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RISE OF THE RIGHT

For those still trying to come to terms with the sea-change in Indian politics, and what it says about shifts in the nature of democracy in India, it might be helpful, if not exactly consoling, to look towards Britain and the European Union. The rise of right-wing populist parties who are Eurosceptics and anti-immigrant can be seen, almost spectacularly, in both these arenas — especially in the UK Independence Party’s upsetting of the two-party system in Britain in the recent local elections and in the elections to the European Parliament. As in the 2013 local elections, this year Ukip’s surge has established a four-party structure in English local government. Nigel Farage, Ukip’s leader, has built a national electoral force by leveraging popular hostility to Europe, immigration and the political establishment. Ukip has gained more than 160 council seats, taking votes from all three established parties, and rendering the British electoral topography more complex than ever before and jolting the others out of what remained of their complacence. In the European elections, it received the most votes of any British party, winning seats in every region of Britain. It won 27.49 per cent of the vote, gaining 11 extra members of the European Parliament, making up a total of 24.

Of course, local-level or European elections are not an absolute indication of what might happen in the general elections in 2015. But if Ukip maintains a large vote-share in 2015, it might find its way into the House of Commons; they already have three members in the House of Lords and one seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Like Marine Le Pen’s success in France owing much to disenchantment with François Hollande’s government, this is a wake-up call not only for the British and European political establishments, but also for a self-consciously ‘multicultural’ society like Britain’s, for the Ukip does call itself a “democratic, libertarian party” as does the anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, anti-globalization and anti-EU Front National in France, with major sympathizers in Denmark. Obviously these right-wing parties are giving ordinary voters a kind of assurance about the basic things of life —like jobs, wages, housing and health — that the mainstream parties or the traditional Left are failing to provide. Radical introspection, rather than liberal horror, could be the only way out of these unsettling shifts.