Why We Have Reason To Worry About The Deadly Signs Of Fascism

The liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945. Dr Fritz Klein, the camp doctor, standing in a mass grave at Belsen. Klein, who was born in Austro-Hungary, was an early member of the Nazi Party and was subsequently convicted of war crimes and executed in December 1945.

In the last few weeks, I have been fortunate to travel the length and breadth of this country. At a tea shop in Almora (Kumaon region of Uttarakhand), I overheard a conversation where a taxi driver was telling his bearded friend “Let’s wait till May 23rd when the results come. You and your type would be sent on a one-way ticket to Pakistan”. He said, “I don’t care whether there is development or not, I want a Kattar Hinduwadi (Hindu Fundamentalist) in power”. Ten years ago, this would have been looked at as just the perspective of the fringe, but in the modi-fied India of 2019, this could be the view of the majority, a democracy that rejected Atishi and voted for Pragya.

During one of our coffee conversations, a German friend of mine, Joseph Bromel who is also working here at my organization CHIRAG, said: “We Germans are not proud of the fact that we are Germans because of the atrocities committed by our forefathers”. By forefathers, he means the generation of his grandparents and great grandparents who lived in the 1930s and 1940s. In those times, Germany was in the hands of a dictator who convinced the Germans that they are the ‘Aryans’ or the master race and all other races were inferior to them. They were told that it was their destiny to rule the world and achieve greatness. He made Germans believe that he was the knight in shining armour who had all the solutions to their social and economic problems, and when he failed, he blamed it on the Jews, a religious minority and his political opponents.

People believed him and gave him enough seats in parliament to form the government. In the 1930s, he consolidated his power by taking absolute control over the German parliament and purged the media of all the elements who dissented his views. His followers set fire to the German parliament and blamed it on the communists, which gave him a reason to clear their country of his primary opponents. He purged the academia and told his people that they are enemies of the Germans; they made sure whatever scientific knowledge was produced was in line with the ideology of the Nazi party. Even Albert Einstien had to flee the country for fear of his life.

Once the parliament, media and academia were in his hands, it didn’t take much time to control the country’s judiciary. Meanwhile, the armed forces had already screamed ‘Heil Hitler’. He told his people to teach the Jews a lesson and asked them to boycott their establishments. The German public obliged. By the time his regime ended in 1945, he had systematically murdered six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe, from 1941 to 1945.

If you count his other victims including Slavs, Poles, Romas, homosexuals, communists, political opponents, and people with disabilities, the toll reaches to about 17 million. All societies in the world have ethnic and religious minorities living in them, and there will always be prejudices and difference of opinion among those in minority and majority, but when the state endorses hatred from the above, people on the streets would be happy to go on a killing spree as we have seen in our country in 1984 and 2002.

For me, the most shocking part is not just the number of people who died but the fact that Hitler convinced most of the 70 million Germans that it was necessary for them to commit the Holocaust for the greatness of their nation. Most of the German people stood behind and cheered for him while he and his men went on committing this genocide, just like how many Hindus in India have justified mob lynchings. If this can happen in Germany, it can happen in any country in the world, and no society is immune to it.

Bodies of children in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940s

It can be categorized as Fascism, one of the most distinguishing traits of which is a merger and alliance of government and big-industrialists while the latter gets tax breaks from the state at the expense of its people, the former diverts attention from its failures by demonizing its minority ethnic or religious group. This, unfortunately, is a global trend currently— where leaders with fascist inclinations are taking over most of the major democracies such as Trump in the U.S., Bolsonaro in Brazil, Erdoğan in Turkey and Duterte in the Philippines, to name a few.

Below are some of the early signs of Fascism as coined by Umberto Eco:

1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
2. Disdain for human rights
3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
4. Rampant sexism
5. Controlled mass media
6. Obsession with national security
7. Religion and government intertwined
8. Corporate power protected
9. Labour power suppressed
10. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
11. Obsession with crime and punishment
12. Rampant cronyism and corruption

Within a couple of years, the new government will get a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and our constitution could be changed forever unless the Supreme Court intervenes. This would give the government an absolute power to change the secular and pro-welfare ideology of our Constitution. During the last five years with the Indian government led by Narendra Modi and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, several Muslims and Dalits were lynched on allegations of eating beef or even just transporting cattle for slaughter. As the number of attacks on Muslim people grew, the Prime Minister mostly remained silent.

The cow vigilante mobs were given a free hand to enforce their form of justice. When a nine-year-old girl in Kathua was systematically raped for days and then killed, supporters of the ruling party held out a rally in favour of the rapists carrying the national flag. Journalists such as Kalburgi, Dalbolkar, and Gauri Lankesh were murdered for writing against superstition, communalism and caste. Even social reformists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who campaigned against Sati, the practice of burning widows, were labeled anti-Hindu.

