Indian model for Europe!
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)
Liberals as well as progressives in Germany are shocked by the 19th Bundestag (Parliament) results. For the first time in German politics a right-wing anti-immigration, anti-Europe Party Alternative for Germany (AfD, entered the Parliament with 12.6 per cent votes translating into 94 MPs.
Said, a senior Social Democratic Party member, “the elections are a breaking point for parliamentary democracy in Germany”. His statement reflects their shock and disappointment at the right-wing surge not only in German politics but also as the whole of Europe is experiencing a shift to the far-right in their respective countries.
Undeniably, the German results are dramatic. The incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth term albeit with a diminished electoral base. Her Party CDU / CSU suffered a massive loss of votes percentage and seats and got reduced from 41.5 per cent of popular votes to 32.9 per cent and from 311 seats to 246 in the Parliament, their lowest score since 1949.
The second largest Party SPD which was a partner in her previous Government met a similar fate, down from 25.7 per cent to 20.5 per cent of votes and from 193 to 153 Members of Parliament. This was the SPD’s worst electoral show since the Second World War.
The other four Parties in the Bundestag are the right-wing extremist Party AfD with 12.6 per cent, centre-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) with 10.7 per cent, the Left, Grand Linke, 9.2 per cent and the Greens, 8.9 per cent.
Notably, the coalition building process post election is difficult and lengthy in Germany. It is likely that CDU/CSU will invite the FDP and the Greens to join them. In the last Parliament Merkel entered into a coalition with her biggest rival SPD to form the Government.
Surely, the SPD finds the defeat too bitter to stomach easily and have refused to join Merkel’s coalition Government again. Instead they would rather reflect on their performance and re-build the Party. Its leader Martin Schultz who had distinguished himself as the President of the European Parliament failed to prevent Merkel from winning her fourth consecutive term.
As she faced the doubts and dilemmas of German voters over her open-door immigration policy the SPD did not have an alternative and persuasive narrative. That is why, the anti-Merkel voters went to right and left wing Parties who could not form a Government on their own.
Certainly, the SPD, a progressive social democratic Party could have formed the Government if they could articulate the anti-Merkel sentiments of the voters into a coherent agenda of their own. That was not to be. The Social Democrats hooked to a centre-left approach, are not known to be inventive in their ideological platforms.
Coming back to the right-wing lurch of European politics the whole of Europe is swept by a new wave of right-wing populism and extremism for the last two decades. Belgium, which headquarters the supranational European Union had a ‘black Sunday’ in 1991 when the right-wing populist Flemish Block gained 6.8 per cent of the national vote to enter the Parliament.
Likewise, there are the Dutch Freedom Party, Front National in France, Austrian Freedom Party, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Finns Party in Finland, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party and another far-right Party Jobbik in Hungary, Sweden’s right-wing racist Party Sweden Democrats and Golden Dawn in Greece etc.
All these Parties are anti-immigration, ultra-nationalist, anti-European Union, isolationist and perfectionist. The biggest threat posed by these is to the European Union — by far the most successful regional integration of 28 countries, now 27 with UK’s exit.
Remember, the EU signified functional federalism, multi-culturalism and pooling of sovereignties for greater good. It is the beacon of hope, peace and prosperity for the world, especially as it was born after the destruction of Europe in two world wars and disruption of its politics and economy in several smaller regional wars.
Pertinently, the right-wing Parties want to pull out of the EU. The relentless populist campaign by UKIP in Britain took UK out of European Union. The Sweden Democrats and Hungary’s Jobbik want to hold referendums on their membership of the European Union. So do almost all the European right-wing Parties. There are other concomitant damages that might accrue from their policies.
Questionably, how are the right-wing Parties gaining support from the educated, sophisticated electorate of Europe? All of them are falling prey to the populist rhetoric of the right-wing Parties. The answer to this is not hard to find. European countries have been mono-cultural societies. Their concept of nationhood rested on a single culture — one language, one religion, one race, etc.
Although they accommodated other non-Europeans owing to their colonial compulsions, their policies and attitude were not geared to pluralism. Even the construction of the EU did not help much as it could not transcend the white racism and Europeanism so far.
Hence, can the Union of India offer a model of politics to the European Union and its member countries? India, barring the latest activism of the Hindutva brigade, homogenizing the culture by imposing food habits etc has been a viable model for multi-culturalism and political federalism. Even the majority religion, Hinduism is pluralist and polytheist in its practice.
India recognizes multiple identities like caste, colour, faith, language, region etc. But subsuming all of them is a supra identity, citizenship, based on the Constitution. Consequently, nation and state became two complementary but distinct political and cultural units. The principles, policies and practices are reflective of pluralism in every walk of life. Of course, there are exceptions but exceptions do not make the rule.
Clearly, Europe should look at Indian pluralism which synthesizes modernity and tradition and absorbs alien cultures into its framework. Only in such a pluralist framework can one stunt the growth of right-wing extremist tendencies. In fact, right-wing populism grows in the absence of a narrative that accommodates ‘the other’, the so-called culture usurper while, at the same time, it assures the majority that they are not threatened.
Curiously, while the right-wing Parties speak to the majority and capture the gullible, the progressive Parties talk of the minorities. A pluralist agenda will appeal to the majority and minority, the insider and the outsider.
Let’s finish with a word on the refugee crisis that gripped the European countries and caused the seismic shock in the electoral results. Many counties, including India, are facing a large humanitarian refugee problem. But dealing with the refugees is like treating the consequences of a problem, not the cause.
Europeans have been reluctant to engage with the Middle-East, leaving it to the Americans to handle. But by being closer to the Middle-East than the Americans, they have to deal with the refugees. Secondly, they should treat the refugees as transient displacees, who should eventually be helped or facilitated to return to their homeland. That would mean bringing an end to the fratricidal wars in the Middle-East.
However, identity, pluralism, a spirit of accommodation are the keys to lock right-wing populism and extremism. —— INFA