The fact that the whipping up of sentiments on the issue catapulted communal-fascist forces to the centrestage of Indian politics from where they could make a bid for power, is obvious. In fact, it was the second big boost to these forces, after Emergency. It is also clear after their stint in power that while they can do much damage, they are not yet in a position to impose their agenda upon the country. Bourgeois commentators are in the habit of talking about the BJP having “mellowed” over the years; the question, however, is not one of “mellowing”. It relates to the balance of forces that does not yet allow Hindutva groups the kind of power that they need to impose their agenda. Not only was the BJP’s effort at altering the Constitution stillborn, it could not make much headway even on specific issues like building a Ram temple, or amending Article 370, during its years in office.
But while this must be a source of satisfaction for secular and democratic forces, it cannot be denied that there is a creeping fascism in the country, which is not confined only to the Hindutva groups. Whether it is Mamata Banerjee’s police taking university professors into custody for circulating a cartoon, or the PMK asking for the ostracism of Dalits, two girls in Maharashtra being arrested for Facebook comments unpalatable to the Shiv Sena, or the atmosphere of intimidation that leads to Mumbai being shut down after Bal Thackeray’s death (a man whose life was a classic example of that of a fascist); whether it is the swagger with which a Narendra Modi struts about projecting himself as the next prime minister; or the spreading “culture of cruelty” exhibited in the glee surrounding the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, or the prolonged communal carnage in Assam; the reality of fascism creeping upon the nation is undeniable.
To be sure, one is not talking of a re-enactment of 1930s Germany. Fascist tendencies must be distinguished from the formation of a fascist state. The existence or even the growth of such tendencies does not necessarily lead to the eventual denouement of a fascist state. Besides, that kind of outcome is not even conceivable in today’s world, precisely because of the change in conjuncture that has taken place. When the Seventh Congress of the Communist International had defined fascism as the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary and revanchist sections of finance capital”, the finance capital it had referred to was necessarily nation-based: the Nazis had called themselves “National Socialist”. Classical fascism, therefore, was located within the context of acute inter-imperialist rivalry and the fascist state came into being through the capture by the fascists of the nation-state. Today we live in a world of globalised capital as the dominant entity: it is a world of muted inter-imperialist rivalry. The idea of a nation-state being captured by fascists who combine a terrorist dictatorship on behalf of “national” finance capital with external aggression to promote its own specific imperialism, is out of sync with today’s context.
But a denouement where there is an effective strangling of democracy despite the formal existence of democratic structures, because the state acts to promote the interests of international finance capital against those of the people; where this strangling is made possible by the pervasive practice of “identity politics” that sustains fascist tendencies; and where the actions of this state, apart from the impoverishment they bring to the people and the oppression of progressive forces, also roll back the social and political gains made by hitherto excluded groups like Dalits and women, and reduce minorities to a subservient status; such a denouement would clearly be in keeping with the tenor of current globalisation. And it is not farfetched to imagine our country moving in this direction.
The development of a pan-Indian national consciousness, subsuming multiple local and other identities, was a product of our anti-colonial struggle. Any backsliding in the struggle against imperialism, such as what the bourgeoisie has been imposing on the country in the era of globalisation, entails a recession in this national consciousness, and the coming to the fore of multiple other forms of identity consciousness. And the same neo-liberal regime that undermines the overarching national consciousness and encourages multiple forms of identity consciousness, also makes these identity groups relate to each other in antagonistic ways, because of the rampant unemployment and deprivation it generates. This provides fertile ground for the growth of fascist tendencies, since it now becomes easy to tell a Maharashtrian worker that he is losing his job because a person from Bihar or south India is replacing him.
This fracturing also suits the interests of globalised finance capital, since it facilitates the snuffing out of resistance by the people by dividing them; it facilitates the enfeeblement of democracy despite the retention of formal democratic structures. If the anti-colonial struggle had meant a forward march of the Indian people, what we are witnessing today is a veritable counter-revolution that is seeking to undo in crucial ways the gains of that struggle.
But then the question may be asked: what does all this have to do with the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Where does that horrendous act of vandalism fit into this picture? The answer lies in the fact that that demolition was an extraordinarily significant milestone in this counter-revolution. To see that demolition as itself being caused somehow by the shift to neo-liberalism would be a simplistic argument; but the fact of that demolition which was carried out with impunity, and one of whose enthusiastic promoters, Bal Thackeray, is even being paid obeisance by the Indian state after his death, sent the signal that such acts were now permissible. It created the condition, in other words, for the proliferation of multiple fascist tendencies apart from itself. And imperialism which sniffs out faultlines within a society to further its hegemony was quick to harness the antagonisms generated by identity politics to further its agenda in a manner which we can clearly observe today.
If this situation is to be transcended, if a meaning is to be restored to the inclusive concept of an Indian nation, if the fascist tendencies engulfing us have to be fought, then this fight must also encompass a fight against neo-liberalism and imperialist globalisation.
The writer was professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi