Wednesday, 10 August, 2022
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India’s Bernie Sanders will be a raging capitalist

India has its Trump, but who could be our Bernie?

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He is the only one who can defeat Donald Trump, the supporters of Bernie Sanders in the United States are arguing. To be fair, the supporters of the other presidential aspirants are arguing the same.

The opposition in the US is arguing within itself: who is the best person to defeat Trump? Going by the ratings, the answer increasingly seems to be Bernie. On “Super Tuesday,” 3 March, a key milestone in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders is expected to take a clear lead over the others.

We have our own Trump in India. In fact, Narendra Modi came before Trump. But we don’t have a Bernie. We don’t have someone who the liberals could say: this person could defeat Modi.

It speaks of the strength of American democracy that even a “democratic socialist” can rise up the ladder and hope to be its face, no matter how much the Democratic “establishment” dislikes him. That establishment is epitomised by Hillary Clinton, who Bernie supporters say cheat her way to win the Democratic nomination in 2016.

But now there is no Clinton in the race and the insurgent Left (Bernie, Elizabeth Warren) has an equal chance of taking on the big money-backed establishment status quoists (Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg).

The Gandhis are India’s Clintons. Unlike the Clintons, they can’t see themselves bowing out of a race they’ve been failing to win. Within the Congress party, there is no chance of an equal contest to let a new national face emerge.

The best argument some liberals have in favour of Rahul Gandhi is that “Anybody is better than Modi.” Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because the best argument in her favour was “Anybody but Trump”. Bernie supporters, by contrast, can’t stop gushing about how Bernie is the latest messiah. He will save the world. Even if Bernie does not win, at least he’s giving hope. At least there is someone for the other side to put their money on. At least there’s a contest.

Such a face in India does not exist. If India got its own Bernie Sanders — someone who people could rally behind — the Gandhis would instantly become history. The Congress party would disintegrate. This is the Congress party’s biggest fear.


So, who could be India’s Bernie Sanders?

Arvind Kejriwal was supposed to be that person but he wasted a golden national opportunity upon the small half-state of Delhi. When I asked this question on Twitter, people came up with answers like Shashi Tharoor and Kanhaiya Kumar. But none of them seem likely to be able to play India’s Bernie anytime soon.

There are times when a leader comes to occupy a people’s attention. The stars need to align for this to happen. Only four stars. The right face, the right time, with the right story, well told.

Also read: How Arvind Kejriwal’s third attempt at national politics may play out

The right face 

Bernie supporters will tell you how he has been consistent for four decades. He is waging a movement. He is ideologically committed, and is not some big money-backed shyster who changes his positions in pursuit of power.

A key element here is Bernie’s past as an activist and politician. He is experienced, has a track record that gives him credibility, a CV that makes you trust him. The right face commands the loyalty of supporters, who go out and campaign for him like a veritable army.

India’s Bernie has to be someone with a history, a track record of consistency, credibility, and trust. That is why it can’t be a Kanhaiya — he’s too young. It takes four decades to be Bernie. Perhaps Arvind Kejriwal is on his way there, who knows?

Also read: Why Rahul Gandhi remains India’s third-most important politician

The right time 

Bernie Sanders has been selling “socialism” for decades but young Americans seem to be attracted to the idea because of extreme and ever-increasing inequality in the US. The US economy is doing well and yet inequality is a problem, and millennials don’t see a prosperous future for themselves.

That is why the time is right for Bernie.

He did not win the Democratic nomination in 2016. But what has changed this time is that Trump is president.

Bernie’s 2016 attempt made sure everybody got to know who he is and what he stands for. This gave him a head start for the 2020 campaign.

An Indian Bernie will also have to start now, and results may be seen when the time is right — when people think you are the person they need.

Also read: The Mayawati era is over. Bye Bye Behenji

The right story 

The “democratic socialism” that Bernie is selling is called welfare capitalism in most parts of the world. Yes, he is seeking to force companies to divest 20 per cent equity to employees, but that’s not the same as the public sector taking over the private.

Bernie Sanders, like any leader seeking to win an election anywhere in the world, is offering answers to the people’s most pressing problems. Student debt, access to education, access to affordable healthcare and, most of all, extreme inequality. He is giving these answers as part of a broad framework that identifies a clear enemy (the rich, elite establishment found in both Democratic and Republican parties).

Bernie is telling a story, and it’s the right one for these times told by the right face for this story.

Bernie’s story is standing out because it is different. He is saying that the current system is broken, and he has a better way.

