Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Crisis of Liberal Order in India and Successes of Hindutva Fascism

Sanjay Kumar

The last three and a half years of Modi government have made many Indians acutely aware of the threat Hindutva poses to whatever little democracy exists in the country. Minorities and Dalits have been physically assaulted by supporters of Hindutva with full state patronage. The bureaucracy and criminal justice system, which were already autocratic and corrupt, have been systematically infiltrated to communalise them further. Critics of Hindutva like Gauri Lankesh have been murdered in broad day light.Social media, which has emerged an important medium for country’s urban youth to form and express opinion, is dominated by troll armies of Hindutva that spread hatred and openly threaten people challenging Hindutva, or Modi government. Large sections of traditional media have become mouth pieces of the regime and brazenly pander to Hindu communal sentiments. The leader reigns supreme. The chaterrati in the media even applaud his mindless actions like demonetization. Opponents of the regime are openly branded anti-national, and brazen lies are spread about them. All sensible people of the country realise that the hatred, public violence, and communalization of state institutionsby Hindutva organisations are taking country towards disaster, and if it is to be saved Hindutva needs to bedefeated politically. The disaster India faces is that of a successful fascism. In times like these politically aware groups also have an additional responsibility.Hindutva does need to be defeated. However, this does not mean that the extant liberal mode of governance threatened by it be accepted uncritically.To the extent that the Hindutva is not a conspiracy, and roots of its success lie within Indian society and politics, it is also necessary to critically examine accepted notions of Indian democracy and society.

At this critical time in the life of liberal democracy in India,the dominant non-Hindutva forces, anti BJP political parties, liberal intelligentsia etc.appear to be curiously silent aboutthe social basis ofHindutva’s success. This silence is not surprising.  Success of Hindutva has comelargely throughmeans considered legitimate under liberal mode of governance. Even its criminalities have been tolerated by successive non-BJP governments in the past.Notice two facts in this regard: a) The movement to destroyBabri mosque in Ayodhyawas the largest popular mass mobilisation in the post independence India, andb) everywhere, governments of the Hindutva party have come to power through elections, via popular mandates. Liberal democracy in India is facing a crisis not just because the anti-liberal, anti-democratic party of Hindutva is in power, but because the liberal order itself is in crisis. This crisis of the liberal order is little appreciated, or even understood.

This presentation touches three themes. First we register the popular character of fascism, which distinguishes it from other forms of authoritarian rules. Second we look at some of the blind spots of the practice of democracy in India, which over time have created space for Hindutva, and should help us understand why significant number of Indians after nearly seven decades of formal liberal democracy are giving their allegiance to a fascist project. Finally, we will look at the relationship between caste and Hindutva. Hindutva is not a project to reestablish hierarchical Brahmanical social order, yet at the current moment it is most suitable for Savarna castes to maintain their social and ideological hegemony. However, it acquired a mass character only after it was able to draw in Shudra and Dalit castes under its fold. The neo liberal order ushered in the past three decades has provided political economic support structures to Hindutva. This much more dynamic form of capitalism in India has increased domination of corporate capital, weakened state welfare institutions and altered the balance of class forces, and also altered characteristics of certain classes. However, this very important basis of the success of Hindutva will not be discussed here.


Fascism as Popular Authoritarianism: Fascism is an authoritarian political project.Its politicsis closely united with very specific social, cultural and moral agendas, much more than the other ‘normal’ politics under capitalism. It is authoritarian because power and domination are its primary themes in all spheres. Socially powerful get drawn to it because it valorizes domination and is ready to use violence against those who challenge existing structures of power. However, even though it is supportive of existing power structures, like state bureaucracy, caste, patriarchy etc. it is not conservative. In fact it presents itself as a radical alternative which will bring a better ordered society, a stronger nation, and economic development (all of which are present in the BJP propaganda under Modi). Its authoritarianism is a direct threat to core democratic requirements of freedom and equality. What distinguishes it from other authoritarian rules such as military dictatorships is that it consciously attempts to draw popular legitimacy.This important character of fascism, which is the source of its strength,is little noted by its critics.

Liberal ideology understands Fascism as the direct and complete opposite of itself. It claims to stand for freedom; fascism is seen as totalitarian, controlling all aspects of social life under a violent dictatorship. Reality is far more complex. Liberal democracy, as for instance enshrined in Indian constitution, and fascism should be seen as ideal extremes of capitalist state power that attempts to be hegemonic and relies on popular legitimacy.In reality, any hegemonic power relies on both consent and coercion, and hence, any capitalist state power relying on popular legitimacy will have elements of both democracy and authoritarianism.

