What comes to mind when one hears the phrase ‘India and the U.SA.’? Well, back in the day, the phrase brought to mind many things such as the potential benefits of their combined economic strength, American technological prowess improved and worked upon by Indians both in India and the US, and so on.
But most importantly, it brought to mind their efforts and commitments of being open to diverse opinions, cultures, etc. This is particularly true in India’s case. Meanwhile, New York is famously dubbed as “a melting pot of different cultures.” This was evident through the policies and actions of their respective governments. However, this is all a matter of the past.
In contemporary times, the phrase brings to mind the fact that the two greatest democracies of the world have fallen prey to populism. They are led by eccentric, erratic, and Machiavellian leaders who got elected based on their skilful use of rhetoric. It was premised on the idea of making their countries “great again.” It implied that the country was going through a period of social, economic, political, intellectual, and moral decay and that only they could alleviate and propel their nations to former glory, often based on a romanticized and skewed notion of history.
One might ask the reason behind this renewed interest in the leaders of our nation and those of the ‘Free World’. Well, this is because this populism spells a threat to the future of democracy in the world. India and the US are considered to be the harbingers of democratic values. Their example has inspired many other nations and hence, it is a moral duty to not go astray from this path of leadership.
The American Dream is a glorified concept. But is it open for all?
India is shaped by many ideals. However, in my opinion, the most important ideal that has shaped India has been its acceptance and tolerance of diversity. Throughout our history, we have interacted with people of varied beliefs, cultures, faiths, etc. who have found a peaceful home here. Our modern culture is heavily influenced not just by our indigenous tradition (which in itself is diverse) but also by the outside world. This synthesis of variety is what lends us our identity, our individuality. It has also led to the acceptance and tolerance of varied perspectives, ideologies, and criticism against one’s actions. We have a rich tradition of debate and discussion. They have flourished and enriched our intellectual life as a nation.
However, in present-day India, all of this is under threat. In recent times, there has been a rise in ethnonationalism in the country where people belonging to one community/faith/ideological camp seek to rule over, discredit and disenfranchise people who are not in alignment with the former. This goes against the spirit of diversity which makes India what it is/ has been in the past. The current dispensation is severely against minority groups be it ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities. It is deeply anti-intellectual and erodes the spirit of inquiry. This is evident from its attack, both physical ones and via policies, on scholars, activists, and institutions.
Examples of this are replete in both academia and independent media. It blames previous governments for their current shortcomings. It shuns criticism by enacting draconian, colonial-era laws against people whom the government thinks are antithetical to its ways and aims. The latest addition to the list would include the arrest of scholar Anand Teltumbde and Kashmiri journalist Masrat Zahra. Please note that this state action is continued at a time when Covid-19 is plaguing the nation.
The story in the US is quite akin to the one in India in some aspects. Even there the administration is against people of different races, nationalities, etc. and seeks to empower majoritarian supremacists. People used to look up to America as a sort of haven, a paradise. This idea is represented in the notion of the American Dream. Personally, it is a bit bizarre (that’s a separate story). The Dream is a belief that people a chance at success in life and that with hard work, anyone can improve their pre-existing material and social conditions.
It heavily praises the “goodness” of American capitalism but it also implicitly states that it is open for all; it is not exclusive for the Whites. It assumes the availability of opportunities for everyone to be equal. This belief led a large number of groups to migrate to the U.SA. for “a better life.”
However, this is now history. Cut to 2017 and you have someone like Donald Trump at the helm of what might be the most powerful and influential job in the world. This appointment has ushered in a new era of xenophobia and corruption in everyday American life. Incidents of hate crimes targeting religious and ethnic minorities have been on the rise ever since the new administration took over. This has sent a rather grim note to the people: American Dream is only for the true White American males.
The conviction with which one saw America in the past as a land where freedom, equality, and opportunity for success were not just ideals but the everyday reality is and has slowly been deteriorating.
Another area where one can see America’s identity crisis has been its role in international affairs. Ever since the end of the Cold War, America has dominated global issues. It has been an influential player in international institutions, forums, etc. It has fostered strategic relationships with other countries based on “mutual benefit.” However, this has been undermined in the recent era. Under the new administration, the U.SA. has shifted towards protectionism and quit key organizations such as UNHRC, UNESCO, and pulled out of the Paris Accord Agreement.
The latest addition to this list of upheavals has been the recent decision to cut WHO funding at a time when American healthcare is in shambles and the world is suffering due to coronavirus. This signifies two things. Firstly, it has continued its routine of undermining global institutions. Secondly, it marks a strict departure from its once-acclaimed, self-assumed role in matters of international exigency. This marks an evident change in the world order, something that can have disastrous consequences.
I will leave the reader with 2 thoughts as I finish my article.
One: For American politics, there is a blog titled “The Weekly List” which notes the unusual happenings in American democracy. Its prediction is rather dire: Authoritarianism is taking over and democracy as we know it is dying a slow, lingering death and hence it is necessary to take note of every incremental thing that would lead to its ultimate end. This is in America. Should we in India too have this list of sorts where we have a record of everything that is unprecedented and reeks of authoritarian proclivities?
Two: The power of example has always fascinated the world and is very influential. This is a tenet of the idea of Soft Power (the man who invented the concept has himself said that under Trump, American soft power has diminished). With rising right-wing, populist regimes all over the world from Turkey to Russia and so on, isn’t it incumbent on both India and the US to get back on track so that the world can follow since we are considered to be the “greatest democracies in the world”?