Mainstream, VOL LV No 12 New Delhi March 11, 2017
Bigotry Must be Condemned—in India or America
Sunday 12 March 2017, by
There have been three recent incidents of attacks on Indians in the United States and it remains to be seen whether they are the manifestation of a “new normal”. A combustible mix is forming in America’s political economy.
The racial bigotry in that country is legion. Even an “African-American” President couldn’t make difference to the entrenched racial prejudice amongst white people against fellow country-men with dark skin.
But what makes the current situation parti-cularly dangerous is that there are important people who happen to hold positions of high authority in that country who wear their badge of racial bigotry with pride on their sleeve. None other than Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist in the White House and a permanent invitee to the National Security Council meetings, can be counted as one of them. The man apparently raved on TV shows repeatedly about a scurrilous novel characterising the archetypal Indian as “shit-eating” and as “turd-eater”.
When such third-raters and semi-literate fanatics hold powerful positions and are influencing the US’ immigration policies, the loud message going all around in the country is predictable. Unsurprisingly, “Get out of my country” has become a national slogan. It was the rant of murderers who attacked the hapless Indians in the recent incidents.
A certain national mood is building up in the US and unless and until the best and the brightest stand up and push back at it, the rising tide of racism may surge.
Secondly, there is also an economic dimension to what is happening. The Indian migrants have been on the whole a well-educated class of people and have done relatively well in their adopted country. Their affluence has apparently become an eyesore to the working class White American and to those who have lately dropped out of the middle class in the globalisation era, who see the “foreigners” as imposters who have poached into their secure world and caused them and their families much hardship.
Of course, it is an irrational emotion, because globalisation is bound to have losers. But it exists in the US today, and it may become more vociferous and belligerent under a presidency which won the mandate to rule the country by exploiting these very same complexes and socio-economic realities in contemporary American society.
In a manner of speaking, Trump is as awkwardly placed as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been in our country to rein in fundamentalists who happen to be their respective “core constituency”. In the 2020 election, Trump will most certainly adopt similar campaign style that Modi chose in UP to whip up people’s baser instincts to garner votes. Succinctly put, a dialectic appears when demagoguery chooses to feed on bigotry.
Trump’s inaugural speech contained disturbing signs of such a phenomenon. In the civil war-like conditions building up within America’s political class in the recent period, state authority and rule of law begin to weaken. We are witnessing an extraordinary spectacle of the CIA undermining Trump and he in turn picking from Barack Obama’s copybook of insurrection to settle scores. Day by day, what began as a farce and a moveable feast to the senses is degenerating into a savage fight with tooth and claw.
Now, in this combustible mix, we also need to factor in that America is traditionally a very violent society. It is an unusual nation which made the cult of violence to vanquish the continent’s original inhabitants into the stuff of folklore. There is easy access to weapons, there is pervasive gun culture, and there is a track record of people reaching out for their guns at the drop of a hat.
All in all, therefore, Modi must speak up—just as he did with the Australian Prime Minister. Modi may indeed turn out to be an ineffectual sparrow beating wings in the void. But Trump must nonetheless know we also have feelings and national pride, and we have an alike motto of “India First” in our foreign policy, too. After all, Modi runs a government that takes pride in putting the welfare of the Indian Diaspora as above other concerns in the country’s diplomacy.
Of course, all this is putting the American lobby within our elite in a quandary—torn between loyalty to home and second home. They may plead helplessness by taking the easy route that the two Indians who lost their lives were “American citizens”, not Indian passport holders. But that’s sophistry with a capital ‘S’.
Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).