Bolsonaro and Modi: A Populist Union

Aparaajita Pandey — Jawaharlal Nehru University

Republished with full permission of the author. Originally published by the The Geopolitics. Click here to view the original article.

As India gets ready for its seventieth Republic Day celebrations all eyes would be on Jair Bolsonaro who is going to be the guest of honour on the 26th of January, this year. Jair Bolsonaro was elected as the President of Brazil on the 1st of January, 2019 succeeding the interim President Michel Temer who assumed his position after the impeachment of the former President Dilma Rousseff. 

It would not be wrong to say that President Bolsonaro is not merely another Head of State in the long tradition of Heads of State who grace the occasion of the Indian Republic Day celebrations but the representation of bonhomie among the populist leaders of the world. As the world most definitely embraced the politics of populism, the people around the globe began to opt for leaders that stood for a shift from politics that had a tendency to be attracted towards even faint shades of socialism or at the very least adopt that rhetoric. However, the recent trends in global politics have shown that people across the world have tended to favour authoritarian, conservative, anti-globalist political rhetoric and have propped up leaders who promised to deliver a world that would focus on the domestic more than the international.  

Bolsonaro was added to the long list of names who have a unique distaste for anything remotely resembling ‘liberal’ and he has made his inspirations and idols widely known. Bolsonaro was dubbed the ‘tropical Trump’ during his campaign and has in most ways lived up to his title. His disdain for the indigenous people of the Amazon, his apathy over the burning of the rainforest, and his annoyance at the global reactions about the issue were aptly summed up when the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araujo had made a claim that ‘climate change was not real’.  

Bolsonaro’s disbelief of climate change, his homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric and his general enthusiasm for military brutality is almost as well documented as his anti-globalist agenda. While Bolsonaro during his campaigns emphasised that he did not plan to honour the Brazilian commitments in several multilateral forums and was also less than passionate about active Brazilian role in the UN, his foreign minister Araujo had explicitly labelled himself as an ‘anti-globalist’. Adding to the list suspicion of the ‘other’, the Brazilian President had previously mirrored Donald Trump’s distrust of China; during his campaign Bolsonaro spoke freely about his distaste for Chinese policies and perceived their presence in Brazil as predatory. 

But in the past year as President, Jair Bolsonaro has taken an ‘about-face’ on many of his claims. As the realities of the presidential responsibilities hit home, Bolsonaro saw the need for not only allies but also trading partners and multi-lateral forums. The BRICS summit that took place in November of 2019 in Brazil was indicative of a more pragmatic Bolsonaro. As his chosen, Chicago trained Paulo Guedes took over economic policymaking, Bolsonaro himself announced that ‘China was going to be an even greater part of the Brazilian future’. Pragmatism and his love of populism have led Bolsonaro to seek kinship among his like around the world. Jair Bolsonaro’s fondness for Isreal’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungary’s Viktor Orban is known to the world, so is his infatuation with Trump and this fascination is most definitely not one-sided. As Trump and Bolsonaro come closer as allies in Latin America against Venezuela’s Maduro and Cuba; Trump has also stocked and supported the Brazilian ambition to be a part of the OECD group, a position previously offered to Macri’s Argentina and then rescinded as Argentina slipped back to its Peronista ways. The recent Brazilian decision to opt-out of the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean States (CELAC) and its bid for the OECD must be seen together to achieve a clearer picture, although much still remains unseen. 

Bolsonaro has extended similar warmth to Modi’s India. His acceptance to the invitation to be the guest of honour at the Indian Republic Day celebrations have been succeeded by Brazil’s decision to grant Visa-free travel to Indian citizens as well as potential investment opportunities in the sectors of agricultural equipment, post-harvest technologies, animal husbandry, and biofuels. Brazil and India have held the beacon for south- south cooperation in the past. When the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva graced the Republic Day celebrations of 2004, it was attributed to the camaraderie between him and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; a similar solidarity has emerged between Prime Minister Modi and President Bolsonaro. 

Both India and Brazil stand to gain much from each other. As the countries continue to forge deeper ties with each other, Bolsonaro’s presence at the Republic Day parade will be seen as a positive indicator of what the future holds for both India and Brazil.

Republished with full permission of the author. Originally published by the The Geopolitics. Click here to view the original article.

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