Gap between social democratisation and economic growth fuelling right-wing populism, says JNU Professor

Published - June 10, 2024 10:16 pm IST - KANNUR

The widening gap between social democratisation and economic growth is driving the rise of right-wing populism, according to Ajay Gudavarthy, Associate Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Prof. Gudavarthy was delivering the keynote address on ‘Why has the world become so illiberal?’ as part of the E.K. Nayanar Memorial Lecture 2024 at Cherussery auditorium here on Monday.

Organised by the E.K. Nayanar Chair and the Department of History, Kannur University, the event highlighted the impact of neo-liberal policies on income inequality and the subsequent political consequences. Prof. Gudavarthy noted that while people had become more aware of their rights, the inability to access these rights materially had led to widespread disenchantment, which right-wing groups had exploited.

“The right-wing emphasises local identities and incorporates them into a broader agenda, causing sharp societal divides,” Prof. Gudavarthy said. He pointed out that right-wing parties often focussed on sub-caste identities, creating conflicts that helped them align with non-dominant, upwardly mobile castes, challenging traditionally dominant castes without addressing the caste system’s eradication as advocated by Ambedkar.

Prof. Gudavarthy further explained that this reordering of sub-castes fostered local loyalties, while also leading to the culturalisation of caste. This process, he argued, was used by the RSS to maintain and reinforce social hierarchies under the guise of preserving heterogeneity.

He also emphasised the role of emotions in politics, noting that issues like urban loneliness, work stress, and masculinity concerns were crucial for a comprehensive understanding of contemporary politics. Prof. Gudavarthy suggested that happiness-based indices be developed in Kerala, pointing out the paradox of high social security standards coexisting with significant alcoholism in the State.

The event featured Kannur University Vice-Chancellor K. Saju as the chief guest, who honoured Sharada Teacher, spouse of E.K. Nayanar, with a special memento. Akhil Nassim, a history student at Kannur University, presented a paper on Nayanar’s relevance in modern Kerala’s history. The welcome speech was delivered by Dr. Malavika Binny, Head of the Department of History, and the vote of thanks by Dr. Mohandas, Director of E.K. Nayanar Chair. Sukanya N., a syndicate member, offered felicitations.

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