Though not commonly recognized, India is in the midst of a battle between democracy and fascism. The process started with Advani’s Rath Yatra leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid followed by massacre of Muslims and now Christians. Hindutva hordes dictate the civic life threatening full fledged fascism.
While the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh have been grappling with the issue of dictatorship versus democracy, a bigger but less recognized problem is facing India. Here the fight is not between autocratic dictatorships versus democracy. Rather, it is between democracy and fascism.
Although the nucleus of fascism came into existence in India in 1926 with the founding of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), it blossomed into full force with Advani’s Rath Yatra across the country culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. This was a prelude to the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Now this onslaught by the Hindutva forces on hapless minorities is no longer confined to the Muslims who constitute about 13% of the population. It is the relatively tiny Christian community making up perhaps 2% of the population, which is now the target of an organized campaign of killings, rapes, arson, and wanton vandalism in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, either on its own or in coalition.
Sporadic Hindu Muslim riots are not new in India. However, the demolition of Babri Masjid altered the very character of these episodes. It was no more a conflict between Hindus and Muslims on some trivial issue. It was the assertion of Hindu supremacy in Indian polity, a challenge to a supposedly secular state issued by an aggressive authoritarian force claiming to speak on behalf of the majority. The late Vinod Mishra, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation or CPI-ML-Liberation, contended that the Babri Masjid episode was not a question of Masjid -Mandir, rather it was a question of democracy or fascism. Unfortunately, his words are proving prophetic.
Although Vinod Mishra made attempts to mobilize against the fascist forces, the program of his Party was not tailored to deal with impending fascism. Likewise, no left and communist party in India, including the Naxalites, has treated the question of fascism with any urgency and none of them has developed programs to counter fascism.
There are two important questions. 1.) Is the threat of fascism real or are we exaggerating the political trends? 2.) If the danger of fascism is real, then what are the options and what could be the program of the left parties, the only forces with a cadre that is potentially an ideological opponent of fascism?
We think the danger of fascism in India is not inevitable but, nonetheless, the threat is real. Historically, the creation of a climate of fear and intimidation among the population coupled with the identification of scapegoats, usually racial, religious, or ethnic minorities, as the cause of the ‘crisis’ is the hallmark of a fascist onslaught. These features already exist to some extent in India at present; given the many unsolved cases of bombings followed by the mass, often random, arrests of minority youth, and the hysteria being assiduously fostered about terrorism. In addition the instruments of implementation of fascist rule also exist in the form of RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Shiv Sena. All these are being and will continue to be protected and encouraged by their political formation Bharatiya Janata Party with Advani or Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.
Despite a long history of relatively harmonious relationship between Hindus, Muslims and Christians, the dominant cultural ethos of India, particularly in the last two or three decades, is becoming suffused with Hindu pride and Hindu “cultural values”. The slogan “mera Bharat mahan” speaks to a very particular type of “Bharat,” one in which minorities have little place. Even Dalits, who were explicitly excluded from the Hindu caste hierarchy, aspire for equality with caste Hindus rather than acting as a force for the abolition of casteism and caste division.
There are other factors that favor a fascist take over. Corruption in India, though not a source but rather a symptom of its problems, creates a mind-set that only an authoritarian fascist government, riding roughshod over all civil and human liberties and rights, can root out this evil and bring efficiency to state institutional functioning. This type of thinking is typical of many urban middle and lower middle class people; this section, in the past, has been the strongest bulwark of fascist rule. The anger of caste Hindus against reservation for OBCs (other backward castes) simply shows that meeting the legitimate social and economic demands of Muslims and marginalized forest dwelling Christians will favor the growth of Hindu fanaticism rather than its opposite. Given this majority cultural climate, and also given the sectarian attitude manifested by the communist parties towards the UPA regime led by Congress, any government in India, other than BJP, will be a weak government that will not (and does not) have the muscle or the political will to deal with the fascist hordes.
Moreover, the leaders of most of the political parties are Hindus, mostly caste Hindus. Even when they are secular and firmly opposed to Hindutva fascism like Lalu Yadav, they are incapable of feeling the fear and pain of Muslim and Christian minorities. Consequently, their reaction to open intimidation by the fascist forces, as well the reaction of many left intellectuals, with some exceptions, is steeped in intellectualism rather than towards forthright action on the streets. For example, there was no organized force of cadre that could rush to the rescue of Muslims in Gujarat where the anti-Muslim pogrom went on for days.
India is a country of many cultures, languages, nationalities and religions. The south and the east were, until recently, relatively immune to Hindutva, but this is no longer the case with the BJP victory in Karnataka. The appeal of fascism is the emergence of a strong, authoritarian political formation based on an artificially created semitised version of Hinduism, which can overcome all existing divisions to build a united India ready to physically face any divisive force inside and any threat, real or imaginary like Pakistan and Bangladesh, from outside. This indeed was the basis of the birth and has been the basis of growth of the increasing influence of the Sangh Parivar.
The essence of fascism is the same no matter where it comes but its forms can differ depending upon national characteristics. Among all the leaders of India, including Gandhi, the one most conscious of and opposed to fascism was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. In this context Nehru’s statement that “fascism will come to India in the form of communalism”, which is the starting quote of the ANHAD Conference against fascism, is very apt and revealing. Starting with communalism it will transform into all walks of life and pose the same danger to the common people of India as it is currently posing to the minorities, Muslims and Christians. This has been happening for some time now; the organized goons of Sangh Parivar like Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, in addition to assaulting or killing Muslims and Christians, already operate above and beyond the law through physical intimidation of targets. For example, over the past several years, they have routinely resorted to attacking and trashing any cultural symbols such as art exhibits or artists they don’t like, like not letting the film ‘Water’ be filmed in India or sending the painter MF Husain into exile; another favorite tactic has been the harassment and intimidation of so-called Bangladeshi migrants in major cities and this has now extended to harassing Bihari and UP migrants in Mumbai. In BJP ruled states like Gujarat they are able to do this with complete impunity as the police not only condone but also connive in these fascist actions. However, that this is happening even in Congress-ruled states such as Maharashtra shows simply that the state governments where these things happen are either unwilling or too weak to take action. In this respect, the fascist forces have already triumphed; they have succeeded in creating a situation where the state is paralyzed and unable to implement its own laws.
Usually, the advent of fascism is preceded by attack on popular democratic formations and not communists. That comes later and must come. For example, anarchists were the main targets of attack during the Spanish civil war. Social democrats were the first target during the rise of German fascism. Communists were the second in line in fascist Germany. Ironically, communists did not come to the rescue of the first targets in Spain and Germany and there are allegations that they even helped in the suppression of anarchists and social democrats.
In India, the equivalents of the German social democrats are the Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav, the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh and the Congress of Sonia Gandhi. They may be vacillating or weak but they are the only ones who have so far prevented a fascist take over of India. Ironically, as in Germany, they, not BJP, are the targets of the communist parties in India on such extraneous and ultimately irrelevant issues like the Indo-US nuclear deal.
No serious battle against the forces of fascism in India can be launched without building the broadest possible alliance of anti-fascist forces and mass mobilization against fascist hordes. Unfortunately, the priorities of left parties lie elsewhere as a result of a false and imaginary assessment of internal and external enemies of India. It is difficult to change the attitude of left parties under the existing leadership. That forces the civil society groups to undertake the mammoth task of becoming the main forces against fascism in India.