How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 2: India and beyond

In India, although Modi failed to deliver on election promises of economic growth, he drew public through hypocritical arguments about the importance of protecting the Hindu nation against Pakistan. The elections came at a crucial time when two Indian Army pilots captured by the Pakistani military were released back into India. The fanfare around their release gave the BJP and Modi enough momentum to stoke nationalist fires. Parties associated with the BJP had already done plenty to fan communalism through social media, and so Pakistan’s capture of the pilots created the means to continue nationalist messaging in public spaces to keep the fervor at fever pitch. The supremacy of the far-right Hindu nationalists is becoming widespread and overt in its reach under the Modi government. Modi openly articulates his allegiance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, and its divisive nationalism and Hindu militancy.

Besides masking economic growth with nationalism, Modi and the BJP have used the figure of the woman as a symbol of nationalism. This ploy has been enacted since before India’s struggle for independence from British rule. In the last election, Modi promised that he would make sure women had rights but did nothing to curb violence against women. While the BJP under Modi talks about Hindu womanhood and protecting women, drawing upon the religious trope of worshiping goddesses, we see the government’s hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to the rape of young women and children, particularly in Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit communities. Witness the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl by 9 Hindu youth, four of them police officers; the crime was politicized and although the rapists were charged, Hindu right-wing protesters, Modi silently lending them support, wanted the rapists exonerated: “Some of the staunchest defenders of the suspects in the girl’s killing have been high-level officials in Mr. Modi’s party. Analysts said this was consistent with how the party has operated for years.”Throughout the country it has become an increasingly onerous task for any sexual abuse victim to get justice. 

While the government won re-election based on national security, the country has become unsafe for women, Muslims and Dalits. Dissenting voices are in danger of being assassinated, as we have already seen in the murder of prominent journalists and writers for their critique of the government: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and many more.

While abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, many women around the country do not have access to safe abortions. Maternal deaths from pregnancy and abortion continue to plague the country. A recent report from Mumbai showed a sudden dip in the numbers of abortion among girls 13-15. While this may sound like a good thing, a senior gynecologist from one of the BMC hospitals thinks that the dip could mean that young girls may be getting unsafe abortions. No statistics are available on the number of abortions as a result of the abortion pill. In short, unsafe abortions are prevalent, including self-selective abortion, which is unlawful.

What does all this mean? Within a neoliberal philosophy we see an increase in right-wing political parties in Europe and in India. Many scholars have made connections between this current political climate with the 1930s as the EU has gone through various turbulences that have exposed the fragility of the principle of democracy in society. In his book “Recidive,”(Recurrence), Michaël Fœssel uses press and journal articles to analyze the dynamics that prevailed in the year 1938, noting, “I didn’t research 1938 with 1940 in mind, but rather with 2018 and the years before.” He remarks that French women in 1938 were mostly invisible; one would have thought that France was inhabited only by men “whose only ambition was to become chief.” Men forbade women to vote until 1944, which is a significant difference compared to 2019. In addition, Fœssel observes that in 1938 many principles were challenged. France had passed new labor protection laws and progressive social laws 2 years earlier. In 1938, with a new government elected on negative campaigns to restore order, the goal was to weaken social protection and the new rights of middle and lower classes. Although women were not allowed to vote, two women held ministry positions in the previous government, and still progress stopped there. With the more conservative government of 1938, women were sent back to the private home and family duty. 

In a time of crisis, we observe the reoccurrence of these discourses of rights and protections reductions, making the vulnerable more precarious and supporting right-wing messages of nationalism and dominant powers. Besides the obvious differences between both electoral situations (in India and in the EU), the commonalities are important to identify. 

For the time being, patriarchy as a system of control and accumulation has reinforced its power. The heartless leaders are patriarchal leaders. Their networks of influence have, through social media, disseminated their discourses using the mythology of virility to legitimize inequality between genders and unleash intolerance toward everyone outside of their normative view of human society. They have successfully eliminated the ethics of reciprocity and care from the political discourse. The destruction wrought by climate change that affects the most vulnerable in society is a casualty in this patriarchal power grab in the elections in Hungary, Poland, Italy and India. Ending the power of the heartless demand constant criticism of the patriarchal order that outrageously begets inequality and suffering. 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Mukesh Gupta / The Guardian)

About Brigitte Marti Pramila Venkateswaran Mailys Ardit

Brigitte Marti, Pramila Venkateswaran and Mailys Ardit are members of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.