On January 26, when India adopted the Constitution which had contributions from Ambedkar, Nehru and several other great stalwarts of the Indian independence movement, India officially became a sovereign, secular, democratic republic. It was the dream of Congress (under Nehru) to transform India from a poor, rural, feudal, casteiest society into a modern, secular, industrial, parliamentary democracy.
There was another vision – a powerful and dangerous one, which had little support in 1947. This was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s vision of building a ‘Hindu Rasthra’. This vision has eerie similarities with the ideologies of Hitler’s Nazi party and Mussolini’s Fascist party. Fascism was quite the phenomenon in Europe – and it had emerged as a counter to both the parliamentary democracy and the communist system of USSR .
So, what is this fascism ?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, fascism is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.“ So now that we know what fascism is, what has it to do with the BJP-RSS in India?
Hitler and the Nazis believed that German Aryans were the true or ‘pure’ Germans – and that the Jews and the communists (propagating the internationalist proletarian revolution) were corrupting Germany’s cultural heritage. Similarly, the founders of the RSS – Hegdewar, Savarkar, Golwalkar – believed that India belonged to the Hindus. They believed that the Muslims, the Christians and the communists were the enemies who wanted to corrupt the Indian culture.
We can understand RSS’ ideology by reading two important pieces of their literature:
1. “Bunch of Thoughts” by Golwalkar.
2. “Hindutva” by Savarkar.
It would seem that Golwalkar and the RSS drew inspiration from the Nazis and Hitler. Even the uniform of the RSS and their cadres’ salute seems to have been inspired from the Nazis. In fact, Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of the CPI(M), points this out in one of his statements.
However, the RSS was a socio-cultural organisation and did not venture into politics, especially after Sardar Patel banned the RSS following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse. The ban was lifted only after the RSS promised not to enter politics. But, it did send a few of its key swayamsevaks to join Shyama Prasad Mookerjee to start a new party called the Jan Sangh – Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Shyam Sundar Bhandari. Once again, Sitaram Yechury’s lecture on the RSS is revealing:
This was the birth of the Jan Sangh which later went on to become the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently heading the NDA government at the Centre with Modi as the Prime Minister (PM). In 1992, the BJP, which was a minor player in national politics, began the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Then, the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was demolished, which acted as a catalyst for one of the biggest communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in India post Independence.
These incidents also catapulted the BJP as a major player in the national arena, as it aroused deep Hindutva sentiments among several sections of conservative Hindus. It went on to form the government in 1998 – and since then, it has been the other major national party apart from the Congress.
Shown above is an image of the US Holocaust Museum’s sign about fascism. This photograph clearly shows what the warning signs are and what we need to watch out for.
Let us now examine a few key features of India under the Modi government to understand if fascism is setting in or not.
In my opinion, nowadays, most of electronic media (apart from a few exceptions) is trying to telecast and promote ultra-nationalism. They are slowly, but surely, building a narrative which mixes Hindu nationalism with patriotism. This is getting into the psyche of the common people, who are not getting to know the issues plaguing us daily – like job losses, decline in growth rates, slump in agricultural and industrial growth, farmers suicides, etc. Instead, they are constantly being made to hear only what the government wants them to hear.
Whether we consider the JNU incident or Rohit Vemula’s ‘forced’ suicide or the surgical strikes by the Army or the protest by the Opposition parties against demonetisation, it would seem that all of these incidents have been given an ultra-nationalist shade. Efforts were also made to make people believe the government narrative and not the real picture.
The gau raksha and other such squads, which allegedly have links with the Sangh Parivar (much like the SS squads and Brown Shirts during Hitler’s time), are often let loose. The BJP refers to these as ‘fringe outfits’ and tries to disassociate itself from them – but is shy on taking action to stop these events or arresting the culprits.
We have had a large number of such incidents till date – whether it is the attacks on Pehlu Khan and Afrazul, or the attack on the Dalits in Una, or the anti-Romeo squads attacking couples. The list goes on and on – and yet, we can see no concrete action by the BJP, either at the state level or the national level, to address these issues. In my opinion, this sends out a clear message to the Dalits and minorities that they need to be submissive to the majority upper-caste Hindus.
