Saturday, 17 December 2016

Everybody Loves a Good Fascist--Part VI


[A slightly shorter version of the full paper will appear in French and English from France in January]
The Indian scene

Some of the aspects of the new authoritarianism can be briefly illustrated in the special case of neoliberal politics in India (see Mukherji 2007, 2014 for fuller discussion). I must add that what follows is merely a selective description of a complex social scene in a specific country. No attempt towards a general theory of neoliberal autocracy should be read in these remarks.
As a grossly unequal society divided into a complex array of class and caste, the Indian scene always included a variety of regressive, fundamentalist, and obscurantist groups often based on contrived religious doctrines. One of the most stable and influential organisations representing some of the archaic and distorted aspects of the hindu culture is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS. With ups and downs, this organisation has been active for nearly a century. It is perhaps not just a co-incidence that RSS came into being more or less simultaneously with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as a mass leader of the freedom movement, and the beginning of the communist movement in India soon after the formation of the Soviet union. The RSS played an ambiguous, perhaps duplicitous, role in the freedom movement. Although it always attracted a dedicated group of hindus from the traditional middle classes related to trade, bureaucracy and the academia, it seldom played any significant role in the public domain, until recently. Similar remarks apply to its political wing, the erstwhile Jan Sangh, now Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP.
Cutting a long and complicated story short, both RSS and BJP strongly emerged in the national context in the late 1980s along with two events that changed the course of Indian and world history: introduction of full-fledged neoliberal economy in 1991 in India, and the collapse of the Soviet block accompanied by establishment of capitalism in erstwhile communist China. Interestingly, neither BJP nor RSS had any significant presence in the states of Bengal and Tripura which were under the left-rule. They also had only a marginal presence in the state of Kerala until very recently as the regime in Kerala alternated between left- and Congress-rule. But they spread like wild-fire in the rest of the country where the left had no presence at all.
The Indian polity had already become fragmented into a variety of regional formations by the late 1980s, even though the Congress party, once nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, retained power in a number of states and the center. As the political wind shifted rightward under neoliberal policies, the BJP started to gain control basically in areas held earlier by the Congress. These developments led to the formation of a right-wing coalition government in 1999 with the BJP as the major partner. Near the middle of the tenure of this regime, a massive pogrom of Muslims was organised in the state of Gujarat where Narendra Modi was the chief minister.
During this period, Indian economy registered rapid growth of nearly 7% with the usual neoliberal features: progressive concentration of wealth in the top 5%, emergence of a small but aggressive middle class, rapid expansion of imperial collaboration, and large-scale impoverishment of people. The coalition government was not fully capable of handling the vicious conflicts, and it lost the elections to a center-left combination led by the Congress. The neoliberal agenda, however, continued unabated.
However, to regain some of its lost popular base, the Congress initiated some welfare programmes unprecedented in recent history. No wonder it won the elections for a second time. By now, both the extreme rich and the middle classes had expanded their wealth and power in a booming economy, while much of the rest of the world went through a long recession. Hence the Indian scene was exactly opposite of that of Europe, especially Germany, in the 1920s. The popular measures brought in some limited redistribution of resources and lifted a section of the population out of abject poverty. These effects had a range of progressive consequences such as reverse migration of labour, raised wages, growth in resistance movements, and the like.
The captains of neoliberal economy reacted sharply by aggressively funding and promoting Narendra Modi and the BJP. It is important to mention that by now the left-rule in Bengal had become unpopular and the left started losing elections in this major state. By the time Modi advanced in the national scene to capture central power in 2014 with a majority of seats for his party (but with just 31% of the highly fragmented popular vote), the left disintegrated in Bengal. Subsequently and for the first time in history, the BJP made rapid inroads in Bengal. Needless to say, a variety of right-wing forces raised their ugly heads in the social and cultural scene, attacking poor muslims and dalits, beating up opponents, attempting to enforce reactionary codes, etc.
So the crux of this phase of Indian social history is that an India-specific (= hindutva) form of authoritarian rule has emerged in a booming economy. It is also the context in which the left no longer plays any significant role in national or regional politics, and a spectrum of central-right forces occupy the political space, with Modi’s BJP dominating the scene. 
In my view, the current authoritarian rule has major fault-lines, and is not likely to survive beyond its current term. This is because, one the one hand, the ruling cluster of big business will want the government to provide measures to accelerate economic growth and concentration of wealth even further; but they also do not want the government to take measures that significantly disturb the ‘peace’ of the existing neoliberal market. While the regime, with a thin popular mandate struggles to find a balance between the conflicting demands of the ruling order, the progressive withdrawal of welfare measures will compel the resistance to gradually unite and grow. After a point, the big business will not care about supporting the BJP-rule since several other choices are available to them from the wide political spectrum.
However, the grim reality is that the present right-wing authoritarian regime has already damaged a range of democratic institutions, including welfare institutions for the poor. As long as this regime is allowed to operate without significant resistance from the ground, it will cause further erosion to democracy and the justice system, while increasing the attack on the livelihood of the poor. As I attempted to highlight throughout, the presence of this force is inversely proportional to the influence of the forces of the left. Therefore, despite inadequate understanding of the new phenomenon, the form of resistance to it continues to be classical:
A core part of a progressive program is to rebuild the organized structure of the labor movement, which throughout modern history has been in the forefront of progressive change. … It’s been beaten down pretty severely in past generation, but it’s been worse before. If you go back to the 1920s, the labor movement was virtually destroyed. … By the 1930s, it revived. … That can happen again. No reason why it can’t. (Chomsky 2016)

(Concluded, but postscripts will follow)


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