If by fascist, you mean “adherent of a movement determined to seize state power with the help of violence committed by a disciplined and armed auxiliary, if necessary, to reorder society to achieve extra-constitutional, self-defined racial or ethnic objectives embodied by a charismatic leader”, that is.
Narendra Modi and his BJP party, in my reading, plays the democrat for advantage in the electoral game, but acts the fascist through deniable cutouts—the RSS Hindu nationalist movement and its constellation of affiliates, known collectively as the Sangh Parivar.
The BJP has a membership of about 100 million. Members of Sangh Parivar organizations number in the tens of millions. The VHP, which does the heavy lifting for the Sangh as far as virulent Hindu nationalism goes, reportedly has a membership of almost 3 million.
So if you’re eager to punch fascists in India, better bring some friends…maybe bring a chopper…well, maybe bring a gun…maybe bring a lot of guns.
Fascists play for keeps in India.
Reasonable people can disagree. But before you disagree with me, please read my piece on Modi—Is Narendra Modi the Leader of the World’s Largest Democracy…Or the World’s Most Successful Fascist?—and the horror of the pogrom he allegedly orchestrated in Gujarat in 2002–first.
And read this, about the battle to come out on top in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election, which will be held in stages between February 11 and March 8 in seven phases.
Uttar Pradesh, a.k.a. UP, in addition to being an immense electoral prize in India’s heartland—if independent, its population of 200 million would make it the sixth largest country in the world—is 20% Muslim.
The BJP views that percentage as a challenge, a threat…and an opportunity to display its core competence in the science of communal polarization, intimidation, and worse.
One of the less savory expressions of the philosophy of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, that prevails among followers of Modi, the BJP, and the RSS, is the sentiment that Muslims are an affliction, a contamination and, especially via Pakistan, a threat to the purity and vigor of the Hindu polity.
“Reconverting” Indian Muslims back to Hinduism—on the grounds that the vast majority of Hindu Muslims are that way only because of forcible conversion to Islam back in the day and should be helped to return to their true religion—is a big deal for the BJP.
The movement is called “ghar wapsi”—“homecoming” and it’s run by cadet outfits of the RSS.
“Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here.”
“So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here,” Uttar Pradesh DJS head Rajeshwar Sing said.
In case you’re laboring under the mis-impression that this is just the frothing of a bunch of marginalized extremist goombahs, for Rajeshwar Sing, the guy quoted above, running Hindu reconversion circuses in UP was his ticket to the big show.
The next year, Sing got promoted to the RSS, the organization Narendra Modi serves as a pracharak, or lifetime cadre, and whose political arm is the BJP.
In 2015, the Times of India reported on Singh’s new responsibilities. Singh obligingly schooled the Times on the hierarchy/deniable cutout arrangement that informs the relationship between the RSS, its multitude of affiliates, and the BJP:
Dharam Jagran Samaj’s Rajeshwar Singh, the force behind the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s high-octane ghar wapsi programme in western Uttar Pradesh last year, who was quietly sent on a three-month leave by the RSS later, is back with an elevation. From the fringe body, Singh has now been promoted to the parent organization. According to regional RSS leaders, this is indeed a shot in the arm for Singh.
Singh, who will now be shifting base to Meerut from Agra on April 7, told TOI over phone, “According to our internal hierarchy, RSS is at the top, followed by VHP and others, while DJS is at the bottom of the rung.
Talking about his new role, Singh said, “I have continuously worked for the Sangh’s campaigns and programmes. I will wait for the orders. Even earlier, there were orders to conduct ghar wapsi [“Homecoming” ceremonies for Muslims converting “back” to Hinduism], which I followed.”
“My hard work and struggles have paid off as I am now associated (directly) with RSS.”
To appreciate the tactical coordination between the RSS and the BJP and the endless PR games played by the BJP while it preserves political deniability as it exploits the communal polarization strategy executed by the RSS, it was elsewhere explained that Singh had been sent on vacay for a few months before his promotion not because he was doing a bad job, but because he was doing too good a job. Muslim conversion started to generate too much political heat for the BJP & it was deemed necessary to cool things down:
In December 2014, the RSS leadership had relieved senior pracharak Rajeshwar Singh of his duties in its Dharm Jagran wing for creating an embarrassment for the BJP government through his reconversion drive in Uttar Pradesh, something that he had been doing with RSS’ blessings since 1998.
