Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Indian Road : The Tolerance of Intolerance

In what kind of a state, one may see a protest march against protest marches, because, as its organisers claimed, protesting undermines the country's image? This is happening in India, as the cultural cleansing, as anticipated at the election of a Hindu Supremacist party at the helm last year, began in all earnestness. Indeed, the protest against protests is proto-Fascist by definition, particularly when it is led by a Ruling Party activist with some popular appeal.

Anupam Kher, a popular and accomplished actor who has been dabbling in politics, organised this protest-against-protest march, arguing that the recent protests by a broad section of Indian intelligentsia against growing intolerance in India undermines the country's image abroad. In a way, this is a sort of political faux pas, as this proves the very point the ruling party is desperately trying to disprove: That it does not matter that a large number of Indian writers, film makers and thought leaders are denouncing, in no uncertain terms, the cultural violence it has unleashed in the country since it won the general election last year. 

The facts on the ground in India are quite plain - those who disagree with the cultural line of the Governing group are being hounded, either virtually by Internet trolls, or by lynch mobs in real life in the more gruesome form. People have been beaten to death for eating beef, people have been assassinated for trying to expose various Godmen, ideologues and political appointees have been imposed on educational institutions, and anyone speaking against any of them were accused of being, hold your breath, Political!  The organisations which opposed the government line, on environment or human rights, have been de-registered (like Greenpeace) or put under investigation (like Ford Foundation). Mr Kher, and likes of him, are indeed arguing that these acts are alright, and only protesting against them makes India look bad.

Indeed, all these were vigorously exploited by the thriving news channels, and ruling party spokesmen appeared there with the incontrovertible justification - that we should accept all these because this might have happened before. Indeed, questioning the very basis of this logic - how, even if something might have happened in the previous Congress regime, may justify its recurrence and most importantly, official sanction - has been branded conspiratorial. The official strategy of being silent about even the most heinous crimes, such as lynching of an innocent man accused of eating beef at home, has been interpreted, perhaps as it was intended to be, as support of such actions (just as Mr Modi encouraged the rioters in Gujarat, who massacred over 2000 Muslim men, women and children, in 2002, by remaining silent and inactive for three days, after which he was forced to accept Military detachments sent by the Central Government).

What is underway is indeed a transformation of India. While the ruling party keeps defending itself that such intolerance is not new, what we are seeing now is not mere intolerance, as the media is portraying it to be, and isolated individual acts. Rather, with the encouragement of the Government and ruling party MPs, this is a planned transformation of India as a Total State, representing a majoritarian ideology and making a clear break with its secular and democratic past. This may appear a tall claim now, but one must note that this is perfectly consistent with the RSS ideology, the movement of which the ruling party, BJP, is a part. RSS was founded as a social organisation following the inspiration of Mussolini and his movement. They evidently believe their moment has come - Narendra Modi's landslide victory last year was their equivalent of march on Rome - and they have now embarked on an agenda of social and cultural transformation backed by the full power of the state. 

As I travel in India often, I reflect whether I am being unduly alarmist. However, my experience tells me that the threat of emergence of a modern Fascist state is very real. I shall argue that one can not be Alarmist when faced with such danger, and one must try to resist it with all one can, regardless of how nascent the threat may seem to be. Indeed, India is a diverse country and some states are not ruled by the BJP, but the power of a modern state is overwhelming. True, the Indian electorate is mature and can be astonishingly  prescient, as evidenced in the recent rout of the BJP in state election in Bihar (where it tried, rather cynically, to unite the Hindu electorate) but the Indian constitution has countervailing provisions for emergency rule, one that was used frequently before (by Congress Prime Ministers, admittedly, but this may be another precedent to follow), and we have heard warnings that this can happen again for a Senior BJP politician of late (though this is a disgruntled LK Advani). 

What makes this a question of When, rather than If, is the swindle of a promise that the current government has made in securing its mandate. India is at a dangerous moment demographically, as 70,000 people turn 25 every day, and its economy is not expanding fast enough. The BJP promised to cure this by magic of bringing foreign investment, something that seems reasonable enough in a culture beholden to its colonial heritage. But there is no magic potion and indeed, India remains a net Capital exporter by design, holding onto and even boasting about its precious foreign exchange reserves, something that is unlikely to change in the immediate future. Besides, India presents a fairly poor alternative to productive deployment of capital, because of not just its poor infrastructure, but high level of corruption (Mr Modi seems to be celebrating that India is better than China in corruption, though it is on a poor 85th place among the nations), poor level of skills and education, poor health and sanitation (which is one of the priorities set by Mr Modi) and indeed, the rising scourge of religious conflict and violence. Since becoming the Prime Minister, Mr Modi spent an inordinate amount of time travelling around the world, reaching out to Indian diaspora with an appeal to invest in India, but doing little to attend to the structural issues that impede such investment. The only ideas that the government seems to have is steamroll the environmental and labour law provisions, but it is even unable to do this because, as it claims, it has opposition in the houses of parliament.  This is indeed both ironic, because it stalled everything (including the very legislation it wants to bring) on its way during its days in opposition, and comical, this is appearing only as an excuse for not doing much.

This economic failure, as any reading of Fascist history would suggest, eventually leads to a search for other, those who could be blamed because they are different, or those who disagree. This is the process that is now underway. The election theme of BJP in Bihar, which has now spectacularly backfired, was that people should vote for it for Development, and voting for the other side would light up firecrackers in Pakistan. Expecting the party to learn the lesson from the overwhelming rejection in Bihar would be expecting too much. One would rather expect to see the return of a tried-and-tested strategy of authoritarian rule, communal discord leading to riots leading to imposition of emergency, as the ideologues realise the limits of their demagoguery - that one can fool some people all the time, or all people some of the time, but not all people all the time.

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