India prides itself on being the largest democracy in the world. The United States emphasizes its history of democracy, promising free and fair elections that include all citizens equally. The touting of democracy and pride these countries hold, hides the grim truth of authoritarianism that underlies the regimes of the right-wing fascists that have taken hold of power in both of these countries.
“As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power.” (Freire, p. 141)
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump have utilized what Paulo Freire calls a “fundamental dimension of the theory of oppressive action” in order to keep their status as ruler of their respective countries. They rely on creating division within society, mobilizing a national identity that only applies to few — under fascism, all politics have become identity politics.
They rely on creating division within society, mobilizing a national identity that only applies to few — under fascism, all politics have become identity politics.
PM Modi has brought India back in time, mobilizing Hindu nationalism to ensure that he stays in power, despite having done nothing for the Indian economy. India is backsliding, making no progress to address the massive, increasing wealth gaps that keep people in poverty.
President Trump has also brought the United States back in time, with a return to explicit racism and white nationalism. His rhetoric and policy operates on the idea that white people are going to be replaced with changing demographics, primarily the influx of immigrants, and that actions must be taken in order to prevent that.
These leaders have been able to capitalize off the evidence of changing demographics in order to uphold the status quo by playing into social divisions and fear of replacement — this rhetoric and action have become major parts of their campaigns and platforms. Both Modi and Trump have been able to utilize growing public polarization for their own gain and their own agenda, which includes maintaining current power structures and hierarchies that will keep them at the top.
India has a long, bloody history of violence and conflict between Hindus and Muslims, going all the way back to the time of the Mughal Empire. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims continued to fluctuate, being utilized by the British to further expand their colonial rule, and eventually leading to the split between India and Pakistan. Since then, tensions remain, specifically causing problems in Kashmir, which is now held in part by both Pakistan and India.
The party that PM Modi belongs to, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was able to use the Kashmir conflict and general Hindu-Muslim tension in order to develop a Hindu-nationalist campaign that would appeal to Hindus across the country. This rhetoric creates an environment that empowers Hindu nationalists to take action against Muslims without consequence.
In 2019, a video of a Hindu nationalist mob lynching a Muslim man after accusing him of theft made its way around the internet. This was just one of many instances of religious hate crimes that occurred after Modi’s rise to power. A Hate Crime checker even found that 90% of hate crimes came after Modi stepped into power.
An increase in violence was paralleled in the United States after President Trump got elected, but the hate crimes were racially motivated, rather than religiously. Trump has emboldened and empowered white nationalism, while invoking a sense of nostalgia to a time of explicit racism with his catchphrase, “Make America Great Again.” According to a Washington Post study, counties which hosted Trump rallies in 2016 saw a 226% increase in reported hate crimes since the elections.
Trump has consistently refused to acknowledge the history of explicit and implicit racism in the United States. Additionally, he continually refuses to denounce white nationalism and white supremacy, knowing that without that voter bloc, he can’t win. By emboldening white nationalism and increasing divisions between the American people, Trump retains and gains more power to further his agenda of white supremacy and American exceptionalism.
In response to attempts to create divisions and further oppression, the public has taken to protesting in both countries. To combat that, both governments have employed forms of suppression in order to maintain power and thus, the status quo.
Journalists are being arrested and attacked to keep media bias towards the BJP in India. Protestors are also arrested in both countries. Democracy is supposed to be by the people, for the people, but Trump and Modi both no longer adhere to these tenets of democracy. They now exist and rule from a platform of authoritarianism.
“…the leaders must dedicate themselves to an untiring effort for unity among the oppressed—and unity of the leaders with the oppressed—in order to achieve liberation.” (Freire, p. 172)
The question then becomes, where do we go from here? Paulo Freire has centered his theory of liberation around unification and dialogue, under a revolutionary leader that dedicates themself to unity. The issue lies in finding the leaders that would be willing to dedicate themselves to fighting for liberation. It seems that the only way to fight against authoritarianism and fascism is exercising our individual right to protest. We must resist.
Last updated 10/18/20
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