… “There is an understanding where every issue is allowed to be raised with the government, but there is an understanding also that it should not be taken to a stage to create an embarrassment for the government — our government,” said a person privy to the larger understanding in the leadership of the Sangh Parivar.
Uttar Pradesh is historical ground zero for BJP’s politics of Hindutva nationalism and anti-Muslim agitation.
The signature piece of BJP incitement in its career in India–and perhaps the key inflection point in modern Indian history– was the successful campaign to tear down the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in eastern UP in 1993, on the pretext that it had been sacrilegiously built there by the Moghuls 400 years ago on top of the actual birthplace of Lord Ram.
Here’s a capsule video report. Kar sewaks are religious volunteers, in this case mobilized by the BJP and other Hindu nationalist parties; a lakh = 100,000, so 200,000 people participated in storming the mosque. A puja is a routine religious ritual that was used as a pretext for assembling the 200,000 kar sewaks.
As to consequences, thousands have died in communal violence directly related to the conflict ginned up over the Ayodhya mosque by the BJP. The 2002 pogrom that stains Modi’s tenure in Gujarat was sparked by the deaths of BJP kar sewaks on a train returning from a ceremony at Ayodhya.
Ayodhya defined and affirmed the BJP as a dominating national party and the intimidating voice of Hindu chauvinism.
Narendra Modi was there, by the way. In the 1990s he was a go-fer and organizer for LK Advani, the BJP head at the time, who built the BJP into a national force through his “Rath Yatra” a ceremonial procession through India led by a Toyota converted into Lord Ram’s chariot that that left a trail of communal violence and death in its wake, and culminated with an assault on the Ayodhya mosque.
If you have an hour to spare, watch this documentary, In the Name of God, on the BJP’s Ayodhya campaign and its impact on issues of caste, religion, and class in UP. I found it a riveting piece of social history.
Here’s a picture of Modi at the time.
Modi had a junior but important role in organizing the Yatra. Among his many duties, he was Advani’s “mike holder” when the BJP chief issued his pronouncements.
The Ayodhya dog doesn’t quite hunt anymore, as far as stoking outrage over Muslim presumption goes. The Babri Masjid was destroyed over 20 years ago…
… and a ramshackle temple to Rama stands in the ruins today.
But BJP ugliness in Uttar Pradesh is not just a matter of nostalgia for the bigoted thuggery of the Ayodhya mosque demolition.
The BJP and its surrogates returned to the reliable anti-Muslim program by, according to credible accounts, carefully orchestrating and exploiting an outbreak of communal violence in western Uttar Pradesh in 2013.
On one level, Uttar Pradesh politics is mind-numbingly complex (*see the Economic Times ‘splainer attached to the end of this piece). On another level, it’s pretty simple. Caste politics dominate. Various political parties each have their “vote bank” a core identity-politics outfit they rely on for their electoral clout: Dalits (“untouchables”) for the BSP, Yadavs for the SP, “forward castes” (Brahmins, especially) for the BJP. That’s around 70% of the electorate right there. Each party deploys the full range of public relations hoohah at election time to try to cannibalize dissatisfied supporters from the other parties and gain an electoral edge.
Then there’s the Muslim vote. There are quite a few Muslims in UP, maybe 20% of the population, potentially decisive in the highly fragmented world of UP politics. The BJP is never going to win Muslim votes for obvious reasons, so its strategy is to strip away Hindu votes from the BSP and SP by resorting to its core competency in “polarization” i.e shifting the terms of political discourse away from communal interests to communal hatred, and rely on the marginalized and intimidated Muslims to fragment their votes among the various local parties instead of organizing as a bloc.
The BJP strategy was demonstrated in the outbreak of communal violence in western Uttar Pradesh against the backdrop of elections to the national parliament, the Lok Sobha, in 2014 that the BJP was determined to win.
A path to victory was to break the electoral solidarity of a key “backward caste” the Jats, comprised of both Hindus and some Muslims. Jats served as the coveted local “vote bank” for the BSP, which relied on a combination of Jat and Muslim votes for its electoral fortunes in dozens of constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh.
The region is 25% Muslim, a demographic that, for understandable reasons, is largely beyond the reach of the BJP. The key was to polarize the Jat electorate so that it would identify with the Muslim-despising national BJP more than the “all politics is local/Jat+Muslim tactical alliance” competing parties.
