Last week, Jo Cox, a member of the Labour Party in the British Parliament, was shot and stabbed to death in West Yorkshire allegedly` by Thomas Mair, At the time of killing, Mair is reported to have shouted “Britain First”, a possible reference to the far right Britain First party, that has linkages with the white nationalist British National Party.
Mair has joined the list of maverick right-wingers who over the last few years have suffixed “First” to their country’s name and popularized it. The Indian Prime Minister Modi made “India First” his election theme during the general elections. Speaking at a video conference of the Indian-American community organised by the Overseas Friends of BJP in early 2013, Modi said, ‘India First’. Whatever you do, wherever you work, India should be the top priority for all its citizens,” to define his understanding of secularism. In the midst of a raging debate on intolerance in the country in November 2015, Modi reiterated, 'India first’ is the only religion and Constitution the only ‘holy book’ for his government.
If Modi branded his secularism with “India First” Donald Trump has chosen “America First” to showcase his foreign policy by stating that "My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration."
Whether it is Mair, Modi or Trump the common mantra connecting the conservatives of the world seems to be country first. The basic premise is that nation-state is the bulwark of happiness and globalism or regionalism is not healthy the people. Trump comes out as a typical isolationist who rejects America’s so-called appeasement of the world using soft power. Modi also believes that the Indian state can be strengthened by weeding out foreign NGOs. The contradiction is that American NGOs are considered detrimental to national political harmony, the American military logistic base in India is believed to be completely innocuous.
The History of “First”
America First was first used by Woodrow Wilson to reaffirm American neutrality in WWI. However, as the German U-boat attacks picked up momentum, Wilson changed tack and decided on American participation in war. This was not acceptable to William Randolph Hearst, the American businessman and media giant in the first half of twentieth century. Hearst put America First on the masthead of his Newspaper to remind Wilson of his promise not to get involved in European affairs, especially against Germany.
The America First Committee was formed in 1940, to oppose American entry into second World War, to save Britain. The anti-war committee was formed by some prominent American businessmen R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. the owner of Quaker Oats at Yale University. He was supported by Gerald Ford, and Sargent Shriver, the founder of US Peace Corps in early 1960. Many in the anti-war committee were supporters of India’s freedom in the 1940s.
The origins of ‘India First’ can also be traced to an American journalist, Gertrude Emerson. Gertrude was the correspondent of Asia magazine. In the 1930s she was deeply linked to the Americans like Pearl S Buck and others who voiced their concerns about colonial rule in India. Gertrude married Boshi Sen, an agricultural scientist, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda. The Sen couple was closely linked to Josephine Macleod, the American lady who played a big role in establishing the entire Ramakrishna Mission in India and abroad since mid-1890. Gertrude Emerson floated an NGO called “India First Society” at Almora in 1980.
Britain First came up in 2011. All three firsts are engaged in hate campaigns against Muslims in their respective countries. They are all connected to big money and media.