Monika’s Musings: Trump, Modi & the Rise of Authoritarian Populism

When I left India this time, I flew out of Pune and it was so easy. Getting to the airport is quick especially in the wee hours of the morning, though I have to admit, Pune airport is still like a small town provincial airport and needs a major re-haul. There are no snaking lines at check in or immigration but immigration formalities take place at what appears to be a hurriedly installed, temporary counter. The lounge is in shambles and I think the waiting area outside the gates is probably more comfortable.

When the flight was announced, everyone made a beeline to board and then had to wait for over 15 minutes since the aircraft was still being cleaned. There was no further announcement asking passengers to wait until the aircraft was ready and no apology either for misguiding passengers to board. I flew back via Abu Dhabi and loved that I cleared US customs and immigration at Abu Dhabi itself making for a seamless arrival into JFK.

Back in the US and my mind is still numb over the recent election results. I am not the only one in a funk. The concierge at my building did not even want to discuss the matter and other residents are trying to process and come to terms with a result no one expected. Social media helps alleviate the shock and awe. While there are many articles lambasting Trump and his transition team, there are an equal number of articles helping grief-struck Hillary supporters make sense of what went wrong. There are also some articles emphasizing how Trump may not be all that bad. For America’s sake, I hope that’s true.

In the meantime, I enjoy the jokes and cartoons proliferating on social media ridiculing the result and the winner. My favourite are the Obama/ Biden memes. If you have not seen them, they are hilarious and ever so witty. I marvel at how instantaneously social media reacts to situations.

Another favourite on social media now is the demonetisation in India. There are many articles being shared in support and critique of the bold move. Unfortunately, the common man has been inconvenienced with too many people unable to meet daily requirements due to no change and a lack of liquidity. One particularly hilarious video doing the round on whatsapp is that of a young kid cursing the erstwhile Prime Minister because he could not buy biscuits, given no grocer could exchange his Rs2000 note. He lets rip many choice expletives while questioning why such a large note was in circulation and why he could not have issued a smaller currency note.

Discussions on the state of the world today abound on the Net, in media, via emails, through messenger platforms and on social media. Economic woes and globalisation are backfiring bringing back to the fold leaders who promise jobs to the middle class, who promise security, who promise progress for the country, who promise to give the country back to the indigenous people and away from immigrants and foreign powers. Whether it is the US, UK, Russia, Turkey, Philippines, North Korea and even India, strong men are leading from the front. In fact, authoritarian populism has been creeping globally over the last two decades. The sentiments expressed by these leadersoften appeal to the economically marginalized, working class, predominantly male section of society.

I happen to be reading ‘Jaya’ by Devdutt Patnaik and the chapter on the Gita was particularly interesting for me. It talks about how ego is dictating emotions such as joy and despair. There is a need to separate from these external events in order to control and transcend ego. Ego is resistant to change and expresses itself as rage and suffering. I am as guilty as the rest of us in reacting to recent events. In the larger scheme of things, this too shall pass and we will emerge maybe slightly scathed, maybe better off, maybe unscathed. We need to keep things in perspective and allow events to play themselves out. Maybe taking a page or two out of our scriptures is not such a bad idea. It will help us deal better with situations in this fast changing, unrecognizable world.

So Trump, Modi and their ilk are probably the need of the hour. They may not be as divisive as we imagine and the world may improve. Meanwhile, I hope the infrastructure at Pune airport improves because it sure is convenient to fly in and out without making the long trek to and from Mumbai.

Monique Patel

Monique Patel

Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in Pune, her home for 28 years.
Monique Patel

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