Unfortunately, western Uttar Pradesh already had some a history of communal violence between non-Jat castes and Muslims, so it was a matter of building on existing tensions rather than ginning up a pogrom from scratch.
According to a report compiled by ANHAD, a human rights group, after extensive site visits, RSS activists fanned out around the western UP city of Muzzafarnagar to create an atmosphere of communal tension by promoting the manufactured threat of “love jihad”—the seduction of Hindu women by Muslim men for the purpose of converting them to Islam—by sending provocateurs to pose as Muslims to taunt Hindu girls and, just to make sure the communal pot got boiling, sending Hindus out to taunt Muslim girls:
About 10-15 young men were recruited by the Sangh Parivar in each town and village and were deputed to spread hate. Systematic and organised, incidents of eve-teasing [current term of art not just for sexually harassing speech directed to women in public but also other forms of physical molestation—ed.] had increased many folds. The method was simple, use skull caps to eve tease a Hindu woman and wear Kalawa while eve teasing a Muslim girl in a Burka. The anger against this escalation prepared the grounds for spreading notion of „love jihad‟ by Sangh Parivar in a highly male chauvinistic society, a campaign, which made the two communities suspicious of each other. Every instance where a Hindu Girl was found talking to a Muslim boy was publicised and seen as an invasion. This method had been successfully used in Gujarat before 2002 carnage.
I speculate that the profoundly ugly foundation for this RSS strategy was awareness that western Uttar Pradesh is not just “traditional” or “chauvinist”–it leads India in honor killings. In fact, in 2003, Muzzafarnagar district reported 13 honor killings in 9 months, which probably made it the honor murder capital of all India.
Extreme private/public violence to control female behavior is practiced in Jat communities and is reportedly an emblem of power and authority for the village heads, as one study described:
The khap leaders are a handful of self-appointed, self-styled protectors of the ‘purity’ of the Jat community in rural Haryana. Baljit Malik, a leader of the Jathwala khap, says: “We do not subscribe to these killings. It is the families that execute such murders. Khaps are needed today like never before, given the exposure to the outside world. The village cannot depart from conventions which form the basis of civilisation.” He is speechless when asked why they do not issue fatwa, osctracising families indulging in such killings or repressing women.
The authority the khap has in a village makes its leaders demigods. Their word is law and any digression is enough to invite the severest punishment.
So, what better way for the RSS/BJP to insinuate itself into the Jat polity and put itself on the side of the conservative khaps by fomenting a moral panic based on the sexual threat to Jat womanhood from Muslim men.
The campaign of communal violence was encouraged at inflammatory rallies with BJP attendance. In time honored fashion, trishuls—the signature BJP trident and a rather nasty looking metal implement–were distributed, a pretty good predictor that things are going to turn bloody.
And they did.
A cycle of eve-teasing offense, punishment, and retaliation led to the deaths of three people in a town outside Muzzafarnagar city. Fatally, the incident involved Muslims & Hindus, providing the BJP and khaps with the opportunity for a mass mobilization on the pretext of the Muslim threat to Jat lives and honor.
Per the ANHAD report:
Despite prohibitory orders … proclaimed by the administration … about 100 thousand people were allowed to assemble. Many of them were armed as was requested by BJP-RSS combine. The slogans that were used by the coming crowed were highly provocative and communal. For example „Musalmano Kaeik histhan, Pakistan ya qabristan (for Muslims there is only one option Pakistan or graveyard), Modi Lao Desh Bachao (Bring Narendra Modi Save the Nation), Tumne do Ko mara hai ham sau katwe marenge (you have killed two Hindus we will kill 100 Muslims).
Fearing an attack Muslims started collecting in Madarsa (sic) and Mosques.During the Mahapanchayat [meeting of khaps ostensibly called by Jat leaders but actually organized by the BJP in this case-ed.], the leaders spitted venom against Muslims. A fake video [showing two youths being brutally murdered, actually showing events in Pakistan—ed.] was used to raise the temperatures. The same was circulated, by the BJP and RSS workers in the form of MMS and CDS. It was uploaded on the social Media as well. Sangeet Som (BJP MLA) was the first to upload the video on his social networking site account
The butcher’s bill: 46 Muslims killed and 13 Hindus. Officially. About 50,000 residents, overwhelmingly Muslim, fled to refugee camps.
