The Face Of Fascism

Hindutva and Passive Revolution

Arup Baisya

During initial post-independence formative phase of nation building, Congress could maintain its hegemony over the Indian masses through ‘economic development policy’, by maintaining certain characteristic traits of welfare state. A crisis of hegemony occurs when a force that has formerly exerted political, economic and ideological leadership over society is challenged from below and is no longer able to sustain a cohesive bloc of social alliances. Within the garb of a welfarist and import substitutionist approach, the Indian economy was never delinked from global imperialist thrust and as such policy of income-deflation of majority of Indian masses was followed to serve the interest of the imperialist metropolis. The uneven development of Indian economy which has never been adequately addressed in the post-independence state formation has been operational through the class-caste-community and urban-rural cleavages, and the graph of inequality has always revealed an increasing trend despite ameliorative measures like poverty alleviations. This has become more prominent in the case of religious minority community which, unlike the other various caste groups, was deprived of the benefit of reservation by the state in a bid to compromise with communal pressure from within in the post-partition social milieu. When a substantial middle class has emerged in big cities and medium sized towns, mass poverty and illiteracy have remained permanent features of much of the landscape of rural India. A growing urban underclass, especially susceptible to communal incitement, has also appeared in countless slums and shantytowns.

The structural deficiency in the history of twentieth-century nationalism is embedded in the fact that religion played a central role from the beginning in organising those movements. The most significant cases are, those which eventually founded stable parliamentary democracies. The three leading states of this type in the world today are Ireland, Israel and India. In all three, the nationalist party that came to power after Independence—Fine Gael, Mapai, Congress—distanced itself from the confessional undertow of the struggle, without, however, ever being able to tackle its legacy head-on. In each case, as the ruling party gradually lost its lustre, it was outflanked by a more extreme rival that had fewer inhibitions about appealing directly to the theological passions aroused by the original struggle—Fianna Fail, Likud, BJP. The success of these parties was due not just to the faltering of the first wave of office-holders, but to their ability to articulate openly what had always been latent in the national movement, but neither candidly acknowledged nor consistently repudiated. In each case, the setting was a parliamentary system, in which they operated constitutionally.

Though the long history of parliamentary system of Indian democracy played a vital role in mitigating certain weaknesses of the Indian independent state at its birth, the deformities at the birth have its bearings on the future statecraft. Perry Anderson in his book 'The Indian Ideology' has very aptly described the character of the Indian independent slate at the time of its birth in 1947. At the time of Indian independence, only 12 percent of population could read or write. As for poverty, per capita income in India was abysmally low and is not very significant till today. It is these magnitudes that make Indian democracy so remarkable a phenomenon. But the colonial bureaucracy and army was left intact, minus the colonizers. In the mid-30s Nehru, denouncing the Indian civil service as 'neither Indian nor civil nor a service', declared it 'essential that ICS and similar services disappear completely'. By 1947 pledges like these had faded away as completely as his promises that India would never 'under any circumstances' become a dominion. In the last year of the Raj, its upper ranks had been Indianised and there was no other corps of native administrators available. But if this was true of the bureaucracy, it was not of the army. Indigenous officers and soldiers had fought bravely, arms in hand, against the Raj in the ranks of the Indian National Army. What was to be done with them, once the British left? Their record, a potential reproach to Congress, they were refused any integration in the armed forces of the former colonial power, veterans of domestic oppression and overseas aggression fresh from imperial service in Saigon and Surabaya, that now became the military apparatus of the new order. Nor was there any purge of the police that had beaten, jailed and shot so many in the struggle for independence: they too were kept intact. Some 250 out of its 395 articles were taken word by word from the Government of India Act.

On the ideological front, Indian post-independence statecraft has also failed to maintain a safe distance from religious symbols and vocabularies. Barring the constitutional provisions for allowing the autonomy of minority institutions, the rampant use of Hindu religious symbols in almost all the institutions of the state and the state-sponsored functions leaves an indelible mark on the muslim minds about the biasness of the state and alienate the minority section from the process of building a secular state.

