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Rise of fascism in Indian politics

by Kanti Bajpai, 10 December 2012

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The Times of India, December 8, 2012

India is halfway to becoming a fascist state — halfway because the central government is still relatively liberal and tolerates checks and balances while the states are increasingly in the grip of fascist political parties. A fascist political party proclaims its worship of the people, romanticises the idea of community and culture, is deeply conservative about the rights and responsibilities of individuals, has young men that threaten or carry out acts of violence, bows before an all-powerful leader, and practices politics as if it were theatre. Going by these characteristics, most of our regional parties are fascist.

The regional parties never stop proclaiming their worship of `the people`. The people is an abstraction, but they profess to love the people. Everything they do is ostensibly in the name of the people: the people must not be offended, the people must be saved, the people above all else. This people worship is not surprising. All fascisms (and other forms of authoritarianism) have operated in the name of the people and have used the sledgehammer of the people to stifle dissent.

The regional parties are also masters at exalting the community and the state`s culture. India`s states are mostly organised on the basis of language. The three-language formula of the 1950s and early 1960s has over the years given way to language chauvinism and exclusivism. Worse, the regional parties have made themselves the guardians of state cultures — they stand in judgment of anyone accused of challenging the state`s cultural mores. And their judgment is swift, often cruel, and carried out by mobs of young men backed by emasculated police forces.

India`s regional parties are becoming more conservative by the day. Fascists cannot bear any kind of division between the private and the public realm. Regional parties lead the way in moral policing. They have not yet turned children against parents or students against teachers as in the Cultural Revolution in China, but that day may not be far off. Bars, films, universities, schools, museums, libraries, publishing, clothing — all these are under the stern moral gaze of parties and their young storm-troopers. In Haryana and Rajasthan, we are seeing the rise of a scarily conservative `khap panchayat` movement that could sweep northern India. Most regional parties will happily work with such forces if they are not already hand in glove with the khaps.

Fascist parties depend on young men to work for the cause and, most importantly, to threaten, destroy, intimidate, hurt, and kill. All Indian political parties have used young men in this way, but nowhere are they more aggressive than amongst the regional parties. India, along with China, has a huge surplus of young men. In China, young, unattached men are known as "bare branches". This huge surplus of frustrated, restless young men, educated but unemployed, will shake India. They are potentially the reserve army of fascism, in search of a cause and a leader.

A fascist party must have an all-powerful, charismatic leader before which party members, and later everyone else, must bow. The leader takes away our doubts, energises us when we falter, gives us an inspiring vision of ourselves and our community, makes stirring calls for sacrifice and discipline, and convinces us that he or she is completely incorruptible. Great leaders all share these traits, but if you want to find the fascists amongst them, look for those with little or no sense of humour, especially about themselves.

Finally, fascist-inclined parties love political theatre. They revel in large gatherings, in producing a public spectacle, in enclosing people in tight spaces to control their emotions and thinking, in the use of lights, music, ritual, and hypnotic chants and slogans. They want individuals to lose their individuality, to bond with the crowd and leader, and to immerse themselves in the unfolding drama. The best exponents of this kind of theatre are the regional parties.

India is poised at a cusp. Economic growth, education, and political empowerment could lead us on to a stronger democracy and better governance. Or the forces of darkness could overwhelm us. The darkness is closing in, but we fail to see the gathering gloom. Meanwhile, there are false prophets aplenty.


The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use