Saeed Naqvi | Would-be winners in Ukraine war lurching towards far right in despair

The Asian Age.  | Saeed Naqvi

Opinion, Columnists

The alarming surge of the far-right in Germany, according to the latest opinion polls, shouldn’t surprise the political class.

New strategic choices imposed by the unending Ukraine war has introduced further fertility for the far-right to prosper everywhere. (Ukrainian Presidential Press/AFP)

Liz Truss, Britain’s Prime Minister for a few weeks last year who devoted her term rallying the world for “democracy” against “autocracy”, must be squirming. Poland, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Serbia, Hungary, France, Germany are Sweden are so far-right in the neo-Nazi mould that Beijing and Moscow look like nice places. This is a boon the Ukraine war has conferred on the West. Donald Trump’s ghost looms over America. Britain, it must be said, is still in the sensible zone.

The alarming surge of the far-right in Germany, according to the latest opinion polls, shouldn’t surprise the political class. Remember how the German ruling class, as the EU’s engine, laid low the left-wing Syriza which brought Alexis Tsipras, 43, to power as Greek Prime Minister. The Greeks tossed up a Socialist experiment. No, said Germany and the EU. This experiment shall not be allowed. Revert to austerity or we shall not pick up your debt. The pity is Mr Tsipras turned out too weak-kneed. He buckled, demoralising the Left across the board. 

In Spain, where Franco hovers over public life like Banquo’s ghost, people accustomed to being obedient suddenly showed spunk. The Prime Minister of the right-wing People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy, broke all records of corruption in construction. This kind of corruption was the fashion in this phase of accelerated globalisation, but Mr Rajoy went a few yards past the post. People groaning under a tainted democracy worked hard to remove the pollution in the next election. Under the leadership of Pablo Iglesias, 39, a Spanish variant of the Communists burst upon the scene. This was Podemos, or “We Can”, extracted from Barack Obama’s slogan which worked in the 2008 American election.

In the 2015 elections, the right-wing People’s Party and the Socialists lost relatively, but emerged first and second. The party which created an earthquake by cornering five million votes and 69 seats was Podemos. Spain rubbed its eyes in disbelief. How could Europe’s fourth largest economy be “allowed” to be run by a coalition of which the Communists were a part? Franco would turn in his grave.

Accelerated globalisation after the Soviet collapse was a shot in the arm for capitalism. This, in turn, generated arbitrary inequalities which Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century explains in clinical detail. These inequalities resulted in such movements as “Occupy Wall Street”. The Republican Tea Party was a response. 

People adapt to change but establishments are obstinately resistant. Also, they have the power to shape events by their control of the media, refashion public opinion. Popular will is anathema to most entrenched establishments. The consent has to be fashioned. People make economic demands, jobs, wages, price control, social welfare. These have the potential of making drastic reductions in corporate incomes. I know all this is elementary. Why then are such elementary truths edited out?

For corporates, it makes enormous sense to employ every possible trick, the media above all, to divert people’s attention from economic issues to issues of identity, minorities, migrants, race or caste, and communalism in India. This continuous tussle between establishments and the people leads to one result: muscular establishments emerge on top. The popular will is the missing ingredient in what are advertised as democracies. We are living in hollowed-out democracies, but for how long? The latest German polls point to a model, at least in the short term.

It's not something that’s only happening in distant Europe. After the BJP defeat in Karnataka, there’s some life in Opposition unity schemes, and yet the discourse on Narendra Modi’s invincibility doesn’t go away. It won’t go away as the controls of the “Modi, Modi, Modi” echo chamber lie with Mr Modi. Did you watch the masterly choreography of the inauguration of the new Parliament building? It made you “gasp and close your eyes”. Yes, Mr Modi will look invincible as long as the media keeps him in that focus. And the media is in the hands of big business, who are in the hands of Mr Modi, and the other way around. 

The global media and the one which is in the Prime Minister’s thrall are cousins, born from the same seed and at the same time. The fall of the Soviet Union brought about the sole superpower moment which required a global media. This was inaugurated by CNN’s Peter Arnett from the terrace of Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed Hotel in Operation Desert Storm 1992.

The global media didn’t reach India until a few years later. The fall of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was only covered by Newstrack, a weekly video magazine launched by the India Today group. The mushroom growth of independent channels is a phenomenon of the mid- 1990s, when the neo-liberal economic policies of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh boosted businesses that demanded channels to accommodate the advertising which the new economy was attracting.

The burgeoning TV scene enlarged the consumer society which is what the new economy was galloping towards -- a tinsel middle class, creating a huge imbalance between Lakshmi and Saraswati. It was all custom made for corporates, multiplying billionaires -- far away from the roti, kapda, makaan, education and healthcare, which are the basics for a developing country where an overwhelming majority are poor.  

The politicians, corporates and TV channels are together in diverting the poor away from their condition towards the glorious inheritance they been wilfully denied by “The Other”, the migrant from another race, another country.

New strategic choices imposed by the unending Ukraine war has introduced further fertility for the far-right to prosper everywhere -- Germany, Vox in Spain next month. And who can ignore Donald Trump of the “Howdy Modi” chant in Houston back in 2019?