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Politics Of Resentment

Politics Of Resentment

A Claim to Victimhood by the Majority Community, Consequent Resentment

Francis Fukuyama in his latest book “Identity” (Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2018) studies at length the new phenomenon of the ‘Politics of Resentment’ at the world level. He says that the choice of Donald Trump as the President of America was a reaction of the majority community to what they considered an ‘over-concern’ of the liberal Americans to the cause of the African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, women, and other marginalized groups. Trump’s cynicism makes it evident.

The Trump supporters have borrowed from the liberals their own weapon: the claim to victimhood. All they want to do, say Trump loyalists, is to “take back” their country into their own hands, as though it had been stolen from them (Fukuyama 154).  This is their lament: “You have always been a core member of our great nation, but foreigners, immigrants, and your own elite compatriots have been conspiring to hold you down; your country is no more your own, and you are not respected in your own land.” They look negatively at the attention given by liberal Americans to the weaker communities and immigrants; it has become a “neuralgic issue” for them (Ibid 89). Thus, the stronger feels exploited by the weaker. White nationalism is on the rise in the US, admits Fukuyama (Ibid 120).

Identity Politics Silences all Other Issues

In this way, “Identity Politics” moves from the Left to Right-wingers (Ibid 119), from the weaker communities to the stronger. It distracts you from all other issues and grievances, e.g. growing inequality, price rise, human trafficking, drug addiction, and others. Identity Politics sees all who differ from them as enemies. Their claims are nonnegotiable (Ibid 122).  We, certainly, have sympathy for the long settled Americans who feel that their identity and culture are under threat. That problem needs to be addressed. But even they cannot deny that America’s prosperity at every age depended on new immigrants.

Now, coming to India, the anger of the dominant majority is not so much against immigrants as against minority communities and those that were exploited for centuries. The liberals and intellectuals who defend the ‘identity and cultures’ of the weak are called “urban naxals.”  It is the majoritarians that claim to be victimized. They say that their culture, values and traditions are in danger, and ask them to be defended. They insist that films should be censured according to their criteria, books banned, criticisms silenced, media personnel and the activists “smashed” (Ibid 122).

Politics of Intimidation

Speaking on Mahatma Gandhi’s day, Congress leaders referred to the “politics of intimidation” and imposition of “artificial uniformity.”  Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi assuming office pointed to “issues that cut and divide us and make us hate and despise those who are different.”  He said, one should not interfere in personal matters like what one should “wear, eat, read and drink.”  Things would have been very different in Kashmir if the BJP had adopted a policy of dialogue, not of dominance. They clearly lost an opportunity to create an atmosphere of trust, and totally alienated the people. The new Governor admitted, “Alienation corrodes democracy.” 

When the Indian leadership rejected Imran Khan’s offer for dialogue, he felt concerned about the “small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”  

Resentment Against Non-Recognition

The point that Fukuyama wants to make is that all people long for recognition. Everyone has a sense of dignity. Earlier, smaller and humbler societies used to feel disrespected. Today it is the other way round. It is the dominant groups and nations that are calling for recognition. Their claim to attention is to their ‘superiority.’ Fascism has returned with vengeance. Trump is unabashed about his claims to ‘superiority’ for himself and his people, as Modi, Abe, and Xi in their own contexts, in their own ways.

New leaders are emerging who seem to have the same DNA: Putin, Erdogen, Orban, Kaczynski, May (Ibid 74). Others are waiting: in France, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Hungary, Poland, and other places. “America first’ is echoed in more and more nations with their own name first: growing pride in their identity, an assertion of their greatness, resentment against non-recognition. Exaggeration on one side invites exaggeration on the other. One learns from the other.

Viktor Orban says Hungary wants to regain her self-esteem. Putin wants to win for Russia the Super Power status which, he feels, America had snatched away from them. Xi Jinping laments a 100 years of humiliation that China suffered. Hindutva adherents speak of a 1000 years of Hindu humiliation. Osama bin Laden felt pained at the humiliation of the Muslims; he wanted to re-establish the glory of the Islamic civilization. African-Americans launched the “Black Lives Matter” movement in response to the irresponsible killings of their people. Sexual assaults made women affirm their dignity (Ibid 8). And now, feminist exaggerations are beginning to stir a masculine reaction in some quarters. Trump symbolizes precisely that.

Balance is Good for Efforts at the Service of Every Cause

Fukuyama seeks to trace this modern problem to its origins. The absence of religion left a void in human hearts which psychoanalysts sought to fill. Many of them denounced ‘organized culture’ as an iron cage imprisoning the individual’s inner self. People were invited to be ‘authentic.’(Ibid 96).  Some followed Nietzsche’s thought:  each one is free to ‘create’ his/her own set of values, norms and goals in life. Such a philosophy of life could produce a Hitler on the one hand or a suicide-bomber on the other. It has done so too. Life together would become impossible.

