India must find hope in Macron’s presidential victory in France
The values of Enlightenment and of the French Revolution 2.0 – liberty, equality, fraternity – matter as much in the European country as they do in ours.
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The resounding victory of the centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron over the far-right electoral maelstrom Marine Le Pen on Sunday, May 7, 2017, in France is being widely celebrated all over the world as a win for Europe and the values of Enlightenment.
The idea of the European Union, and more so, the idea of an open world, open borders, globalisation of peoples as much as of capital, of tolerant immigration policies, of less trade barriers and anti-Islamophobia – have all for now survived in France, the spiritual home of democracy and the land of the French Revolution motto: liberty, equality, fraternity.
After the twin debacles of 2016, namely Brexit in June and the election of Donald Trump in November, the French presidential election results come not only as a whiff of fresh political air, but also mark what many consider as the stopping of the right-wing tsunami in the tracks.
Fortunately, a glimmer of hope had been found in the previous elections in Austria and the Netherlands this year, when far-right candidates were comprehensively defeated, even though their vote-shares saw considerable impact on the national and indeed European polity.
“Europe and the world expect us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment that is threatened in so many places,” Macron said in his valedictory speech after the results were announced.
The 39-year-old is the youngest leader to lead France since Napoleon Bonaparte and his one-year-old party, En Marche!, is being already forewarned of the insurmountably tough task it has ahead, not only in the national Assembly elections (parliamentary polls) in June this year, but also in consolidating a presidential mandate to actual political and socio-economic results.
The young “neophyte”, as Macron is being described in the Anglo-American press, was endorsed by former US President Barack Obama in a very unusual pre-election endorsement by an American who had a similar meteoric rise, and yet under whose tenure the degeneration of the United States into picking Donald Trump was also witnessed.
Thus, in Emmanuel Macron’s message – that was openly pro-Europe, pro-integration, pro-immigration, pro-trade, anti-protectionism, pro-globalisation, pro-freedom and pro-hope – we saw a redux of what the Obama years signified for America and the world, at least in theory if not in practice.
While France heaves a sigh of relief, it’s important to remember that Macron isn’t just another Justin Trudeau or Barack Obama with a continental flavour – he’s indeed the much-needed dyke to prevent the rising surge of right-wing tidal waves sweeping not just Europe but the whole world.
Indeed where the United Kingdom and the United States failed as Anglophone representatives of global democracies, France has withstood, despite the bloodshed in Paris and Nice caused by ISIS-driven terrorism.
How is this peculiar and promising French resistance to right-wing and far-right upsurge relevant to India?
Well, there are a number of reasons why we should take hope from the symbolism of an Emmanuel Macron victory over National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
Firstly, what Macron signifies is the revival of positive and progressive politics instead of negative, anti-people, anti-plural fear-mongering.
Macron’s fearless embrace of strong, ubiquitous, unwavering stance on immigration and open borders meant that the idea of Europe, and indeed the idea of Europeans rising above narrow nationalistic differences, has survived this important battle.
This is something that directly resonates in India, which is, at the moment, fractured along terrifying religious and communal lines. Just like Macron’s France stood as a bulwark against the forces of disintegration of a pluralist Europe, India which bears within it multitudes of communities, religions, languages, ethnicities, cultural practices, gastronomic differences, should be resilient towards maintaining and safeguarding its beautiful and bountiful pluralism, its awesome and inspiring multiculturalism.
Secondly, like Macron’s France, India needs to rethink its increasing political insularity and becoming a country obsessed with singling out “Others”, invented enemies to purge from a land of imagined purity.
Marine Le Pen.
If Macron’s message was embracing everyone as part of a united France, which he positioned as the beating heart of a united Europe that would tackle the shock of Brexit together, India can take hope from that message of love and togetherness and reject the sickening electoral Darwinism of the ruling party in the Centre, and its ideological parent in the Sangh Parivar.
Exactly at a time when Emmanuel Macron harks back to the original moment of France’s spiritual awakening, 1789 and the French Revolution, India can derive hope from its own moment of reinvention in 1947, and what the founding fathers of this constitutional democracy dreamed to make this country into – the beating heart of the developing world, a true friend of the lands that had been at the brunt of European colonialism without giving into to sectarian tendencies and constrictions of nativism.
Thirdly, it’s important to remember that Macron signifies not a France that is wallowing in perceived intellectual or ideological superiority, despite his unequivocal reference to Enlightenment.
As Pankaj Mishra writes, the “seismic events of 2016 have revealed a world in chaos and one that old ideas of liberal rationalism can no longer (entirely) explain”. Mishra calls this the “Age of Anger”, and it’s a far cry from the age of European Enlightenment and its attendant colonial conquests and the conflicts rising out of 200 years of Europe’s imperial adventurism.
This is, in fact, the follow-up of the empire folding back on itself and the involution is bringing up new fault lines, new fractures - political and socioeconomic.
Marine Le Pen is not alone in exploiting the fear among former colonisers; in Britain the hunt for lost imperial glory led to the catastrophe of Brexit, something whose shockwaves will keep impacting Europe and the world in phases for years and decades to come.
Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Narendra Modi in India are equally adept at exploiting this moment, claiming it to be a respective resurgence of those powers that Europe subdued politically and culturally during the Age of Empire, as Eric Hobsbawm once described it.
Yet, instead of responding with politics that challenged the ills of European imperialisms, each of these Eurasian powers are exploiting the fears and void left behind by the collapse of liberal politics worldwide.
India is now hostage to its own internal dichotomies, its own political and cultural schizophrenia is writ large in the manner its electoral politics and socio-economic fabric is degenerating into a demented search for civilisational Hindu purity.
The urge to create a Hindu Rashtra by dominating the minds, bodies and indeed the wombs of Indians and reconfiguring India along martial Hindu lines, taking a leaf out of Nazi regime and its genocidal eugenics, is no longer a fringe project in India, but something actively sponsored by the State and egged on by a mainstream TV media that’s become the Althusserian ideological state apparatus.
If France could reject the politics of exclusionism after the series of terrorist attacks on its urban nerve centres – Paris and Nice, why wouldn’t India also say no to the debilitating urge to let hostility against Pakistan define its foreign and domestic policy?
If France could in theory resist Islamophobia (this is not to say that it doesn’t have to tackle its institutional and cultural racism against Muslims), why would India not eschew the reprehensible politics of cow symbolism, and the activation of lynch-mobs to turn anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit politics into a public spectacle, made-for-TV consumption?
Finally, Emmanuel Macron’s victory showed that any kind of politics revolving around perceived civilisational superiority, whether Eurocentrism, or dream of an Islamic Caliphate or a Hindu Rashtra, are ultimately sickening political maladventures that would eventually lose momentum. But they have the capacity to leave a trail of bloody conflicts and lead to deaths of millions before they are comprehensively extinguished.
Macron’s message of openness and embrace of each other, respecting differences and not turning everyone into a clone of a perceived racial superiority is not only for France. It’s also applicable to democracies in throes of radical disorientation, in clutches of far-right tyranny, under the thumbs of those who exploit class struggles for narrow sectarian gains.
India will do well to learn from Macron’s victory and realign itself politically for a better, truly plural political future.