WITH the rise of the BJP as the largest political party in India, entrenched in power at the centre and in several states and backed by the shady and proliferating network of the RSS and its numerous affiliates, we are witnessing an intensified and concerted communal fascist offensive across the country. The fascist potential and implications of the communalism of the majority community, more specifically the fascist character of the project of Hindu Rashtra, were clearly anticipated by several key thinkers of modern India, by the communist leadership as well as leaders like Nehru and Ambedkar. Indeed, the proponents of Hindutva and so-called cultural nationalism – from Savarkar to Golwalkar – had openly eulogised the fascist models of Italy, Germany and Spain.
But given the comprador pro-colonial nature of Hindutva, the Hindu Mahasabha or RSS variety of communal nationalism could not win much broad support during the protracted phase of popular anti-colonial awakening and assertion. The ‘communal’ could not be camouflaged as ‘national’ – acts of communal mobilisation and violence, conspiracy against the anti-colonial unity and spirit of the people, and eventually the assassination of Gandhi, the first major act of Hindutva terror in post-colonial India, remained the hallmarks of Hindutva in its formative phase.
For a considerable period during India’s early phase as a constitutional republic, Hindutva politics remained relegated to the margins – it was the fourth political trend behind the Congress, the communists and the socialists. The ascendant journey of the Hindutva stream began from the 1960s onward and despite periodic electoral setbacks, howsoever severe, it has continued unabated. Ironically, this steady ascendance has been aided in no small measure by the Congress, which till recently was India’s preeminent political formation on an all-India level and the most trusted representative of the Indian ruling classes.
The first big break for the RSS came in the 1960s when a weakened Nehru government legitimised the RSS by accommodating it in the Republic Day parade in the wake of the 1962 India-China war. Along with other opposition parties, the Jan Sangh too reaped its share of political and electoral gains when the Congress suffered its first major electoral decline in the 1967 elections. That was when the clamour for an all-inclusive opposition unity began to rend the political air – it was anti-Congressism then and anti-BJPism today – and the Sangh was a great beneficiary of this first phase of coalition politics, grabbing power-sharing opportunities in several states.
The second major and defining break came with the Emergency which was ironically invoked in the name of warding off an allegedly impending fascist threat, and unfortunately not a few Indian communists were taken in by this false alarm. This proved disastrous in two ways – one, it perfected and legitimised state repression and truncation of democracy on a hitherto unprecedented scale, and two, post-Emergency, it ended up granting the Sangh brigade its first foray into power at the central level, and both proved to be a big blessing for the development of the fascist project in India.
Even bigger blessings came in the 1980s and 1990s, albeit in a completely deceptive way when it momentarily appeared that Indian politics had conclusively outsmarted the Sangh. The first was in November 1984 when in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi secured a massive a 400-plus majority and the BJP managed to win only two seats in the Lok Sabha and Rajiv Gandhi began to conjure a computer-driven vision of the 21st century. But very soon the BJP was back with a vengeance with its vicious campaign against the Babri Masjid.
The extraordinarily huge Rajiv victory had an unmistakable Hindu chauvinist underpinning: it came riding on the wave of ‘national integrity’ propelled by the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom which was led by powerful Congress leaders in Delhi with RSS elements too joining in in several places. From the campaign against alleged Sikh terrorism to the contemporary raging Islamophobia, the trajectory is quite straightforward.
The second moment was the adoption of the so-called New Economic Policy and the growing Indo-US bonhomie on the foreign policy front. It was argued that the growing appeal of market-driven modernity would put the obscurantism and fundamentalism of the RSS in its place. Manmohan Singh was the great architect of this new policy trajectory - as Finance Minister he introduced the whole gamut of neo-liberal economic and trade policies, and as Prime Minister he yoked India to the ever-expanding framework of Indo-US strategic partnership, going way beyond specific agreements including the nuclear deal.
But far from erecting any kind of barrier against the BJP or the RSS, the policy architecture that the Congress built up under the silent craftsmanship of Manmohan Singh has proved to be the best platform on which Narendra Modi is today conducting his business with his trademark demagogic salesmanship. With ‘Make in India’ Modi has taken corporate appeasement to a new height and with the shared thread of Islamophobia, he has placed India’s pro-US foreign policy on an increasingly ideological footing.
