Neo-Fascism and Capitalism: Twin Realities of India Today

Sushanta D. Roy

Summary: India’s Modi regime has moved toward fascism with Islamophobia, repression of the farmers, and failed COVID-19 and economic policies — Editors

India is again at the centre of global attention, this time however for all the wrong reasons. The incessant struggle between capital, neo-fascism and the marginalised sections have converted India into a figuratively volcanic landscape where every act of dissent runs the risk of meeting with state suppression. The authoritarian approach of the current Modi regime under the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) functioning according to the ideological directives of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) is putting the country, once known for its secular credentials, on a route which leads nowhere but to a reactionary, right-wing populist and highly authoritarian state. There are plenty of examples of this trajectory, some of which will be taken up in this current piece. Over the past few months, India has seen numerous things – the farmers’ movement, the second wave of the Covid-19 Pandemic with an anticipated third wave, its associated mismanagement, the state elections in some of the most important political states in the country, and a rising sentiment of Islamophobia in the country which has now begin targeting mainstream celebrities and corporations.  All these events have brought forward the contradictions of capitalism, which had been continuously rendered invisible by the right-wing rhetoric of governance and fear of the minorities. At the same time, the globe has witnessed the custodial death of Fr. Stan Swamy, a stalwart in the Indian Adivasi[1] Movement. Swamy was behind bars because of his involvement in the movement demanding the rights of indigenous people, which the government saw as a threat to India’s internal security. A recent media report suggests that some of the charges that were brought against him might be fabricated, although that still remains under investigation. However, even at this moment, many friends and comrades of Swamy remain behind bars on such charges and accusations, with some of them such as the poet Varavara Rao, long-standing social activist and the representative spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in critical health conditions.

The Farmers’ Movement, its anxieties and its demands, which are legitimate according to most intellectuals and activists globally, still remains an ongoing phenomenon with no solution in sight. The movement and its participants have suffered through months of repression and violence and the movement itself stands at a critical juncture now with reports of caste-based violence from within the protesting farmers making the news. The recent death of a Dalit[2] person at the protest site and the surrounding controversy regarding the presence of caste-based atrocities within the Sikhs is a testimony to how multi-layered and complicated contradictions operate within any social movement, even one as grand and diverse as the farmers’ movement.

The central government has outrightly refused to have a dialogue with the farmers and has instead continued to file cases under numerous hideous anti-people and anti-democratic laws and ordinances, on political activists, intellectuals and students who are standing in solidarity with the farmers. The government has used every weapon in its arsenal to stop and disrupt the farmers’ protests. From using the armed forces to the usage of ideological state apparatuses such as social media and laws, the situation has been dealt with in the most undemocratic manner possible. The rampant usage of security laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and National Security Act (NSA) on anybody who speaks up for them has become the hallmark of the current regime. All of this is occurring under the aegis of a governmental set-up whose basic promise ‘on paper’ during the election campaign was to ensure development and livelihood.

The indiscriminate usage of such laws on intellectuals and activists in India has created a situation where the Indian jails are now filled with people who have extraordinary educational and activist credentials to their names. Not only with regards to the farmers’ protests, the BJP’s tactics in engaging with the people demanding better healthcare facilities and vaccines during the upsurge of the Covid-19 pandemic in India have been a site which has seen statist oppression and structural violence in the forms of lawsuits, cases, social media trolling, etc. Reporters have been imprisoned, data has been covered up, and laws (both formal and informal) have been brought in to suppress the voices of the people exposing the utter inefficiency of the government. All of these have exposed that the BJP can speak of development and governance as much as it wants through its leaders and controlled media, but at the very core, it remains a neo-fascist and authoritarian organisation which is not only anti-minority and anti-dissent but also anti-human.

These methods of suppressing dissent and strong-arming social activists is not something which exists in isolation. Many scholars and activists make the mistake of analysing each of these issues as secluded and solitary ones. The ‘truth’ however, can only be ascertained if one sees them as a part of a broader whole through a method which understands the relationship between the fragments and the whole. No event exists as a completely separated entity from the total social reality, and the total socio-political reality is a composition of these diverse events. An analysis of the social conditions in India today requires the analysis of the various ideological and material tensions which have found space in the Indian society.