The Decline of Congress
These weaknesses of the Indian state during its post-independence formative period make it vulnerable to occasionally succumb to the pressure from religious bigotry from within. The 'Hindu nationalist' campaign which was an undertow within the freedom movement has been, in the main, a war of position with a long-term vision of Hindu state. The hegemony in competitive party-politics was reflected first in a dramatic decline in support at all-India, regional and provincial levels at the first general election after Nehru's death in 1967 followed by the split of Congress party in 1969. This is the time when Kynesian welfarist economy in post-war global capitalism has also entered into crisis of kondratiev cycle. It was the decline of the old Congress that explained the rise of Mrs Indira Gandhi. The emergency was nevertheless a watershed in Indian politics since popular reaction against it broke for the first time the monopoly of government in Delhi enjoyed by Congress since independence. After massive backlash against Mrs Gandhi's Emergency regime (1975-77), Indira Gandhi stormed back to office in 1980, but her mandate did not mean renewed stability, rather it was an electoral rejection of dysfunctional Janata coalition. Drifting away of popular support for Congress in various provinces was formidable by next general election due by end-1984. Mrs Gandhi then resorted to placate Hindu votes by campaigning on Hindu communal line and that the Hindu BJP supporters shifted allegiance to Congress was reflected in J&K and Delhi election. Communal appeal, ultra-nationalist rhetoric and centralisation of power were the game plan Congress resorted to woo the Hindu vote base influenced by the RSS organisational network. In the social turmoil in northern India on caste line, Congress also exposed its upper caste bias by sending the Mandal Commission report in cold storage. Congress was vacillating between its original organisational policy of maintaining coalition character and the soft Hindutva and casteist bias at a time when the structural adjustment programme as neo-liberal policy drive, had its sway on economic front. The soft Hindutva and the uppercaste biases have shattered the Congress character of representing the rainbow coalition of various identities, and the Congress was ousted from power in 1989. The upper-caste consolidated behind the BJP, a party rhetorically committed not only to the indivisible, organic unity of the 'Hindu Nation', but also the political affiliate of an organisation, RSS, which has consistently displayed unflinching hostility to the idea of 'reservation'. The announcement made by V P Singh in 1990 to implement the recommendation of Mandal Commisssion report opened up the Pandora's Box. The timing itself was largely coincidental, and was the culmination of a long process of alienation of Kashimiri Muslims from Indian state due to the denial and subversion of their basic democratic and human rights. The Kashmir uprising has however supplied the Hindutva movement with an unrivalled propaganda weapon. For here was 'evidence' of the diabolical design of a group of Muslims living in India to destroy India's unity in conjunction with the historical enemy, Pakistan. The 'enemy within' and 'enemy without' conspiracy theory, a longstanding staple of 'Hindu nationalist' worldview, was ostensibly finding some vindication. In these circumstances, the Hindutva forces found it as an opportune moment to make a tactical shift from their long drawn out war of position to war of movement. Ramjanambhumi issue which was hitherto played by the Congress regime as a low intensity propaganda tool to assuage so-called Hindu sentiment was snatched by BJP with aggressive posture and nationwide movement. This culminated into the demolition of Babri Mosque, and in the post-independence period, in the 1990s communalism has once again taken a centrestage in academic and political debates seeking to preserve or capture centralised state power. The Congress, and particularly PM Narasimha Rao, before and after December 6 appears so disastrous, indeed suicidal, even from the point of view of narrow party interest, appears to be an attempt to compete with the BJP for the 'Hindu Card'. Successive Congress regimes in the 1980s surreptitiously invoked a nebulous form of Hindu majoritarianism which has been crafted into a more potent political ideology by the forces of Hindutva. In the post colonial scenario in general, and the conjuncture created by the Ayodhya controversy in particular, the Indian secular response has been to tar both Hindu majoritarianism and Muslim minoritarianism with the brush of communalism. While exploring the nexus of culture and political power the argument avoids presuppositions which erroneously link a religiously informed cultural identity with the politics of cultural nationalism. By contrasting the muslim politics in the sub-continental context, it aims at demonstrating the largely arbitrary and exclusionary nature of the term 'communal' as it has been applied to individuals and political groupings claiming to represent Indian muslims. The dominant Hindutva majoritarian campaign with a desire to build a monolithic Hindu social unity and a Hindu state finds no difficulty to interpret this binary of secular response, inter alia, in their favour.

