We’re in the hands of primitive men. Two decades into the 21st century, the UK, the USA, and India, are ruled by men whose grasp of governance is so tribal, so corrupt, and so self-interested as to render them obsolete to the modern order. And yet there they are. The only silver lining, the only beacon of hope being Donald Trump’s failed bid for a second term and imminent (we hope) departure from the White House.
With a pandemic raging across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people dying, we had every right to expect that our leaders, Modi, Trump, Johnson, would step up to the plate, rise to the challenge; demonstrate thoughtful and strategic intelligence, prioritise the protection of their people (a government’s first duty by the way), take their lead from the scientists and doctors. Make the tough choices, implement the necessary rules and lockdowns. Thus fulfilling their responsibilities, discharging their political duty. That was and still is the standard to which they should be held.
Along with Covid, lucky old England was further blessed. That blessing’s name being Brexit. The most retrograde and self-damaging act for a country to embark on. Particularly in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of putting Brexit on hold and focusing on limiting Covid’s destruction as it tore through the population, resulting in England having Europe’s highest death toll, our Prime Minister was determined to ‘Get Brexit done.’ Not for the sake of the people, but for the sake of his tribe; for the tax haven’s they needed, for the brutal capitalism they wanted and to appease the shadowy power pulling the strings (an even more primitive man).
England may be ruled by a prime minister who attended one of the world’s most elite schools, whose accent is as upper-class as the queen’s, but whose political and social understanding is as limited as that of a Mafia boss. Johnson, Trump and Modi, may come from vastly different backgrounds, yet their trajectory is the same: taking all power into their hands, appropriating the country’s resources for their cronies, their tribe and themselves, while reducing democracy to a mere façade.
Fortunately, there’s a glimmer of hope and lessons to learn, particularly for those of us in the UK. Joe Biden’s victory in the US and the on-going farmers’ protests in India, show how these primitive but powerful men can be challenged. The challenge needs to be organised, unwavering and tapping into hitherto disunited groups. In India, it was the unity of all Indian farmers, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian. In the US it was the ongoing resistance to Trump, with the addition of a new initiative, They See Blue also known as #DesiBlue, for the first time mobilising South Asian American voters, the fastest growing group of voters in the States.
The historic farmers’ protests in India, have mobilised hundreds of thousands in every community across the country, and generated passionate support from the smallest village to the far-flung cities of the international diaspora.
Millions of Indian farmers are protesting against three laws recently passed on a voice vote in the Indian legislature, amongst unprecedented scenes of chaos and tumult. The laws change the way farmers can sell their produce, take away the guaranteed minimum price, and leave farmers at the mercy of corporations. The farmers call them The Black Laws and are supported by many commentators who’ve highlighted the flaws and lack of protection for farmers in these bills. In convoys of biblical proportions, farmers and their families took to India’s highways, in tractors and trolleys, determined to get to Delhi. Despite encountering police barricades, tear gas, water cannon and beatings, the farmers determinedly pressed on, eventually reaching Delhi, where vibrant protest cities have emerged, particularly at Singhu and Tikri, as well as in other regions such as Shahjahanpur; their numbers constantly being swelled with new arrivals. Capturing the imagination of India and its far-flung diaspora.
The farmers, men and women, are united against the new farm laws, want them repealed and aren’t about to give up, despite having to camp out in the spine chilling cold of December. Tragically, over 40 farmers have already lost their lives. Prime Minister Modi’s reaction has been true to form, branding the farmers as terrorists, Khalistanis, pawns of the opposition parties, uneducated etc. Langars (communal kitchens providing free meals) have been set up and feed not just the protestors, but the poor communities in the local areas, as well as the police officers guarding them. A protestor reports chatting with a police officer, who said he doesn’t want the protests to end, because he’s never eaten such delicious food.
Across India and abroad an ocean of support and passion has risen to help them: doctors have set up clinics, students have brought books, money is being donated; truckloads of food, blankets and other essentials continue to arrive daily, including twenty tons of pineapples from south India.