The BJP government has continuously brought forward issues emphasising Islamophobia during recent regional state elections. It is good news, of course, that the BJP has stayed out of power in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where progressive and left-wing forces have won the elections. In other states, either the BJP has won, or the states have been won by proto-fascist forces, many of which rode on the wave of ‘lesser evilism’. However, the power of state governments has historically remained extremely limited in the context of Indian federalist democracy. Numerous examples have proved this in the past, including the famed 34-years left governance in the state of West Bengal.

At the same time, there are other ideological tendencies brewing up in India, one among which is the huge support for Israel in its authoritarian fight against Palestine which reveals the underlying ideologies of the currently dominant society in India. The far right in India is enamoured of Israel, not only for its development in science and technology, but also for its strict policies regarding Palestine, especially because it is a Muslim dominated state. The far-right uses Israel and Israeli politics against Palestine to create justifications of its policies against Muslims. The media outlets in the country, dominated by the right wing, regularly hero-worships Israel because of its development in the technological sector, constructing a perfect illusionary idea that science and the existence of Muslims cannot go hand in hand. In other words, the development of technology becomes contingent upon or synonymous with the ‘extermination’ of Muslims. After the new cabinet reshuffle, where the Prime Minister now himself heads the science and technology ministry in the country, it can be safely assumed that this is only going to increase.

At the same time, there has also occurred a continuous rise in the prices of essential commodities in the country. The BJP, riding on its far-right ideological domination of the society has created a social system where the media and a section of the supporters enable its continuous ideological reproduction by constructing binary categories of individuals. The social justification of the repressive domination and the widespread rampant commercialisation, objectivization, and alienation that societies controlled by capitalist systems are infested with today makes individuals from the new middles classes and the society they constitute impervious to the evils of the developmental, consumerist and affluent society. Ideas such as consumerism and affluence in India as a whole, of course, come with their own set of internal contradictions considering that India ranks 101st in the Global Hunger Index, even though the India is quite evidently a large market for many multinationals. The existence of ‘multiple Indias’ is an idea which has never been contested much but under neo-fascist regimes such as the present, it becomes important to take it into account to adequately analyse the problems associated with class, gender, religious and caste issues in the country.

The (mis)use of laws, such as the population control laws which are set to be ushered in some states ruled by the BJP continues. The framing of these laws at this juncture of the country’s socio-economic position, gains a certain collective acceptance because of the position of the country’s economy creating a fear among the working class and other non-Muslim marginalised sections of the society, which are faring poorly because of the present economic downturn of not only the state but of capitalism as a whole. It is worthwhile to mention in this regard that India has never experienced recession in recent years apart from a gradual process of inflation in segregated periods. Even in 2008, India was one of the few major democracies of the world where the impact of the Global Financial Crisis was not felt as much as in the other countries. However, as some of the economists have been saying, this might change, sooner rather than later.

The peculiar characteristic of the kind of repression that the neo-fascist regime of the BJP advances is that it makes repression itself the basis upon which freedom is constructed by the individual. Protesting against the hike in prices is thus attacked as anti-nationalism, while remaining silent in the wake of such economic atrocities becomes the foundational construction of one’s admiration for the country – not the people but merely the land, because that is what the BJP is most interested in. One articulates freedom and nationhood based on the extent to which one can suffer under the various laws and ordinances brought in by the ruling government. For example, waiting in long queues during the massively unorganised demonetisation drive in 2016-17 has become one of the characteristics of an upstanding Indian citizen in popular media which has remained in vogue even to this day. The social acceptance of such repression is what allows BJP Parliamentarians to make public statements justifying the increasing burden of taxes on the common citizen of the country. It also allows the BJP to constantly entrap the progressive forces within the struggle for negation of external contradictions, leaving the internal contradictions intact and fully functional. The struggle remains constrained within petty demands while the ‘elephant in the room’ roams free.

