The Challenge of Fascism

G.G. Parekh, Neeraj Jain

G.G. Parekh, Neeraj Jain

With the gradual coming together of the opposition, hope has been generated across the country in recent days that the BJP can be defeated. This hope was first generated in a big way when the BJP was soundly defeated in the bypolls held across ten states in the country in mid-2018. Among the biggest defeats suffered by the BJP were its losses in Gorakhpur and Kairana parliamentary constituencies, both of which it had won in 2014 by huge margins. The Gorakhpur seat was in fact considered as one of the safest seats for the BJP in UP. This hope got a boost when the Congress–JDS came together to form the government in Karnataka, and then further when the Congress defeated the BJP in the assembly elections held in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh towards the end of 2018.


Of course, this unity is still fragile. The opposition nearly lost the plot in the Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. In Karnataka, the JDS and Congress failed to form an alliance, resulting in a three-way election in which the BJP emerged as the single largest party (104 seats, 9 short of majority mark of 113; Congress got 80 seats, and JDS 37). It was only because the Congress did a quick climbdown and offered the chief ministership to the JDS that the two parties were able to come together and form the government. Had the two parties jointly fought the elections, an analysis of the election results shows that they would have easily won at least 30 more seats. Similarly, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where the BSP and Congress failed to fight the elections unitedly, the vote share of the Congress was only marginally more than the BJP in both the states. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress actually failed to win a clear majority (winning 114 out of 230 assembly seats), and was able to form the government only because the BSP and SP announced their support for it. Had the Congress and BSP come together in the MP state elections, analysts say that the combine would have won more than 140 seats.


Likewise, in the crucial state of UP, while the SP–BSP have come together in a very hope-generating development, they are attempting to keep the Congress out of the alliance, which may result in a big split in the opposition votes.


On January 19, leaders of 18 opposition parties shared the stage in the grand rally organised by Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on January 19 before a crowd of roughly half-a-million people, and resolved to put up united fight against the BJP and oust it from power in the upcoming general elections. If indeed the opposition can get its act together and unitedly fight the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, there is a good possibility that it may defeat the latter and form the government at the Centre. Of course, the coming together of the opposition and fighting the BJP one-on-one is a big IF, as the above discussion shows.


However, even if the opposition does indeed manage to form the government at the Centre, even assuming that the government remains a stable government unlike the drama going on in Karnataka, the important question is whether it can indeed fight the challenge posed by the BJP. That is because firstly, the challenge—indeed, the threat—posed by BJP is no ordinary challenge, but is the danger of fascism; and secondly, the economic agenda of the opposition, as proven by the policies implemented by it wherever it has been in power, both at the Centre (like the UPA government of 2004–14) and in the states, has not been fundamentally different from the policies of the Modi Government of 2014–19.


The Danger of Fascism


Before we discuss the BJP and fascism, let us first discuss what is meant by fascism.


Fascism is a type of political movement that first originated in Europe in the early decades of the 20th century. It stormed to power in several countries of Europe during the interwar period of 1930–45 when the big corporations of those countries backed and liberally financed it, as they thought that the fascists in power would best serve their interests instead of the democratic system. The diversities of the different European countries implied that there were different types of fascisms. Thus: i) One type of fascism was represented by Nazism in Germany—where the capitalist classes supported  the rise of Hitler’s fascism to power to achieve their failed hegemonic aspirations of establishing domination over at least a part of the world; ii) Another type of fascism came in Italy under Mussolini—where the capitalist classes had no hegemonic aspirations to dominate Europe, their sole aim in supporting the rise of Mussolini being to counter the growing power of the left and socialist movements in Italy; iii) A third type of fascism was that of the Vichy Government under Philippe Pétain in France following the defeat of France at the hands of Germany in the Second World War, while Hungary’s Miklós Horthy and Romania’s Ion Antonescu represented still yet another type of fascism in the less developed capitalist countries of Eastern Europe.


Despite their differences, all these fascist regimes had certain common characteristic features. These can be called the fundamental characteristics of all fascist regimes:

  • Fascism bases itself on the categorical rejection of “democracy”. It seeks to replace the general principles on which democracy is based—recognition and respect for diversity of opinions, respect for electoral procedures to determine majority opinion / views, guarantee for the rights of minority—by majority authoritarianism. It seeks to impose the will of the majority on the minority by force and promotes violence by the majority without ethical or legal constraints.
  • This is almost always accompanied by a return to backward values and backward-looking ideas, such as a return to some ‘golden past’, or submission to some supposed characteristic of the ‘race’ or the ‘nation’. This provides a kind of legitimacy for assault on democracy.
  • Fascists often seek to mobilise the masses, that is, the majority of the people, in the name of extreme nationalism:
    • certain communities or groups are targeted as being a threat to the country, and nationalistic fervour is then used to mobilise the majority to attack and isolate them;
    • using this artificially created obsession with national security, opponents and critics are labelled as anti-national and traitors.


