I have been in the United States the last few days on a lecture tour. Every time I come here, I discover more fascinating things about this fascinating country! Though my hectic tour has not allowed me much time, as I would have loved to go through all manners of newspapers and magazines, I have still managed to go through a lot of them. And one thing strikes me as very strange. I mean, most of the media is full of stories about the imminent face off between the Republican Mitt Romney and the Democrat incumbent Barack Obama. But the media seems to have an equal number of stories on the Tea Party, on how the Republicans are waging a war on women and on how Obama has a massive lead over Romney when it comes to women voters in America. One thing you must grant this country – even those from the ‘Left’ ideologies who dislike America so much – the freedom of speech here is genuine and everybody seems to exercise the right to yell their heads off! I was blown away by some of the articles, columns and opinion pieces on controversial issues like Obamacare and the shooting of the Florida teenager by a white man that would have almost surely caused riots in India or would have been banned!
But even as I enjoyed reading about these ideological issues and debates here in America, one thought kept coming back to me. It was about how the extreme Right in America seems to be so ideologically rigid, so stubborn and so divorced from reality. And yes, so obsessed with so called family and Christian values. I was shocked to know that a significant number of people in many Midwestern states of America still think that Obama is a Muslim who goes to a mosque! And I couldn’t help thinking about how, in a way, the extreme Left in India is behaving in a manner similar to the extreme Right in the United States. I mean, if many extreme Right-wing types in America seem to nurture a hatred for Islam, many extreme Left-wing types in India seem to nurture a hatred for Hinduism. And I realized three things that are very disturbing. The first is that the extreme Right in America and the extreme Left in India have a very dominant space in mainstream media. The second is that in their respective countries, they both have an unusual influence on policy making. The third is that such rigid ideological stands and blind opposition to anything that doesn’t suit their worldview is literally screwing both countries.
When it comes to a dominant voice in mainstream media, it does appear as if the extreme Right-wing in the United States has less of it than the Left in India. Look at the two most controversial issues in America now – the healthcare act (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) and the urgent need to cut deficits. For both these issues, the liberals seem to get as much space as the conservatives. You also have liberal voices that are blasting the Supreme Court judges in America because they have got a hint that the ideologically Right-wing inclined Supreme Court might declare Obama’s dream healthcare act as unconstitutional. Then again, you have an equal cacophony of conservative and liberal voices about raising or not raising taxes on the rich. You have a Rush Limbaugh who calls a lady student a slut because she wants contraception to be part of her health insurance package. There was a huge outcry and many radio stations and advertisers banned Limbaugh for his remarks. But there were a lot who defended his right to free speech and said the lady had no business to talk about pills and condoms during an important debate over health insurance. But in India, it is the Left that seems to be the dominant voice in mainstream media. I have been following media reports since the horrific riots of Gujarat in 2002 and I have been astonished at the manner in which the extreme Left spews venom and hatred towards the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. A campaign by these secular fundamentalists led to a situation where the chief minister of a state of India was denied a visa by the US almost as if he was a war criminal. I mean, why single out only Narendra Modi to the exclusion of everything and everybody else? Have there been no other riots in India? Have Muslims and Sikhs not been butchered in other riots? Why single out Modi?
The influence of the extreme Right in America and the extreme Left in India on mainstream media is as it is unhealthy. It becomes even more dangerous when you realize how powerful their influence is on policy making. One of the main reasons for the global financial system to come to the verge of collapse in 2008 was the behaviour of immoral and greedy banks and their auditors. Everybody knows it and everybody talks about it. And yet, even a so called liberal like Obama has miserably failed to curb the influence of Wall Street on Washington. Those are corporate lobbies that are dictating terms; and they simply brush aside any honest criticism that alludes to their actions being bad for the country. So scared are even moderate Republicans of the Tea Party and other extremists that not one of them is willing to raise taxes on the rich even by one percent. They keep insisting that they will further lower taxes on the rich because those are the ‘rich’ entrepreneurs who create wealth and jobs. They refuse to accept the fact that the greatest era of America was for four decades after the Second World War when income inequalities were low and the government invested in physical and social infrastructure. In today’s America, the middle class is disappearing and soon you will have only the very rich and the poor. The bigger tragedy is that the influence of the extreme Right-wing on American policy making is creating the worst kind of crony capitalism.
In India, the extreme Left seems to have a similar influence on policy making, and even more dangerous. Since 2004, their influence has led to many policies and bills, which mean well but are disastrous. The extreme Left in India wants the government to be more involved in everything and it refuses to accept a simple fact that high GDP growth rates are a necessary condition for reduction of poverty. No sir, they just want to redistribute poverty and keep a mai baap sarkar in perpetuity. Look at the NREGA. After about seven years, it has been so riddled with corruption and leakages that the government itself has reduced the Budget allocation for it this year. Look at the Right to Education. Sure, it is a great thing to give an opportunity to poor students. But even if 100% of all seats in all private schools are reserved for poor students – leaving parents of middle class and rich children to fend for themselves – there would still be tens of millions of poor kids without access to decent education. There just aren’t enough private schools with enough seats. And you must be joking if you think that Indian villages – where poor children most desperately need access to decent education – have private schools. Talk to the extreme Left about improving public education or about making teachers and administrators accountable and their trade union partners will raise such a dust and storm that you wouldn’t know what hit you. And yes, I must point out another marvelous piece of initiative of the Left called the Communal Violence Bill. If that Bill were to be passed, then those will only be Hindus who would be liable to be prosecuted if there were a communal riot – because then the Indian Constitution will openly admit that only Hindus are capable of communal riots and killing people of other religions! God help India from such do-gooders, I say.
The basic problem with the extreme Right in the United States is that it thinks God is on their side and nothing else is acceptable or tolerable. The basic problem with the extreme Left in India is the same, except that God in this case is either Marx or Mao! Strange and sad, how the two largest democracies of the world are being hijacked by extremists…
- 19 April 2012 |
- Arindam On America