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India's new prime minister is not a fascist

Narendra MadiNarendra Modi’s resounding victory at the recent national polls has been generally received with euphoria, especially in the north of the country, although on the map the entire country would seem to be virtually saffronised. The opponents have been badly bashed up and some of the ministers in the outgoing United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by the Indian National Congress have suffered humiliating defeats.

The overwhelming mandate, quite clearly, is not as much for the Bharatiya Janata Party as for Modi, its prime ministerial candidate. The enormous support for a veritable demagogue has, however, caused misgivings in certain quarters.

They feel that this is the stuff of which fascist dictators are made, who rule not for the wellbeing of the people but for self-aggrandisement. Modi has been pronounced by the “pseudo-secular” brigade led by the Congress as the product of a fascist organisation – the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS). Over the years both have collected a reputation of being communal and intolerant of non-Hindus. The Congress, the bitter enemy of RSS, and its political face, the BJP, has been branding ­­­­­ Modi as fascist –  its accusations acquiring a stinging and more scornful character before the last General Elections.

The question, therefore, arises is whether Modi, his party and its parent organisation are really fascists. It would need to be critically examined from their current positions as expounded during the election campaigns in respect of various issues and not from the traditional views that have been propagated by their detractors. In order to do so one has to first see what exactly does fascism stand for.

Fascism has been defined variously by political philosophers but it is generally understood to be “radical authoritarian nationalism”. Coming into prominence during World War I it has been said that it, “Holds right wing positions with left wing politics”. It is opposed to liberalism, Marxism and traditional conservatism. Invoking primacy of the state, fascists seek to unify the nation through an authoritarian dispensation. Veneration of and devotion towards a strong leader, an extreme form of nationalism and even imperialism are its other features.

Although said to be a product of the 19th Century, fascism saw a revival in Italy during World War I. The Great War was cruel to many. It decimated three empires – German, Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman – and caused utter privations to most of the European people, especially the Germans and Italians. Widespread death and destruction took heavy toll of the countries that were at war. While Germany, under the weight of heavy war-reparations for waging an avoidable war suffered bankruptcy and destitution, Italy got nothing out of the War except poverty and misery. It was a war of the absolute monarchs and yet the people suffered the most, building a fertile soil for emergence of fascism. While in Germany fascism raised its head in the shape of Nazism led by Adolf Hitler a strong people’s leader, Benito Mussolini, exploited the discontent among people and promising pride and respect for Italians, mobilised support of the masses to become a dictator with absolute power.

If one analyses the BJP or its mother organisation, the RSS, one does not quite get the impression they are fascists as defined in the political textbooks. It is true that the RSS and the BJP have been talking of a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation) and, later, Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) but these were always extreme positions that they took, perhaps, to protest against India’s partition. Over time, they have practically given them up, most probably, on realisation that these are unattainable objectives in the modern world of international politics where checks and balances generally prevent a country to act in a unilateral and self-willed manner – unless one has bulging financial and military muscles. Clearly, India is not such a country.

No wonder, the BJP has somehow been displaying its ambivalence on these issues. Both the organisations, however, foster among its adherents love and respect for India, which, to them, is like their “mother”. Fierce patriotism and intense love of one’s country and observance of its traditional cultural practices need not always be harmful for or impinge on other communities or nations. It is only the ill-advised fringe elements that sometimes move away from the mainstream and cause avoidable conflicts.  Such elements are not in the Hindu community alone; they are there in numerous other communities and indulge in such despicable acts.

Rise of Narendra Modi cannot be seen in terms of the fascist ideology of a strong leader mobilising masses to bind them into a cohesive entity to pursue authoritarian and expansionist goals. Modi has worked his way up in the democratic system of the country and has been elected four times into the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and later was elected as the chief minister of the state mostly for the good work done by him. Again, he led his party to an outright win in the national elections in 2014. His ‘winnability’ prompted BJP to declare him its prime ministerial candidate. If crowds in huge numbers collected at his election rallies it was because of reports of his performance in Gujarat. Besides, frustration and anger of the common man against the corrupt and incompetent outgoing government swung the people towards a leader who was perceived to be decisive and capable of delivering a better life to them.

Grabbing the opportunity offered by the General Elections the BJP, to garner greater acceptability, brought in unimaginable changes in its earlier positions on its core political issues, viz. repeal of Article 370 – a provision in the Constitution that bestows special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, enactment of a uniform civil code (Muslims are currently governed by their Personal Laws) and construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site where the demolished Babri Masjid stood.. These have all been put on the backburner and the main issue before the next government, as declared by Modi, is nothing but development. His new slogan is “sabka saath, sabka vikas” which, roughly translated, means “together with everyone and development for all”. This is not indicative of dictatorial ambitions and takes away the communal tag attached to the BJP as its revised objectives are to work for progress of all, regardless of caste or creed.

Fascism is associated with radical right, i.e. it is ranged against Marxism and socialism. BJP, backed by the RSS, too held the same position. But, of late, there seems to have been an abrupt change. Modi has categorically declared that his government would work for the poor, the youth and security of women (regardless of caste and creed need hardly be emphasised). Surely, in doing so, one expects, he would not be unfriendly to business and industry.

In his inter-actions with the media, Modi has not indicated any expansionist tendencies. In fact he has clarified that he would pursue friendship and cooperation with all countries regardless of their size. This became evident soon enough. He sent invitations for his swearing-in ceremony to all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, including Pakistan. He overlooked objections of Indian Tamils and went ahead to invite even the Sri Lankan President.

Modi, therefore is not a fascist. Fascism is something which wouldn’t seem to be in the genes of Hindus; the question of their organisations – religious or secular – being fascist, therefore, wouldn’t quite arise. The term, has only been hurled pejoratively at the BJP by the paranoiac and insecure Congress, fearing all the time of all that that have since happened to it at the last elections at the hands of the former.

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