I didn’t start off as a fascist. Anybody who has an inkling about politics in my home country of India knows that the only role left for a reasonable observer is that of an obituarist. The burgeoning bureaucracies, endless corruption and the rampant nature of identity politics act to dissuade reasonable persons from running for public office, leaving the posts empty for those who are willing and capable of exploiting the ordinary man.
For the crowd of leftists who think that the Berkeley College Republicans are an assault on freedom, I would like to invite them to the third world where they would witness what real right-wing tyranny looks like. A few weeks ago, a right-wing student group that had associations with the ruling party in India attacked other students at a college literature festival at Delhi University for inviting a speaker they didn’t find politically palatable (sound familiar?). Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election, I saw a slow but steady resurgence of a potent variant of Hindu nationalism that is not only corrosive to Indian national identity but also to basic human rights, such as the right of free expression. The past three years have seen far-right Hindu groups organize campaigns to convert Muslims and Christians to Hindus and calls for a nationwide beef ban to be enforced for the reason that the cow is a sacred animal for Hindus, a flagrant violation of the principles of secularism.
Guided by my desire to maintain liberty, I started my political odyssey on the left after being disillusioned by Modi’s government. In fact, my introduction to political debate was in the form of a rousing defense of the free speech rights of a left-wing activist, Kanhaiya Kumar, when his speaking event was canceled by right-wing agitators at Jawaharlal Nehru University. At this time, I was a committed Marxist, believing in true leftist ideals and writing odes to the hammer and sickle.
Hence, when this U.S. presidential campaign began, I was naturally drawn to Senator Bernie Sanders. My friends back home too leaned left ideologically, and in their company, an echo chamber was created where the Democrats were the party of the ordinary people while the Republicans favored the bankers on Wall Street and the Ku Klux Klan. “Why shouldn’t college be debt-free?” we used to ask each other. Why shouldn’t the greedy capitalists (the 1 percent) pay more in taxes? Why shouldn’t free health care be a right, not a privilege?
One night, I chose to watch a Republican primary debate just to observe that clown Donald Trump and the other bigots surrounding him make a fool out of themselves. To my surprise, however, for all the claims that the Republicans were the party of white supremacy, the Republican stage was very diverse with two Cuban Americans (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) and one African American (Ben Carson). Besides ethnic diversity, the candidates made some really interesting points, and, for the first time, I found myself questioning my political beliefs. To create more employment opportunities, wouldn’t it make sense for the government to empower job creators? Did socialized medicine really lead to better health care outcomes, and would such a system be financially feasible? Wasn’t an open-borders immigration policy impossible with a welfare state in place? In the course of that Fox Business debate, I heard a bubble in my mind pop as I was forced to confront Republicans’ policy positions after months of calling them white nationalists who were not meant to be taken seriously.
Slowly but steadily, I started to shift towards the right, as my appreciation for capitalism and free markets began to grow exponentially. By the time I arrived at UC Berkeley last year, I was a soft Republican who was open to new ideas and the vibrant political discourse that U.S. colleges were known for.
What I found, however, was that American liberals were straying dangerously close to the Indian right, as embodied in the Modi government, in their tactics. The suppression of free speech on the grounds that it was “dangerous,” the continual division of the public into victim constituencies along ethnic lines and the slandering of political opponents as moral enemies of civilization all sounded reminiscent of the playbook used by the tyrannical Modi regime back home. Soon enough, I had found my place on the conservative-libertarian part of the American political spectrum.
If there has been one guiding principle in my politics, it has been the quest for freedom. I supported the Indian liberals when they were getting beaten up by deluded mobs for the right to protest and express oneself. I was a Marxist until I wrapped my mind around the lack of liberty and moral incongruity inherent in that ideology. I didn’t become a Republican because I hated myself or my skin color. It is because I agreed with the Republican Party’s principle and appreciated the fact that it was fighting an enemy that I had come to despise through my own experiences.
Mine was a genuine political evolution based on ideas and personal experiences. Despite what my comments section says, I’m not a fascist. If I really wanted to be a fascist, I would have remained a liberal.
Rudra Reddy writes the Monday column on resisting indoctrination. Contact him at [email protected]