The attack on rationalists and journalists like Govind Pansare , Gauri Lankesh , Kalburgi, etc, caught the attention of national and international media houses. These incidents have shocked and stunned the world of journalists and rationalists.
For me, the message from the government seems to be very clear – if you criticise our policies or our Hindutva agenda, we will strike you down even if it means eliminating you. Furthermore, in my opinion, all of this is done ‘scientifically’ – so that the people are not appalled all of a sudden. In most cases, the culprits are unknown, although the name of some extremist organisation or the other does make the rounds on social media and news articles/shows after such incidents.
When it comes to films and filmmakers, we are well aware of the havoc created by the Karni Sena regarding the “Padmavaat” controversy. Their actions, along with the CBFC’s intervention, forced the film-makers to edit their scenes. They even tried to stop the movie’s release in many BJP-ruled states, despite the Supreme Court’s order not to do so. The same thing had happened in the cases of “Udta Punjab” and “Bajirao Mastani”, albeit at smaller scales compared to the “Padmavaat” chaos. The censor board – first under Pahlaj Nihlani, and now, under Prasoon Joshi – seems to be playing by the strict rule-book given to them by the BJP government. They are careful not to give clearances to the original cuts to those films which have some content that could be disturbing for the BJP.
Nowadays, we often see that a lot of sweet, profitable deals go to the Ambanis or Adanis. No wonder they are among the richest corporate people in India.
Defence contracts like the Rafaele deal have gone to them, often at the cost of the public sector (in this case, HAL). We are also seeing the disinvestment of the only public sector-owned aircraft firm, Air India. To me, all these are signs that the Modi government, much like Thatcher, wants to make sure that all the major sectors like defence, oil and gas, iron and steel, railways (among others) come under corporate control. These are ominous signs for India’s hugely independent public sectors built by Nehru and propagated by Indira Gandhi. Also, funds for major welfare schemes (like MNREGA), and small savings schemes (like NSC, PPF etc.) were significantly cut in 2017.
Recently, we saw one of the most remarkable events in the history of India’s judiciary. In a press conference, four of the top Supreme Court judges openly proclaimed that Indian democracy was at risk. They also claimed that the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, was ignoring rules and assigning cases to judges of his own preference.
These allegations raise a lot of questions on the independence of the judiciary and the authority of the Supreme Court. We have seen a lot of friction between the government and the judiciary, which does not set a good precedent for a democracy.
Also, a lot of questions have been raised on the tampering of EVMs to change the course of elections. However, these haven’t been proven yet.
In one of his interviews, Sitaram Yechury summarises all of this beautifully: “[…] what we have today in government is the BJP, which is pursuing a four-pronged attack against India and the Indian people: They are more aggressive in the pursuit of neo-liberal reforms, their relentless communal polarisation is aimed at undermining the secular democratic foundations of our republic and to replace it with the RSS vision of a rabidly intolerant fascistic Hindu Rashtra, they are undermining parliamentary democracy and statutory institutions, and there is the complete surrender of India’s foreign policy and strategic interests to the diktats of US global security priorities.”
These signs clearly show that fascist tendencies are on the rise in India – and for all those who care for the Republic we celebrate every year, this is a warning sign.
Georgi Dimitrov, the Bulgarian communist, famously wrote that there was a need for a United Anti-Fascist Front of the social democratic forces and the communists to take on the rising threat of fascism in Europe, which they failed to do especially in Germany. When the Nazi movement was in its nascent stage, the social democrats, the SPD and the communists did not agree to cooperate, hence leaving the space open for Hitler. This led to the World War II and the devastation of Europe. If not for Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt coming together by keeping their ideological differences aside, Europe – and maybe Asia too – would have been completely engulfed by fascism.
Today, India too needs the Indian National Congress (the biggest pan-Indian secular party), the Left, social justice parties (like the SP, the BSP, the DMK etc.) and regional parties (like the TMCP, NCP etc.) to come together and form a united front against the BJP-RSS Hindutva offensive. These parties will need to keep their ideological differences aside, if they want to preserve and build upon the sovereign, secular, socialist, secular, democratic principles which our freedom fighters had dreamt and fought for.