Vinod Mubayi

The invasion of the seat of government, the US Capitol, in the world’s oldest democracy on January 6, 2021 by violent, right-wing, white supremacist mobs owing allegiance to President Donald Trump, has focused attention on the role exercised by a democratically elected Leader who incites his followers to commit destructive acts. The proximate reason for the invasion was to stop the certification by Congress of the victory of Joe Biden over Trump in the November 2020 election.

Attacks by white supremacist mobs on what they disdain such as black Americans or immigrants has a long history in a country founded as a colonial-settler state that carried out a genocide of the native American population and practiced de jure slavery until the civil war in the 1860s. Even after the so-called emancipation of the slaves it took barely a decade before de facto slavery known as Jim Crow that lasted almost another century was re-established in the American south following the period known as Reconstruction.  While the civil rights movements of the 1960s removed some of the formal legal institutional racist structures, ingrained racist practices and attitudes have persisted among elements of the white majority, particularly the police.

Historically, the Democratic Party in the American south was the main purveyor of institutional racism but this role was assumed on a national level by the Republican Party following Nixon’s southern strategy in the late 1960s. Ever since then, most Republican politicians have openly encouraged white supremacists and Trump took this to a whole new level. While Trump’s attempted coup failed in its immediate purpose and he had to leave office, Trumpism survives as a force among his numerous supporters and in a large majority of the Republican party. The resentment and rage that fuels Trumpistas may worsen if the neo-liberal economy continues to deepen existing economic inequality and the culture wars remain unresolved. Thus, the specter of such mobs invading government buildings perhaps in state capitals rather than Washington, DC cannot be ignored.

Meanwhile, in the world’s largest democracy, mobocracy has been refined to an art by the ruling establishment of Modi and Shah. Most of this in recent years has occurred at a low level in BJP ruled states with tacit encouragement provided to mobsters belonging to BJP or one of the other Hindutva organizations to harass and torment and even kill minorities, mainly Muslims, and Dalits. A spate of laws criminalizing consumption of beef and cow slaughter, inter-religious marriage, and alleged religious conversions, has given license to mobs of goondas who proclaim themselves militant Hindus to pounce on individual or small groups of Muslims while police look the other way or actively participate in the harassment and violence. This practice reached its peak in late February and March, 2020 in the wake of the BJP’s attempt to denigrate and derail the very successful peaceful, non-violent demonstrations against the communal and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) legislation. Violent mobs were quite openly instigated and egged on by local BJP leaders to intimidate, attack and, in several cases, kill Muslims who had dared to oppose CAA. The response of the Delhi police, which comes under the Union Home Ministry headed by Shah, ranged from active participation to feigned ignorance. Many who dared to counter the attacks and defend themselves and their supporters who marched and demonstrated in their cause have been jailed on a variety of trumped-up charges.

This use of mobs along with other measures to render democracy dysfunctional has been termed an executive coup by Suhas Palshikar in an incisive article in the Indian Express newspaper of January 12, 2021. He writes: “Executive coups are a product of a triad: Constructing a constituency of willing mobs, corrosion of institutions and producing a political establishment unconcerned with democratic norms.” The Modi-Shah effort appears so far to be much more durable and longer lasting than Trump’s hasty and short-lived attempt at forestalling the certification of Biden’s victory by the US Congress.

Palshikar emphasizes that the ruling BJP in India has been able to construct “a constituency of the mob” through a “carefully orchestrated and sustained use of mobs which are excited prior to being unleashed” using “a network of ideologically motivated organizations [that] systematically whips up mob mentality among sections that are emotionally pushed to the precipice.” It is thus able to use mob politics “in a nuanced manner with a rhetorical discourse legitimating the mob as the people.” Trump tried this too with his MAGA rallies particularly on the morning of January 6, 2021 when he directly incited his followers to attack the Capitol.

But the key difference with respect to the relative success of the executive coup in India under Modi until now and its relative failure in the US under Trump so far may lie in the performance of those other institutions especially the courts in adjudicating the claims and actions taken by the leaders. Despite the elevation of right-wing judges to federal courts by the Republican majority in the US Senate during Trump’s presidency, Trump’s avalanche of claims of election fraud after he lost in November 2020 were decisively rejected by both state and federal courts. The Indian courts, on the other hand, have till now, in general, supinely kowtowed to executive power, seemingly cowed by the majoritarian sentiments whipped up by Modi now prevailing in India. They have refused to question, let alone overturn, some of the more blatant assaults on the Indian constitution by the Modi regime.

To make matters worse, much of the Indian mainstream media, barring a few honorable exceptions, has functioned as a cheerleader for the BJP regime. The complete support of big capital in India to Modi has facilitated this process. The Modi government has fully reciprocated this favor as witnessed by its fervent promotion of “market-friendly” policies, such as the new agricultural laws, now being vigorously opposed by Indian farmers all over the country. In contrast, the US media by and large has been more critical of the Trump regime

In conclusion, one may note the bonhomie between Trump and Modi demonstrated in the Howdy Modi jamboree in Houston, Texas and the Namaste Trump spectacle in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. They share many personality traits such as a disdain for facts and truth, a pronounced authoritarian streak and a craving for adoring masses, aka mobs, they can incite through their rhetoric. The difference, of course, is that Trump is gone from the political scene unless he or a clone — there are several candidates–, reappears in 2024. Modi, on the other hand, is still going strong aided by the Hindutva frenzy he and the shadowy RSS behind him have fostered unless the widespread and unprecedented ongoing farmers agitation reins him in. That, however, remains to be seen.

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