The intrinsic fascist potential of Hindutva has thus come to the fore not when Nehru and Ambedkar warned against it, but quite a few decades later under significantly changed circumstances. Three aspects are especially noteworthy. The socialistic anti-colonial fervour of nationalism has dissipated globally, especially in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decline of socialism as a global power or bloc. Official or mainstream nationalism in India has become very much vulnerable to Hindutva, if not already reduced to a Hindutva clone. Apart from the increasingly communal overtone of nationalism, the territorial unity and integrity of India today rests in many regions not on popular democratic will but on the military might of an increasingly repressive state in the absence of any spirit of accommodation and respect for diversity.
On the economic policy front, neo-liberalism has become the unchallenged official doctrine, differing only in shades of populism and in the mode of crisis-management. Corporate warfare as opposed to people’s welfare has become the driving motive in this market-led economy. And along with this, there is a foreign policy that seeks to achieve the regional power ambitions of the Indian ruling classes in close collaboration with the US-Israel politico-military axis.
When we talk of the fascist project or offensive of the Sangh brigade, we often come across the rather pedantic and complacent response that treats fascism more as a twentieth century European aberration which has been rendered historically obsolete in today’s globalised world. Whether the specificity of the present Indian situation conforms to the classical variety of twentieth century fascism or not, essential similarities can hardly be overlooked.
The pattern of corporate domination and the processes of predatory corporate plunder clearly corroborate the essential class nature of fascism as an open dictatorship of capital. And the BJP’s open invocation of Islamophobia – a BJP MP has now publicly called for a ‘Muslim-free India’ – confirms the fascist formulation of the ‘internal enemy’, the other that has to be eliminated and decimated to achieve the fascist goal – it was racial pride in Germany, and it is Hindu pride in India. And both these aspects, even though they have their specifically Indian roots and patterns, are being reinforced today by the neoliberal order of global capital and the reigning Islamophobia of US foreign policy.
This tells us that while we commonly characterise the RSS variety of fascism as communal fascism or Hindutva fascism, communalism is only one aspect of the threat the BJP in power poses to the idea and reality of India. Hindutva today is very much corporate and comprador Hindutva. The resistance to Hindutva or the battle to reclaim the republic therefore cannot be reduced to the communal versus secular division; it must also necessarily include the anti-corporate anti-imperialist dimension.
Since the last Lok Sabha election the BJP has launched an aggressive campaign for a Congress-free India. The timing of the slogan is significant. The Congress in 2014 was at its lowest ebb, utterly discredited and clueless. And election results since then show the Congress decline is still continuing despite the gains it made in Bihar and West Bengal thanks to some favourable coalition calculations. Modi’s anti-Congress campaign is targeted particularly against the Nehruvian legacy of the party, and here again the timing is crucial. The BJP knows very well that having abandoned the thrust of Nehru’s economic and foreign policies, there is little scope left within the Congress to defend the Nehruvian legacy and the dynastic inheritors of the mantle have also lost much of their mass appeal and organisational authority.
As part of its anti-Congress campaign, the BJP under Modi is also making desperate attempts to appropriate every non-communist leader of the Indian freedom movement, within and outside of the Congress, who differed with Nehru or could retrospectively be pitted against him. It has already appropriated Sardar Patel, who in any case was historically quite soft on the communal right. It is also trying hard to sanitize Gandhi with the ‘Swachchhata Abhiyan’ reducing him to an icon of cleanliness and godliness, clinically distancing him from his lifelong commitment to communal harmony, for which he was gunned down by Hindutva terrorist Nathuram Godse.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also see the BJP’s recent attempts to appropriate Subhas Bose, who had quit the Congress on a left ideological plank and formed his own party and army to launch an armed struggle for India’s freedom. And now there is a concerted campaign to distort Dr. Ambedkar, projecting him as just another nationalist unifier and reducing his devastating critique of caste and clarion call for nothing short of its annihilation to a reformist plank of ‘transcending’ caste to secure emotional integration of the Hindu community. In this systematic travesty of Ambedkar’s legacy, the man who began his campaign by burning Manusmriti as a charter of slavery is described by the BJP as the modern Manu of India, the man who quit Hinduism to embrace Buddhism is sought to be projected as a Hindu unifier!
