US Elections 2016

Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party is more like Rahul Gandhi's Congress than we realise

Both fought elections on the steam of their dwindling family name and as representatives of political institutions facing national rejection.

The campaign of Donald Trump – and now, his election as the next US president – has been and will continue to be compared to the success and political beliefs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The comparisons are easy to make, and not altogether inaccurate. It was no surprise that Modi demonetised certain rupee notes on the same day Trump won at the polls. The rise of the far right, from Modi to Brexit to Trump, is a global phenomenon. The success of the far right, however, only offers a partial account of the worldwide problem we all live with. In the US, as in India, the success of the far right has as much to do with the failure of the Democratic Party and the Congress as it does the Republicans and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rather than simply declare that Trump is the American Modi, perhaps we should also ask if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was the American Rahul Gandhi. Both candidates, in 2014 and 2016, ran lacklustre campaigns. They ran on the dwindling steam of their family name. Gandhi and Clinton were largely out of touch with the populations they claimed to represent. Both of their campaigns were out of date, appealing to concerns of an earlier time and of a different population. Watching the Clinton campaign, it was hard not to imagine when, two years previously, Rahul Gandhi had worn a crisp white kurta to campaign in a muddy village field.

The self-assuredness with which the Congress and the Democratic Party put forward their nominees is, in retrospect, incredibly embarrassing. Moderate-centre parties played it safe while the far right party played a riskier game, and in both cases – as well as with Nigel Farage’s and Boris Johnson’s Brexit – the risk paid off quite substantially. The day after the US election, the Democrats are revisiting, painfully, their rejected option of Bernie Sanders.

Rejection of moderate-centre parties

To be clear, there are major differences between Gandhi and Clinton. For all of her flaws, Hillary Clinton was one of the most qualified candidates for the position. Rahul Gandhi was not. Although Modi’s lead was fairly clear in the weeks leading up to the election, Trump’s was not.

Nevertheless, there is a telling similarity not only between the lazy politics of the moderate-centre parties, but the national rejection of what those moderate-centre parties represent. Globally, we have seen a turn away from moderate democratic institutions and towards extreme right positions. This, I think, is less a function of the unmitigated success of the far right and more of a rejection of institutional, centrist political values. This is a more difficult story for the moderates and the moderate left to tell themselves, but it is an uncomfortable truth. There has been a global loss of faith in state institutions and the expertise that those institutions were once believed to embody.

In other words, Rahul Gandhi represented the accumulative authority that the Congress believed it possessed, and the concomitant faith in the institution of the bureaucratic welfare state. Hillary Clinton represented slowly acquired knowledge, and the related belief that facts and expertise were values in the service of public welfare. Clinton and Gandhi were not running as individual leaders, they were running as representatives of institutions of power. Voting against them – rather than voting for Modi or Trump – must be understood as a vote against institutional politics and the knowledge political institutions collectively possess rather than a vote necessarily in favour of far right regimes.

A global shift

What is sweeping the globe, from India to the US, is not simply far right xenophobia – though that is one of the most serious and pressing issues of our time – but the simultaneous and devastating repudiation of centrist institutional knowledge and expertise in favour of individual authority. In this sense, the ways in which the Congress and the Democratic Party, as well as the left more broadly, were most out of date was that they retained, even if cynically or lazily, the belief that people would vote for the continuation of the welfare or republican state rather than for their own private (and often misguided) interests.

The inability of the Congress and the Democratic Party to see this was their first failure. Most frighteningly, the BJP’s and the Republican Party’s dismissal of institutional authority has been the concomitant ratification of individual authoritarianism.

What began in the postcolonial world has now reached the West. This is the new, and more accurate, definition of “colonial belatedness”. Amitav Ghosh, earlier this year, showed how this is certainly the case with global climate change, and it has also been true for acts of terror. Now it is true, once more, for the rise of the far right and the rejection of centrist political institutions. The US has finally caught up to India. Had the US been paying more attention to Clinton’s similarities with Gandhi rather than Trump’s similarities with Modi, they might have been able to put a small stop in the spread of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism. That is too late now.

J Daniel Elam is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who specialises in theories of World Literature, with a specific focus on twentieth-century South Asian literature and political writing.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.