Will the three Gs matter in Iowa?

In the first and most important caucus state, the GOP candidates are putting "gays, guns and God" is

Iowa, as one US citizen put it, is a place with pictures of piglets on postcards (PPPP, if you will). In other words, it is representative of rural America; a state in the "American Heartland" that is rich in cornfields and farmers, who receive $5 Billion a year in ethanol subsidies. "Sure, downsize government, but don't think about touching my farm subsidy," is the general feel within the state. It comes as no surprise, then, that the GOP candidates have treaded carefully over the issue of corn subsidies in the first and most important caucus state.

But another acronym may carry weight in the PPPP state- that of the three Gs (gays, guns and God). The acronym was used by Thomas Frank in his book What's the matter with kansas to explain why poor white Americans would vote for the Republican party- one that offers tax cuts for the wealthy and supports cutting government wellfare.

Iowa has always been an important state because of it's first-in-the-nation status, and since the Iowa primaries come earlier, they are litmus test of sorts. Other states resent this status, using the argument that it is too small, too white and too rural to represent the American demos.

But historically, it has always been considered the key to nomination. Out of 16 Iowa winners, 11 have become their party's candidate (six democrats-Carter, Mondale, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; and five Republicans- Reagan, Bush Senior, Dole, Bush, and Bush).

But will the three Gs hold sway in Iowa in the same way that it has done in the past? In a rural state with a high number of social conservatives, where half of the republican electorate are evangelicals- it would make sense. The Republicans have great pride in having a strong evangelical base. But this year, with unemployment at 9 per cent and ubiquitous house foreclosures, it seems that whether a candidate believes in the same God, or the same religious values, might not be that important as divine intervention in the form of a candidate who will guide the American people through tough economic times.

A recent Gallup poll conducted in early 2011 reported that more than half of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 27 per cent in 1997. And in Iowa, gay marriage became legal in 2009 through the courts, although a 2010 poll showed that 44 per cent of Iowans were against same-sex marriage- the only state in the US with same-sex marriage in which support was below half. Indeed, in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who ruled homosexuals should be allowed to marry were kicked out of their positions in a historic decision by voters. It was the first time since 1962 that any justices had been brushed off.

And when it comes to guns, President Obama seems to be protecting the right to bear arms enough, with little if no mention of fire-arms and no legislation against it.

Over at the NY Tiimes Opinionator, Timothy Egan argued that the three Gs could do more harm than good to Republican candidates in 2012:

"Conservative orthodoxy is badly out of step with emerging majority support for full citizenship rights of gays. And with religion, some Republicans have already made an issue of Romney's Mormonism, and Gingrich's switch to Roman Catholicism. In Gingrich's case, questions have been raised about how a multiple-married man could win the favor of high-ranking Catholic clerics who usually look askance at people who ditch their wives. Do we dare expect these two fine men to be the ones, at long last, to bring an end to the gays, guns and God wedge issue, even if it's by accident?"

A recent New York TImes/CBS News poll suggests that voter's concerns are mainly about jobs and the economy (40 per cent) and the budget deficit (23 per cent), with only nine per cent saying their concern was social issues.

But Republican candidates seem to be flirting with the three Gs. Rick Perry released an add titled "Strong" about why he is a christian and criticising "Obama's war on religion". And in the December 15 GOP candidates debate in Iowa, there were plenty of questions on morality. Newt Gingrich (who is leading the polls with 26 per cent) was attacked for once suggesting he supported Republicans who support some abortion rights. Romney was attacked by Fox host Chris Wallace, who suggested he Romney shifted positionsguns and gay-related issues since running for for senate 17 years ago. "In 1994 and throughout my career, I've said I oppose same-sex marriage," he shot back.

If the three Gs apply anywhere else, it is in Iowa, where far-right conservatism seems to be a safe bet. But with Americans angrier than ever about the state of the country (a recent CNN poll asked the question: Are you angry about the state of the country, with 74 per cent answering yes) the three Gs and moral issues might not carry the same weight as in the past.

 

 

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Britain's commemoration of Partition is colonial white-washing in disguise

It’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it.

While in London a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but notice a curious trend in the British media’s coverage of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent. It wasn’t the familiar think-pieces about "the jewel in the crown", thinly disguised nostalgia for empire masquerading as critiques of colonialism (see for example, The Conversation’s piece on how colonialism was traumatic for, wait for it, officials of the British Raj). It wasn’t the patronising judgements on how India and Pakistan have fared 70 years down the road, betraying the paternalistic attitude some of the British commentariat still harbours towards the former "colonies". It wasn’t even the Daily Mail’s tone-deaf and frankly racist story about 92 year old countess June Bedani and her “loyal Indian houseman” Muthukanna Shamugam, who doesn’t even speak a word of “Indian” (that’s just classic Daily Mail). What got my attention was the British media’s raging hard-on for Partition - a flurry of features, documentaries and TV specials about one of the biggest and bloodiest mass migrations of the 20th century.

