24 Mar 2024  |   07:11am IST

The Rise of the Right in World Politics

Sushila Sawant Mendes

The fever to the elections of the Indian Parliament has already begun as our country is going to the polls in the next two months. The left in India has shrunk beyond recognition and it is expected to shrink further. How much liberal space will remain after the election? – is a question before those who worship democracy. The space for political competition and civil society is also shrinking. 2024 is the election year. This is the season of elections, as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union) are to hold national elections. More voters than ever in the history; almost half of the world’s population is involved. India, U.S.A, Bangladesh, Mexico, Tunisia are some of these countries but the world is closely watching three important events. One on 4th June another whether Donald Trump will triumph in November and  the results of the first Parliamentary  elections to the European Union after Brexit  scheduled between 6–9 June 2024. The right wing populist, Brexit Party has re-christened itself as Reform UK.

History, in making or remaking of governments across the world has witnessed many twirls and turns, sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right. After World War I, there was the rise of fascists and dictators like Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, General Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal. All these leaders formed the government with popular support. Patriotic zeal to recover lost pride of the nation after Germany’s disastrous defeat in World War I led to the creation of Hitler. Italy was a disappointed victor facing post-war problems and economic ruin and rising national debt. Mussolini’s glorification of the State, Nation and War healed wounded pride! Both dictators were anti-Semitic or  against Jews. The rise of the far right appeared to be a trailer of building the castle of hate politics. Jingoism and nationalism are strong cocktails to help win elections!

The Portuguese elections have just ended. It was the rise of the far right political party of Portugal Chega (which means ‘enough’) which was leading till the penultimate day of the counting of votes that caught the attention of people all over the world. Chega founded as late as 2019 had quadrupled its Parliamentary representation from two elected members in 2022 to 50 in 2024 in a 230 seat legislature and emerged as the third largest party. This party ran a campaign promising to “clean up Portugal”, clamp down on immigration and implement measures such as chemical castration for some sex offenders. Full marks to the outgoing Socialist Party and the incoming centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) leader Luís Montenegro who ruled out any tie-up with Chega. Something to learn, that there can be no negotiations on ideology! 

Portugal, ever since it transitioned into a multiparty democracy in the 1970s, has been seen as one of Europe’s most stable liberal democracies. But the March 10, 2024 parliamentary election results suggest that the country cannot remain an island when far-right populist parties are on the rise elsewhere in Europe. Chega has a cleaar rural vote base. Besides its conservatism, xenophobia, and anti- gypsyism, it also has supporters of the free market. As such they are closer to Spain’s VOX (which gained 15 % in 2019’s Spanish election), identified as right-wing to far-right by academics and journalists. Over the past decade, right-wing populist parties have been working to expand and deepen their cooperation in several areas. 

The wind has blown across Europe. We see this with figures like Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia, (Brothers of Italy) or France’s Marine Le Pen of the Rassemblement National (National Rally) and Éric Zemmour of Reconquête formed in 2021. Last year’s elections in Greece saw two small far-right parties make it to parliament. Germany saw the rise of Alternative Für Deutschland (AfD-Alternative for Germany) famous for its adoption of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic platform. I was a witness to the roadside meetings of the Fratelli d’Italia party in Rome a few days before the elections in September 2022. There were whispers that this far right party with “that woman” Meloni as the leader, were the frontrunners. The prediction rang true and the ghost of Mussolini was resurrected in Italy 80 years after his death!

It is no secret that right wing radical parties use hate speech to mobilize their followers and their force is based on mutually supportive ideas:  Poor living conditions for ‘sons of the soil’ and resentment against immigrants. There is a structural racism in European society that provides fuel for mobilizing that resentment. This creates the idea of the “other", (sometimes anti-Islamist phobia) that is responsible for all problems. People supported the far right politics of social seclusion that already existed in society. Last year the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamist right wing, Freedom Party of the Netherlands secured the highest number of votes, 37 in a house of 150.It was a majority vote and its leader Geert Wilders spent many months of discussions with the Centre Right Liberals (VVD), the B.B. Farmers Party and the New Social Contract Party (NSC).Till today it has not been successful to form a coalition government with the support of the other political parties. Yet another lesson of no compromise on ideology! In Europe those elected by the mandate of the people remain faithful. In India our mind-set is so used to negotiating ideology in the name of ‘development’ to justify betrayal. 

The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute (Varieties of Democracy Research Project) which has a unique approach to conceptualizing and measuring democracy has figured India in the top 10 autocratising countries of the world along with El Salvador, Turkey and Hungary. India, which was downgraded to the status of an “electoral autocracy” in 2018, has declined even further on multiple metrics to emerge as “one of the worst autocratizers”, according to the 'Democracy Report 2024' released by V-Dem. It also reports the Indian government as being aligned with right-wing politics.

On the other hand, a survey conducted by The Pew Research Centre, Washington DC, a nonpartisan fact tank that provides information on issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world through public opinion polling and social science research, states that Indians say it is important to respect all religions, but major religious groups see little in common and want to live separately. Most Indians opine that it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.”

With the Presidential elections of USA approaching this November, election campaigns are heating up with each passing day. One needs to examine the rise of the ‘right’ in rural America where there are problems of poverty, unemployment and community and racial hatred against the immigrants as the “others”. Trump’s political trajectory of personalized politics has experience in reaching out to this electorate for his vote bank–this is the new norm, unhealthy in a democracy 

The ‘other’ in the post-World War I period was the Jew, later it became the immigrant and the Muslim. Today the Jews and the Muslims–(considered ‘others’) are at war with each other in the Middle East, while the nations of the world can do much but do precious little.

(The writer is a Professor, Author & Govt of Goa’s Best College Teacher Awardee)


Idhar Udhar