The f-word, children around the English-speaking world are told by earnest if hypocritical parents, is the sign of a poor vocabulary, a short-cut to making a genuine point in debate and argument. Well-meaning liberals and centrists have given much the same advice to their Left, radical and activist friends: Don’t cry “Fascist!”, they have said, lest the word loses all meaning, and lets slip the dogs of pointless hyperbole. The Pune police, though, has one-upped every boy and girl who cried wolf. The other f-word, far from being a bad word loosely used, is now a condition that needs defending — being “anti-fascist” is among the mountain of evidence that was used to justify the arrest of five activists on the charge of being Maoists.
There are, of course, many who may be relieved that fascist associations are no longer anti-national. Many a Bengali has had to perform verbal gymnastics to defend Subhas Chandra Bose’s uncomfortable cosiness with Adolf Hitler and the Japanese during World War 2. They can, perhaps, cite the document procured by the Pune police, and rest easy. College principals and university vice-chancellors, too, can breathe a sigh of relief. Not a protest goes by, whether for things as mundane as better mess food or so high and mighty as “American imperialism”, that the poor administrators are not called the f-word. Political leaders, of course, are used to far worse epithets. Many, when described as a Mussolini-ite, may even smile, and cynically reply, “being called a fascist never lost anyone an election”.
A final word of caution to the would-be anarchists, revolutionaries, and general lovers of the f-word. It may appear that the Pune police’s seeming defence of fascism is a chance to say, “ha! Told you so”. In fact, however, it likely means that the word has become so associated with a constituency the state no longer fears, the police are happy to defend it. Or, worse still, the f-worders are right. And it doesn’t matter.