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The Rise of Extremist Far-right – From US to India

Over the past few years, the world has seen a resurgence of the extremist far right as two of the world’s biggest nations were ruled by right-wing leaders. The U.S. saw a new wave of support for right-wing ideologies as President Trump governed from his seat at the Oval Office. India, the largest democracy in the world, still has a right-wing party ruling the country with unwavering support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now serving his second term in office.

When we talk about the far right here, we do not necessarily mean violent extremism. We rather mean extremist ideologies that many right-wing leaders aim to propagate. It is hard to judge if these ideologies benefit everyone equally or are biased towards a particular section of society. How do these extremist far-right principles affect and change society as a whole?

There are different outlooks and perspectives that people have when answering this question.

However, it is not uncommon to see that right-wing extremist principles and propaganda do often give rise to intolerance, violence, and terrorism. It is true for the U.S., India, or any other nation for that matter. When an idea or prejudice is deep-rooted in people’s minds, they are intent on propagating that idea at any cost.

We can only try to better understand this rise of extremist far-right and what it means for the future of the world.

What is far-right politics or right-wing extremism?

The political spectrum all over the world is divided into the left and the right. Ideally, right-wing politics is supportive of the idea that certain hierarchies and orders of society are necessary, natural, and inevitable. This could mean support for the class system, caste system, or racial inequality.

They often present tradition, natural law, or economics as the basis of their ideas. In other words, support for any kind of conservative ideology may be considered right-wing. Left-wing politics, on the other hand, is considered more liberal.

Right-wing extremism or far-right politics is an extreme form of right-wing ideology, which means it is further right on the political spectrum.

Historically, the impact of far-right extremist ideologies like fascism and Nazism have been witnessed by the whole world. These were ultranationalist authoritarian ideologies that had some distinctive characteristics like dictatorial power, intolerance, forceful suppression of the opposition, and an extreme divide and segmentation of the society.

In democracies today, a dictatorial rule may not be possible. But there are still political parties and groups that harbor anti-communist, nativist, and ultranationalist ideas.

What is happening in world politics right now?

Right-wing parties have always been on the political scene throughout history. Modern politics in the U.S. has a two-party system comprising the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Of the two, the Democrats are considered the left-wing liberals while Republicans are seen as the right-wing conservatives.

Both parties have ruled the U.S. on and off. In the early 2000s and up to 2011, the Democrats were the largest political party in the country with a majority of more than 42 million voters, compared to 30 million Republicans. However, these numbers were shrinking for the Democrats. They were already 3.9% lower than what they had in 2008.

The Republican Party started as a liberal party itself, with Abraham Lincoln being elected as the first Republican President to campaign for anti-slavery laws. The party was founded by the Northern anti-slavery expansion activists and modernists. But today, the Republican Party supports a conservative platform that is based on fiscal and social conservatism.

After having had two terms with a Democrat President, Barack Obama, the sudden shift in the political scene of the U.S. with Donald Trump. His extreme right-wing nationalist ideas sweeping the country came as a surprise for many in 2017. But it was an indicator of a major shift in the way people think and vote.

In India too, the two major political parties, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fall at the two opposite ends of the spectrum. While the INC is labeled as the left-wing liberal party, the BJP is the more conservative right-wing here.

After being in power for almost 10 years, the INC was toppled by the BJP, and that too by a huge margin. India was swept by what they called the “Modi wave”, Narendra Modi being the face of BJP’s campaign and the Prime Ministerial candidate.

But what caused these striking transitions in people’s electoral behavior?

Why are people voting for extremist far-right leaders?

There is no right or wrong in who people choose to vote for. It would be narrow-minded to call one side of the political spectrum better than the other. But historically, far-right extremism is found to be more intolerant of its opposition and is likely to propagate radical ideas that can lead to hatred and violence. Then why are voters still choosing it over a relatively liberal government?

What happened in America

According to political theorists and social scientists, the reason for Americans to support ultranationalist ideologies was simple. They saw a threat from immigrants. As the U.S. has a huge demand for manpower in the fields of research, technology, software development, etc. they had to let people, mostly Asians, with relevant degrees immigrate to the country for work. There was also a growing perception that illegal immigrants were stealing the low-paying jobs of Americans by agreeing to work at far lower wages.

Then there were more triggers like the 9/11 attack that made every brown-skinned, bearded, turban-wearing man a suspect or a criminal. A huge recession due to the bursting of the housing bubble widened the gap between the rich and the poor. And to top it all, to the despair of those with a hidden racial bias, a black President ruled the country for two terms.

People who were already angry and afraid, had these feelings piling up and all they needed was someone who shared their ideologies. They saw their ideal leader in Trump.

What happened in India

For India, the story is a little different. India has always been ravaged by poverty and social inequality. The economic boom that India saw post-1980 did not help the poor but rather aggravated the inequality and divide. Unemployment and poverty continued to be a problem. Reservations in education and employment based on caste and tribe, that were laid down after Independence, were not revisited. This deprived many of quality education and jobs, despite their poor economic conditions.

The angst of the people against the government had been growing gradually. The government was always seen as corrupt, irrespective of which party was in power.

The BJP realized just what people wanted to hear at this point. Their campaign in 2014 was primarily focused on “development for all”. The powerful orator that Modi is, he mesmerized his audience with promises of bringing a transformation in the governance, ridding the country of corruption, and connected emotionally with his supporters.

The radical ideas of the party were being propagated by other sister organizations but were never openly put forward in BJP’s agenda. The divide between the Hindus and Muslims in India has always existed at different levels. The BJP being a primarily Hindu nationalist party could garner the support of the majority of Hindus as well.

What does this rise in extremist far-right mean for the world?

The real problem with any kind of extremist ideology is that it spews hatred against those who beg to differ. Right-wing extremism has led to political violence, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in the past and history is witness to the devastation it has caused.

Even in the present situation, extremist far-right ideologies are propagating violence and terrorism. In the U.S., the FBI itself acknowledges that domestic terrorism and racial violence motivated by extremism are on the rise.

India too has seen several instances of violence against minority groups, including the lynching of people merely because of their religious beliefs and lifestyle.

This should be proof enough that extremism and violence are never a solution to any problem, but are rather a greater source of problems. Nations have to find better ways to deal with people’s woes.