The BJP has successfully created a situation where any human rights’ violation, especially if it so happens that the act has taken place in a Muslim dominant country, becomes a source of rejuvenated Islamophobia in the Indian media. The recent communal clashes in Bangladesh and its effects in India, for example, reflect a deep divide within the Indian psyche. The communal clashes in Bangladesh during the festivities associated with the worship of Goddess Durga – a prominent festival for the Hindus in Bengal – has been converted into a source of creating further anti-Muslim sentiments among the Indian Hindus, especially in the bordering states of Assam and Tripura, which have always been a hotbed of the politics of polarisation around Muslim Immigration and in recent times, the politics surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

This has given further impetus to the Islamophobia propagated by the Hindu far-right in India which has been advocating a total ban – both material and psychological – on all things ‘Islamic’ in India for a very long time. There have been concerted efforts on dissolving the secular fabric of the nation by attacking advertisements which celebrate Muslim festivals or the usage of symbols which are culturally identified with Islam. The kind of hatred which has been unleashed on media, including social media, stands testimony to the way in which the far-right in India wants to construct the nation in itself. Corporates such as FabIndia and Tanishq – which are no welfarist sages in themselves but still are better any day than the far-right corporations such as Reliance per se – have been at the receiving end of the Islamophobic hatred that the BJP has injected into the nation because of their usage of Islamic and liberal anti-patriarchal ideas in their advertisements. There is a necessity to relate between the struggle against the neo-fascist ultra-right-wing attacks on these liberal and seemingly secular corporations, and the broader struggle against corporate capital itself. This demands a dialectical analysis of the struggle.

The government, on the other hand, instead of battling these ‘very’ real issues, has been instead focusing on the means through which it can curb the freedom in the digital space which includes social media as well. The giant corporations such as Facebook and Twitter have been at the crosshairs of the government, with some of their offices even being raided. The condition of media outlets such as Amazon and Netflix are also no different with many of them being asked to employ censorship techniques. Some of these proactive measures have been influenced by the recent surge of critical films and shows on these platforms such as Tandav, Laila, etc.

There have been some causes of celebration though in recent times, such as the release of activists, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, who were behind bars on flimsy charges. However, many others still remain imprisoned. These issues are a serious threat to the very idea of India, which focuses on the elements of secularism, freedom and democracy being foundational to its existence as a nation state, even if the extent of many of these had been explored to the highest limits only on paper. These are the ethical positions which have helped the country battle through riots, imperial aggression and internal crises – economic, cultural and social. Under the present regime, all of these are under threat. In other words, the world is witnessing an erosion of the idea of India as one knows it which is as a country which is secular and democratic, where citizens of all religions, genders, castes and creeds are constitutionally provided with the right to voice opinions and protest against the state if need be.

It is being governed by a government which cares neither about the idea of India, nor about Indians. The solution demands a correct theorisation of the problem, a theory which not only negates the contradictions of the social reality as it exists, but also negates the previous negations of then existing realities which allowed the current reality to come into existence. One of the pivotal elements of Raya Dunayevskaya’s philosophy of revolution, which also subsequently became the foundation of Marxist-Humanism, is the emphasis which she laid on Hegel’s Absolute Negativity, which can play a crucial role in this theorisation. The idea of negativity in Hegel was not only about negating the old contradictions but also about negating the previous negations of the contradictions. Hegel’s absolute negativity provides the basis of a forward movement of the human history. The analysis of the contradictions, which are infested with both neo-fascism and capitalism – sometimes working together and sometimes against each another – cannot be performed through a single negation of either of these two contradictions, but instead has to engage with this Absolute Negativity. Dunayevskaya articulated this in the most precise way possible in her Philosophy and Revolution where she articulated Hegel’s Absolutes to be the method in which a completely free human society can be built through because it contains the elements of a forward movement of history – towards complete freedom. The attainment of complete freedom presupposes the complete dissolution of the internal contradictions of capitalism which in the context of India also encapsulates issues of caste and religion. Dialectics involves the theorisation of this movement – both material and psychological – but it also theorises the way in which thoughts and praxis become coherent to become something higher than the previous categories which it negated becoming ‘Concrete, Absolute Negativity’ providing a logic of forward movement.

The contemporary crisis in India demands a logic of the path towards complete human freedom – free from the contradictions of neo-fascism as well as capitalism – and that logic can only be provided through a dialectical analysis.

[1] a member of one of the many indigenous peoples of India

[2] a member of the lowest caste in traditional Indian society


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