Activist filmmaker Gopal Menon did extensive local interviews as well as rounding up footage of the inflammatory mahapanchayat assembly organized by the Jat khaps and the BJP for his documentary, The Killing Fields of Muzzaffarnagar, which is well worth watching. According to Menon, the Muslim death toll was more like 150.
Rape, as one would expect from the sexually charged campaign, was a feature of the pogrom.
So was police and official collusion in leaving victims unprotected during the attacks and without redress afterwards, and studied indifference to the plight of refugees.
The electoral payoff in the UP segment of the Lok Sabha (national assembly) races: the Jat Hindu community was successfully polarized between its Hindu and Muslim members. Many Jat Hindus cleaved to the BJP instead of continuing to back the BSP, and the BJP dominated while the local parties scrapped over the leftovers.
The BJP clobbered the local parties statewide, but no region came out in bigger numbers for the BJP than the Jat core in western UP. Not even eastern UP, the home of Ayodhya, a center of Brahminism, and the BJP traditional heartland.
One of the alleged insigators of the unrest, BJP UP executive committee member Umesh Malik, subsequently claimed, somewhat hyperbolically:
“During the Lok Sabha election, the embers that rose from Muzaffarnagar spread to the state, and from there to the entire nation. The embers that you created made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister”.
The good news, at least temporarily, was that in a handful of UP 2014 state assembly races held soon after the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won only 3 of the eleven contested seats despite energetically turning the communal hatre crank, stalling the Modi juggernaut.
Gilles Vernier, a professor of political science at Ashoka University, looked at the fresh wave of violence in the run-up to the state polls and observed in 2014:
The amplitude of the current outbursts of violence seems disproportionate for the political gains at stake … The real objective is the next assembly elections in 2017…
This pratfall apparently forced the BJP to re-evaluate its UP-wide strategy and pull back from aggressive statewide Hindutva agitation this year: the 2017 assembly elections, the big one, when all 403 state assembly seats are at stake.
In the run-up to this year’s polls, demonetization is being advertised as the magic bullet for the BJP’s UP hopes, on the theory that sucking almost half of the nation’s cash out of circulation would disproportionately discommode the BJP’s adversaries in their vote buying/campaigning exercises. At the same time, so the theory goes, demonetization would be understood by the little people of all castes as the sure sign that the BJP and Modi are the only guys fighting for them in UP against the forces of black money and corruption which, to be sure, dominate the political and economic culture in the state.
On hot button Hindutva issues, moderation, at least on the surface, is seen as the key:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appreciation of the canonisation of Mother Teresa or the snub to cow vigilantism recently may run against the common strand of RSS belief, but the Sangh has not made them an issue to confront the government, they said.
The RSS has …only desisted from raising heat over the Ram Temple, Common Civil Code [promoted by the BJP to supplant shariah and other religious laws in family matters—ed.] or Article 370 [constitutional amendment granting limited autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir], …
In the current campaign, the BJP expended considerable energy to try to sell itself in UP as a suitable destination for Dalit votes, even though it is founded on a vision of returning to the glory days of Brahmin dominion. Apparently, the effort faltered and the BJP Dalit outreach program, instead of culminating in a supercolossal rally addressed by Modi in UP’s state capital of Lucknow, petered out as a meeting in Kanpur chaired by the head of the UP BJP.
Nevertheless, the BJP recently announced a slate of 80 Dalit candidates for the UP assembly, a sign that the leadership is pinning serious hopes on duplicating its 2014 success in eating into the BSP’s base for the Lok Sabha elections…and relying on its adversaries hopelessly splitting the Muslim & other vote blocs between them.
Apparently some discreet Hindutva dog whistling is apparently still required to show that the BJP’s heart is still in that deep, dark place where communal violence is the ticket to electoral success.
The president of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh called for prompt erection of a magnificent temple to the Hindu god Lord Ram…on the site of the demolished Muslim mosque in Ayodhya…that triggered communal violence throughout India…and the notorious Gujarat pogrom of 2002…presided over by Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat.
Here’s a photo of the scale model of the envisioned temple that serves as the BJP’s Ayodhya temple fetish. Rama not shown actual size, natch.
The BJP chieftain then distanced himself from the subsequent uproar, in the best BJP-tactical/post-truth fashion, by simply denying he had said it.
Modi also discreetly honored his Hindutva roots during an appearance at a ceremony honoring Lord Rama by echoing the battle cry of the militants who had demolished the Ayodhya mosque, the god whose birthplace was supposedly defiled by Babri Masjid.