Modi and his politics of divide and rule, his latitude to corporate and corrupt entities, are being challenged for the first time. A primitive man who thinks in primitive terms of what power means, has been presented with a momentous repudiation of his ideas. The farmers have refused to engage in violence or destruction, refused to engage in Modi’s methods. Further, whenever a farmer has been interviewed by press or TV, they’ve shown a full and intelligent understanding of the new farm laws and the consequences for them and their families. Modi’s learnt he’s not dealing with uneducated yokels, no matter how much he’s tried to paint them as such. Knowledge, reason and courage are opposing him in a way he finds difficult to understand. As Badri Raina writes, comparing mob actions to the farmers’ protests: ‘…the power of argument and analysis is always a more dependable and lasting source of transformation in history, after all the killings have done their worst.’
Tavleen Singh, writing in the Indian Express puts her finger on it: ‘Till the farmers brought their trolleys, tractors and their protest to the borders of Delhi, Narendra Modi had the image of being the most powerful Prime Minister of India ever. This has changed. For the first time in seven years, he is beginning to look weak. Not just because the farmers openly attack him personally on national television but because he seems no longer to know what to do.’
Tavleen Singh also points out how Modi’s other repressions are now coming under the microscope, such as the brutal suppression of dissent and the efforts to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims. ‘The farmers have shown him that this kind of contempt for the people is not something that even the most powerful political leaders can get away with. Modi has been forced finally to step out of his echo chamber into the real world.’
On the other side of the world, across the Atlantic, another primitive man has received an even greater affront to his ego: the loss of a presidential election.
The resistance to Trump began as soon as he was elected, symbolised by the Women’s March on 21st January 2017. The largest single-day protest in US history. However the US has been riven with the divisions stoked by Trump and his allies. From Charlottesville to children in cages to the killing of George Floyd, the US has ridden the roller-coaster of hate, violence and death. Finally awakening the force and muscle of a quiet, hard-working community: the South Asians of America. They See Blue, aka #DesiBlue was born in a Silicon Valley backyard, as four friends of Indian origin, vented their disgust and anger at Trump’s presidency. They decided they could: “…leverage a cultural connection to advance progressive South Asian civic engagement.”
“…What’s happened in the last four years has just made our skin crawl,’ explained Rajiv Bhateja later, one of the co-founders. Although #DesiBlue is a catchy and snappy name, the word ‘Desi’ applies to India. Cleverly turning DesiBlue into They See Blue (blue being the colour of the Democrat Party), allowed the founders to engage with South Asians of other origins such as those from Afghanistan, the Caribbean, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the general Diaspora.
‘Asians in America, tend to come from professional backgrounds,’ said Simran, an old friend of mine as we zoom-chatted, and I asked her about They See Blue, remembering she’d mentioned volunteering with them. ‘We had comfortable lives, we had our dinner parties and barbecues. But Trump’s rhetoric really scared us, and we realised we could lose all we have. Inequality and injustice has always been there, but Indians didn’t feel it. Till Trump came to power. Then the BLM movement awakened the consciousness of young Asian people. The youngsters aren’t afraid.’ Simran continued, ‘South Asians now recognise they’ve played a big part in America’s prosperity but they also need to play a big part in its politics.’
With the aim of turning Republican seats into Democrat seats, for their first campaign, the founders of They See Blue targeted two Republican seats in California’s Central Valley with ‘laser-focused strategy’. An ever-growing pool of volunteers came together to do door-to-door canvassing, phone-banking, writing post cards, texting and distributing flyers.
And they did it! They flipped the seats. One of the Democrat candidates winning with just 862 votes. They See Blue then turned their attention to the presidential election, establishing chapters in swing states and electorally important areas such as Pennsylvania. ‘DesiBlue,’ as Simran likes to call it, ‘has really built up momentum, Asian celebs have supported it, and lots of YouTube videos have been made. We can mobilise 15,000 people in an hour.’