BJP and Fascism in India


Let us now take a look at the growth of fascism in India.


The BJP stormed to power in the 2014 elections. In the subsequent five years, while it has proposed several significant changes in the constitution, it has not rejected constitutional, liberal democracy, it claims to uphold the institutions of liberal democracy such as the constitution, judiciary and a free media, and swears by universal franchise, multi-party elections and rule of the law.


But the difference between the BJP and the other right wing parties in the world, like the US Republicans or the British Tories, is that it is not an independent political party at all, but is only the mass political front of a seasoned and semi-secret organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS.


While the RSS calls itself a ‘cultural’ and ‘non-political’ organisation, its declared intention is to subvert India’s democracy and secular structure and transform India culturally, politically and socially into a Hindu Rashtra. According to the Anthropological Society of India, Indian population comprises of more than 4,000 distinct communities, marked by differences in customs, language, caste, religious beliefs, cuisine, location, and what have you. The RSS believes that despite these diversities, 80% of the Indian people are Hindus, and if indeed they can be united thus, then this demographic majority can be converted into a political majority. Furthermore, this hold over political power can become permament, if those whom the RSS calls ‘Hindus’ willingly accept its ideology, and accordingly culturally transform themselves—an uncannily Gramscian principle. It can then easily go about transforming the country into a Hindu Rashtra, without formally repudiating liberal constitutionality.


And so, ever since its founding ninety years ago in 1925, the RSS has displayed a remarkable degree of patience in gradually spreading its ideology among the ‘Hindus’. For this, the RSS has created a network of thousands of front organisations—together called the Sangh Parivar—to cater to the innumerable diversities among the ‘Hindus’, with the aim of creating a cultural homogeneity out of this ocean of diversities, and thereby ‘Hinduising’ them. This is the essence of Hindutva, the political ideology of the RSS—welding the overwhelming majority of the Indian people together as ‘Hindus’, so that they can be mobilised towards transforming secular and democratic India into a Hindu Rashtra.


The religio–cultural definition of ‘Hindus’ by the RSS is very similar to the definition of the German Aryan race by the Nazis. And like Hitler sought to unite the Germans by spewing hatred against the Jews, depriving them of their civic and political rights, and persecuting them, the RSS is seeking to unite the Hindus by spewing hatred against the minorities, especially the Muslims and Christians, and orchestrating attacks on them under all kinds of guises.


Simultaneously, the BJP, together with the other front organisations of the RSS, has launched a brutal offensive to silence all opposition, labelling all opponents of the regime as anti-nationals, hounding them through sections of the media who have abandoned all media ethics to become stooges of the ruling party, getting a docile police force to arrest them under false charges of sedition . . . tactics that again are uncanningly similar to those used by the Nazis.


The BJP and Corporate Power


Modi during his chief ministership of Gujarat for more than a decade and a half had a very successful record of favouring corporate houses, allowing them to rake in enormous profits. And so, as the 2014 Lok Sabha elections approached, the country’s leading corporate honchos came together to strongly and openly promote Narendra Modi for the post of prime minister of the country, something that had never before taken place in the country. This transformed his image from that of being the man responsible for the pogrom-like ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, to that of an economic genius who had single-handedly led the state of Gujarat from rags to riches, a veritable Development Man (Vikaas Purush) whose firm and visionary leadership was much needed by India in its quest to become an economic superpower.


India’s big business houses poured so much money into Modi’s election campaign that it is estimated that he spent roughly the same amount as that spent by Obama in the 2012 Presidential elections in the USA. It was an unprecedented election campaign, what with 3D holographic rallies, extensive use of the social media as never before, and a mesmerising media campaign.


