The existence of a BJP government at the Centre, with a stable majority in the Lok Sabha, has led to a debate within Left circles and among some liberal intellectuals about the nature of the government in power. The advent of the Modi government saw a right-wing offensive unfold in the country. A combination of right-wing neo-liberal economic policies and the aggressive advance of the Hindutva agenda mark the offensive. How to counter this offensive is the primary concern of Left, democratic, and secular forces in India today.
A significant section of Left and liberal opinion has characterised the present situation in the country as the arrival of fascism. An influential stream of opinion within this thinking defines the present set-up as “communal fascism”, arguing that this is the Indian variant of fascism.
What sort of right-wing threat is India facing? A correct understanding of the ruling regime and the political movement that it represents is necessary because it has a direct bearing on the political strategy and electoral tactics to be followed in order to fight the BJP and the Modi government. There has to be clarity in defining the character of the BJP. The BJP is not an ordinary bourgeois party. Its uniqueness lies in its organic links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The BJP is a right-wing party with respect to its economic and social agenda, and can be characterised as a right-wing party of majoritarian communalism. Further, given its linkage to the RSS, which has a semi-fascist ideology, it is a party that has the potential to impose an authoritarian state on the people when it believes that circumstances warrant it.
Fascism as an ideology and as a form of political rule emerged in between the two World Wars in the 20th century. When the capitalist system was engulfed in deep crisis and faced with the threat from a revolutionary movement of the working class, the ruling classes in Germany opted for an extreme form of rule that abolished bourgeois democracy. Mussolini’s Italy and Japan were also fascist regimes.
The classic definition of fascism leaves no room for ambiguity: Fascism in power is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” In India today, neither has fascism been established, nor are the conditions present — in political, economic and class terms — for a fascist regime to be established. There is no crisis that threatens a collapse of the capitalist system; the ruling classes of India face no threat to their class rule. No section of the ruling class is currently working for the overthrow of the bourgeois parliamentary system. What the ruling classes seek to do is to use forms of authoritarianism to serve their class interests.
In India today, Hindutva ideology and chauvinist nationalism are used to polarise the people on communal lines and to attack religious minorities. Brutal methods are used to suppress the religious minorities; dissent and secular intellectuals are sought to be put down by branding them “anti-national.” From above, at the level of the institutions of the state, and from below, through the outfits of the Hindutva brigade, a determined effort is being made to reorder society and polity on Hindutva lines. While these activities pose a grave and present danger to democracy and secularism, they do not, by themselves, constitute the establishment of a fascist order.
India today confronts the advance of an authoritarianism that is fuelled by a potent mix of neo-liberalism and communalism. Apart from Hindutva communalism, the other major source of authoritarianism is the right-wing neo-liberal drive. The neo-liberal regime acts to constrict democratic space, homogenise all bourgeois parties, hollow out parliamentary democracy, and render the people powerless as regards basic policy-making. The impact of neo-liberalism on the political system has led to the narrowing of democracy.
In the world today, imperialism and the ruling classes of various countries deploy different forms of authoritarianism rather than open fascist rule in order to perpetuate their class rule and pursue neo-liberal policy. Such authoritarianism can be imposed on a system where formal democracy and elected governments exist.
There are varieties of authoritarianism in the world today. In some, political mobilisation around religious-ethnic lines is used to impose an authoritarian order. Religion-based communalism or political mobilisation is accompanied by the imposition of extreme right-wing economic policies. India is one such country.
There are striking similarities between India and Turkey with regard to religion-based political mobilisation and authoritarianism. After the Modi government came to power in May 2014, the writer Amitav Ghosh was among the first to write about these common features. Both countries have ruling parties that use religion-based “nationalism” to mobilise support. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is an Islamist party while the BJP is based on Hindutva. Each has a strong leader with authoritarian tendencies — Recep Erdogan and Narendra Modi — in government. The AKP seeks to desecularise the Turkish state and targets the Kurdish minority and secular intellectuals. The BJP and the Modi government target the minorities and seek to suppress the dissenting voices of secular intellectuals. Both have embraced neo-liberalism. However, it would be erroneous to characterise government and state in Turkey or India as fascist: They are better described as being right-wing authoritarian.
The authoritarianism of the Modi government is buttressed by its growing military cooperation and strategic ties with the USA. The fight against the BJP-RSS combine is thus more complex and multi-dimensional than a black-and-white struggle between fascist and anti-fascist forces.
The BJP and its patron, the RSS, have to be fought in the political, ideological, social, and cultural spheres. The fight against the BJP and right-wing communal forces has to be conducted by combining the struggle against communalism with the struggle against neo-liberalism. Since the two major parties — the BJP and the Congress — are alternately managing the neo-liberal order for the ruling classes, the political struggle against the BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes. Unlike in the fight against a fascist order, where elections in a democratic system become redundant, the electoral battle is also important in India.
The slogan that the fight is now against fascism obfuscates some of the vital issues around which the people can be mobilised to oppose the BJP and the Modi government. These include its rapacious economic policies and subservience to big business and finance capital, issues that affect the livelihoods and economic rights of the people.
The specific situation obtaining in the country today cries out for the broadest mobilisation of all democratic and secular forces against communalism, while also building a political alliance of Left and democratic forces based on an alternative programme. Only such a dual approach can check and roll back India’s right-wing forces.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Know your enemy’)