It’s estimated over 75% of South Asian Americans voted for Biden. Currently, They See Blue are concentrating on mobilising South Asian American voters for Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia. Hoping to flip the Senate itself.
‘A coalition of people of colour has started to make a difference,’ Simran told me. ‘We’ve found our national institutions aren’t as strong as we thought. If Trump had handled the pandemic properly, he might even have won. We need good governance and it’s going to be an ongoing fight.’
Back in the good old UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the third primitive man, is shamelessly presiding over a brutal Covid death toll, the most corrupt government in living memory, and such depths of poverty that Unicef has had to step in, to help feed British children. The UK’s electoral system being what it is: based on First Past the Post, heavily influenced by class, with a fragmented array of left-wing parties, it’s probable Johnson and his Tories will win again when the next election rolls round. Plunging us into deeper circles of hell. Particularly those of us from the minority communities.
Many of us bask in a sense of security, just as the American South Asian’s did, but it’s time for us to sit up and see which way the Tory tempest is blowing. Some may have missed the recent news of three British-born Sikh men being arrested for extradition to India. The arrests occurred immediately after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s return from India; it’s assumed India must have insisted on their extradition as one of the conditions for a trade deal. Post-Brexit, mid-Covid, weakened and desperate for trading arrangements this may be a foretaste of things to come. What’s to stop China, Saudi Arabia or other countries demanding the extradition of activists or others they’d like to silence?
The next UK election should occur in 2024, however with a government which has been prepared to break international law, ‘adjusting’ domestic legalities won’t prove much of a hindrance if they want to hold an election earlier or later than 2024. Whenever it is, all of Britain’s left-wing parties and ethnic minorities need to be united if there’s going to be any chance of turning the tide and winning an election.
Tory voters only have one party to vote for. Voters from the centre-left onwards have three major ones and five smaller ones. Immediately splitting and diffusing the left vote. It’s a miracle the Labour party’s ever managed to win an election. The only way to change the political landscape is for centre-left political parties to come together and reach agreement on only fielding one candidate in each constituency. Then minority community and mainstream voters can get behind that candidate, pool their votes and hopefully defeat the Tory candidate and elect a new government. Once in power, that government’s first act should be to bring in Proportional Representation; breaking the iniquity of First Past The Post system, and at last giving a voice to different segments of society. Above all, breaking the iron grip of the upper classes on the country and its resources.
The nature, and beauty, of democracy is that it must always be a work-in-progress, subject to examination and development. Ideology, whether of the left, right or religion shouldn’t have any part in government. A diversity of voices at the seat of power provides the best possible chance of the people’s needs being met and the rights of minorities being safeguarded.
Just as the Indian farmers are challenging their primitive-minded Prime Minister; just as American minorities took on their primitive-minded president, so also British minorities need to engage politically at every level, local and national, and get rid of the primitive-minded Boris Johnson and his Tory government, which sees the country as its fiefdom and the treasury as its personal bank.
Our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has already started deporting people to the West Indies, what’s to stop her turning her attention to other minorities, and beginning to deport them? What’s to stop our corrupt government from giving contracts to its cronies to commandeer the property and assets of minorities? This government has already weakened our national institutions, attacked lawyers and is threatening the independence of the judiciary.
The UK is a bonanza for the right-wing. The left has achieved tremendous reforms in the past, but they’re all under threat now. Civil rights and the rights of workers, women and minorities can no longer be taken for granted. A powerful, corrupt government, drawn from an elite who’ve always been contemptuous of the people, is looking to have a mighty bonfire of rights, regulations and protections. What on earth makes minorities and the left think it’s ‘politics as normal?’ The left has to step away from its internal ideological fights and all minorities have to come together, to form a progressive alliance working strategically to win the next round of local and national elections.
Be very clear that our rights now exist only on quicksand. Time to challenge our primitive leader.
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WISHING EVERYONE A 2021 THAT’S ORDINARY AND LUMINOUS