Menu Close

SA, India shift to the Right may impact BRICS

Add to my bookmarks

Share This Article:

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, centre, flashes victory sign as he arrives at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters to celebrate the party’s win in country’s general election, in New Delhi on June 4, 2024. – Picture: Arun Sankar / AFP

By Reneva Fourie

On June 10 and 11, the core BRICS foreign ministers, new members and guest countries met in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. They discussed significant global developments and the implementation of the entity’s programme, which focuses on politics and security, economy and finance, as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

The assembly, characterised by noble intentions, shed light on the broader impact of conflicts, particularly emphasising the situation in Palestine.

It also stressed the principles of mutual respect, understanding, equality, solidarity, openness, inclusiveness and consensus. The meeting’s outcomes reflected progressive ideas, distinct from recent ideological shifts within some of their member states.

The gathering took place against the backdrop of significant political changes in two BRICS countries. India’s seven-phased Lok Sabha elections, from April 19 to June 1, and South Africa’s May 29 elections, were pivotal.

The outcomes, declared on June 4 in India and June 2 in South Africa, marked substantial setbacks for India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and South Africa’s ANC. The outcomes ushered in a new era of coalition politics, in which both parties no longer held outright parliamentary majorities, indicating a significant shift in the political landscape of both countries.

The BJP’s electoral performance may not necessarily be seen as unfavourable, given its right-wing stance and narrow religious nationalism. The party came to power in 2014 after the Indian National Congress, which had been the dominant force in most of India’s governments since independence, faced an electoral defeat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was able to secure a third five-year term with the necessary support from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a right-leaning coalition of 15 members. Amid concerns by the business community that the party’s weakening mandate might have pushed India’s government towards a more welfare-orientated approach, the NDA was able to confirm its commitment to structural adjustment, regressive labour reforms and privatisation.

In South Africa, the business community promptly expressed its expectations concerning the composition of a multiparty coalition. Under conditions whereby the Left is struggling to display strategic dexterity, the ANC has little choice but to gravitate towards the Right.

The ANC, which had begun the process of privatising critical state assets in the telecommunications, energy and transportation industries, finds it expedient to concede to the demands of politically market-oriented parties. Additionally, its increasingly conservative stance on immigration allows it to accommodate parties with leanings toward ethnonationalism and traditionalism.

With the shift towards right-leaning coalitions in India and South Africa, trade will probably become the dominant national interest shaping their foreign policies. This could lead to greater emphasis on creating more enabling environments to attract foreign investment, implying the relaxation of labour laws and further liberalisation of tariffs rather than improving domestic industrialisation capabilities. It could also imply a bias towards relations with dominant global economic players, mostly Western and white.

India, which is a party to multibillion-dollar trade deals with the US and Europe, has vehemently resisted efforts towards a common BRICS currency.

As market-orientated perspectives gain hegemony within South Africa’s government, reshaping the country’s economic trajectory will probably introduce a new geopolitical outlook.

It is probable that our historically bold stance in defence of the right to self-determination – as with the Palestinians and Western Sahara – might waver.

Likewise, our steadfast demand for respect for the sovereignty of nation-states such as Cuba and Venezuela, including allowing them to determine their developmental paths, might increasingly take a back seat in an enhanced bid to comply with Western-imposed sanctions and its stringent Swift regulations.

Many attribute the shifts in electoral patterns to the maturity and effectiveness of democracy. However, the degree to which the compositions of the coalitions are representative of public sentiment is contentious.

The global surge in identity politics notwithstanding, the extent to which the worldwide right wing has capitalised on the prevailing disillusionment with established social and political constructs remains uncertain.

The decline in electoral support for the BJP and the consolidation of the right-wing coalition does not necessarily signify a broader popular shift to the political Right in India. On the contrary, support for leftist ideologies has increased in this past election.

Moreover, there is a marginal difference of less than two percentage points between the NDA coalition’s 43.31 percent and the more progressive Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (India) bloc’s 41.69 percent. Hence the composition of the coalition seems to primarily reflect the preferences of the governing elite rather than those of the populace.

The Brenthurst Foundation was quick to point out that its snap poll indicated that South Africans strongly favour a coalition of the ANC-DA, or ANC-DA and other parties of the Multi-Party Charter, urging the governing party to obey the will of the people. The determination by the entity, which hosted a conference on regime-change, including in South Africa, in Poland last year, contradicts the electoral results whereby the Multi-Party Charter collective garnered less than 35 percent of the vote. The coalition proposal thus also appears to appease the elite rather than the masses.

The shift to the Right by India and South Africa’s elites emulates the rightward turn of the European Parliament’s recent elections. One can only hope that it will not follow Europe’s rise in conservativeness regarding climate change, immigration and defence.

The global Left should take greater responsibility for facilitating the deterrence. The failure of progressives to champion substantive social and political progress has created a void in which the authoritarian and punitive inclinations of the far Right have garnered support among a disillusioned and disgruntled electorate.

The BRICS Plus programme is an exemplary endeavour by its member governments to promote inclusive and sustainable development. Nonetheless, leftists, activists, scholars and other components of civil society should exert heightened efforts to cultivate an awareness that prioritising the security and welfare of a select few should never override the advancement of the well-being and dignity of humanity as a whole.

Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security