Nazism in Germany
Though comparative studies is not very effective in judging a phenomenon which has a past historical setting, but it sometimes gives a clear vision of a model that can predict what is forthcoming. Moreover, rise of fascism in one country cannot be sui generis; there must be some resemblances and a common law of motion everywhere. If we ignore the similarities and dissimilarities of the historical and civilisational past of the Indian sub-continent and that of Western Europe, we can safely delineate the certain aspects of the phenomenon of rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s to understand present day Indian socio-political and economic turn of events.

By the time of the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) successful 1928 election campaign, socialists and representatives of capital alike had come to believe that the weekly wage was a political wage, dependent on the political representation of labour. Incremental social and wage gains lay at the centre of labour's strategy—capital's fears. Indeed, successful social democratic reformism appeared as more of a threat than communist agitation. Wage and social welfare policy became the sine qua non of left politics in Weimer.

Although capitalism was by far the dominant mode of production in Weimer Germany, other modes also existed—the family peasant, small commodity, and even feudal modes coexisted with industrial capitalism. The economic, political, and ideological practices of all these partially amalgamated sub-societies constituted the German social formation. Both Germany and Italy were societies experiencing accelerated capitalist transformation, through which entire regions were being visibly converted from predominantly rural into predominantly urban environment. In both cases the process was extremely uneven with large region trapped into social and economic backwardness. This situation produced complex political effects. The pace of social change outstripped the adaptive capabilities of the existing political institutions.

If one delves into the Indian reality post eighties, it becomes apparent that the somewhat welfarist character of the Indian state has been anathema to the neoliberal economic policy. The austerity measures to cut the social expenditure of the state and unbridled privatisation to dismantle organised labour and to maximise private profit have been most sought after policy drive of the neo-liberals world-wide. The urbanisation and pauperisation are the fallout of the implementation of the policy officially adopted by the Indian state in 1990. Though the capitalist mode of production is in the driving seat of the Indian economy, all other pre-capitalist relations do exist to keep the level of income of the vast Indian masses low under duress. India, like the Weimer period of Germany, has been suffering not only from its development of capitalist production, but also from its incompleteness.

In the context of the Weimer crisis, adjustment within the existing institutional arrangements looked increasingly untenable, and more radical solutions beyond the boundaries of the existing political system consequently became more attractive. The problem of defining fascism is therefore not exhausted by describing its ideology. Fascism was not just a particular style of politics; it was also inscribed in a specific combination of political conditions. The political crisis of war and revolution between 1914 to 1923 and the crisis associated with the great depression after 1929 is the objective reality on which fascist movement arose.

German communist party's erroneous perception on fascism and its role from 1928 to 1935 contributed indirectly and substantially to Hitler's victory. The conservative and authoritarian governments of Chancellors Henring Bruning, Franz von Papen, and General Kurt von Schleicher in Germany between 1930 and 1932 described as already fascist, thus trivialismg the danger of Hitler's accession to power. And social democrats were branded a twin of the moderate wing of fascism.

Alternative Discourse
The Indian status distinction between mental and manual workers is much wider than that of the then German society. The presence of professional managers and administrators among Nazi activists is now well attested, and the similar phenomenon cannot go unnoticed in India too. The Indian caste system created a structural and functional barrier against working class unity to resist fascist upsurge in the backdrop of launching an all out onslaught on labour rights.

