CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat’s mistimed and tortuous assertions regarding the character of the BJP, that it is “right-wing authoritarian”, but not “fascist” and that the RSS-ideology is “semi-fascist”, have unsurprisingly evoked passionate rebuttals from within the Left and liberal camp. There are several problems with Karat’s contentions.
First, the dogmatic adherence to the Comintern definition of fascism evolved in the mid-1930s in the backdrop of the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy has precluded any engagement with the more contemporary analyses of fascism and fascist tendencies in politics. The fascist axis powers of the 20th century were militarily defeated in World War II. The Comintern is also long gone and so is the USSR. Politics across the world, both on the left and the right have not stopped in the 1940s - it has moved on.
To look for a total collapse of democratic institutions, concentration camps, genocides and military aggressions of the scale witnessed in the last century as benchmarks to identify fascism in today’s context would be naive, especially since the whole point is to prevent the recurrence of such grisly catastrophes.
|Governance has been reduced to a vacuous Modi cult worship, with corporate groups like the Ambanis and Adanis being favoured in myriad ways. Photo credit: Reuters|
Second, why the RSS’ project of establishing a Hindu Rashtra – which seeks to subvert secular democracy in India, deny equal rights to non-Hindu minorities and valorise the Brahmanical, patriarchal system laid down by the Manusmriti – is to be termed “semi-fascist” and not “fascist” is absolutely unclear. Decades of scholarship have analysed the fascist underpinnings of this Hindutva project in India. After the Babri Masjid demolition and Mumbai riots in 1992-93, this did not remain merely a matter of academic debate. Amartya Sen justified his use of the term “communal-fascism” in a 1993 lecture in the following terms:
The term fascism is perhaps overused and frequently enough employed too undiscriminatingly as a word of abuse. It is certainly no part of my claim that the entire movement of Hindu politics is fascist in any sense. There are, however, specific political characteristics that are generally associated with fascist movements, and some of these elements are certainly present in parts of Hindu extremist politics in India today.
The fascist features take the form of use of violence and threat to achieve sectarian objectives, reliance on victimizing members of a particular community, mass mobilisation based on frenzied and deeply divisive appeals, and use unconstitutional and strong-armed procedures against particular groups. Some parts of the Hindu extremist movements certainly have these features...
Political activities in Bombay, in particular, have revealed some clearly fascist tendencies... I have taken some time to discuss the situation in Bombay both because a very large proportion of those killed were in Bombay, and also because this form of communal fascism – though fairly singular now in Bombay – can in fact arise elsewhere in India as well. (“The Threats to Secular India”, Social Scientist, Vol. 21, No. 3-4, March-April, 1993)
Marxist scholars like Prabhat Patnaik and Aijaz Ahmad have also invoked the analyses of Michal Kalecki and Antonio Gramsci respectively, to underline the fascist character of the RSS-BJP. In fact, the CPI(M) itself, while updating its programme in October 2000 had the following to say about the BJP:
The BJP is no ordinary bourgeois party as the fascistic RSS guides and dominates it. When the BJP is in power, the RSS gets access to the instruments of State power and the State machinery. The Hindutva ideology promotes revivalism and rejects the composite culture of India with the objective of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. (Para 7.14)
The post-Godhra pogroms against Muslims in Gujarat under the aegis of the Modi regime in 2002, further exposed the fascist character of the RSS-BJP. It was in this context that the CPI(M)-led parliamentary left had extended outside to the Congress-led UPA-I government in 2004, to oust the RSS-BJP regime at the Centre.
The many failings of the Congress-led UPA, particularly the brazen encouragement to crony capitalism and the callousness with which inflation and deteriorating economic conditions were dealt with, had provided the ground for the resurgence of the RSS-BJP. The engineered riots in UP’s Muzaffarnagar in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections once again brought the communal-fascist character of the RSS-BJP to the fore and helped it in securing an absolute majority.
Since the advent of the BJP regime at the Centre, there has been a surge in targeted attacks against Muslims and Dalits by the vigilante gau rakshaks, from UP’s Dadri to Gujarat’s Una. Massive state repression has been unleashed against the Kashmiri people alongside a racheting up of militarist rhetoric vis-a-vis Pakistan. Governance has been reduced to a vacuous Modi cult worship, with corporate groups like the Ambanis and Adanis being favoured in myriad ways.
Academic institutions are witnessing a concerted attempt to impose the RSS agenda and the cruel persecution of dissenting voices. Given this reality, where does one really draw a line between “rightwing authoritarianism” and “fascism”? If the RSS seemed fascist to the CPI(M) in 2000 and the Vajpayee regime abhorrent enough to support a Congress-led government from outside in 2004, what warrants a change in the characterisation of the RSS-BJP under the Modi regime of 2016?
The third problem with Karat’s formulations lies in its facile comparisons between the BJP and Modi with Turkey’s ruling party, AKP and its leader Recep Erdogan. Rightwing parties across the world, just like left-wing parties, display certain similarities while also having much dissimilarity owing to national specificities. One can always try and find certain resemblances between India’s BJP regime under Modi and the Zionist regime in Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu or even the despotic North Korean regime under Kim Jong-un. Such comparisons do not contribute to any substantive analysis.The larger point that Karat has missed, however, is that the extreme right is currently on the rise in many major countries of the world including the US and Europe.