Liberal democracy starts with the assumption of rights bearing equal citizens who come together to govern themselves. In this ideal form it is an inclusive project. Fascism in contrast is an authoritarian project that relies upon public violence against selected minorities, or war to create and sustain a political community. Nationalism, race, religion, civilization, etc are some of the grids which fascism uses to cement this political community. The fact that fascism uses violence and extreme forms of coercion against selected minorities and its political opponents does not mean that it does not enjoy, or does not care for, and does not try to create, popular legitimacy for itself.

We see it clearly how Hindutva is cleverly creating a majoritarian politics, which calls upon 'the people of India' (actuallyHindus of India who form 84% of Indians) to target their selected enemies: minorities, leftists, anti-national liberals, etc.  What Nehru had warned against, a majority communalism masquerading as nationalism, has grown right before our eyes. This is no longer a conspiracy, or a plan of RSS headquarters in Nagpur, but an embodied reality inpopular attitudes, modes of behaviour and values. We can compare and contrast the situation with the 1975-77 Emergency when Congress under Indira Gandhi became the symbol of anti people authoritarianism. Then, the idea that if given a chance, people will throw out the authoritarian leader seemed reasonable; and that is how indeed it turned out in 1977 elections. Now, the nature and modus operandi of Hindutva authoritarianism are different. How do you challenge a 'popular' authoritarianism, whose kit bag also contains legitimate 'democratic' tools. In any democratic project, it is ultimately the people themselves who assert their democratic rights and make society and state democratic. How do we address the people who are supporting anti-democratic politics?Old assumptions and methods will not work.


Blind Spots of Liberal Democracy in India

People like Dr.Ambedkar were deeply aware that in an unequal and divided society democracy will not be a spontaneous development. It was not that once a liberal democratic constitution is in place, the state and society will merrily start chugging along the path of democracy. Rather than paying attention to Ambedkar’s premonitions, Indian political parties and people have generally adopted apopulist notion of democracy.

1. Democracy as Majority Rule: The populist understanding of democracy easily slips in to an equation of democracy with majority rule. Liberals at best demand adequate protection of minority interests. This ab initio justification of majority rule is completely blind to the very reason which justifies majority having more value than minorities.  Majorities and minorities in a democratic order are created by simple accretion of uniform and equal units, as for example in the formula: one person one vote. The political valueof majority arises from supposedly inherent and equal value of these units. It follows that the majority carries value only as long the condition which gives it value in the first place is observed.Majoritarian politics undercuts this very condition byattackingthe political value of minorities, as for example is happening with Muslims and Dalits in India. Hence, the majority created by Hindutva is anti-democratic. Liberals who argue for special protection of minorities, miss the point that majoritarian politics is actually against the democratic interests of every one, including members of the supposed majority.Democracy is preferable not because it allows people forming majority to rule, but because it creates condition in which everyone is equally free and carries equal value. This argument is missing from political discourses in India, including radical ones. It is not difficult to see that this failure has contributed greatly to the popular success of Hindutva argument that since Hindus form the overwhelming majority of Indians, India should first of all be a country for Hindus.

2. The other blind spot in the practice of democracy in our country is community based electoral politics. There is no doubt that the past nearly seventy years of electoral democracy have expanded and deepened the stake people feel in elected governments. Over time, many oppressed and deprived sections of the society, which could not vote in earlier elections, have been mobilised, and in India we actually witness an interesting phenomenon that larger percentages of deprived and oppressed people vote than the privileged and the rich. Another important fact is that this mobilisation has occurred at the level of community, mainly caste. It has been generally believed that participation of oppressed castes has broadened and deepened democracy in India. While this is true, another parallel process has been overlooked. All communities which become active during elections are actually 'created' communities, called into action by leaders, parties and their ground level workers. If communities like these become the main mode of address to an average voter, then it is only a matter of time that an organisation gets successful in mobilising the largest such 'community' , the Hindu religious community. This follows from the logic of the 'arithmetic' of electoral politics in our country. For some time many of us had thought that the pluralities of caste, language, and regional variations in India will not allow mobilisation of people around a monolithic Hindutva identity to be successful. Actually, it seems that in states like Asom and UP, Hindutva has gone around this problem. In UP it managed to mobolise non Jatavdalits and non Yadav OBCs by specifically targeting them against BSP and SP. In the process it managaed to disempower Muslim voters, who constitute nearly 18% of all voters. In Asom it managed to disempower nearly 30% of Muslim voters. Actually this exercise of dis empowering a significant minority is not unique to India. In the US, in the past four decades, the Republican Party has evolved a programme which systematically disregards interests to 12 percent African Americans. And, in all presidential elections the majority of white voters have always voted for republican candidates. This was the case even during 'landslide' Obama victories.