As for western Uttar Pradesh, the Hindutva bell had been rung emphatically in 2013 in Muzzaffanagar, and it was re-rung in Muzzaffanagar in February 2016 when the BJP won a state assembly by election in the miserable district on the platform of defense against gangrape and love-jihad in a campaign run by the alleged Jat and BJP orchestrators of the 2013 pogrom.
The durability of the polarization strategy in the Jat regions of western Uttar Pradesh, with its promise that the RSS/BJP has permanently cracked this pillar of the BSP vote bank—and hope that the BSP and SP will cripple themselves competing for the limited untouchable/Muslim votes remaining—probably accounts for the professed public confidence of the BJP as it goes into this year’s state assembly election.
Umesh Malik, who was an alleged linchpin of the 2013 pogrom, is on the BJP’s candidate list for the upcoming election for Budhana, a small town in the Muzzaffanagar district.
The election in Uttar Pradesh is crucial because it is a test, in India’s biggest state, of the “Modi Magic” which has failed to deliver big wins for the BJP in recent by-elections.
The formidable Modi machine—which, by the way, takes advantage of generous reporting in the Western press accruing from India’s importance as an anti-China counter and techlords’ dream date to feed back images of Modi as a global darling to the Indian market—will be on full display in conventional media, social media, and local organizing in Uttar Pradesh.
What’s the staying power of fascism in the 21st century? Modi’s India, more than Trump’s America, will give us an answer.
*Per Economic Timesthe social structure and vote bank state of play in Uttar Pradesh:
There are 79 castes under other backward classes (OBCs). There are sub-categories of backward classes (BCs) and most backward classes (MBCs) within OBCs. Yadav, Lodh, Kurmi and Jat come under BCs and constitute around 18% of the population, while all MBCs make up around 16.7%. Together, they have dominance in 145 assembly seats across UP . Yadavs are dominant OBCs and hold sway in 75 assembly constituencies with a population of over 20%. These include Etawah and the adjoining areas in west UP and Azamgarh and areas border ing Bihar in east UP . Dalits have 66 sub-castes and to gether they make up more than 20% of the population in near ly 100 assembly constituen cies. Muslims are over 20% in 145 assembly seats.
Brahmins play a crucial role in 60 assembly seats (over 20% of the population) in central and east UP and Thakurs are important in 85 seats (over 15% of population) mainly in central and east UP , such as Pratapgarh, Amethi, Domariaganj and Sultanpur, and some in west UP like Fatehpur Sikri. To win an election, a party needs at least 30% of the total votes, which cannot be achieved through one caste alone. Parties thus cobble up caste and communal alliances to sail through.
“The role of MBCs and subcastes comes into play here. Though the numbers differ from west to east UP , the demographic distribution and concentration of castes is such that a minor tilt of one caste or sub-caste can influence the election in a seat or even a region,“ says analyst Ashish Awasthi.
For example, among OBCs, Jats constitute only 2%, but they are over 17% of the populace in 11 districts of west UP , influencing 55 assembly seats. Similarly, Kurmis are 4% and Lodhs 2% of the population but have influence in many seats in Bundelkhand, central and east UP .
Among MBCs -Mauryas, Shakyas, Sainis, Kushwaha, Nishads and Binds -have influence in central and east UP , Rajbhars in east UP . Together, they can play a crucial role in about 100 seats. Parties with bases among BCsMBCs and sub-castes have also come up.RLD has influence over Jats, Apna Dal over Kurmis, Mahan Dal over Mauryas, Shakyas, Sainis and Kushwaha, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party over Rajbhars and Peace Party over a section of east UP Muslims. A swing of 4,000-5,000 votes can win you an election in a particular constituency. This explains why major parties ally with smaller ones,“ says an analyst. Akhilesh Yadav’s move to recommend the inclusion of 17 sub-castes from OBCs into the scheduled caste category is aimed at getting their votes. These castes are Kahar, Kashyap, Kewat, Nishad, Bind, Bhar, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Batham, Gaur, Tura, Majhi, Mallah, Kumhar, Dheemar and Machua -spread across UP .
Similarly, among Dalit subcastes, BSP holds sway among Jatavs, which is why other parties are wooing sub-castes like Pasis and Balmikis, which are a good number in central UP.
By Peter Lee
Source: China Matters