Is Hindutva Fascist?
Responses to Some Popular Net Arguments

The progressive call that Hindutva is fascist has produced a clear response from the Hindutva sympathizers on the Nets. They, the Hindutvawadis, have grouped together to produce a medley of arguments, that all seem to suggest that they progressive cry of alarm is misplaced. Let me outline some of these popular arguments on the Net and respond to each one of them systematically.

THE HINDUTVA ARGUMENT: Hindutva is not fascist because the BJP is not. The BJP like any other political party has a diversity of positions in it: for instance, moderates like Vajpayee. In every place it has ruled the BJP it has respected parliamentary norms. The progressives who call BJP fascist must look carefully at their own favorites - USSR being a prime example - for fascism.

Now this argument is a clever one, not so much because of its contents, but because of how it is arranged and therefore what it obfuscates and what it chooses to reveal. It systematically goes through multiple levels of obfuscation.

First, is the quick switch from Hindutva to BJP - i.e, positioning BJP as the object of progressive critiques and not Hindutva - forgetting all else of what makes up Hindutva as a material and institutional force in Indian politics. Hindutva is not BJP. On the contrary Hindutva is the ideology that is the combined work of the entire Sangh Parivar (the RSS - the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association) which is the ideological fountainhead of the movement; the BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian Peoples party), its parliamentary front which constantly makes efforts to breach the secular formation through parliamentary actions; the VHP - Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) which is its activist front that undertakes extra-parliamentary actions along with other components such as the BD - the Bajrang Dal, the ABVP - the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Hindu Student Councils (HSC's in USA and Europe tied to VHP of America/Europe) and finally formations that are not fully integrated with the above but are closely tied together at the level of ideology and strategy such as the Shiv Sena (Shiv's Army)). There is absolutely no point trying to evaluate if the BJP by itself is fascist, for as is said above the BJP is indeed the parliamentary front of the larger ideological formation. This attempt to bring a focus on the BJP alone thus is the first effort to obfuscate.

Next, the portrayal of some as moderates, the most important instance of this being the case of Atal Behari Vajpayee (ABV). ABV, as a moderate is a creation of his position in the BJP parliamentary party, wherein he constantly speaks of the parliamentary mode when asked about the BJP and the mainstream press (India Today is the chief villain here) accepting this as his only face. However, ABV, we must note has his antecedents in the RSS, as a matter of fact remains a firm member of the RSS even today, and when questioned on the RSS is often unambiguous about his belief in the RSS ideology. These aspects of ABV are consistently left out when attempting to portray him as a moderate - almost a liberal! Forgotten are the facts that he was an handpicked leader promoted by the RSS in the post-70's phase till the early 1980's (when his career took a minor set back after the fall of the Janata Party government), that he has in numerous interviews (pick any interview of his over the last five years in India Today, Frontline, Sunday etc.) if asked a question about the RSS he has always claimed full allegiance to the mother body and the fact that he was one of the first to be at the bedside of the ailing ex-chief of the RSS, Deoras, before his death. Nothing about his career (for details of his career see Praveen Swami's article "Life in the Parivar" in Frontline, May 31, 1996.)

Having produced a liberal politician for public consumption in the person of ABV, the Hindutvawadis next argument tries to take the case to a more general level - that BJP has always respected parliamentary norms. Of course it has! It is the parliamentary front of a larger fascist force and it is its role to play out the parliamentary process. Further, rarely has a fascist force seized power through simply repressive mechanisms. Let me quote from "Fascism and Dictatorship" by Poulantzas, one of the foremost scholars on European fascism of our times:

"Fascism comes to power, formally at least, in a perfectly constitutional manner... `respecting' the forms of the `parliamentary democratic' State, and within the juridical norms which every [liberal] state has in store for critical situations of class struggle." (p. 333)

The point then is that simply because the BJP uses parliamentary modes does not mean much. What is crucial is that we must look at this exercise of parliamentary niceties alongside other practices of the entire Sangh Parivar. What are the extra-parliamentary forms that the Sangh Parivar uses in tandem with the parliamentary form? Here I wish to begin with Paul Corner's 1986 essay "Liberalism, Pre-Fascism, Fascism." Corner argues the case of Italian fascism, as a trend that was visible for a long time in the gradual extra-parliamentary modes being adopted to produce consensus, i.e, the functioning of the parliamentary system had lesser and lesser influence on how some groups in society acted. He is of course referring to the growth of the blackshirts and other such groups that effectively began to manipulate society by becoming a force outside the parliamentary system. The Hindutva movement and its campaign of terror on Babri Masjid, the violence that was perpetrated before and after, the refusal to comply with State and Judicial decisions (remember, "Ayodhya is a matter of faith, we are not compelled to respect the decisions of a court") is probably an apt reminder at this point. And don't tell me the BJP didn't do it!! Of course they didn't for that is precisely the role of the activist fronts - VHP, BD and the Shiv Sena. Where violence was most felt - Western India - ordinary middle class and poor "Hindus" are as scared as Muslims to raise a voice against the Sangh Parivar (The opening remarks in the PUDR's "Peoples Report on the Bombay Riots" reports multiple middle class "Hindus" fear of speaking out openly against what was happening in Bombay).

Finally, the last turn in the argument is of course to point to other totalitarian systems of rule to which it is assumed some how that the progressives have some connection - namely erstwhile USSR and its allies. For a detailed argument on the difference between deplorable communist totalitarianism and dangerous fascism - one being a secular repression and the other not - see the first note in this section (LINK to FIRST NOTE).

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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