India’s national elections swept to office the far-right candidate Narendra Modi as prime minister and his party, Bartiya Janata Party (“Indian People’s Party,” or BJP) to an overwhelming parliamentary majority. The election is likely to open a new, ominous chapter in the country’s history. More than 550 million people voted over the election period of five weeks, concluding May 16.
The Indian National Congress, a nominally social-democratic party that has adopted a neoliberal program, has led for most of the country’s post-independence history. This election cycle, however, many of India’s elites responded to heightened social tension by mobilizing behind and promoting Narendra Modi, a far-right Hindu nationalist.
As chief minister of the province of Gujarat, Modi spearheaded the same neoliberal economic policies, leaving poor and working people behind in poverty. He will now take that agenda national at an accelerated pace.
But Modi is more than a neoliberal. He also relies heavily on connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“National Volunteer Organization,” or RSS), a far-right paramilitary organization that has spearheaded violent attacks on ethnic and religious minorities. The RSS participates in the BJP.
Growing social antagonisms
For decades, India has adopted a neoliberal model of development, which advocates near-total privatization and deregulation of the economy. This has boosted India’s economic performance on paper by attracting Western corporate investment, but conditions for most Indians remain largely unchanged. As skyscrapers crowd India’s skyline, beneath them stand India’s working masses, left further and further behind in face of the country’s growing “prosperity.” For them, neoliberalism has meant poverty wages, few job protections, corporate land-grabbing and environmental destruction.
Growing inequalities have heightened antagonisms in cities and countryside alike between super-wealthy elites—often the owners and bosses of enterprises which sell Indian labor to the capitalists of the imperialist countries—and the vast majority of Indians. It has manifested in a militant social and labor movement in the cities, a Maoist-led people’s war in the most oppressed rural areas, and an explosion of women’s street militancy against sexual violence.
The RSS and Fascism
The ideology of the RSS organization is, like fascism everywhere, built on backwards-looking, right-wing national chauvinism. It aims to regiment society according to “traditional national values” and the preservation of “national unity” at all costs, which invariably includes militarism, sexism, racism and other forms of bigotry. Far-right, fascist politics differ between countries and cultures, with different features, symbols and traditions, but these are its core values.
The RSS has historically represented the most right-wing and reactionary segments of India. It grew out of the Indian independence movement in the 1920s, when much of the movement was beginning to take a socialist character in the wake of the Russian Revolution. The RSS rejected this trajectory, pointing instead to the path taken by the far-right movements in Germany, Italy and Spain trying to “restore” their “national greatness.”
M. S. Golwalkar, an early leader of the RSS and open admirer of Hitler, once said of Nazi Germany, “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of… the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here…. Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, [cannot] be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan [India].”
Grave danger lurks in India
A common misconception about India is that it is an entirely Hindu country with a relatively uniform culture. In fact, India is a multi-national state with over two dozen languages spoken and with a large Muslim minority. Over 13 percent of Indians are Muslim, accounting for 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population.
Relations between the many national minorities of India are complex and sometimes strained. Muslims often face severe oppression and bigotry from the Hindu majority. There is a long history of persecution at the hands of far-right Hindu nationalists, as well as British colonialists, who used divide-and-conquer tactics to dominate the sub-continent.
The long-dominant National Congress Party is formally multi-ethnic and secular. But its capitalist economic program could not eliminate caste, class and ethnic divisions—it merely modified, and in many cases accelerated these divisions.
As the National Congress Party declined, the Hindu far-right has grown, espousing a “communalist” tradition of ethno-religious solidarity to target and scapegoat India’s Muslims for the country’s social problems and inequalities. The movement is based on the upper and middle-class elements of Indian society, but has increasingly pulled in lower-class Hindus on the basis of religious solidarity.
This is a tried-and-true tactic of fascism throughout history: mass movements are built based on bigoted violence and the suppression of alleged “traitors” or “alien elements.”
Like the fascist movements of the 1930s, the RSS’ anti-Muslim rhetoric is not limited to words: there have been several RSS-linked anti-Muslim riots—including inciting the Jamshedpur riots during April of 1979—aimed at violently purging India of those in the way of “Indian patriotism and unity.”
Modi himself led the state of Gujarat in 2002, when a lynch-mob and pogrom claimed the lives of over 1,000 Indian Muslims — with Modi’s implicit encouragement.
Today, the RSS has been consolidating its position inside the conservative BJP. The BJP is calling for a united Hindu-led India under Modi’s charismatic leadership. It promises further economic liberalization, for strengthening neoliberal capitalism and claims it will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Modi’s victory would signal a major defeat for India’s oppressed Muslim population and create significant new challenges and struggle for the people’s movements in India, including the revolutionary insurgency in the countryside. Not only would a prolific bigot be in the top office in a country of 1.2 billion people, but the social contradictions would intensify, further impoverishing the Indian masses and strengthening the grip of India’s capitalist exploiters. Because of the ideology of the RSS and BJP, Modi’s victory would increase the possibility of new deadly conflicts and military aggression with India’s neighbors.
The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times—who care only of U.S. corporate profits and control—are enthusiastic about a new Indian prime minister that could “discipline” the country’s vast working class and peasantry. The world’s leading banks and corporations are in fact facilitating the rise of Indian fascism, an enormous historic crime for which they must be held accountable.
Just as the capitalist class is international in character, the workers of the world too must join together across borders to expose the fraud of national chauvinism and build the resistance to fascism and neoliberalism.