The ascendancy of anti-immigrant hate politics in the West combined with Islamophobia – as seen in the Donald Trump phenomenon or the vote for Brexit – is a right-wing response to the global economic crisis, seen by many as a backlash against neoliberal globalisation. Wherever the Left is failing to build popular movements and offer credible alternatives to the neoliberal regimes, the extreme Right is gaining ground. India is no exception to this global trend - the resurgence of the BJP in India is, at least in part, the result of a similar failure, not only of the decadent Congress but also of the ossified Indian Left including the CPI(M). The solution lies not in splitting hairs over the characterisation of the rightwing but to focus energies on the revival of left movements.
The principal problem with Karat’s position is his political inconsistency, both on the question of an alliance with the Congress or on the issue of neoliberalism. If the motivation behind his intervention was to rule out any electoral alliance between the Left and the Congress, there was no need to certify that the BJP was not fascist.
The Congress is itself in a crisis, not only owing to its neoliberal beliefs but also because its Gandhi-family based leadership has lost credibility and appeal, perhaps for good. The state-based regional parties are performing much better than the Congress, when it comes to electorally challenging the BJP. Outside the parliamentary arena, the movemental resistance against the BJP today is being led by the Dalit movement, from Rohith Vemula’s Hyderabad University to the Dalit Asmita Yatra in Gujarat.
These forces can play a crucial role in building a united front against the RSS-BJP in the forthcoming battles. The problem with the CPI(M)-led Left, however, is that in the states where the BJP has gained and consolidated, like in UP, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or Assam, the Left has become electorally marginalised. The states where the Left still retains a significant mass base, like Kerala or Tripura, the BJP is not a significant force in any case. Unless the Left is able to build fresh movements in the states where the BJP is dominant, the CPI(M)-led Left will remain a fringe actor in the anti-BJP struggle.
The important role that the CPI(M)-led Left had played in the political battle against the Vajpayee regime between 1998 and 2004 was mainly due to the electoral-parliamentary strength it could garner from Bengal. It is noteworthy that despite its pre-election commitment to support a Congress-led government at the Centre in 2004 to oust the BJP, there was no alliance between the CPI(M)-led Left front and the Congress in Bengal. Yet, the Left front won 35 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2004.
The CPI(M)-led Left front, however, have suffered its biggest setbacks in Bengal since 2007-08, with the TMC as well as the BJP gaining at its expense. The Singur-Nandigram misadventures, which took a heavy toll on the rural support of the CPI(M), occurred when Karat was leading the CPI(M) as the general secretary. He did precious little to contain the neoliberal excesses of the Bengal leadership under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, even while fighting the neoliberal policies of the Congress-led UPA. This hypocrisy, which has led to the CPI(M)’s downfall, has continued till date.
The Left front’s campaign for the 2016 Assembly elections was launched from Singur in January, with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee asserting that the Tata plant will be rebuilt if the Left front was voted to power and also appealing to the Congress to join hands with the Left front against the TMC. Taking the cue, the CPI(M) candidate in the Singur Assembly constituency conducted his campaign riding on a Nano car!
Not only did this backfire electorally, but the Supreme Court has recently struck down the entire land acquisition in Singur for being “bad in law” and ordered the return of the land to the original landowners. This has caused a further loss of face for the CPI(M)-led Left front. Karat has chosen to remain mum on the Singur issue during this entire period.
The CPI(M)'s party Congress, in April 2015, had decided to oppose both the BJP and the Congress in the elections. However, when asked whether the CPI(M) will ally with the Congress in Bengal against the TMC during the party plenum in December 2015, Karat had said: "Politics is not just 'yes' or 'no'. Sometimes there is both 'yes' and 'no'."
Subsequently, an alliance was struck between the CPI(M)-Left front and the Congress on the eve of the Bengal Assembly elections, without any common programme whatsoever. The people not only rejected such an opportunistic and unprincipled alliance, but the CPI(M)-led Left front was relegated to the third position behind the Congress in terms of Assembly seats.
Despite this, the CPI(M) has continued to justify this alliance in Bengal and Karat, having conceded on the alliance with the Congress before the Assembly elections, has failed to pin down the Bengal leadership for rubbishing the political line adopted in the last party Congress. Rather it was a central committee member from Haryana who was expelled from the CPI(M) in June 2016 for raising her voice against the violation of the party line in Bengal.
After such flip-flops, which have led to a gnawing gap between CPI(M)’s rhetoric at the national level and its practice in Bengal, what credibility is left of the so-called “Karat line” within the CPI(M)? And if an alliance between the CPI(M)-led Left and the Congress is deemed justifiable in Bengal against the Trinamool Congress – which fits Karat’s description of “authoritarian but not fascist” far better than the BJP – then by what logic is a similar alliance against the BJP being opposed?
This is not to argue that Karat’s opponents within the CPI(M) – the Bengal lobby and the present general secretary, Sitaram Yechury – are more prescient in analysing the current political situation or putting up an effective fight against the RSS-BJP. Their political motivations are limited to regaining political power in Bengal by hook or by crook, without making amends for the ideological-political errors of the erstwhile Left front government. Their opposition to Karat’s line arises more out of their desperation in aligning with the Congress in Bengal rather than any ideological-political commitment to fight the RSS-BJP at the Centre.
This was not the case in 2004 when the CPI(M) had fought against the Congress in Bengal, but supported it at the Centre against the BJP on principled grounds. The people can see through the shenanigans of the CPI(M)’s Bengal lobby, and hence continue to punish them electorally.
The CPI(M) leaders have tied themselves up in too many knots of opportunistic tactics and unprincipled compromises over the past decade. Karat’s shoddy analysis of the RSS-BJP arises out of the inability to unravel those knots through honest introspection and course correction.