Is Hindutva Fascist? : Some Considerations

"Hindu India" "Muslim Pakistan" and those who stand in the way of this division be damned!

It is precisely this logic, that led to the brutal assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by one of the clearest proponents of Hindutva, Nathuram Godse. But the assassination of one individual, however important and dearly loved he was by the masses of Indian people, cannot be enough evidence for the fascist nature of the Hindutva ideology. I agree. It is crucial to locate, gather and present systematically the multiple pieces of evidence that are littered across the Indian landscape that will prove Hindutva as fascist.

Fascism is not difficult to define. It is however slippery. Its slipperiness is caused not so much because of difficulties in defining it systematically but because of the overwhelming nature of the images that we have of fascism. Nazi Germany - images after images of concentration camps, gas chambers, mass executions, experimentations of human bodies... This is fascism. And when we accept this as fascism then nothing else can look like fascism. Against such horrific images the contemporary KKK is tame and contemporary Hindutva almost invisible. The occasional skin head who hurls racial insults at a store owner and fire bombs a black church later that night seems at best to be a misguided youth. Except, we must remember, that there was a time in Germany, when Nazism was a visible ideology, but did not speak of exterminating the Jewish race. That came later. This too can come later.

To define fascism, I will use as a foil, another form of the military state that is often mixed up with fascism - the totalitarian State. We have examples of both Fascism-Nazi Germany; Totalitarianism - USSR. We will now understand fascism's primary qualities by pulling these two state formations apart. In totalitarian USSR, a popular materialist ideology that produced no less than a revolution was in post-Leninist USS held in place through the diktat of the State - using mechanisms of censorship, propaganda, institutional structures and State terror. Let us say I was a citizen of the USSR. Most cynically speaking what did I need to do to survive? One, I had to claim a certain allegiance of the ideology and even if I didn't as long as I didn't become particularly vocal about the State, especially its economic organization, I was safe. I may not become big within the State apparatus if I wasn't a party member but I was okay. Now, fascist Germany. Again an ideology is central. But this ideology marks a person by virtue of his/her race - Jewishness. Unlike in the first case, the person has no choice, no hiding places. One may be silent but the silence doesn't help because your race has already prefigured you as an enemy who must be wiped out brutally. One could be a pragmatist, a romantic, a relativist or an atheist, it didn't matter for you are already marked by your Jewishness. The first ideology is secular and the second one is not. That is the crucial difference. The kind of totalitarianism that we knew in USSR was connected to a secular, materialist ideology that did not make an distinctions based on those aspects of the individual that he/she had no choice about. Fascism primarily functions around a non-secular, cultural ideology that leaves no room for a person, for he/she is defined along those cultural parameters by birth. When such an ideology becomes the basis for the creation of a State, then we are in essence producing a fascist State. All efforts at State formation that is touched by orthodox theology have thus the potential for turning fascist, in as much as one of its formative ideologies is fascist.

In India then, any ideology that seeks to define the "nation" by deploying the ethnic, religious or racial categories shows all tendencies towards fascism. Whether in the moment of State formation it indeed turns fascist, wherein we see the State deploy its powers to effectively destroy a set of citizens based on their origins will depend on the relative power of the State formation. In Nazi Germany the open fascism that marked the war period was more muted in the pre-war period. Hindutva's history in India - especially between 1988-1993 - makes visible the potential in an overt manner - the mobilization of masses towards the destruction of a community, the systematic support that came to such mobs from agencies of the State such as the police, the inability of the judicial mechanism to arrest such trends, all point to the potential of clearly fascist ideology producing over the medium term a fascist State.

References:

  1. Basu T. et al (1993) Kakhi Shorts, Saffron Flags, Orient Longman, N. Delhi.
  2. Andersen W. and S.D. Damle (1987) The Brotherhood in Saffron: The RSS and Hindu Revivalism Vistaar, N. Delhi.
  3. Gopal S. (1990)" Anatomy of a Confrontation: The Babri Masjid RJB Issue",Viking, N. Delhi.
  4. Pandey, G. (1993) (ed.) "Hindus and Others: The Question of Identity in India Today" ,Viking, N. Delhi.
  5. Nandy A. et al (1995) Creating a Nationality: The RJB Movement and the Fear of the self , OUP, N. Delhi.
  6. Thapar, R. (1985) "Syndicated Moksha", Seminar, Sept. 1985.
  7. Sanskriti - Two Special Issues on Communalism in India (will be available on this website shortly).

General Works on Fascism:

There are many. Here are just three good intros:
Poulantzas, N. (1974) "Fascism and Dictatorship" NLB, London.
Forgacs, D. (1986) Rethinking Italian Fascism: Capitalism, Populism, Culture, Wishart, London.
De Grazia, V. (1993) How Fascism Ruled Women, UC Press, Berleley.

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