3. Among the blind spots of Indian democracy we must also touch upon its hugely compromising notion and practice of secularism. The unique brand of secularism in India has been called  'sarvdharmsambhav', which literally translates as equal attitude towards all religions. Opportunistic politicians have translated it to 'equal respect for all religions'. An idea like the latter is completely against the spirit of secularism. Secularism in a democracy has two assumptions. The first assumption is that the fundamental democratic values, those of equality and fundamental rights, are not based upon any religious belief. In this sense the basic democratic values are secular. The second principle, that a secular state will not prefer any religion over others is a requirement of the principle of equality. A consequence of the secular basis of democracy is that any religious practice which violates these principles, for instance the principle of equality, can be outlawed. Indian state did outlaw untouchability, even though for many Hindus it was an article of faith. So a secular democratic state power can not follow a formula like equal respect, or equal attitude towards all religions. Yet it does not mean that secularism is anti religion. It does not interfere in the sphere of personal beliefs, nor does it deny believers the right to associate on the basis of their religion. Rather, it is the only basis on which believers of all religions can enjoy equal freedom to practice their religion.

Caste and Hindutva Fascism

As is well known Hindutva is a project to develop a political community of Hindus. Hindu society has been, and to a significant extent remains, a caste society. Liberal democracy in India has failed to save Indiansfrom the scourge of caste. This would not have surprised Ambedkar. He was clear that radical social change was not in the interests of the savarna leadership of the Congress of his time, that freedom movement, and post Independent Indian state would prove to be convenient tools for savarna castes to maintain their social hegemony, and that even if universal adult franchise could usher in a government of the people, as long as caste exists in the public life of Hindus, it would not be a government by the people, and for the people.

At the current moment Hindutva is proving to be the most successful means for savarna castes to maintain their ideological and political hegemony. However, the re-establishment of old Brahmanical ritual based caste hierarchy is not its aim.  It does not mind an OBC Prime Minister, a President belonging to a Dalit caste, and can not publicly support untouchability. Hindutva is also comfortable with the politics of oppressed castes in electoral politics. In fact the inherent divisiveness of caste in politics makes it imminently suitable for social engineering under a hegemonic project. The relationship of Hindutva and caste is actually complex, involving both mutually supportive, as well as antagonistic elements.

Hindutva and caste are different but they share common characteristics and derive strength from common social practices.Some of these common characteristics and practices are :

(a) Imperviousness to the calls of universal humanism, without which modern democracy is impossible.

(b) Caste and Hindutva both consciously articulate themselves as above, or alien to the law. Hindutva does it openly by its claim that the existing liberal secular order of law is against Hindu interests. For castes, it is the understanding that asself governed entitiesthey need not follow external rules. Khap panchayats are a clear illustration.

(c)The third overlap between caste and Hindutva is religion. Both operate with a sense of obvious naturalness to their demands. To the extent that the idea of self and community for an average Hindu is still largely religious, it helps both caste and Hindutva become effective in everyday life.

Such overlaps however do not mean that caste can be readily incorporated in the political programme of Hindutva. Caste ridden Hindu society is not easily amenable to community wide calls of political nature. Congress achieved it under a basically liberal project that had place for at least a formal critique of caste as part of the reform of Hindu society. Hindutva can not take any anti caste stance due to the centrality of the idea of a Great Hindu civilization/religion in its programme. This explains why for many decades after its initiation it remained confined to savarna castes.

The two key events in the growth trajectory of Hindutva were one, when it became the common political sense of savarna castes, and second when it managed to draw in sizeable sections of Shudra and untouchable castes.

The first was achieved when the Congress formula of broad coalitions of social groupings unraveled in the absence charismatic leadership, and savarna castes found that it is unable to counter rural dominant castes. Savarna castes now form the core voter base of Hindutva.

The success with Shudras and untouchables is the real tour de force of Hindutva, which helped it become a mass movement. This was facilitated by the preponderance of religion in the cultural and community life of Hindus. Hindutva exploited this religiosity through two complementary tactics. RSS affiliated organisations facilitated, encouraged and organized events of mass religiosity. The Hindutva touch was given by a certain kind of aggressive occupation of public space with a clear lumpen character. These organisations also calibrated their programmes by incorporating specific caste centric gods, temples and religious programmes within a Sanskritising narrative. The success of this strategy was based on the continuing hegemony of Brahminical cultural norms at the molecular level, where the penetration of suitable counter narratives, either anti caste Periyarite or Ambedkarite, or the mores of modernisation, was weak. It succeeded most dramatically in the ‘cow belt’ heartland of Northern India.

