On Sunday, India ushered in the 71st Republic Day with Jair Bolsonaro as the guest of honour.
While this article intends to debate his presence, it might be more prudent to begin by asking who he is in the first place. Keep in mind, that is not some existential or deep meaningful query. Having recently run into an entire gamut of questions beginning with "who is that" followed by a rather deflating "so?" it might be pertinent to begin at the beginning.
Jair Messias Bolsonaro is the President of Brazil. And to answer the second question, he has, in the past, aired some pretty controversial opinions.
India’s decision to invite him as the Chief Guest was made after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Bolsonaro unofficially at the BRICS summit in November 2019.
A former army official, the far-right President has openly made homophobic statements and even attacked fellow politicians with sexist remarks. He doesn't believe in climate change (he recently blamed Leonardo DiCaprio for the Amazon fires), and on one occasion, had called indigenous people "parasites". In 2015, he informed a fellow member of the Congress that she wasn’t “worth raping”.
Now, it cannot be denied that an alliance of any sort between Brazil and India would be welcome.
The two countries had signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2006 and more recently, on Saturday, Prime Minister Modi held talks with President Bolsonaro to inject a new momentum into strategic ties between India and Brazil.
The talks focused on boosting bilateral ties in key areas of trade and investment, energy, defence and security, medicine and scientific research, officials said.
They are also both BRICS and G4 nations, and, amongst other things, can support each other's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
At a time when both the economies have been hit by slowdown, boosting trade ties becomes a significant topic. Add to that, India is also keen on strengthening its relationship with the Latin American region. This also comes against the backdrop of the US-China debacle.
It is, thus, understandable that Brazil and India would come together to explore new avenues. The problem, however, lies with the occasion of choice. On the day that we remind ourselves that India is a "sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic" we invited someone who has in the past advocated dictatorship as the guest of honour.
Granted, he made the comment in 1992, but nothing is ever truly forgotten, and today, the internet has made it its business to uphold that tenet. But more than the long memory of netizens, it is the fact that Bolsonaro seemingly continues to have similar ideas even today.
Take the topic of homosexuality -- something India recently celebrated the decriminalisation of. Bolsonaro remains a vocal critic, and on one occasion had earlier commented that he’d rather have his son die in a road accident than be gay.
We mentioned the bit about being undeserving of rape earlier, but now, consider that against the fact that rape and related crimes continue to make headlines in India.
Now, these comments by themselves don't really affect India when it comes to politics and socio-economic development. But at the same time, one can't help but wonder if there were better alternatives that we could have gone with on 'Constitution Day'.
But if these earlier mentioned quotes didn't underscore my point, I'll leave you with a final Bolsonaro comment -- this one dating all the way back to the late 1990s.
"You’ll never change anything in this country through voting. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, things will only change when a civil war kicks off and we do the work the regime didn’t."
In conjunction with the above, he had added that it was "ok" if a few innocents died too.