Good for India!

Lula wins Brazil

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, a 77-year old, Left-of-the Centre politician bounced back to be the President for the third time in just-concluded elections in Brazil. He was imprisoned for 18 months, three years ago on charges of corruption which were eventually dropped. His election victory is hoped to bring stability and vitality to the Brazilian democracy.

However, the elections were close, bitterly fought and the margin of victory is wafer thin. Lula got 55.9 per cent of popular votes as against 49.1 per cent secured by the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. The entire world was watching the Brazilian presidential elections, hoping for a new voice of negotiation and accommodation to emerge in the present polarising world. What would this victory mean for India, a partner of Brazil in world politics especially in BRICS?

Brazil’s presidential elections drew international attention for a variety of reasons. Brazil is a middle power in the world, the biggest in the Latin America with largest population (215 million), maximum surplus land in the world, plenty of fresh water reserve, and the largest forest area. It has borders with ten countries without any territorial disputes with any. It has had no war with any country in the last 150 years and has been free from the worldwide scourge of terrorism. Admittedly, it has, like any other country its own share of socio-economic problems. Lula, the President-elect would find greater challenges to address than when he left the office twelve years ago.

The electoral battle was marked by two competing and contrasting ideologies. The incumbent President Bolsonaro was an army captain, ‘trained to fight and kill’. He was accused of sexism, racism and dictatorial tendencies. He was aggressive and abusive in his election campaign. He called Lula a nine-finger thief; Lula had lost one of his fingers while working on machines in his labourer days. Bolsonaro had offended an indigenous Yanomani community branding them as cannibals. He had said, “I would eat an Indian, no problem”. Consequently, a lot of Afro-Latin Americans voted against him. More egregiously, Bolsonaro badly handled the pandemic which caused the deaths of about 700,000 Brazilians. He had dismissed the pandemic as a ‘little flue’.

In contrast, Lula had quite a poor background in the North-East region of Brazil. He was a shoe-shine boy, an office boy, lathe operator, electrician and a factory worker. He joined the trade union to defend the rights of the workers, where he learnt the art of bargaining and negotiations. He used those skills in his previous stints in the office of President to pass several bills with the support of other parties in the Congress. He had introduced many pro-poor welfare schemes, like the quite popular Bolsa Familia programme, and had lifted about 30-milion people out of crippling poverty. All in all, there was a straight fight between two antagonistic ideologies, extreme right versus progressive left, corresponding to ultra –nationalism, conservatism, neo-liberalism vs inclusive social development anchored in social liberalism and progressivism.

A sidebar to the election is replication of the last American presidential elections where Donald Trump refused to concede defeat while his supporters had stormed the White House. Bolsonaro is an ardent admirer of Donald Trump. He too did not accept defeat immediately. His hardline supporters blocked the highways for 24 hours and were demanding military intervention to let Bolsonaro continue in office. However, because of heavy economic disruption and imminent lawandorder situation, Bolsonaro’s advisors and allies were advising him to accept defeat. His Communication Minister Fabio Faria told reporters that Bolsonaro would make a statement soon. His Vice-President Hamilton Mouraoand the Speaker of the Lower House of the Congress were advising him to respect the election results. At the time of writing, Bolsonaro was preparing to break his silence and recognise the victory of Lula. His Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira was in touch with Lula about the process of transition of power.

The world community was welcoming the election results and re-emergence of Lula in world politics. The Europeans mainly the green parties and the climate activists were hailing Lula’s victory as he would certainly arrest the deforestation and erosion in Amazon. On economic front, Bolsonaro’s protectionism was a hurdle to opening of the trade. The trade and business community was also looking towards better prospects. The West is expecting Lula to lean towards Europe and America.

The pro-Western tilt of Lula is predicated on the basis of the anti-China tirade by both Bolsonaro and Lula, during the election campaign. Both of them attributed the de-industrialisation of Brazil to Chinese policies towards Brazil. Lula said that China was not occupying Latin America, China was actually occupying Brazil. Bolsonaro added that China was not buying from Brazil but buying Brazil. At the same time, the slowdown in China has hurt Brazil as both countrieshad the biggest trade relations in Latin America. The Brazilian economic growth is expected to be 0.6 per cent next year. The commodity boom is no longer there.

As for India and Brazil relations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to befriend Bolsonaro. He had invited the Brazilian President as the Chief Guest of the Republic Day parade in 2020, which was a special honour. During that visit, 15 MoUswere signed on oil, natural gas, trade, investment, health, medicines, science and technology etc. However, Bolsonaro’s isolationist approach was a bottle-neck in building deeper and wider partnership with Brazil.

Brazil is India’s largest trading partner in Latin America. India’s export to Brazil in 21-22 was to the tune of 6.5 billion USD and imports during the same period were 5.7 billion USD. Indian companies have invested in oil fields, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, aluminium plants, auto parts and IT. Likewise, Brazil has invested in electrical motors, auto parts and IT. Brazil and India have similar world views on South-South cooperation, a multi-polar world and collaborating in WTO and UN etc. Lula took special interest in India, sought to collaborate with India in BRICS. He encouraged his officials and businessmen to visit India and explore contracts and opportunities. Lula himself visited India even after his presidency.

The challenge, however, for both countries would be to align their international policies especially their reactions to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The democratic world is expecting the middlepowers like India, South Africa and Brazil, all members of BRICS to speak for territorial integrity of countries. India has so far restrained herself in naming Russia as the aggressor and has abstained in UN resolutions in condemning Russia. South Africa has done similar.

It will be in fitness of things towards formulating a third way, different from two power blocsUS led NATO and China-Russia axis that Brazil, India and South Africa and other like-minded countries take an international value-based approach to the world issues. That will help restore and speak for a rule-based world order. India should find a credible and formidable partner in Lula, ideological differences notwithstanding. Will New Delhi approach Lula’s regime with this fresh perspective?


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Dr. D.K. Giri

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