May saw two big elections: a European Union-wide contest for Members of European Parliament (MEPs), and India’s election of a new Prime Minister. Both held similar results: the empowerment of neo-fascist elements. However, though the far-right has been victorious in both Europe and India, the reporting has been alarmist in the former, ecstatic in the latter. The way most places reported it, one might not even know that the Indian far-right won anything at all.
In the European Union, reactionary parties took advantage of the widespread misery caused by EU-imposed austerity measures. All speak the usual language of right-wing populism–xenophobia, racism, and ethnic supremacy. Ghouls who’ve long haunted the fringes of European politics like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or the Le Pen dynasty in France benefited as much as relative newcomers like Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party. Europe knows first-hand that long-term economic deprivation leads to resurgent fascism, and overt neo-Nazi parties saw gains in Hungary and Greece. Even Germany–where the swastika is banned outright–elected a neo-Nazi MEP.
In India, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory. The election was a “presidentialization” of the campaign for India’s Head of State: rather than resemble a traditional Parliamentary campaign, the contest was a slick, American-style PR offensive. The BJP is India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party, and during Modi’s tenure as governor of Gujarat, he governed as any reactionary ethnic supremacist would. Civil unrest in Gujarat turned into a pogrom in 2002, which killed over 1,000 people, mostly Gujarati Muslims. When he takes office, Modi will be the only Head of State with a US visa-ban, imposed on him by the State Department after his administration’s tacit approval of the violence. Modi will be forming his coalition government with members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the “ideological fountainhead” of Modi’s MJP. It was a member of the RSS who murdered Mohandas Gandhi in 1948, for Gandhi’s perceived accommodation of Muslims.
Few news sources are circumspect about calling Europe’s new MEPs far-right, and Time magazine’s headline announces that Europe’s newly resurgent far right is “cause for concern.” Modi is, by contrast, at worst “controversial, a deeply polarizing figure” More often, news about his victory sounds indistinguishable from a press release from a BJP spokesperson. This is literally true:
–India brims with colourful politicians, but none has quite the sense of political theatre of Narendra Modi. He swept into Varanasi, India’s most ancient city, on May 17th pledging to clean the Ganges, its holiest and filthiest river. Three days later, in Delhi, BJP parliamentarians chanted and roared unanimous support for him.
–Thousands of people welcomed India’s next prime minister in the capital on Saturday after he led his party to a resounding election victory, with Narendra Modi flashing a victory sign to his cheering supporters and telling them that the win “created a new confidence among people.”
–He is a man of integrity, a man of honesty with an incorruptible record and performance. People want delivery, he is the man of delivery.
Those three glowing descriptions of Modi come from The Economist, the Associated Press, and BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar, respectively. The empowerment of the far-right in Europe is “a shock, an earthquake“; in India it’s “historic,” a “storm” of change that will revitalize India. The differences in reporting between such similar results are so stark, it’s almost as though the elections took place in different realities.
In a sense, they did. In an article for Vice on the EU’s economic misery and the rise of European neo-fascists, Laurie Penny says “the European elites are panicking…because they seem to have lost the ground war to the far right.” It’s a strange sentiment, because few things are as amenable to the interests of business as the reactionary agenda. From Mussolini to the Southern Cone military juntas to the current US/EU regime change project in Ukraine, fascism is good for business.
However, the EU is great for business. The current European supra-national project began in 1950 as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a common market for Western Europe’s coal and steel industries. The alliance which would eventually become today’s EU was proclaimed in the Schuman Declaration on May 9th, 1950. The declaration was, in a broad sense, about a united Europe and world peace–but it was specifically about “Franco-German production of coal and steel.” Today, May 9th is celebrated (to the degree any EU holidays are “celebrated”) as “Europe Day.”
When Europe’s far-right parties exploit populist sentiment against austerity, this is the Union whose architects are made uneasy. It is a union of business, which has provided remarkable stability for capitalists everywhere. Though Europe’s right directs its venom at society’s most marginalized, Europe’s elites neither need nor want their business interests threatened.
Modi, on the other hand, promises to make business his top priority. Foreign Affairs touts “the promise of Modinomics.” Mark Ames of Pando has been one of the few reporters to thoroughly detail what “Modinomics” will entail:
[Modi]’s promised to run India the way he ran the western state of Gujarat since 2001, which Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy described as “the petri dish in which Hindu fascism has been fomenting an elaborate political experiment.”
Modi gave a speech calling for opening India’s e-commerce market to foreign companies such as Ebay, whose largest shareholder is Pierre Omidyar. The message was clear: Modi is the candidate of hi-tech India, violent ultranationalism notwithstanding.
[Omidyar-Modi connection Jayant] Sinha told CNBC that India needs “radical reforms” in line with classic neoliberal, pro-business prescriptions, including cutting government subsidies and “restructuring” India’s social welfare programs; “labor reforms”; and “land acquisition” laws.
These reforms are a top priority for India’s mining industry giants, foreign investors… as well as USAID and their partners, Omidyar Network.
Two weeks later, Ames reported that Modi has already started giving tech giants the neo-fascist leader they paid for:
Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others. Calling the move to allow foreign e-commerce into India “one of the first tangible signs of economic reform by the business-friendly government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,”
Reuters reports that the sector is expected to quadruple its share of the overall economy by 2020. India’s e-commerce industry is growing at 40-50% annually. Those numbers, and Modi’s accommodating behavior, is making Pierre Omidyar’s underlings salivate.
The previous, center-left Indian government not only nixed the Omidyar-Ford Foundation NGO-slash-e-retailer-lobby front, it also announced last year that it did not plan to allow e-commerce firms like eBay open access into its markets. This despite the fact that the Obama administration was pressuring India’s government to let eBay in.
The answer to that business problem, of course, was changing India’s government — even if that meant installing a brutal figure like Narendra Modi, who spent nearly a decade on the US State Department’s visa ban list for his role in the violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians. That’s terrible and all from a human rights perspective, but when you consider the interests of eBay’s shareholders — like its number one shareholder, Pierre Omidyar — India presents not so much a problem as an opportunity.
Reporting on Europe and India is a tale of two far-rights. A lot of monied interests want India opened up for their enrichment, but India’s not doing it fast enough for their liking. Every few years, a CEO in India is beaten to death by their employees–oligarchs want a country that they can exploit in peace. Modi promises to make these billionaires’ dreams come true, so he is described as a transformative figure, rather than a threatening one. Fascism is only fascism when it’s bad for business.