Two Scary Isms

Written by  //  February 16, 2011  //  National Politics  //  2 Comments

What makes fascism so interesting is the very saleability of its ideology. It is, by nature, exclusivist and yet, it is targeted towards the aspirations and identity of a majority community, rather than a minority. Insisting upon factors as intrinsic to a person’s identity as religion or race causes the person to emerge as a subject of fascist politics –someone who is encumbered by a feeling that her identity is under threat. As the ABVP posters on the walls of JNU read out “Is it a crime to be a Hindu? Then why are the Hindus so disadvantaged in their own land?” It is rather interesting that a Hindu should feel under threat in India when the Sachar Committee and the Rangarajan Committee reports so easily show that it is the Muslims who suffer from poorer access to asset ownership, public services, education and healthcare. So how does the Hindu Right get away with it?

The BJP is the astute, political wing of the RSS –popular for all the right reasons. (Pun intended.) It has pushed the neoliberal reforms, liberalised financial flows considerably, thrown open tax incentives to Foreign Direct and Institutional Investment and ushered in the ‘India shining’ years so much so that to the average, urban middle-upper middle class person who notices only the glittering malls and not the dark shadows of the squatter settlements underneath, India is not a Third World country at all. And if you think of the BJP out of the context of the RSS umbrella and the nefarious ABVP and Bajrang Dal elements, it is quite respectable and very easy to vote for.

To a BJP member, the BJP is far less communal than the Congress which adopts minority appeasement policies to cater to Muslim votebanks. As for the Left, the Left is simply anti national.

In contrast, the BJP is very nationalist and to most of us, brought up as we are, on a healthy dose of “Saare Jahaan Se Acha, Hindustan Hamara” and “Vande Mataram,” this is a very good thing. So when the BJP took its ‘Ekta March’ into Jammu and Kashmir, declaring “But isn’t Kashmir a part of India?” it got its due share of political mileage even though Omar Abdullah had the BJP activists detained almost immediately.

Legal eagles may explain the constitutional provisions of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir because of the special circumstances of its annexation but this brand of nationalism that denies Kashmir its special status has been highly influential. As Siddharth Varadarajan often points out, constitutionally, Jammu and Kashmir is to have its own flag and its Chief Minister is to be called its Prime Minister. Nonetheless, Kashmir is seen as any other State and the Indian army makes full use of AFSPA to drive home this point. Clearly, if Kashmir is to be a part of India, then an ‘Ekta March’ is not enough.

Incidentally, the BJP stands up for AFSPA.

The Hindu Right brand of nationalism is also very influential in the determination of the prevailing notion of what ‘Indian’ means. A friend of mine was rather aggrieved by my lax views on chastity. She declared that her Indian values are fundamental to her. I grinned and asked her whether the Khajuraho temples are not Indian, whether the Kamasutra is not Indian and more importantly, whether the lord, Krishna was not (if he ever was) Indian. She clarified that she meant family values and I leaped on to her line of argument immediately –are notions of ‘Indian’ akin to notions of ‘family’? Clearly, in that case, the idea of what is an ‘Indian’ is deeply affected by the social relations necessary to keep capitalism in place i.e. the family. This notion of nationalism then, is a very bourgeois notion.

The bourgeois concept of what is national and what is anti national has also criminalised dissent, especially dissent against the very political economy of Indian capitalism. Gandhi was jailed by the British colonisers, Mandela by the apartheid regime but Binayak Sen has been jailed by the world’s largest democracy. This is not to say that the UPA is fascist but to say that its own brand of nationalism is also bourgeois and has led it to be extremely undemocratic in its recent use of sedition laws.

And yet, trade unions run by the Hindu Right are even more popular than those run by the Left! This is mostly because of the false feeling of deprivation on the basis of one’s majoritarian religious identity. This is also a challenge for and so far, a political failure of the Left movement.

