Another 171 Million People Who Don’t Care What Progressives Think
The results are in from the Indian parliamentary elections, and the big news is that a religious and nationalist party—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—has swept into power, in the process crushing the secular Indian National Congress (INC, or simply the Congress) that has dominated Indian politics since independence.
Some, like the US State Department, would also call the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi “Islamophobic”, as Modi was actually banned from travelling to America because of anti-Muslim riots that took place on his watch as Chief Minister of Gujarat back in 2002.
In the recent election, the BJP polled 171 million votes (31%) across India’s 543 parliamentary constituencies, compared to the India National Congress’ 106 million votes (19.1%). With countless smaller, mainly regional parties splitting the remainder of the vote, the result gave the BJP 282 seats in parliament—enough, even without its allies, to form its first majority government. Congress was badly hit due to the fact that its reduced support was spread relatively evenly across the country. It has now been reduced to a stump of 44 seats.
The Western media seems to have somewhat mixed views towards the result, downplaying the victorious BJP’s religious and nationalist aspects, and instead emphasizing its business-friendly character, in contrast to the residual leftism of the Congress Party. The fact is, however, that if something analogous to the BJP existed in a Western country it would not garner praise for favouring business, but would be attacked day and night for its supposed “hate thought“.
But the Cathedral clearly has a double standard when it comes to evaluating political developments in non-Western countries. These nations may be regarded as backward, but they are given a lot of leeway and strong criticism is avoided. There is the patronizing assumption that someday they will follow the West into the sun-lit uplands of über-tolerance and the deification of sexual and ethnic minorities.
Neoconservative ideas of “liberating” non-Western countries by war so that they can then join the West at “the end of history” have rightfully been derided and discarded, but these notions have not vanished so much as transmuted into an even more ineffective “soft power” version that no longer seems to be working on the international stage.
The assumption seems to be that through a combination of economic development, cultural projection, and NGO interventions on the ground, these societies will gradually be transformed into bigger, more sun-baked SWPL hangouts. But while the West embraces gay marriage, secularism, telescopic morality, and hypocritical egalitarianism, the rest of the world seems to scratch its head at us and sidle nervously away. The Indian election is a case in point.
The Congress that has dominated the politics of the subcontinent for decades was more or less acceptable to Western progressives. Here was a party that seemed—from a few thousand miles away at least—to be a fairly modernist and progressive grouping, one that would supposedly help India escape from the shadow of its “medievalism.”
The truth is that despite the Nehru jackets, Mao shirts, and other tokens of modernity—such as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s sterilization campaign in the 1970s—the INC has been perpetually bogged down by the complexities of the country it was supposedly destined to rule, reform, and modernize. The development that finally did come to India was more a haphazard process than a politically determined one.
That the Congress has lasted this long is however a remarkable achievement, as it has long outlived its historical role. The BJP breakthrough might well signal the end of the road. This is because the Congress, despite its superficial modernism, is actually a lot more anachronistic than a party like the BJP, rooted in India’s perennial traditionalism.
The correct context in which to view the Congress is as part of the great post-colonial wave of secular political parties that were eager to emulate either the totemic materialism of either the West or the Soviet Union, and embrace a local form of statist modernity. This wave included Atatürk in Turkey, and later, various Arab nationalists: Nasser in Egypt, the Baathist Parties in Iraq and Syria, and the Pakistan People’s Party.
For the most part, these secular modernist experiments have been superseded by a swing back towards the politics of traditionalism, tribalism, and religious identitarianism, except in those cases, like Egypt or Algeria, where military force has been applied to maintain the modernist cliques in power against the wishes of the masses.
The rise of the BJP shows that India has not been exempt from this process. As with most of the rest of the world, we see a massive country and demographic bloc going its own way without worrying what liberal Westerners think. An event like this serves to remind us that, no matter how dominant liberal or progressive ideas may seem in our own neck of the woods, on the long-term global scale they still may lose.