I was happy to get back to West Berlin."
A few hours ago, decades later, I just returned from a place like that, a place you read about in books by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley: Myanmar.

Myanmar was Burma when I was a small boy (and avid stamp collector). I remember there were military coups when I was in elementary school. It was one of those closed off places-- exotic, mysterious, impenetrable, vaguely dangerous, like Albania, Mongolia, North Korea... places no one ever went. In the 80s the military junta took the name SLORC (an unfortunate-sounding acronym for State Law and Order Restoration Council). It sounds like something from a James Bond movie. For the people there, I just discovered, it doesn't feel like a movie. It feels like a nightmare that never ends. Paid Republican lobbyists and operatives in DC got the military dictators to ditch the SLORC moniker for SPDC (State Peace and Development Council, which sounds far less ominous-- like Bush's Clear Skies Act).

One of the first things I noticed is that the oppressive, paranoid tyranny in Myanmar exists in a parallel world next to a beautiful traditional Buddhist culture. The gentle people, predisposed to kindness, seem a little nervous-- hundreds of beloved and revered monks were brutally and ruthlessly murdered by the regime a few weeks ago after peaceful demonstrations-- but when you shoot anyone (except some of the soldiers) a mengalaba (hello) their wariness invariably breaks down and they smile. They are friendly and the reserve often vanishes quickly and, at least in Yangon, more of them spoke English than anywhere else in Southeast Asia I've ever been.

The whole city seems to be rotting and breaking down, although it may also be a work in progress of sorts. The city is immense-- but kind of slow and quiet... kind of left behind as the rest of the region rushes headlong into the 21st Century and globalization. Roland says Yangon reminds him of Havana in many ways.
I'm happy to report this evening that in their first ostensibly free elections in many years, the Burmese have chosen to go down the path of democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy seems to have won a clear majority-- perhaps as much as 80% of the vote-- and the military-backed politicians failed in an election that picked 168 of the 224 representatives in the upper house of the national parliament (the remaining quarter of seats to be appointed by the military) and 325 of the 440 seats in the lower house (with 110 appointed by the military).

Reuters reported that the dictatorship conceded defeat early Monday "as the opposition led by democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi appeared on course for a landslide victory that would ensure it can form the next government."
"We lost," Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) acting chairman Htay Oo told Reuters in an interview a day after the Southeast Asian country's first free nationwide election in a quarter of a century.

The election commission later began announcing constituency-by-constituency results from Sunday's poll. All of the first 12 announced were won by Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD).

The NLD said its own tally of results from polling stations around the country showed it on track to win more than 70 percent of the seats being contested in parliament, more than the two-thirds it needs to form Myanmar's first democratically elected government since the early 1960s.

"They must accept the results, even though they don't want to," NLD spokesman Win Htein told Reuters, adding that in the highly populated central region the Nobel peace laureate's party looked set to win more than 90 percent of seats.

Earlier a smiling Suu Kyi appeared on the balcony of the NLD's headquarters in Yangon and in a brief address urged supporters to be patient and wait for the official results.

The election was a landmark in the country's unsteady journey to democracy from the military dictatorship that made it a pariah state for so long. It is also a moment that Suu Kyi will relish after spending years under house arrest.

Although the election appears to have dealt a decisive defeat to the USDP, a period of uncertainty still looms over the country because it is not clear how Suu Kyi will share power with the still-dominant military.

The military-drafted constitution guarantees one-quarter of parliament's seats to unelected members of the armed forces.

Even if the NLD gets the majority it needs, Suu Kyi is barred from taking the presidency herself under the constitution written by the junta to preserve its power. Suu Kyi has said she would be the power behind the new president regardless of a charter she has derided as "very silly."

The military will, however, remain a dominant force. It is guaranteed key ministerial positions, the constitution gives it the right to take over government under certain circumstances, and it also has a grip on the economy through holding companies.

Incomplete vote counts showed some of the most powerful politicians of the USDP trailing in their bids for parliamentary seats, indicating a heavy loss for the party created by the former junta and led by retired military officers.

Among the losers was USDP chief Htay Oo, who told Reuters from the rural delta heartlands that are a bastion of support for his party he was "surprised" by his own defeat.

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At 8:18 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Congrats to India & Myanmar on their historic electoral wins. :-)


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