Just take a look at the major headlines from the past couple of weeks - "They Captured And Forced Him Out Of His Home: This Isn’t Syria In 2017, It Was India In 1947" (Huffington Post UK); "Partition: 70 Years On" (The Guardian, BBC and Independent, each with a different subhead); "The Real Bloody Legacy Of Partition" (The Spectator); "Remembering Partition: 70 Years Since India-Pakistan Divide" (Daily Mail) and many more. It isn’t that - unlike some of my more reactionary compatriots - I believe that the Partition story shouldn’t be documented and spoken about. On the contrary, I think India and Pakistan have failed to grapple successfully with Partition’s scars and still festering wounds, and the way it still haunts both our domestic politics and our relationship with each other. But the overwhelming focus on the grisly details of Partition by the British press is deeply problematic, especially in its unsubtle erasure of British culpability in the violence. Even the Guardian’s Yasmin Khan, in one of the few pieces that actually talks about the British role in Partition, characterises the British government as “naive and even callous” rather than criminally negligent, and at least indirectly responsible thanks to its politics of "divide and rule". Of course, it’s much easier to focus on the indigenous perpetrators of religious violence than on the imperialist policies that facilitated it. That would require the sort of national soul-searching that, even 70 years on, makes many British citizens deeply uncomfortable.

Rose-tinted views of empire aside, the coverage of Indian and Pakistani independence by the British press is also notable in its sheer volume. Perhaps, as some commentators have suggested, this is because at a time of geopolitical decline and economic uncertainty, even the tainted legacy of colonialism is a welcome reminder of the time when Britain was the world’s reigning superpower. There is certainly some truth to that statement. But I suspect the Brexit government’s fantasies of Empire 2.0 may also have something to do with the relentless focus on India. There is a growing sentiment that in view of historic and cultural ties, a post-Brexit Britain will find natural allies and trade partners in Commonwealth countries such as India.

If that’s the case, British policy-makers and commentators are in for a reality check. The truth is that, despite some simmering resentment about colonialism, most Indians today do not care about the UK. Just take a look at the contrast between the British and Indian coverage of Independence Day. While there are a handful of the customary pieces about the independence struggle, the Indian press is largely focused on the here-and-now: India’s economic potential, its relationships with the US and China, the growing threat of illiberalism and Hindu nationalism. There is nary a mention of contemporary Britain.

This is not to say that modern India is free of the influence - both good and bad - of colonialism. Many of the institutions of Indian democracy were established under the British colonial system, or heavily influenced by Britain’s parliamentary democracy. This is reflected both in independent India’s commitment (in theory, if not always in practice) to the ideals of Western liberalism and secularism, as well as its colonial attitude towards significant sections of its own population.

The shadow of Lord Macaulay, the Scottish legislator who spent four eventful years in India from 1834 to 1838 and is considered one of the key architects of the British Raj, still looms large over the modern Indian state. You can see it in the Penal Code that he drafted, inherited by both independent India and Pakistan. You can see it in Indian bureaucracy, which still functions as a paternalistic, colonial administrative service. And you can see it in the Indian Anglophile elite, the product of an English education system that Macaulay designed to produce a class of Indians “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” It was this class of Anglophile Indians who inherited the reins of the Indian state after independence. It is us - because I too am a Macaulayputra (Macaulay’s child), as the Hindu right likes to call us. We congratulate ourselves on our liberalism and modernity even as we benefit from a system that enriched the few by impoverishing the many. This class of brown sahibs is now the favourite punching bag of a Hindu nationalism that we have allowed to fester in our complacency.

Still, ghosts of the past aside, the UK no longer holds sway over young India, even those in the Anglophile upper classes. Today’s young Indians look to the United States for their pop culture references, their global aspirations and even their politics, both liberal and conservative (see the Hindutva fringe’s obsession with Donald Trump and the alt-right). We still want to study in British universities (though increasingly strict visa rules make it a less attractive destination), but we’d rather work in and emigrate to the US, Canada or Australia. We drink coffee rather than tea (well, except for the thoroughly Indianised chai), watch Veep rather than Yes Minister, and listen to rap, not grime.

Macaulayputra insults aside, the British aren’t even the bogeymen of resurgent Hindu nationalism - that dubious status goes to the Mughal Empire. Whether this cultural turn towards America is a result of the United States’ cultural hegemony and economic imperialism is a topic for another day, but the special "cultural links" between India and the UK aren’t as robust as many Brits would like to think. Which is perhaps why the UK government is so intent on celebrating 2017 as the UK-India year of Culture.

Many in the UK believe that Brexit will lead to closer trade links between the two countries, but much of that optimism is one-sided. Just 1.7 per cent of British exports go to India, and Britain's immigration policy continues to rankle. This April, India allowed a bilateral investment deal to lapse, despite the best efforts of UK negotiators. With the Indian economy continuing to grow, set to push the UK out of the world’s five largest economies by 2022, the balance of power has shifted. 

The British press - and certain politicians - may continue to harbour sepia-tinted ideas of the British Raj and the "special relationship" between the two countries, but India has moved on. After 70 years, perhaps the UK will finally realise that India is no longer "the jewel in its crown". 

 

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.