Straight Bat: Trump, Modi And Hard Lessons Of Democracy
On Nov 14, 2016
Is democracy going through a thorough makeover as we speak? It certainly seems to be the case. The ascension of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America has polarised Americans and indeed the whole world.
Back home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a bold, even historic initiative to tackle the menace of black money and fake currency notes, which too has polarised the whole nation and indeed the world. Only time will tell how successful these developments are, but one thing is for sure, democracy, the way we know it, is no longer the same as it used to be.
On paper, there would be no two persons as different as Trump and Modi. While the former comes from an elite family, a playboy billionaire who amassed his wealth through trickery and folly, who has been married three times and whose oratory skills, while captivating, is crude at best and vulgar at worst, the latter spent a lifetime serving a pro-communal party leaving behind his family and wife, has no riches or family legacy to speak of and is known, even revered, for his crisp, refined and humorous oratory skills.
But there are similarities and more than just a few. Both are polarising figures. Both were scorned, even ridiculed during their election campaigns and their 'shocking' but decisive victories were met with contempt and disdain. Both made their rapid ascent to the supreme post of their respective nations on the back of media exposure originally aimed at disgracing them the worst way possible. Yet they emerged as the chosen one of the masses. The temperamental xenophobic and the genocidal fascist ultimately became representatives of the oldest and largest democracies respectively.
Those who don't like the idea of democracy often give a good reason for it. Democracy is about sucking up to the masses, and the masses as they are can be very foolish. Till very recently politicians thrived on deceiving the public. Election campaigns almost unanimously consisted of spitting shallow promises, soothing assurances and empty theatrics all the while staying away from the real, pressing, often unpopular issues. And it did work every time. Now it seems an era-defining change is on the way.
While critics condemn Trump for spreading hatred, the reality is that he was only speaking the truth. Yes, racism prevails in USA, yes, many if not most want cross border immigration to be stopped at all costs and yes, many, if not most love the idea of owning a gun. The whites, the blacks, the Latinos, the Asians, the Europeans all have their grievances that never get addressed under 'populist' strategies. By being blunt, Trump evaded what is the curse of most politicians - hypocrisy. And a generation of people, long disillusioned by promises and sweet talks, embraced it wholeheartedly.
Back in India, a different kind of transformation is taking place. Once voted to power, it was customary for the politicians to back off from their promises and do whatever it took to maintain status-quo. The reason is they never trusted the masses with any groundbreaking reforms. Bold initiatives always called for some kind of sacrifices and the prevailing mindset was that the 'lazy' and 'ill-informed' masses will never accept it. That such a 'folly' will only cost their chances during next elections, or so they thought.
That is where Modi stands different. He took a bold decision, announced it directly to the public, accepted the fact that there will be some difficulties and asked them to cooperate nevertheless for the greater good. And you know what, they did. Seems like the masses were not that naive after all. And this is the same population that used to rally behind anyone and everyone who proclaimed anything about 'poverty', irrespective of what the actual problems were.
So what's happening? The democratic system as we know it is seemingly going through an evolutionary phase. Till now the standing opinion was that the individual was smart and thoughtful, but the masses were prejudiced and instinctive. That is changing it seems. The masses as a whole are beginning to see the hard facts, accepting the bitter realities and above all have become confident and willing to take genuine, calculated risks. The group, whom sceptics said were in need of hard lessons, are now handing the same to the politicians all around the world. While the verdict on how this development will take its course is still out, it is actually promising to note that bitter realities are being addressed in a direct, blatant manner and that the public is supporting it.
The success of Trump and Modi proves one thing, that for better or for worse, people have started taking their role in democracy very seriously indeed. Instead of being mere puppets, now they are gaining a grip on the control-strings and are making the puppeteers fall in line. Unlike how movies show it, true, decisive change is not accompanied by a thunderous applause, but with passionate involvement, vociferous debates, and grudging consensus aimed at a greater good. If the signs hold any substance, more hard lessons are on the way.
Madan Sivadasan D (MSD)
Contributor to Yentha. He lives in Kochi but his heart beats for his home town Trivandrum. Absolutely no ambiguity on his views or in his writings