When the politics of populism meets the economics of globalisation

Would you ever imagine that a man born into a family of real estate tycoons would, one day, yield the same position of influence as another, who spent most of his childhood selling tea in the railway stations of India? And yet, we have Donald Trump and Narendra Modi- faces that ‘trumped’ traditional left-right party policies by riding the tsunami of (legitimate?) voter rage.

Donald Trump Memes

Despite it all, it’s the ‘invisible majority’ that had the last say! (Source: Google.com)

PM Modi launched a new mobile app 'BHIM' to encourage e-transactionsMeanwhile in India (Source: Indian Express)

Voters in the U.S. increasingly felt that their country had started caring more about hiring cheap foreign labour than preserving the ‘dignity of work’ of its nationals. Nigel Farage, of the UK Independence Party, even convinced the people of Britain that Greece’s debt, Syrian immigrants and the precariousness of the common European market shouldn’t really concern them. In India, the UPA Government’s inability to take charge of the mushrooming scams, obscene amounts of black money and a Prime Minister who failed to take the stage to address the nation saw them thrashed out by Modi, whose questionable past in religious politics had made many political pundits write him off.


From stretching FDI limits to stretching his limbs, Modi’s done it all! (Source: Buzzfeed)

Some of this populist rage is justified. The world has seen rising income inequality as automation and outsourcing are making them irrelevant. What’s more, multiple lone-wolf attacks by members claiming allegiance to IS have spooked the security apparatus. Amidst all this gloom, though, India seems to be undergoing an interesting experiment in democratic politics. Given its strong pillars of democratic accountability and the rule of law, the emergence of a strong government that has pledged itself to “good governance” has rekindled the hope of a rejuvenated economy. In this model, even though economic inequalities, religious and cultural differences and concern for national integrity exist, the strong institutions of democracy combined with a government headed by a leader with a vision ensure that politics does not degenerate into a tyranny of the majority.

The populist movement, that is perceived to thrive on xenophobia and trade protectionism, is a fallout of governments that have failed to demonstrate how globalisation’s riches could ‘trickle down’ to all. Thus, it is probably time to examine three important trends- the rise of the dominating, powerful and hugely visible leader, increasing attacks on free trade and immigration, and a growing sense of pride in a historical ideal of the ‘nation’. Despite its many challenges, we can still salvage our future by testing leaders on their ability to execute on the aspirations of their voters.

Lest we slide back (Source: R.K Laxman)acbfacbd1a26a0c08bd9b6d7202d1c43


  1. Nigel Nicholson, “The man who would be king?”, London Business School, accessed on 9th March, 2017, https://www.london.edu/faculty-and-research/lbsr/the-man-who-would-be-king#.WMGdzjuLRPY
  2. Raghuram Rajan, “Democracy, inclusion and prosperity”, Mint, 30th December, 2017, pp. 4
  3. Dominic Barton, “Meeting the populist challenge”, Mint, 30th December, 2017, pp. 8
  4. Joseph E.Stiglitz, “The Age of Trump”, Mint, 30th December, 2017, pp. 9
  5. Margaret Macmillan, “The new year and the new populism”, Mint, 30th December, 2017, pp. 16
  6. J.Sandel, “Lessons from the Populist Revolt”, Mint, 30th December, 2017, pp. 19




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