Catalysts which have changed India for good

by Saeed Naqvi | Published: 00:00, Mar 29,2020

 
 

WHAT will the world look like after the coronavirus induced shut down? I am not in possession of a crystal for global survey but I can activate my intuition on the basis of two stories I have covered. I was in the US for the 2016 presidential elections and I have followed the 2020 drama within the Democratic Party. In both the campaigns Democrats have been in convulsions not to select a nominee but to keep out the one they do not want — Bernie Sanders. And now they are all mimicking the Sanders platform. The coronavirus has brought out in bold relief, the idea of Bernie Sanders as the panacea for the general distress. The platform the senator from Vermont stood on was total anathema to the great American establishment, its soul torn between Mammon and Joe McCarthy. The pandemic has brought the powerful establishment to its knees. People now matter and democracy begins to look like one. Neither the democrats nor the republicans will ever mention Sanders by name. That would be like eating crow. But they are all furtively lifting the Sanders manifesto. The idea of Sanders in today’s context is larger than the possible nomination of Joe Biden.

In the Indian context, the idea of Shaheen Bagh, has likewise acquired a post pandemic, durability. The statement issued by ‘Shaheen Bagh protests’ speaks for itself. ‘As we continue our struggle to be heard by our government, we wish to reiterate that we have merely suspended public gatherings, our movement is on. We will use other means to continue to resist CAA, NPR, NRC. For our detractors, it would be a sobering exercise to compare our protests with any in recent history.’

‘Shaheen Bagh all over the country now soars with our strong resolve and blooms in our hearts. Each one of us is now a Shaheen Bagh.’

The authors of the statement, from protest sites across the country, sign off with ‘Inquilab’, which means ‘revolution’, a term Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been using to describe their challenge. And in the American context, revolutionary his platform is: Medicare for all, $15 an hour as minimum wages, expanding social security, no tuition fees, housing for everyone who needs it.’ Does this list sound all that outlandish in the time of coronavirus? What explains the eruption of hashtags, and twitters: ‘We deserve Sanders.’

This chant by the voters in total defiance of the Democratic establishment is not surprising. I shall never forget the banners in Philadelphia explaining why Trump won. ‘If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, you make Trump inevitable.’

It was a prescient statement. During the 2016 campaign as in 2020 when Sanders was on a roll, he had sensed the electorate’s mood. It was totally against the Washington centred establishment. While Sanders was hammering away at the establishment from the left, Donald Trump was doing exactly the same from the Right. When even Jeb Bush failed the nomination bid, the Trump candidacy seemed inevitable. At this stage, Laura Bush, the former first lady, let the cat out of the bag. ‘Let’s support Hillary Clinton then’, she squealed. In other words, the Bush family, the central column of the Republicans, sees Hillary Clinton as a member of the same club which goes under the label ‘Washington establishment’. The same discredited Establishment that electorates everywhere are disgusted by. They find themselves hemmed in by two party systems serving the same corporate interests.

Even though it was universally accepted that Hillary Clinton was untrustworthy, indeed a liar, the Democratic party hierarchy chose to keep its corporate interests in humour even if it meant electoral defeat.

Three months before the 2016 election, film maker Michael Moore was prescient. ‘This election is only about who gets out to vote, who gets the most rabid supporters – the kind of candidate who inspires people to get out of bed at 5.00am on election day because a wall needs to be built. Muslims are killing us! Women are taking over! First in line with the polls.’

Moore was emphatic: ‘Those who vote for Clinton are those who would do so only to keep Trump out. They are not running towards someone they love; they are running away from someone they dislike.’ Therefore personal persuasion on a large level was required and it wasn’t available to Clinton. ‘Those depressed at Bernie having been grounded would need extraordinary persuasion to walk to the polling booths to vote for Hillary.’

Had the Democratic Establishment learnt a lesson from their 2016 reversal, they would have seen the popular surge for Sanders as an asset. But they have once again produced a candidate (most likely) whom Laura Bush from the other side of the aisle would reach out to in preference to Trump. It is a compelling speculation: would Laura Bush and the Democratic establishment have acquiesced in Trump rather than risk American capitalism in the hands of a Democratic Socialist?

And now look at the alchemy of coronavirus: even Trump is dusting up measures which professor Jean Cohen, a political theory expert at Colombia University, describes with great emphasis, ‘that’s not free market capitalism.’ She offers descriptive choices: ‘regulated capitalism; interventionist state or Democratic Socialism.’ Private profit making is making way for policies which serve the public good.’

Ed Murrow, the great CBS reporter, had single-handedly and successfully taken on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against Americans who deviated from raw capitalism. Has Bernie Sanders altered the terms of the socialism-capitalism debate in the very citadel of capitalism?

In the same way, an apolitical movement spontaneously evolving at Shaheen Bagh, has the potential to tone down the shrill tenor of Indian politics. Coronavirus has cast a pall on all our lives but, as Shakespeare said, ‘There is a soul of goodness in all things evil, would men observingly distil it out.’

 

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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