All in all, one has to give it to the Hindu Right for theoretical consistency. It is a bourgeois brand of nationalism and no wonder, the BJP pushes reforms while Hindu groups insist on family values. It is fascist in that it sees India as the country of the Hindus and imbues in its followers a sense of deprivation associated with being Hindu, because of which it supports AFSPA and insists on a whittling of Kashmir’s autonomy. It hasn’t a conclusion out of place except that its premises are condemnable.

2 Comments on "Two Scary Isms"

  1. Vipul February 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm ·


    While each paragraph of your blog post makes sense, I’m not able to identify the connecting threads between the various “isms” that you seem to allude to. Just a few points:

    (1) Families have been around in all kinds of societies, both feudal and “neoliberal” — there isn’t anything particularly capitalistic about the concept of family.

    (2) Cultural traditions have been around for a long time, long before so-called “neoliberal” economic arrangements became common. Most cultural traditions aren’t particularly friendly to capitalism or neoliberalism either. Many cultural traditions contradict each other.

    (3) Tribalism/nationalism/in-groupism has been around for ages too (although the modern nation-state is a relatively new creation), and is pretty much opposed to (rather than “theoretically consistent” with) neoliberal economic arrangements. One strand of opposition to free trade runs in terms of mercantilistic nationalism. Interestingly, when out of power, the BJP opposed neoliberal policies when that suited its electoral agenda.

    (4) Whining and cribbing has been around for ages too, and the structure of politics tends to reward people who are able to stir the persecution complexes of a sufficiently large vote bank. If group A is 85% of the population and group B is 15% of the population, then a politician or “spokersperson” who is able to excite the sense of persecution of even 20% of group A (17% of the whole population) has won more potential votes than a politician who excites 100% of group B (15% of the whole population). This is the Law of Large Proportions. Is it any surprise that politicians respond to these incentives?

  2. Ruchira February 19, 2011 at 7:23 am ·

    Vipul, thank you for your comment. You are right, I have made a few presumptions which I shall substantiate below:

    In this article, I’ve adopted the dialectical materialism framework for looking at history. This means that there is a base and a superstructure to every socio-economic system. The base is the economic stuff so the production relations come in, the means of production come in. The means of production and production relations have a necessary consonance. You can’t have developed tools under slavery as slaves have no incentive to use them properly. For finer tools, you need serfdom. For capitalism, you need wage labour with free mobility so labour must be cut off from land.

    Now comes the superstructure. In every economic system, you need a set of social relations to hold the economic base together. The family was not as important in slavery as in feudalism. The idea that parents should feed their children was a spur to producing enough food for their subsistence and surplus for the landlord who protected them. The family is very important in capitalism, again for the same reason. Besides, the family is based on a gender division of labour. Someone works factory hours but then who will look after the kids? Now, we had a new phase of capitalism after the World Wars which needed more labour especially as growth became more about the growth of the domestic market rather than finding markets in the third world. So, we had more sexual liberation -women started going to work. The sexual liberation also worked for capitalism by giving a spur to different kinds of production -household appliances to reduce drudgery, birth control pills, sanitary napkins -all sorts of empowering devices to get women out of their homes and into the labour force.

    However, while capitalism has empowered women considerably, it has not liberated them which again goes to show how important patriarchy is for capitalism. Women’s bodies are commodified and the focus of a woman’s life becomes the size zero figure. The idea is generated that to be sexually liberated, one has to be sexually desirable for which one needs to consume x, y and z products. This is another kind of patriarchy.

    I agree that cultural traditions contradict each other and many aren’t good for capitalism either but do note how the ones that are favourable for capitalism have survived and the others have not. For example, the superstition that travelling abroad makes you unclean is invalid now. The idea of chastity has rapidly disappeared in the western world while it remains where capitalism is still not fully developed i.e. the Third World.

    And contrary to what you say, nationalism is different from tribalism and groupism. It’s a distinctly modern phenomenon…as is fascism. Nationalism may be opposed to neolib in that it requires tariff barriers however, it is very neolib in that it needs high growth rates and higher private and foreign investment to get those growth rates. Please note, I’m not talking about all kinds of Nationalism but the Hindu Right notion of nationalism.

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