The world, today, is witnessing a period of increasing insecurity (among both nations and people), economic uncertainty, and widening social schisms. Recent history is replete with examples of varied kinds of transformations and power-shifts underway across the globe. The declining trend of US hegemony, inevitable rise of China, legitimation crisis in liberal democracies, sudden ascendance of ultra-nationalist right-wing parties are only a few of its manifestations. Indeed, these developments are symptomatic of a wider process of socio-political churning happening across the globe. The question of collective identity – of who “we” are, especially in relation to the “other”, has once again gained primacy over the more philosophical discourse of finding “who am I?”
This ubiquitous feeling of collective insecurity is being masterly exploited by “strongmen” emerging in different parts of the world. From developed to developing and under-developed worlds, the common thread that binds all of them together is this rise and rise of “bigger-than-institutions individuals.
Message from Turkey
The recent most example of a country falling prey to authoritarian-cum-dictatorial regime is Turkey. Far from the secular ideals on which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the modern nation-state of Turkey, after the First World War, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey is deeply rooted in political Islam. Under Erdogan, since the failed coup of 2016 a new nation is under the process of making, in which religion and nationalism have combined, and are masquerading behind the imperatives of ensuring safety, security and well being of the common people. This trajectory is not new. Often, it has been observed that authoritarianism creeps in slowly, as institutions take time to decay. Institutions are rendered obsolete because the “messiah” leader (who later on becomes the strongmen) becomes successful in convincing people that they (institutions) represent a stumbling block in taking “bold” decisions which are deemed necessary for the welfare of the masses. Thus, mostly it is through a democratic process that strongmen assume and consolidate disproportionate power.
They (strongmen) all share a common attribute of manipulating – as they deftly utilize a crisis situation to assume greater powers. The blame for slow decision making, corruption, are all pinned on to the democratic institutions and political opposition, which is then suppressed mercilessly. The fourth estate, that it, media, is also muzzled brutally as any criticism of the government is highlighted as a “disservice to the nation”. Dissenting voices are curbed and critiques are labelled anti-nationalists. All these processes were taking shape in Turkey since 2016. The referendum of 2017, after which Presidency came to enjoy enormous powers without much accountability represented the beginning of the phase of “death of democracy” in Turkey, while the election victory for Erdogan represents the logical culmination of that process.
Moving forward, the crucial message not only from Turkey, but also from China and Russia, is that protecting democracy, human rights, and civil liberties, is a collective enterprise which demands from the society as whole, to continue holding those in power accountable and responsible for their acts of commission or omission. The civil society, which is a crucial link between the family (basic unit) and the system/state (largest unit) can play a decisive role in doing so. The need of the hour is therefore to transform citizens from passive recipients to active participants in the political process. Increasing political apathy of the youth is a major challenge which needs to be addressed.
The era of ethics and ideology in politics needs a revival. In an age of fake news, trolls and propaganda, the moral philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, of focussing on truth and removing the sin and not the sinner, can be a guiding force. Besides, the true spirit of democracy, which lies in establishing rule of law over the law of ‘men’, respect for every individual, exercising power with responsibility, and wielding authority as the trustee, must be adhered to.
Finally, the strongmen of today will certainly go down sooner or later, but their legacy will have ramifications for the present and the future generations. History will not be kind to those societies which will and have succumbed to the exigencies of periods of crises. Societies and nations are tested in times of hardships as the real character of a nation comes out only in periods of turmoil. We are living in interesting and yet dangerous times, where the institutions which have been built over hundreds of years, be it the political parties, public offices or democracy itself is facing an existential threat. Let’s see which way the world swerves.
Picture Credits: Xinhuanet.com