As mentioned earlier, the re-establishment of old Brahminical ritual based caste hierarchy is not an aim of Hindutva.  However, it is dead against any anti-caste movement, because that can challenge existing power relations in society, as BhimSena is trying to do in Saharanpur. It can incorporate non-Jatavdalit castes in UP, and can hope to manage a Hardik Patel. It can not stand a RohithVemula whose anti-caste stand was inspired by a deep and universal conception of human equality, and a JigneshMevani who has deftly combined his anti-caste politics with concrete socio-economic demands.Their politics is not only anti-Hindutva, but has the potential to knock the bottom out of Hindu caste order. Hindutva provides a safe haven for all hierarchical caste prejudices, of savarnas against OBCs and Dalits, and of OBCs against Dalits. A radical Dalit who has courage to stand against all, is its public enemy number one. More than ever before, it is the time to challenge the Hindu caste order in India.

Summing Up

A successful counter to fascism has to target sources of its popular base. This requires bringing into open its contradictions with other interests of the people. The argument that Hindutva is bad because it threatens minorities will not do. We have to prove to the members of the so called majority that it is against them too.

Many Marxists claiming to follow a class motivated understanding of society fail to notice relative autonomy of the state and politics under it, and see fascism simply as an instrument of the rule of the capital. They claim it to be just another variant of class dictatorship, thereby failing to register specifics that distinguish it from other forms of politics and state under capital. They even fail to appreciate that under suitable circumstances bourgeois state can actively follow policies aiming popular legitimacy. Economic exploitation under capitalism occurs within laws of commodity exchange. Hence, once conditions for the commodity exchange, including ‘free’ labour, are in place, capitalist exploitation does not require direct political coercion. This creates the space for relative autonomy of politics and state, which means that far from being a mere instrument of capital these develop their own dynamic. Elections and electoral politics under universal franchise have emerged as the main means for popular legitimacy of bourgeois states. Even socially and economically backward countries like Nepal, or India have opted for elected governments. Indian state has close to three million elected representatives from village panchayats to the national parliament. This is number larger than ever for any country in the human history.

Hindutva project is working on many domains simultaneously. Besides open violence against minorities and Dalits, it also involves extreme centralization and communalization of state institutions, and systematic interventions in popular ideology. It needs to be countered in all domains. Given Indian social and political realities, one strategy, one programme of action, or one set of alliances will not work in all domains. For instance, almost no mainstream political party is likely to come out openly against Hindu communalization of public sphere. However, they may be in conflict with the Hindutva party politically, and against its specific policies.Anglicised liberal sections of Indian elites do show opposition to the chauvinistic agendas of Hindutva in popular ideology. However, given their class position they are not likely to oppose economic policies of the Modi government. Such considerations help untangle complex questions which often do not have simple either-or answers.

One such complex question is directly political, related to support to non-BJP parties during elections. For many decades Congress has played opportunistic communal card. It presided over the destruction of Babri Mosque. Before the last elections, SP in UP too played dirty communal politics and failed to protect minorities in Muzaffarnagar and at many other places. Nor is it now, when Hindutva is politically dominant, that these parties have become anti-communal. However, due to their own interests such parties do remain politically opposed to BJP. The two alternate set of reasons from anti-Hindutva positions can be these. 1. Given that Hindutva is dominant, and poses immediate threat of whatever democracy exists, the more important thing is that its march be halted. Any battle, no matter how small, won against Hindutva punctures the arrogance of power which leaders like Modi display. 2. The alternate argument is that these parties have never been, nor can be consistently non-communal. Principled anti-Hindutva politics can not be expected from them. The second argument misses the fact that under given circumstances the electoral politics is not the primary arena of democratization of society. Defeat in elections weakens Hindutva dominance in state institutions, and affects it political legitimacy. It does not necessarily mean a decline in its social basis. Social struggles which challenge existing power structures directly:anti caste, feminist, working class movement, democratic rights movement,etc. counter the authoritarian core of Hindutva much more effectively than electoral politics, and these should remain primary areas of activity of progressives. This however, does not that mean that electoral politics has no place in anti-Hindutva mobilisations.

Another question relates to the role of religion in the public sphere. Hindutva has always tried to show the secularism in against Hindu interests. More worrying fact for progressives should be that despite a secular constitution, state institutions have been communal. Hardly anyone has been punished for gross violence during communal pogroms, or destruction of Babri mosque. An activist in Gujarat was reprimanded and fined by Gujarat High Court for bringing a PIL alleging that religious havan with Sanskrit shlokas and pandits during the inauguration of the new court building violated constitutional provisions of the constitution. Almost all police stations in northern India at least, have temples with Hindu deities. An important conceptual distinction exists between a communitarian defence of secularism (as best suited to protect minority interests) and a citizen centric defence which lays emphasis on the basic values of personal freedom and equality; even while in many practical contexts the two are similar in their demands. Progressives need to bring the later in public domain, because a sphere of increasing freedoms which enriching for every one can be brought about only on its basis.

(Based upon presentation and discussion during Workshop on Understanding and Resisting Fascism  - Indian Context organized by Jan Chinthana Kendra and Karnataka KomuSouhardaVedike in Benagluru, 27 Jan, 2018)


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