How Modi's India is fast resembling Hitler's Nazi Germany
[Book extract] In the name of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra, the rule of law is made to disappear and mob violence prevails
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India today, seventy years after Independence, is facing a situation where some of the fundamental features of democracy are under serious threat. The threat emanates from the ideological orientation of the present prime minister and of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. There are two aspects of this ideology that need to be noted here. One is the assertion that India is a country of the Hindus and that the true future of India lies in making a Hindu Rashtra. Other religious groups — Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and so on — will have to live in India on terms determined and dictated by the Hindus, the people who can project what is truly Indian.
These views are not confined to the world of ideas. They have become a part of the grim reality of the daily lives of ordinary people, who have become perpetrators of intimidation and violence, as well as its victims. Ordinary individuals pursuing their trade and professions have begun to group themselves in localities to preserve and protect what they think, following the Sangh Parivar, as Hindu and truly Indian. Perceived threats to this Hindu India are then made targets of violence. The targets are always ordinary Muslims, who are attacked and lynched.
In the name of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra, the rule of law is made to disappear and mob violence prevails. And because perpetrators of this kind of violence are always supporters of the ruling political dispensation, the police become bystanders and no action is taken against the inciters and the executors of violence. Lynching and mob violence, on the rise in many parts of India, began almost as soon as Narendra Modi came to power. In 2016, a student was arrested from Jawaharlal Nehru University and was beaten up by lawyers while the police remained passive bystanders. None of the offenders — those who took the law into their own hands — was charged or arrested.
Since then the list of such incidents has grown at an alarming rate. And increasingly, almost always, the victims of the violence are Muslims who are suspected of eating beef, selling beef and so on. The actual reason is that they are Muslims and therefore are seen as enemies. Bigotry nurtured by a political ideology has made people, as it always does, blind and intolerant. There is one associated feature of this violence to which attention needs to be drawn. In every case, the prime minister and his close associates and leaders of the Sangh Parivar have failed to or refused to condemn the violence. Murder in the name of Hindu Rashtra is fast becoming a way of life in democratic India.
These events, where supporters of the Sangh Parivar in parts of India have used violence, boasted about using violence and incited violence, reveal an ominous political trend in India. It is significant that there are groups of people, supported by political leaders, who are unashamed — on the contrary proud — of their use and advocacy of violence against individuals and groups who do not share their views.
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The counterpart of this kind of exhibition of intolerance of dissent is authoritarianism. A political party and its various wings, because they enjoy a popular mandate, are assuming that they have the right to impose their views on people who disagree with them.
The first step is to label the dissenters with epithets that incite passion — “anti-national”, “Maoists”, “terrorists”, “perpetrators of sedition”, “beef eaters” are some of the common labels being used for anyone who dares to criticise. These epithets are then being used as an excuse for state action — arrests, humiliation, denial of bail. The state action is being bolstered by actions of party cadre and party loyalists who are rushing in to harangue, abuse and beat up so called “offenders”. The abuse continues on social media. An ambience of terror and intimidation is thus generated.
Muslims are assumed to be anti-Indian/Hindu.
The targets of this terror are two predictable groups. One is made up of the secular, anti-Hindutva, pro-democratic sections of the population; India’s most endangered species — the secular intelligentsia. What is also alarming is that attacks against this group are tapping into a pool of public opinion which believes that India should be a strong state, that tolerance is not a virtue, that nationalism is an unalloyed virtue, and that universities should have no autonomy.
And in the second group are Muslims who, it is averred, “should be taught a lesson” for no other reason save that from 1206 to the coming of British rule Muslim dynasties ruled India. Muslims are assumed to be anti-Indian/Hindu. It would be simplistic and erroneous to believe that only the ignorant and the obscurantists hold such outlandish views. These views are held by educated people, seen and heard in clubs and cocktail parties, people whom one would expect to be upholders of the rule of law and the Indian Constitution. This pool of support and the popular mandate provide the sanction for the slide towards authoritarianism.
It might be asked: how there can be a slide towards authoritarianism when Parliament still exists and is functioning to the extent that the Opposition is voicing its concern on the floors of the two Houses of Parliament?
The authoritarianism is manifest in a different, but not an irrelevant, theatre. This is at the street level — the way supporters and party loyalists are mobilising themselves to suppress dissent and the articulation of criticism. They are also choosing their own ways of punishing those who differ with them — smearing them with ink, humiliating them, beating them up, lynching them and so on. In other words, through mob violence.
This is not to suggest that Modi is ordering or directing the violence, the intolerance and the suppression of dissent.
These are acts akin to those the Stormtroopers and the Hitler Youth carried out in Nazi Germany. What is decisive here is not the rule of law, not democracy and certainly not the Constitution, but the brutal use of muscle power to impose one particular ideological view — Hindutva. Such actions have the consent of ideological and the political leaders.
This is not to suggest that Modi is ordering or directing the violence, the intolerance and the suppression of dissent. He does not need to. His supporters are second-guessing him and carrying out actions that they know will win his approval. Modi does not need to implement his own ideological agenda; there are people — many of them physically far away from him, ordinary cadre of the Sangh Parivar — who are doing that job of implementation and doing it mercilessly. They are working towards Hindutva and therefore towards Modi’s core beliefs.
The emergence of Narendra Modi as the undisputed and the unchallenged leader of the BJP has brought greater clarity to the ideological aims of the Sangh Parivar. The velvet glove of moderate Hindutva has been removed to reveal the mailed fist. This ideological direction has no particular respect for, and interest in, preserving the fabric of the Constitution, the principles of parliamentary democracy and the features of a cabinet form of government.
Modi, much like Indira Gandhi in her prime in the early 1970s, has fashioned a personalised form of governance by eroding all forms of collective decision-making. Everyone at every level of political power knows where the real power lies — with the prime minister, and its implementation resides in the hands of a few handpicked bureaucrats in the prime minister’s office.
The politics of religious hatred at the street level created by a pernicious ideology that sees Muslims as enemies and anti-Indian, the pandering to this kind of hatred by political leaders, the growing spirit of irrationality in the intellectual space, the diminishing of dissent of all forms, the creeping erosion of democratic and civil society institutions and the deification of the prime minister — all these features are not only threats to democracy, but also to all forms of civilised existence. They define a form of rule in which only hatred and brutality will prevail. These features came together in Europe in the 1930s to create a form of rule which caused the eclipse of liberalism.
(Excerpted with the permission of Aleph Book Company)