When I asked about the possibility of an Indian Bernie on Twitter, someone said that leader would be a raging capitalist. That makes complete sense.

Bernie has grabbed attention by shocking capitalist America with socialism. In India, everybody is a socialist. To grab attention and stand out, an Indian Bernie will offer capitalism as the solution to people’s problems. How do you create millions of jobs without capitalism? India needs the American language of political capitalism, whereby leaders demonstrate to their voters that they are creating jobs by working with private corporations.

Also read: A chaiwala is PM, but it’s the cartel of power elites that calls the shots in India

The craft of storytelling 

Critics of Bernie Sanders have been pointing out that he is, ironically, a lot like Donald Trump: polarising in his politics, thriving on shock value, protectionist in his economic policies, and most of his ideas impractical and unimplementable.

If Bernie wins, that would be one more similarity.

Iron cuts iron, as the Hindi saying goes. Bernie is rising because he is telling his story well. He is presenting it as a movement, not an election campaign. He is raising more money than other candidates without taking money from big businesses. All the funds are coming from ordinary Americans giving small donations. This alone is making Bernie look like the rising David, backed by his people against Goliath (the capitalist establishment).

An Indian Bernie will have to be a better storyteller than Narendra Modi. This is a question of craft — which is where an understanding of modern political campaigning becomes very important.

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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  1. The article is clearly all a little too crafted in clouds. For one thing, India is not a twin party democracy where the leaders on each camp are clear, they wear their gloves and go to the ring to slug it out. Secondly, unlike USA, India has not term limit for their PM post. We had Nehru, Indira with multiple terms, with only death or sheer boredom stopping leaders from continuing for ever if they get elected again and again. This is quite detrimental in throwing up younger leaders and for the parties to actively facilitate growth of younger leaders. If the top spot becomes vacant every few years, it is absolutely vital for parties to foster and nurture inner party democracy to produce newer shining lights that all can follow. In the absence of this, rut sets in. Take the case of Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. Her sterling career in politics was blighted by the third term full of corruption. A constitutionally imposed handing the baton to a younger leader would have brought a breath of fresh life into the governance. One has to wait and watch what happens to Arvind Kejriwal in the long run, will he also survive a second full term and then another full term after that? He is also not actively bringing up a second rung so that he can move over to higher roles, that itself will be AAP party’s biggest blunder. BJP is actively nurturing younger leaders, the RSS organisation forces it upon the party. For all their faults and ignorance, Tejaswai Surya and other young turks have put on their pads ready to bat. Where are these in other parties? After Didi who in Bengal?

  2. India’s Bernie Sanders is Arvind Kejriwal for sure. Like Bernie Aap too has a strong grassroots organisation, clean grassroots political funding ..

    AK has all the ideological qualities of Bernie. India all these years had failed socialism .
    But both Bernie and AK take on the corporate crony capitalist head on with much stronger idea for socialism – non corrupt efficient one .

    For that to happen both have understood the root cause is illicit corrupt political funding . That’s y AK ‘S Aap was able to build schools n hospitals while the establishment congress nor bjp was able to not …

    AK took on the crony capitalist in his first stint itself….by filing FIRS against Mukesh Ambani ..

  3. Every time I start reading article by Visam Vij I start to questions why did I started to read this garbage. I stop reading it after few lines. May be headlines of this writer make it seem interesting.

  4. We are entering a post-work, post-jobs era worldwide and Indians can only think of employment.

    You see hawkers trying to sell useless things at traffic signals. The same thing applies to most of the products and services out there. We don’t need half as many people in the labour force. And the fastfood and back office work can easily be automated and should be.

    Basic Income is the real and only solution to poverty and the ‘problem of unemployment’. Read Guy Standing’s book.

    Since Indians and others are not intellectually forward looking, at least look at what the British press are saying about the emerging era of post-employment.

  5. India has been ruled by “democratic socialist” regimes more than any other ideology. So, India has seen numerous Bernie Sanders and that is not the solution India needs in this day and age. And please, Modi is not Trump. And Rahul is no Hillary Clinton. You can’t ever make direct comparisons between the two very different polity if two very different nations.

    I guess it would not be right for India to have Bernie and Warren to be in the Oval Office. Pete Buttigeg seems an ideal candidate.

  6. What a lousy article this author has his head up his arse and does not know what is happening in the real world
    He talks about Kanaiya Kumar as an opponent to Modi
    Kanaiya is an absolute idiot who lost by 4 lakh votes as his constituency recognised his stupidity and incompetence

  7. I do not want any Bernie Sanders or any one for that matter to come in India for the next 70 years starting 2014. After 70 years , we will take a decision on who to vote, Congrass or BJP. By then, this family Gandhi will be most likely a history. We can then start a clean chit. Also, by then, India will be among number 1 if not number 1. End of discussion.