While the Hindutva fascist project is using the existing state power to the hilt, it also projects itself as an anti-establishment movement, exploiting the popular discontent with the existing system and channelizing the crisis and contradictions aggravated by the deepening socio-economic crisis to suit its political agenda and goals. The task of anti-fascist resistance cannot therefore be limited to a mere defence of the existing system; it must confront and counter the fascist agenda of regressive change with the radical vision of progressive change.
It goes without saying that this calls for a determined course of struggle, primarily extra-parliamentary struggle, to use a good old communist phrase, and cannot be achieved by mere broad-based ready-made electoral coalitions with parties with little programmatic commitment to democracy, secularism and people’s welfare. Recent times have shown that while the Congress continues to lose ground to the BJP, there is a growing political vacuum and popular quest for new political formations which has led to the newly formed AAP trouncing the BJP in Delhi.
Indeed, the most reassuring and encouraging thing about the current situation in India is the zeal and courage with which more and more people are standing up and fighting back. The parliamentary majority and demagogic rhetoric of the Modi regime could not deter the crisis-ridden Indian peasantry from rejecting the land acquisition ordinance even after repeated promulgation. The workers, most notably women workers of the garment industry in Karnataka, rose in revolt to roll back the anti-worker orders concerning the employees’ provident fund and the countrywide resistance of the working class to anti-worker amendments in labour laws continues to gain in strength.
Defying draconian laws, state repression and all kinds of social oppression and political terror, the most oppressed and marginalised people across the country continue to fight for their survival, dignity and rights. From remote villages to metro cities, Indian women are up in arms against patriarchal suppression and violence. Rekindling the memories of the glorious IPTA days of the 1940s and 1950s, writers, scientists, artists, filmmakers and other intellectuals have raised a powerful collective voice against communal violence and suppression of dissent by returning their awards. And from IIT Chennai, Pune FTII, Hyderabad Central University and JNU to Allahabad, Banaras, Patna and Jadavpur – students in institutions of higher education are erecting barricades against the forces of saffronisation and neoliberalisation and asserting their inalienable right to freedom.
Add them up and you find a growing ongoing battle for democracy and justice – democracy that permeates the society and stands up to the might of the market and the state, justice that protects the liberty of the individual and all kinds of minorities. Herein lies the definitive answer to fascism and the challenge is to make it the defining, dominant reality of India, not just a lofty ideal to be cherished.
While the Congress is today by and large bereft of the organisational strength, ideological resources and perhaps even the political will necessary to resist the BJP’s offensive, most regional parties, not only of the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal variety, but also Janata Dal splinters like JDU and BJD and Congress breakaway groups like the TMC as well as parties like the AGP, JMM and AIADMK have shown their readiness to do business with the BJP. Even Dalit parties and leaders who routinely invoke Ambedkar – whether Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP or Mayavati’s BSP or Ramdas Athawale or Udit Raj – have had no difficulty in joining hands with the BJP.
It took the courage and sacrifice of a Rohith Vemula to reignite the radical vision and imagination of Ambedkar and trigger a new phase of social and political struggle against caste and against the casteist fascist project of the BJP. On an ideological plane, the battle against the BJP will therefore have to be waged primarily by the Left, radical Ambedkarites and other progressive democratic trends and forces. The time has come for all of these disparate struggles to come closer and unite in a vibrant movement for democracy.
Speaking at the US Congress during his latest visit, Narendra Modi mentioned his ambitious to-do list for 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence. From the vantage position of power, he has begun to train his sights beyond 2019, and while he used unexceptionable goals like a roof over every head and electricity and toilets in every household to officially illustrate his targets, we know the talk that is going on in RSS circles. The RSS would like to celebrate its centenary in 2025 in its long-cherished Hindu Rashtra.
If the RSS is readying for its centenary, so are India’s communists. If the challenge in the formative years of the Indian communist movement was to secure freedom – freedom from the white Englishmen as well as their brown class brothers, as Bhagat Singh had memorably put it, the challenge today is to reclaim the republic from the clutches of the fascist brigade. A rejuvenated and united communist assertion to this end can be the best tribute to EMS, one of the eminent thinkers and pioneering stalwarts produced by the Indian communist movement in its glorious history.