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Green Fields, Red Flags: Far-Right Authoritarian Tactics, Propaganda, and Alternative Reality 

In both Europe and India, far-right parties exhibit a common pattern of lacking a concrete plan to address the fundamental issues confronting farmers. Instead, they resort to a propaganda-driven approach to manipulate public opinion and perpetuate their hold on power.
Farmers during a protest on Delhi border demanding the repeal of free central farm laws in 2021. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

In bustling metropolises and quaint countryside towns alike, a rumble of discontent echoes through the streets in Europe. Farmers are marching in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin.

In January, hundreds of tractors growled along Berlin’s roads, angry French farmers dumped piles of manure in front of town halls (government offices), and Belgian farmers toppled the British 19th century industrialist John Cockerill in front of the European Parliament. The cacophony of honking horns and deafening engines clogged the streets leading to the seats of power in these capital cities.  

The farmers voiced a litany of grievances, citing their dire economic circumstances, rising farming costs, dwindling incomes, and apprehensions regarding proposed agricultural reforms — the Green Deal that they fear could strip away crucial subsidies, restrict access to water for irrigation purposes, and implement a ban on pesticides.  

In Delhi, the air is thick with tension. The negotiations between farmer groups and ministerial groups have faltered. Delhi’s borders are closed. Barbed wire now lines the borders, while concrete blocks obstruct the roads. Tire spikes jut from the highways. Drones buzz overhead. These military style preparations evoke imagery of medieval era warfare, reminiscent of when the king’s army would erect obstacles at the border to protect against invaders.

Delhi’s border is heavily militarised. The police forces of three states — Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi — have deployed all their war tactics and resources at the borders. Internet services are suspended. Twitter accounts of several journalists and farmer leaders are withheld. Sophisticated drones are being used by paramilitary forces to rain tear gas shells on protesting farmers. The scale of police action and the use of military-grade equipment in response to a protest in a democracy is unprecedented. 

Also read: ‘Being Treated as if We Are From Pakistan and Shambhu Barrier Is India-Pak Border’

Far-right opportunism: tactics and tensions 

As the protests rage on, the far-right parties are latching onto farmer’s issues. European far-right parties are seizing the moment, eager to capitalise on the discontent bubbling beneath the surface. Grassroots support for the farmers’ protests, evident in campaign placards and active participation in Telegram groups, has become intertwined with various conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, climate change, and migration.  

While anti-migration rhetoric is a staple for most far-right parties across Western and Central Europe, a new adversary emerges in the form of green parties and climate advocates championing the Green Deal. Far-right parties view this as a fertile shared ground for aligning with farmers’ grievances and spreading their propaganda. They have thrown their support behind the farmers’ protests.

In Germany, for instance, neo-Nazi groups like The Third Path (the III. Weg) have urged their followers to join the protests, while leaders of the Free Saxons, another right-wing extremist party, addressed crowds outside the Semperoper opera house in Dresden. Delegates from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) participated in rallies in Stuttgart. This support is pigeonholed by far-right rhetoric that resonates with farmers’ concerns, particularly regarding issues like agricultural policies, economic disparities, and perceived threats to traditional values. 

 Also read: Farmers Protest: Barricades, Concertina Wire, and Spikes on the Road. So, What’s New?

Authoritarian response in India 

On the other hand, India’s far-right ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has taken a markedly different stance towards the farmers’ protests. Instead of aligning with the grievances of farmers, the BJP government has come down heavily on the protests, using state force and violence to curb dissent.

The prime minister used dehumanising terms, such as “parjivi” (parasites) and “andolanjivi” (professional protesters), in the parliament to discredit and marginalise the farmers’ movement. In line with his rhetoric, the BJP’s extensive social media apparatus had disseminated dehumanising propaganda, aiming to tarnish the image of the protest and construct an alternative reality portraying them in a negative light.

The prime minister’s actions effectively dehumanised and criminalised a legitimate movement in a democratic country, ironically one that he often touts as the “mother of democracy.” 

Construction of alternative reality 

Despite the apparent disparities in their approaches, far-right parties in both contexts share common strategies rooted in the construction of an alternative reality. Central to this approach is the selective cherry-picking of ideological elements to align with the far-right worldview. This includes the promotion of traditional values, prioritising national interests above all else, portraying majoritarian groups as victims, and depicting dissent as a threat to national security.

By manipulating symbols and figures, far-right parties craft a narrative that resonates with their supporters and advances their political agenda. This deliberate construction of an alternative reality serves to reinforce the far-right narrative, fostering a distorted perception of reality among their followers while bolstering their influence and power. 

Deflection of accountability and manipulation through propaganda 

Far-right populists excel at deflecting accountability by comparing their progress to that of their predecessors, often their political opponents. They strategically utilise this tactic as a well-calculated and simplistic measure of success, which echoes with their supporters through messages shared over social media platforms.

However, this approach lacks context and depth, serving as a convenient but misleading tool to evade scrutiny. Unfortunately, most people overlook the nuances behind these comparisons, instead embracing the simplistic narratives perpetuated by far-right populists. As a result, the true complexities and shortcomings of their policies and actions remain obscured, allowing them to maintain their facade of progress without genuine accountability. 

As an example of the far-right populist strategy, consider a recent tweet shared by a cabinet minister – Piyush Goyal – involved in negotiations with farmers, a message that has been amplified by his political party. The tweet features posters offering a simplified comparison of the minimum support price (MSP) provided to farmers during the five years of the Congress-led government (2010-2014) versus the one year of the BJP government (2023-2024). This seemingly straightforward presentation of numerical data carries the inherent risk of manipulation, serving the purpose of conveying a favourable message for the BJP within their echo chambers and propaganda machinery. 

However, the information presented in this tweet is not only asymmetrical but also intentionally omits crucial contextual factors and benchmarks, such as inflation rates, income levels, and other relevant parameters. This far-right populist narrative of the BJP strategically crafts a simplistic message tailored to its targeted audience, perpetuating a distorted version of progress while sidestepping the complexities and nuances of the broader economic and agricultural realities.  

Also read: Farmers at Shambhu Barrier Vow Not to Return Until Centre Enacts a Law on MSP

Propaganda without a vision: symbolism and suppression 

In both Europe and India, far-right parties exhibit a common pattern of lacking a concrete plan to address the fundamental issues confronting farmers. Instead, they resort to a propaganda-driven approach that weaponises symbols and figures to manipulate public opinion and perpetuate their hold on power. This reliance on propaganda serves as a smokescreen to divert attention from their failure to formulate effective policies and address the real challenges faced by agricultural communities.

By awarding the highest civilian honour – the Bharat Ratna – to farmer leader Chaudhary Charan Singh and scientist M.S. Swaminathan in India, both of whom championed the cause of farmers, the BJP’s actions can be seen as an attempt to co-opt their legacy for political gain.

A three-pronged strategy 

Perhaps the most potent strategy shared by far-right parties is a three-pronged approach: first, they seek to control the narrative through the dissemination of propaganda and persuasive rhetoric. When this fails to quell opposition, they resort to aggressive suppression of dissent, employing tactics that can be coercive and violent. Should resistance persist despite these measures, they turn to the weaponisation of national security and nationalism to discredit and delegitimise dissenting voices, portraying them as threats to the country’s stability and unity.

This strategy, mirroring the BJP government’s tactics, points out the far-right’s relentless pursuit of power and their willingness to employ authoritarian tactics to silence opposition and maintain control. 

Pius Fozan is a public policy student at Central European University and the Brandt School.

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