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Hindutva Fascism


Daya Varma

The recent episode in which irate hoodlums attacked Deepa Mehta's crew shooting her film "Water" (portraying the life of Hindu widows at her chosen site in Kashi) is one of the many similar things that have happened with the rise of Hindutva fascism. A year ago the screening of her film "Fire" in Indian cinema was prevented on the grounds that lesbian relationship shows disrespect for India and Hinduism.

The importance of Deepa Mehta episode is not so much in that an internationally renowned Indo-Canadian film director with high profile cast of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das was stoned away but rather the emergence of this fascist culture which can belligerantly silence voices of sanity. The answer to these developments is not providing alternate space to make the film, as had been offered by some provinces, but rather a mass mobilization against the emergence of this culture as the political life of India. Indian people can easily live without Deepa Mehta's film "Water" but they certainly cannot remain in peace if fascism is allowed to strengthen itself. The protest by Tasleema Nasreen is commendable. She attacked the BJP government and in return earned the wrath of the BJP whose West Bengal leader demanded her expulsion from India.

Unfortunately, there is a poor assessment of the dark days looming over India resulting in equally poor organized opposition to fascism. An illusion has been constructed that Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is after all not too bad especially since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is moderate and does not represent the ideological and political thrust of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Even critics of BJP argue that it is too early to pass harsh judgement against the BJP.

On the other hand, planned premeditated fascism does not start as a coup. It is not like a military take over of a civilian government. It begins by constructing myths, dismantling institutions which it perceives will hinder its control, disarming progressive elements or engaging them into side issues, and creating episodes to fan vicious patriotism. BJP is doing just that. Hindutva fascism even has the advantage over all previous fascist regimes including of Hitler. It has reasonably well succeeded in mobilizing a good section of the civil society to do what other fascist regimes had to accomplish by state organs, police and military. Although Hindutva fascism will continue to arouse suspicion and hatred against minorities, especially the Muslims, its main propaganda plank is reviving the glory of a religion and hence appeals to vast masses.

Several episodes in this current short period of BJP rule, should serve as an eye-opener. The Constitution is being reviewed in favor of a Presidential form of government, closest to a monarchy which RSS would prefer. Laws are being changed to allow public servants to legally join RSS. President Narayanan is maligned because he spoke about the deprivation of large masses of Indian people. The non-existing conversion issue has been brought to prominence. Historians like Romila Thapar, K.N. Panikkar and Sumiti Sarkar are being victimized. Textbooks are being changed to substitute facts with myths. Progressive NGO's are being singled out for stating the obvious that is lack of respect for women in Hindutva ethos. Deepa Mehta is just one of these many victims.

Given the recruitment of the civil society by organized forces of Hindutva, what is needed is a mass movement while it is still not too late. Organized regional political parties are content with their own secular program. Indian National Congress of Sonia Gandhi cannot divorce from its own past and is more concerned with how its own agenda on liberalization is being hijacked by the BJP than with dismantling of secular culture and tradition. Left parties have a position against fundamentalism but there is no evidence that they are conscious of the change that is taking place in Indian polity and thinking. They seem to feel that Hindutva fascism can be defeated by defeating BJP in elections and hence their tactics revolves around meaningful alliances than on mass mobilization. All these are illusions and while this illusion is being catered by the left, organized Sangh Parivar (family of RSS-controlled organizations) is consolidating what it already has and is making inroads into new territories.

Fight for a secular democratic India should become the number one concern at this juncture of history. Small community-based organizations, a handful of academics and intellectuals are doing what they can do. But they can be silenced unless there develops an all-India movement against fascism while there is still time.
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