The government constantly brings up the bogey of Pakistan as a failed state with its military capability being less powerful than India to keep the masses insecure about its national security. The opposition is routinely mentioned as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. In a book titled, “Bunch Of Thoughts” by Golwalkar, who was inspired by Hitler and is among one of the founding fathers and ideologues of the Sangh that calls for the formation of the Hindu Rashtra, he identifies three main enemies of the Hindus: Muslims, Christians and Communists.

As the government was faced with a weakened economy at home and agrarian crisis, as well as increased communal tension across the country, the prime minister and his party, moved to hijack the country’s historically free press. The channels have successfully achieved the goal of demonising the country’s Muslim minority and making the Hindu majority insecure in a country where they form 80% of the population. Usually, in a fascist society, it’s the state-controlled media, which does this work, but in India, it seems that many media houses are willing to do it in exchange for money. In a sting operation, Cobrapost revealed that nearly two dozen media houses were willing to promote a Hindutva agenda and influence coverage for the 2019 elections.

Mussolini defines fascism as “A complete merger of the state and the corporate power” where the corporate funds the state, and in turn, the rulers allocate their funds to help corporates with the taxpayer’s money. Hindutva discourse has also conquered social media, including WhatsApp where fake news is regularly peddled on building the narrative of how Hindus are “victims” in their “own country”. If the current political climate continues, the people of this country will also cheer on the forced deportation and genocide of religious minorities just like their counterparts in Nazi Germany.

Israel’s Department Store in Berlin on April 1, 1933 at the start of the Nazi boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. These are members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) holding placards that say: “Germans, defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews.”

As we fight each other in the name of religion, our resources will be looted, our forests would be sold off, its inhabitants will be expelled for good, the rich will get richer, and the poor would get poorer. The bad loans of public sector banks have doubled in just five years due to several reasons like prolonged economic slowdown, profligate lending practices and fraudulent transactions. Recently, state-run lender Punjab National Bank got duped in ₹13,000 crore fraud and has been unearthed with many other fraudulent cases.

The government, in a written response, informed the Rajya Sabha that at least ₹3.99 lakh crore worth loans had been written off for many corporates in the country when our education and health infrastructure is in tatters. Scams such as Rafale, Vyapam and Demonetisation took a back seat, and in their place, media fed public the usual masala narrative of Hindu-Muslim, Beef, Pakistan, Terrorism and Kashmir.

Another distinguishing feature of a fascist state that has not mentioned above is ‘fraudulent elections’. Even though are no conclusive evidence of fraudulent elections on a mass scale, in the past, there have been widespread reports of EVM tampering and registration of fake voters. I believe that these signs cannot be taken lightly, and the fact that the election commission used the ruling party’s propaganda page ‘Op India’ to defend itself makes things much more suspicious. It raises doubts if the Election Commission has also become a ‘caged parrot’?

Fascism, as an ideology is intolerant to dissenting opinion and diverse cultural practices. In the near future, all of us are going to make its music, no matter what social class/caste or religion we identify with. Khushwant Singh, in his book titled, ‘The End of India’, wrote 15 years ago,

Every fascist regime needs communities and groups it can demonise in order to thrive. It starts with one group or two. But it never ends there. A movement built on hate can only sustain itself continually by creating fear and strife. Those of us who feel secure today because we are not Muslims or Christians are living in a fool’s paradise. The Sangh is already targeting leftist historians and westernized youth. Tomorrow, it would be the turn of women who wear skirts, people who eat meat, drink liquor or watch foreign films, don’t go to temples on annual pilgrimages, use toothpaste instead of dant manjan, prefer allopathic doctors to vaids, kiss or shake hands to greet instead of shouting Jai Shree Ram…’ No one is safe, we must realize this to keep India alive.

One of the key reasons why we learn history is because we, as a species, don’t want to repeat the mistakes of our past. The vision of the fellowship I am pursuing states, “A future where leaders in all spheres of life are driven by compassion, commitment, and understanding of the social challenges that India faces and have a deep desire to make a difference”. For this vision to manifest as fellows, we would also need to spend the rest of our life fighting Fascism, the ideology of hatred. Otherwise, one day, our children and grandchildren will be embarrassed about us for the crimes committed by our generation just how Joseph is today. I will end this piece with a famous quote from Martin Niemöller, a German Priest,

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Created by India Fellow Social Leadership Program

Are we being paranoid without a cause?

About the author:

Rajat Charantharayil, 28, has a Master in Climate Change And Sustainability from Tata Institute Of Social Science, Mumbai. With nearly 4 years of work in research and communication in sustainable environment, he now works with hill communities in Uttarakhand in community led water conservation and management as well as in advocacy through communication and research

Note: This is an opinions piece, and as the nature of a true democracy demands, should be read as one of the many narratives on the current political scenario in India, especially in the light of the recently concluded General Elections. The views here solely belong to the author and while it should be argued, contested and given counter perspective on—we can only hope that it will not be rejected or refuted without reason and a bunch of anti-national abuses.

 

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