The lack of clear vision about the rise of Hindutva forces in India and the strategic dilemma to face this menace keep the secular and democratic forces in doldrums. Instead of analysing the socio-political and economic reasons responsible for the rise of Hindutva, the discourse on the basis of majority vs Minority appeasement obfuscates the real danger of fascist takeover of the Indian state.

One major distinction between the Hindutva of today and European Fascism, particularly the Nazi variety, lies in a very different relationship with established religious traditions. Nazis sought to ground identity on race, not religion, and called on youth to build a new civilisation which could at times sound openly anti-Christian. The Sangh Parivar, by very definition, has to preach total adherence and deference towards Hindu traditions even while fundamentally transforming them. That this has been a source of tremendous strength hardly needs to be stated; just possibly, it could also be transformed into a weakness given effective counter-strategies.

In India fascist tendencies are currently at work in two forms, one direct, other more insidious. The more direct form consists chiefly in the mobilisation of a communal mass base which fluctuates in intensity but is clearly seen by the RSS as the organic strategy, and the one most directly linked to its ideology of extreme nationalism. Mass communalism and sustained communal propaganda have been supplemented by more insidious subversions of democracy that combine the elements of a war of position with a war of movement. The Ramjanambhumi movement and the recent cow vigilantism are such fascist mass movement to build monolithic Hindu culture with one supreme heroic one-dimensional characterisation of Lord Ram and religiously codified common lifestyle by destroying and replacing the diversity ingrained in Indianness and even in the Hinduism itself. The economic ramifications of ban on cow and buffalo do not deter the fanning of cow nationalism to steer the fascist ideology to grab the masses as it mostly effect the muslims and lower castes Hindus who cart cattle, labour in tanneries and make shoes, bags and belts including for big name brands such as Zara and Clarks. These fascist movements are preparing the ground for the rise of fascist forces because communalism is on the rise not so much because large numbers of communal riots are taking place, but because large numbers of people who not only keep away from communal riots but also sincerely condemn them, become participants in kind of communal consensus in which series of assumptions and myths have turned into common sense.

In the absence of an agenda and force for radical change of crisis-ridden Indian society, the passive revolution of fascist variety is taking place. The passive revolution which Gramsci also calls 'revolution-without-a-revolution" is a historical situation in which new political formation comes to power without fundamentally reordering social relations, bit rather by adapting to and gradually modifying the status quo.

The objective aims of fascism are largely irrational in so far as they contradict the material interest of those whom they try to embrace. Since it would be impossible for fascism to win the masses through rational arguments, its propaganda must necessarily be deflected from discursive thinking; it must be oriented psychologically, and has to mobilise irrational unconscious, regressive processes. Theodor W Adorno in his essay 'Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda' explained that under the prevailing conditions, the irrationality of fascist propaganda becomes rational in the sense of instinctual economy. For if the status quo is taken for granted and petrified, a much greater effort is needed to see through it than to adjust to it and to obtain at least some gratification through identification with the existent—the focal point of fascist propaganda. This may explain why ultra-reactionary mass movements use the 'psychology of masses' to a much greater extent than do movements which show more faith in masses. However, there is no doubt that even the most progressive political movement can deteriorate to the level of the 'psychology of the crowd' and its manipulation, if its own rational content is shattered through the reversion to blind power.

An alternative discourse challenging the allegiance to blind power and based on working class perspective—on cultural diversity endorsed by our civilisational past—and on united efforts of all oppositional forces to resist the rise of communal politics can only defeat fascism.

References :
(1)   The Indian Ideology, Perry Andersion, 2014, Three Essays Collectives.
(2)  Fascism : Essays on Europe and India, Edited by Jairus Banaji, 2016, Three Essays Collectives.
(3)  Radical Perspectives On The Rise of Fascism In Germany, 1919-1945, Edited by Michael N. Dobkowski & Isidor Walliman,,2003, Cornerstone Publications.
(4)  Nationalism, Democracy, Development : State and Politics in India, Edited by Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal, 2012, Oxford University Press.
(5)     The Culture Industry, Theodor W. Adorno, 2001, Routledge Classics.

Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017