Socially inclined as human being are, such a form of individualism leads to alienation, a sense of insecurity, a longing to belong, loss of self-esteem for the mass of people. Thus multiplied counseling centres to boost the morale of people and the number of mental health professionals increased. Religion itself turned therapeutic (Ibid 99). Preachers began to speak more of a ‘purpose driven life’ than of eternal destiny. They taught that happiness really depended on self-esteem (Ibid 100). Universities led the therapeutic revolution (Ibid 102). According to Christopher Lasch exaggerated forms of self-esteem leads to narcissism which characterizes many in modern society. Self-esteem has turned self-conceit, with people making ‘superiority’ claims (Ibid 98). Such an attitude has brought over-zeal into the cause of feminism, environment, promotion of the disabled, of indigenous people, immigrants, gays, lesbians, transgender (Ibid 105). Then begins a reaction. Balance is good even for efforts in the best cause, failing which resentment rises on either side.

When a Leader’s Ambition Taps the Resource of a Community’s Resentment

Ambitious leaders live on resentment. Resentments in each case originally may have been caused by different reasons. But pushy leaders link themselves with those grievances (real or perceived) of the people who feel that their nation, culture or religion is not respected. Thus, an individual’s fretful ambition gets wedded to a community’s grievances, and the resentment becomes collective and inflated. And he/she comes to symbolize a community’s/nation’s/religion’s collective identity and pride. He acts as a Nietzschean Superman holding aloft the greatness of his people. Followers accept his leadership at an emotional moment when their collective identity and glory are proclaimed. The issue is more psychological than religious for people in search of a sense of belonging. Politicized radical Islam offers them, not so much of faith, as community, acceptance, dignity; identity, meaning, pride (Ibid 70-71). And they are ready to die for their new-found brotherhood.

Fukuyama says, Identity Politics explains much of world politics today, which expresses itself in ‘cultural nationalism and politicized Islam’ (Ibid xv). When religious fanaticism gets linked with national self-projection, things go worse as seen in the Middle East and among ME men in western countries. We have witnessed highly exaggerated forms of nationalism and religious extremism in recent years (Ibid 22). Of late, political Islam is spreading also to Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia. This in turn is awakening Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. More and more political leaders are seeking to draw support from religious energies. Religious groups are part of political alliances in Japan, Poland, US, and Israel (Ibid 75). Modiji’s Hindutva nationalism belongs to the same brand.

Emergence of Controlled Democracies

Meantime democratic values are disappearing from democracies. The financial crisis of 2008, the Great Recession, Greek insolvency, etc. have shaken the confidence of people even in Western democracies in the ‘liberal world order.’ They feel that they cannot trust in the self-interested elite that guide the world economic and political processes.  More and more young nations are moving in the direction of ‘controlled democracies,’ with a mere show of elections. There is a ‘democratic recession,’ says Larry Diamond says.  Narendra Modi and Amit Shah stand for a democracy with a majoritarian tilt. As Xi speaks of socialism with Chinese characteristics (a contradiction for many), Modiji claims to be leading a ‘secular state with Hindutva characteristics.’

Here too Identity Politics comes alive. The Hindu identity counts. Every citizen should have some relationship with Hinduism, be it Yoga practice, Suryanamakar, a visit to Kailash, wearing the sacred thread, erecting a cow-shelter, singing Vande Mataram, praising the Prime Minister. Everything else gets marginalized: price rise, rupee devaluation, unemployment, growing pollution of cities and rivers, Muslim harassment, Dalit oppression. Acche Din still remain as long as Hindutva reigns on high, though three infants die every two minutes, even though there are 20,596 manual scavengers in the country many of whom die in sewers due to inadequate security measures. But our leadership is happy, because since 2014 India has 601 more new billionaires, and because we are heading for a 3 trillion dollar economy.

However, such insensitivity has limits. Recently the Maldivians went to vote in big numbers and threw out Abdulla Yameen who was heading a ‘controlled democracy’ in our neighbourhood; they chose Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. In 2019 we shall know whether Indians are happy with Indian secularism with Hindutva characteristics and its form of ‘controlled democracy.’

A Change is Possible

History is full of instances when people changed. So, we live by hope. And for sure, before elections sudden conversions take place. Recently the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, surprised the nation with a few of his utterances. He emphasized the need for inclusion and pluralism, criticized sectarianism and majoritarianism, admitted that Muslims have been targeted, promised that the RSS would remain committed to the Constitutional values. One could not expect anything better. However, he immediately went on to call for the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya over Babri Masjid and the removal of article 370 of the Constitution that gives a special status to Kashmir. We do not know how far we can take Mohanji’s initial words seriously.

Healing of Memories is Possible

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, recently expressed his sorrow that his creation had been turned into a “monster” by its users. He hopes to initiate other helpful ventures to make amends for the misuse of instruments that were meant to bring people together. A change of direction is possible for everyone at every stage. This is possible for our political machinery too after disappointing society for five years. A helpful change alone can bring healing.

During a visit to Israel, Chancellor Angela Merkel laid a wreath on a stone containing the ashes of Jewish death camp victims. She said, “Germany has a perpetual responsibility to remember those crimes and confront anti-semitism, xenophobia, hate and violence.”  A healing of the memories of the last few years will prove most helpful.

(Published on 22nd October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 43)