Predictably, the BJP swept the elections. Since then, the Modi-led BJP Government has blatantly run the economy for the profit maximisation of the corporate houses. So much so that it has even transferred lakhs of crores of rupees of public funds into their coffers, in the name of corporate tax concessions, corporate loan waivers, transferring the country’s mineral wealth to them at very low royalty rates, giving them huge subsidies in their investments in the country’s infrastructural sector in the name of public–private–partnership, selling off the country’s public sector corporations to them at throwaway prices, and so on. It is because of these huge transfers of public money that the number of billionaires in India has more than doubled during the first four years of the Modi Government, going up from 56 in 2014 to 121 in 2018. In 2018, the wealth of India’s richie rich increased by a whopping 39%, because of which the richest 1% in the country today hold more than half the country’s wealth, and the richest 10% own 77.4%.


The flip side of these policies is that it has led to appalling levels of unemployment, a huge worsening of the crisis gripping the agricultural sector on which more than half the population depends for its livelihoods, and massive increase in poverty and destitution. As if this was not enough, the Modi Government has also made huge cuts in the government’s already low social sector expenditures, further worsening the conditions of the people.


This has led to a groundswell of discontentment among the students and youth, the farmers and the working people. This caused the BJP to suffer a loss of about 17% in its voteshare in the 2018 Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while in Madhya Pradesh it declined by about 13%—propelling the Congress to power in all these states. It is this swing in the mood of the people that is creating the conditions for a possible defeat of the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections, if the opposition is able to unite.


Will the Opposition be Able to Fight Fascism?


Even assuming that the opposition is able to unite and defeat the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and even assuming that it is able to overcome its internal divisions and provide a stable government for the next five years (let us, for brevity, call it the anti-BJP coalition government), the fascist threat facing the country is going to decrease only marginally.


The first reason is that the RSS has been seeking to capture the liberal institutions of the country, including the judiciary, the police, the educational, scientific and cultural institutions, and the media, from within, by staffing them with its personnel. This process began with great speed during the prime ministership of A.B. Vajpayee, and has considerably accelerated under the Modi regime. Desaffronising these institutions is going to be a massive task, and how much will the anti-BJP coalition goverment be willing to carry it out is open to conjecture. That is because the Hindutva ideology has succeeded in spreading its roots so deep in Indian society that none of the major anti-BJP parties (apart from the communists to some extent) are willing to counter it head-on, because of the fear of losing votes. Thus, for instance, way back in 1993–94, a textbook evaluation committee set up by the NCERT had stated that many of the textbooks prescribed in the thousands of schools run by the RSS (more on this below) through its front organisation, the Vidya Bharati, were “designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of culture in the young generation.” Despite this damning diagnosis, the Congress-led UPA Government during its ten years in power from 2004–14 made no attempt to ban these textbooks.


The second reason is even more important and crucial, and that is, will the anti-BJP coalition be willing to implement genuinely pro-people policies, in contrast to the pro-corporate policies of the Modi-led BJP Government? This question arises, because while the anti-BJP coalition has been criticising the BJP for its anti-people policies, these policies of the Modi Government are essentially only a continuation of the policies of the previous UPA Government. These are the policies of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation. The only difference is that the Modi Government has implemented them at a much faster pace. These policies, also known as neoliberal policies, were in fact first introduced in the country by the Narsimha Rao–Manmohan Singh led Congress Government after it won the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, and have been implemented by every successive government that has come to power at the Centre since then.


If the anti-BJP coalition continues with the economic policies of the BJP, then it will only lead to yet more immiseration of the people, and will only create the conditions for the BJP to come back to power in the next Lok Sabha elections of 2014. With the RSS having further increased its strength by then, the BJP–RSS will be in a far more stronger position to impose fascism on the country than today.


What Next?


The only solution to this is that the genuinely socialist organisations–intellectuals and the non-sectarian left must mount pressure on the anti-BJP alliance to implement pro-people policies if the latter is able to come to power in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. And the present political conditions in the country provide them the opportunity to do so.


Times of crisis also generate new rays of hope. BJP–RSS’s fascist onslaught has so badly crushed the opposition parties that despite the huge egos and vested interests of their leaders, they have been forced to come together to unitedly fight it. They are also reaching out to progressive and socialist individuals and small groups / parties and are attempting to bring them together in the anti-BJP platform.


