Who is India’s Donald Trump?
It is not Narendra Modi. He may have said, over a decade ago, that the family planning slogan of Muslims is “We five, ours 25”; and in 2012 he may have said that the reason why there is malnutrition in Gujarat is that young women are dieting; about a year ago he may have said that the Congress is killing rhinos in the Northeast to make room for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But, such moments, especially in the last five years, have been rare. As a national leader, he has realised, he has to sound a lot like the Congress or Miss India, which is the same thing.
Then, surely the Trump of India is Subramanian Swamy? He has said that Indians who are not Hindus should not be allowed to vote unless they declare that their ancestors were Hindus; and that Priyanka Gandhi is an alcoholic and an ungrateful daughter because she paid a visit to her father’s assassins in prison; and that mosques are not religious places.
The Hindu patriots in America, in a defendable generalization, find Trump offensive but admire Swamy. Everyone in the United States who is offended by Trump, including women, probably admire others like him in their own countries of origin or fiefdoms of ideology where they belong. The fact is there are several Trumps in places that people call home. There is a Trump inside most of us, too, who is kept hidden and who comes to life when a character in the physical world, who has nothing to lose, speaks his little mind.
Over the years, Donald Trump has called both male and female public figures “ugly” and “fat” and “dumb”. On Obama: “Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore”! On the journalist Arianna Huffington: “I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man — he made a good decision.” On the singer Bette Midler, “(She) is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.” Recently he said that the smart Mexican government was exporting only rapists and other criminals to the US.
American political analysts have tried to understand how it came to be that Donald Trump is now the most popular Republican presidential candidate. None of them believes he would eventually be nominated. It is not because the other Republican nominees are brighter. Almost all of them have mullah-like views on abortion, and appear as naïve as Trump on most issues. The difference between Trump and, say, Jeb Bush, is the difference between Scientology and Christianity. One is new and sudden, and says all humans are extraterrestrials, and is deemed ridiculous; the other one says God made the universe in six days, and is regarded as culture.
The popularity of Trump, some observers have admitted, confuses them. Some say that Trump’s new political stardom is among ill-informed Americans and the phenomenon is not very different from a global trend where simpleton radical characters can sway the emotions of simpleton voters. But then what explains the trend? Why do ludicrous men become popular?
A part of the reason is that political correctness has become despotic and stifling. In Trump and Swamy and others of their type, people find an outlet.
In India, Rightwing oppression is viewed as a rule of thugs. If you say anything offensive about a god, or allied organisations, the master thugs would send the dailywage thugs to inflict physical harm on the offenders. But Leftwing oppression too is a rule of thugs, mostly of academic and activist thugs who do not have the means to cause physical injury. They stifle opposition through sustained slander and defamation, by usurping academic spaces, monopolising journalistic spaces that they eventually destroy by being unbearably tedious, and entrenching themselves in cultural committees that control acclaim thereby deciding what type of art reaches you. Then they would sit in a circle and whine about how art is in decay, and how Amazon is ruining literature.
The Rightwing assault on freedom of expression is straightforward. The academic and activist Left preaches such a freedom, but when its own agendas are inconvenienced it deploys all its weapons.
A few weeks ago the comedians of All India Bakchod released a skit in which India is shown to be in a turmoil because nobody is taking offence anymore. The satire is targeted at the political and cultural Rightwing. That is the branding of the Right. But, in my experience as a journalist and novelist, compared to the Hindu Right it takes little to offend Marxists, socialists, Brahmin guardians of Dalits and feminists (many are all this, of course). They are live gaping wounds.
Normal people with no mental states that manifest as activism, do take offence now and then. Taking offence, to a degree, is not the real problem. It is what we do after taking offence that truly defines how much we believe in intellectual freedoms.
Fearing the despotism of the Left collective, many intelligent people, including young writers, choose silence. This is prudent, as cowardice often is. The silence becomes a norm and an understanding. Then a ludicrous man with a combination of attributes and circumstances that grant him stature comes along and says things that people usually do not hear in public. He begins to occupy a vacancy that is there for the taking. People enjoy him not because they agree with him but because he appears to have liberated himself from the silence imposed by the despots.
Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People. The author tweets as @manujosephsan
The views expressed are personal.