Creeping Fascism

The idea of protecting democratic institutions provokes nothing but skepticism. Democracy has, to put bluntly, become a fashionable area of activity sans action by opposition parties. The crisis of democracy has worsened the situation of political vacuum in which the rise of far right is as natural as anything else. In truth the far right is a challenge to age-old democratic values and norms worldwide—it is a global phenomenon. But the march of far right, rather saffron right in the Indian context in recent months is unprecedented. People are witnessing almost every day how democratic space is being systematically curtailed to make room for fascistic culture to flourish. Ominous signs are everywhere—they are trying to politicise the military and bureaucracy to destroy the basic foundation of the Constitution. Security forces are being saffronised and communalised to push the right-wing agenda of the present ruling dispensation—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And the concerned democrats and liberals seem to have nothing to do other than issuing press statements. And now no less a person than Bipin Rawat, the army chief, is in news for wrong reasons of course. He is under fire for his political remarks. Rawat said that Assam based political party All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) was growing faster than BJP. Well, Rawat didn't stop there, he went a step further as he said Pakistan with support from China was pushing illegal migrants from Bangladesh into India, albeit he didn't specifically mention the two countries but he made no mistake in referring them as India's "western neighbour" and "northern neighbour". Everybody knows AIUDF was born in the first place as a reaction to massive man-hunt and atrocities against the so-called foreigners (or Bangladeshi migrants) in Assam. Nearly a dozen minority dominated political groups were amalgamated to form Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) in October 2005 which was later re-christened as All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in February 2009, in New Delhi. It was on 12 July 2005, the Supreme Court struck down the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 that was in vogue in Assam, in response to a petition filed by then an Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader Sarbananda Sarowal, the incumbent BJP Chief Minister of Assam. But it is an Election Commission recognised parliamentary party that regularly participates in election while championing the plight of religious minorities. Whether Rawat inadvertently dragged a regional outfit into his speech is open to question. Indulging in politics by the army and security personnel is against the constitutional mandate. Then the very foundation of India's constitution is under threat from the saffron camp. They want to replace it with some hindu religious codes. Circumventing constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens is the order of the day. So the BJP, the main beneficiary of Rawat's remarks in Assam's super-charged political atmosphere found nothing wrong in army chief’s political behaviour. Congress just downplayed it while the Left made some murmur only to be ignored by the media. For the opposition it is business as usual, nothing serious. Quite expectedly the BJP leadership appreciated Rawat's observation. And somewhat ridiculously the army defended General Rawat's comments dubbing them non-political and non-communal. Rawat was addressing a seminar on north east and almost in the language of chauvinists as he said the Centre was looking at NE with right perspective to make sure that population dynamics of this region could no longer be changed. Again a veiled reference to Bangladeshi migrants. Partisan bureaucracy including military bureaucracy, is a fact of life in India's prevailing political culture. All democratic institutions, including judiciary are in the process of transformation for the worse. Indian variant of saffron fascism and racism (or casteism) is raging with increasing police brutalities against the economically and socially disadvantaged people.

While the saffron fascists are resolutely looking to the future, anti-fascist forces that include the motley crowd of Congress, Left and some regional groupings look too passive to resist the saffron monster. A collective civil society challenging the fascist onslaught on every front is the need of the day as people have almost lost faith in established political parties. India's vibrant civil society still persists against all the odds but without its expansion, both horizontally and vertically, fascist forces are all set to tyrannise the society.

Not that India is the only country where fascistic ideology is gaining ground. Democracy is in danger in a number of countries in the third world and in first world as well. Burma or what is called Mayanmar is a classic example of how a powerful movement for democracy has been transformed into a neo-fascist entity rooted in cultural xenophobia and religious communalism. There are so many ‘Burmas’ in the making around the world that it no longer looks unique. The tragedy taking place globally can be seen in microcosm in the plight of the Rohingya—a people without a home, a nation without a country. How a people who have lived in Rakhine state for generations could be considered non-citizens, if only for the colour of their skin and the origins of their faith remains unanswered by the Burmese authority, despite international outcry and UN sanctions. Playing the terrorist card to prosecute an entire population and justify genocide cannot wash. People see the horror and abomination of a popular movement for democracy transforming into its opposite—fascism disguised as democracy. The most tragic episode in the Burmese scenario is the role of Nobel laureate Sun Suu Kyi who courageously led the pro-democracy movement against the military autocracy and suffered immensely while remaining in jail for a fairly long time, almost touching the honour of Nelson Mandela. Ironically, Suu Kyi's silence in the on-going ethnic cleansing poses a threat to democracy.

Burma's anti-democratic and authoritarian culture is now being replicated in a number of countries. Thousands marched to Warsaw last year calling for a "White Poland" and "clean blood". The Czech government under a right-wing party has refused to accept refugees now fleeing in thousands the war-ravaged Middle East and north Africa. Hungary has gone one step further. Immigrants and refugees have been beaten, attacked with dogs, drenched with water and abandoned in the snow. The Roma in Hungary face an identical situation of Rohingya. They have been discriminated against; verbally abused by the ruling racists as animals "unfit to live among people" and even murdered. What is disturbing is a large section of population is swayed by the racist ideology of neo-fascists in all these countries where the visage of Hitler rises. The racists worldwide see Trump and Putin as allies in their crusade against democratic values and liberal ideas. For all practical purposes democracy is on trial everywhere but democrats, liberals and progressives are yet to rise to the occasion.

Vol. 50, No.35, Mar 04 - 10, 2018