The fascist threat is the biggest crisis facing the country. And the alternative to fascism is democracy, not socialism. That comes later, once democracy is saved. Therefore, the more radical socialist intellectuals and groups, the genuinely anti-neoliberal socialists, even the genuinely anti-capitalist socialists, even though they may have reservations about aligning with the Congress or the socialism of the Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, should support / join the anti-BJP opposition alliance. Though they are presently weak, their organisations are weak, their support to the opposition alliance will bring them to a position where they can influence the anti-BJP coalition to implement progressive policies—such as increasing taxes on the rich, stopping the loan waivers being given to the corporate houses and forcing them to repay their loans, taking steps to curb the profiteering of the corporate houses that would bring down electricity and gas prices (to give just one example), increasing government spending on the social sectors (especially education, health and nutrition), taking steps to mitigate the crisis gripping agriculture, implementing policies that would create decent jobs, etc.


Countering the RSS Network


There is another, actually more important reason, why the fascist threat will only have marginally decreased if the anti-BJP opposition alliance comes to power. And that is: it will only be the BJP that would have lost the elections, it will not affect the grassroot network and strength of the RSS. Therefore, the RSS will continue with its campaign of indoctrinating the people in its Hindutva ideology. The RSS has by now become a most formidable force. It has created hundreds, possibly even thousands, of front organisations, to together constitute what is easily the largest political force in the world of liberal democracies. These include some of the biggest mass organisations in the country. Thus, its workers’ organisation, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, claims a membership of over ten million workers and affiliation of over four thousand trade unions. Its student organisation, the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, is the largest student organisation in the country. Another important front organisation is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which in the late 1980s spearheaded the rolling out of violence and rabid ideological hysteria across the country that brought the BJP to power in Delhi for the first time for 13 days in 1996 and then for six years from 1998 to 2004, this time at the head of a coalition government. Apart from these mass organisations, even more dangerous is the huge network of schools created by the RSS across the country, coordinated at the all-India level by Vidya Bharati. In the guise of education, these schools indoctrinate the young minds of children with the RSS ideology. It is the largest network of private schools in the country. Way back in 2012–13, that is, before Modi’s rise to power, Vidya Bharati’s network included 13,465 schools, 31.2 lakh students, 1.3 lakh teachers, 49 colleges and training schools, and 9,806 schools for providing informal education to children unable to attend formal schools (called Sanskar Kendras and Single Teacher Schools) with 2.4 lakh students and 8,900 teachers. This network must have expanded considerably since then.


The anti-BJP alliance just does not have the wherewithal to counter this octopussian network of the RSS. These parties and their mass organisations simply do not have the dedicated cadre required for this.


Again, this task can only be undertaken by the progressive / socialist / non-sectarian left organisations. While supporting the anti-BJP alliance, they will need to take advantage of a friendly government being in power to spread / strengthen their grassroot network and spread the values of the Constitution—equality, secularism, democracy, fraternity—among the people. This will include culturally winning over to these democratic values the crores of people who today have become blind followers of the fascist Hindutva ideology.


Towards Socialism


This will also create the conditions for the genuinely socialist organisations to advance the country towards socialism.


One of the biggest misunderstandings present among many believers of socialism today is the belief that if they are able to somehow come to power, they can take the country towards socialism by implementing pro-people policies. This is one of the most important reasons for the failures of the socialist movements during the twentieth century. Socialism is not statism or populism—wherein all the decisions are taken top-down, and the people look to the State to provide them with resources and with the answers to all their problems. Socialism is a new society that puts humans and not machines or the State at the centre of society, where apart from providing people with food, goods and services, it also creates new, socialist, human beings. This creation of new socialist human beings does not take place automatically, but takes place only through a conscious process wherein people in the process of transforming society also change themselves.


By ‘new human beings’, we mean not just people who believe in genuine equality of all human beings (that is, people who genuinely do not believe in caste, who believe in gender equality, who believe in equality of all people, who have genuine respect for all religions); we mean not just people who believe in cooperation and who believe that production should take place not for profit maximisation of a few but should be oriented for fulfillment of social needs; we also mean: human beings with fully developed capacities. And people only develop their capacities when they themselves take an active part in decision making at all levels that affect them, be it their workplaces, or neighbourhoods / communities, or the society as a whole.


The fight against fascism, the fight to build an anti-BJP platform of all opposition parties and groups, provides the socialist organisations and groups with a great opportunity of developing such a network of socialist activists at the grassroot level. And assuming that the anit-BJP coalition is able to win power in the 2019 elections, the struggle to push this alliance to implement pro-people policies will provide a further opportunity to further strengthen this grassroot network, and further advance the capabilities and capacities of these grassroot activists.


These are indeed difficult times. But they also provide us, the socialists, with an unprecedented opportunity to advance our struggle for socialism . . .

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