  8. Bernie’s case is different than Corbyn as Britain already have the best health care system in the world. All developed and civilised countries have a free and robust health care system which US don’t have. Let’s see whether white supremacists prefer gun to Heath care.

  9. Dear Mr.Shivam, I wrote once not to give political hypothesis. You do not seem to have any understanding of Indian politics . Your observations are devoid of any sense and lacks connect with reality. It will be great if you stop writing.

  10. Shivam is gushing about Bernie simply because he criticized weapon sale bu USA to India and he is not happy with Trump and Modi friendship.And since Shivam hates Modi ,anybody who hates Modi is liked by so called secular,liberal set.There is nothing more to this whole article.

  11. The author has missed the mark about socialism-capitalism debate in India by a long shot. For all the posturing of public good by BJP, it still remains a rich-favouring party giving them corporate tax cuts, a messy GST implimentation and demonetization that ended up favouring big corporations at the expense of small businesses.

    What we need is a movement willing to clean up cronyism in India: the insidious idea that few businesspeople friends of politicians can buy off the government, landing fat contracts without competition. What we also need is a movement which will stop the current mess of the private health insurance in our country, and socialize and technologically upgrade our healthcare for good. No better example than that of Cuba which, despite being a poor pariah country, manages to guarantee all its people quality healthcare.

    Our Bernie Sanders will offer Universal Basic Income to lift masses out of poverty, and Rahul Gandhi did try to do that exactly that without success. (And I will still vote for him for exactly that policy.) Finally, our Bernie Sanders should still propose a wealth tax on the ultra-rich and hound them out of tax havens. Our Bernie Sanders will essentially be a social democrat drawing elements from Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.

    Social Democracy/Socialism isn’t dead in India, it’s just not what Akhilesh and Mulayam Yadav ever stood for.

  12. As always aN over simplistic and extreme left view. If Bernie will win the nomination, democrats will loose in the same way as labor lost in UK under Jermy Corben. Socialism is not the solution of any problem- it will create more inequality. All those who are supporting him, they will face the music after 7 Nov 2020. Piyush Mishra well said once- you are 20 years old and not a communist you lost your life and you are 40 and a communist you lost your life.

    • “If Bernie will win the nomination, democrats will loose in the same way as labor lost in UK under Jermy Corben. ” – you are making this up! Approval poll surveys show that each of the 6 Democrat candidates running for the candidacy for the president can INDIVIDUALLY BEAT TRUMP BY A MARGIN OF 5 TO 8 PERCENT, IF THE ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY! Sanders is not Jeremy Corbyn of UK.

  13. At the outset I must say that I am an unadulterated supporter of BjP – no mistaking about it. Congress party cannot be – rather should not be – written off. We need it. But the Congress has to reinvent itself. It should disengage itself from the apron string of Madam Sonia – this includes Priyanka and Rahul . Let them hand over the reins to Dr Manmohan Singh, an impeccable character, with high degree of intellectual caliber, and a well known face across the country, having been the Prime Minister for ten full years. There should be no back seat driving. Inner party elections should be organized. If in the process if Dr Singh could be elected as the President, that will do a lot good. Or if any young man could pop up, that would be also good inasmuch as it energizes the party organizationally. If only Dr Manmohan had been projected as the Prime Minister’s face from the Congress side in 2019, results would have been different. I am saying this in the interest of democracy. Congress – and more particularly the First Family of the party and their cohorts – will not do that. So, there will not be any Bernie Sanders of Indian version. A wild thought, can there be a Bernie Sanders within BJP – for that Nagpur must take the initiative. But Modi is too powerful for Nagpur. He will devour Nagpur. Now we are back to Square One. We can appeal to Modi – please change your economic policies. Create more jobs. Look after the burgeoning middle class – who are your support base. Put lot of money in the hands of people. Follow the example of Hong Kong. Reduce the tax – that will increase the revenue. Increase happiness index of common man. You will get another term.
    a k pattabiraman, chennai

  14. Corby did his bit to bury Labor. Sanders seems to do the same in the US. As far as India is concerned, the last rights were done long back.

  15. Oh, Oh, It is hard to earn respect or friendship from Trump and it is dangerous to assume you do. Typically, he does bow his head to those more qualified than him and listens to more qualified in life.

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