“Elect a Government That Works”: A Case Study in Populism and Corruption from India 

As the United States was reeling from President Richard Nixon’s resignation following the Watergate scandal, another imperiled leader—Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—was fighting for her political life thousands of miles away. Although Gandhi and Nixon never got along, their stories overlap. Both barely squeaked into power after close elections in the late 1960s, but then won resounding reelection victories in the early 1970s. Gandhi’s political fortunes, like Nixon’s, took a turn for the worse shortly after reelection, in light of substantiated accusations of illegal campaign activity. But at this point, Nixon and Gandhi’s stories diverge. Unlike Nixon, Gandhi stayed the course and refused to resign. And in the end she prevailed: Gandhi was popularly elected three times with some of the largest governing majorities in Indian history.

How did Gandhi convince the public to reelect her, despite her known, widespread abuses of authority? How did a leader ensnared in scandal and corruption hold onto power to become one of the most beloved leaders in the world’s largest democracy? The answer to these questions may lie in Gandhi’s concentrated emphasis on left-wing populism. She argued to voters that she alone was most capable of effectuating change for India and its most needy citizens by enacting social programs and redistributing wealth. Additionally, Gandhi spent much of her time as Prime Minister consolidating her power within the party and the central government. This enabled much of the corruption that marked her rule but was also what allowed her to argue to the public that she was uniquely capable of fixing the nation’s problems.

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A Closer Look at Corruption, Hamas, and Violence in the Gaza Strip

The recent violent clash between Israel and Hamas followed a pattern that has become depressingly familiar since Hamas won control of the Gaza Strip in 2006: Hamas instigates violence towards Israel and its civilians; Israel responds with military strikes targeting Hamas’s weaponry infrastructure, but since Hamas has intentionally embedded itself in Gaza’s civilian population, Israel’s strikes inevitably claim innocent lives. The question whether Israel’s response was proportional or excessive saturates the news and media. Eventually the two sides reach a tentative ceasefire, the violence subsides, and attention turns elsewhere—until the vicious cycle repeats.

Most readers, whatever their views on the underlying moral and legal issues, are likely familiar with this pattern. But what does this have to do with corruption? Quite a bit, actually. 

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