Like Republicans against Trumpism, dissenters within BJP must speak up

During the coming two weeks, the maximum temperature in Urbana, Illinois, will be minus 2 degrees Celsius. That’s the projection. The minimum will go down, it seems, to minus 22. Other places in North America will be even colder.

These readings are a prod for not forgetting the kisans protesting on Delhi’s borders: Their nights and days spent in the open, close to menacing spikes, ditches, barbed wire and concrete blockades, many of them denied water, most of them barred from the internet.

Even if ameliorative attempts are made, this picture of inhumanity will haunt for decades the leaders and supporters of India’s current government. It will paint them in hues of shame in history books. In due course, some members of the current regime will try to explain that they privately tried to soften the regime’s response. It will be too late for their reputations.

Here in the US, at least some leaders of the Republican Party have spoken up in time, and openly, against the excesses of Trump and his hardcore supporters. Two of America’s strongest conservative voices, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, have led the way. McConnell, the Senate’s majority leader until the other day, is the man most responsible for turning the Supreme Court conservative. Cheney is the daughter of Dick Cheney, George W Bush’s well-known vice president and a core architect of the Iraq War.

Because she had voted to impeach him, Trump and his henchmen did everything in their power to remove Liz Cheney from her third position in the Republican Party’s hierarchy in the House of Representatives. Putting on direct pressure, Trump made multiple phone calls to members, but the bid was overwhelmingly defeated, 145 to 61, thanks in part to secret balloting.

The party’s Trumpist base is large, loud and intimidating, but its anti-extremist and pro-democracy wing seems finally to be finding its spine.

Those who attacked the US Capitol on January 6 enjoy considerable support across this land. Trumpism has become a cult with fanatical members believing that liberal Americans are traitors who, in alliance with Jews and foreigners, will destroy this country. White supremacy is the cult’s unconcealed purpose, even when the words are not pronounced. Its symbols are the cross, the American flag, the Confederate flag, and the gun — all four joined to one another!

The seeming silence of leaders of America’s popular churches in face of this cult has been a curious element in the American scene. While Black pastors and progressive White clergy have spoken out strongly against Trump and against White supremacy, the strong support for Trump from men like Frank Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, does little for American Christianity.

In less than two years, the US will have congressional elections, where the usual pattern is for the party controlling the White House to lose seats. While this may well be repeated in end-2022, the Republican schism that has occurred could work in favour of the Democrats.

How Biden will negotiate the old progressive versus moderate divide in his own party is another obvious question, but the pandemic with its troubling variants and Trumpism’s dangers should be two powerful unifying forces for the Democrats and indeed for the US as a whole.

The political impact of the Senate’s trial of Trump is not easy to predict. There are suggestions that Trump’s obsession for re-litigating the electoral verdict will hurt the main defence argument, which is that the legal provision for impeaching “the president” cannot apply to a former president.

While strongly criticising Trump’s refusal to accept his loss and also the insurrection of January 6, McConnell has so far held that an ex-president cannot be impeached, which is also the position taken by the vast majority of Republican senators. Since it requires 67 votes in a 100-member senate, impeachment looks unlikely.

A formal failure to impeach may not necessarily rehabilitate Trump, and a re-enactment during the trial of his hostility towards the democratic process could weaken Trumpism.

While waiting and watching, all of us will keep a steady eye on Delhi, the farmers and the regime. An obvious question is: Who in the BJP or the Hindutva parivaar are the counterparts of McConnell and Liz Cheney? Quiet disapproval of Modi-Shah’s policies and responses must exist within the parivaar. Common sense tells us that. Competitive human nature ensures that.

In due course, whenever that may be, we will find out about the ones secretly questioning.

Meanwhile, as we return our gaze to the borders of Delhi and to the farmers in whose face the doors of humanity and respect have been slammed shut, another question may be asked. It is similar to the one about voices for democracy within America’s churches.

Where are the voices of conscience from exponents of the Hindu faith?

This article first appeared in the print edition on February 8, 2021, under the title “Hindutva’s conscience keepers”.
The writer is currently teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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