Finally Donald Trump found an equal in Kim Jong-un of Korea, not in the art of guiding a nation, but in the use ‘immoderate language.’ Trump’s braggadocio election-campaign tone continues even after months in office. Breathing fire and fury against the head of a minor nation in Asia, half his age, seemed to most people an act of self-humiliation for a world figure. While Trump took pride in calling his sparring partner a ‘madman’ and ‘the little rocket man on a suicide mission,’ Kim obliged him by conferring on him the title “mentally deranged US dotard” and compared his fire and fury to the ‘bark’ of a frightened dog.
This was too much for Trump who vowed to destroy the whole of North Korea. People with good sense who listened to the American President plugged their ears as he was spitting venom in the UN Assembly...a body that was brought into existence precisely to foster happy relationship among nations. Kim upgraded the title of his debating colleague, calling him a “rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire rather than a politician.” In addition, Ri Yong Ho, the foreign minister, formally declared that a rocket attack on the US had become inevitable.
The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was helpless. By the time Trump swore that the two Korean leaders would not be around much longer and Ri accepted this as a declaration of war, sober men on either side seemed to have persuaded the two colliding comrades to behave like adults. Here were two heads of state displaying their pathetic impotence before the world audience. They had deliberately set aside refined styles of international conversation: diplomatic finesse, cultured delicacy, sophisticated attention to each other and their respective positions.
But we need not blame the leaders. What people love today are bluster and bravado, tongue-lashing, and escalating rhetoric. There is no concern for what is considered ‘politically correct,’ or what may be described as parliamentary language. During political campaigns, interest rises when a personal duel is declared, a verbal clash begins, and a war of words picks up.
Apart from Kim who is a cult-figure, Trump in the US, Le Pen in France, Duterte in the Philippines have an attentive audience, and a supportive group that is thrilled by what they hear. That is why they speak in the way they do. They may be foul-mouthed, venom-spitting, and hate-words hurling, but there is an adoring crowd that will stand with them. And leaders in return ‘empower’ their followers beyond socially acceptable codes, and legitimize the inadmissible things they do. And they thrive together.
Now let us come to the Indian avatar of this curious phenomenon. Fascism with a Hindutva face functions in its own unique way: coercing consent not through the government machinery, but the formally empowered lumpen element in society that keeps a watch on what a citizen eats, what he takes to his kitchen, what animal he buys or sells or takes with him, with whom he associates, whom he marries, what language he speaks, what literature he reads, what opinion he/she expresses. There is little consideration that this is an intrusion into the private lives of people. Violating privacy is their ‘conferred’ privilege.
Indian Fascism’s style of centralizing power is extremely subtle and elusive, therefore far more menacing in the long run. It involves unruly street elements, crowd-pulling godmen, land grabbing corporates, and fire-breathing cultural fundamentalists. On the one hand it looks like a street movement; on the other, like a soul-stirring, fanatic, religiously-compelling, crusade. Its anti-intellectual dimension is evident. The garb of spontaneity it wears keeps its wrongdoings anonymous, and their perpetrators unidentifiable and untraceable. An unthinking rabble is inspired and commissioned by some Centralized Energy. Mann ki Baat becomes Kaam ki Baat. When the collective psyche of a mob is roused, the unreasonable takes place and no one can be found guilty.
Today the world appears to be moving in a bewildering direction: a small, self-seeking, aggressive minority seems capable of taking into its hands the destinies of nations, as long as it has the guidance of a leader who is an expert in the use of jingoistic vocabulary and rabble-rousing skills. It looks like the return of the pre-World War II era. Things look ominous.
The Indian Fascist club fits the above description. They consider their leader’s skill in handling mobs as a sign of the popularity of their ideology. Punishments are issued to dissenters through the social media, not constitutional courts: fierce threats, vulgar language, abusive vocabulary... capital punishment for consistent critics (independent thinkers, writers). Meantime, the silent majority remain passive observers.
The blustering bunches organize themselves into fighting squads. Hate-words summarize the philosophy of action that holds them together. Of late, “Dharam Yodhas” (religious warriors) have moved on from cow-vigilantism in the villages to colleges and universities enforcing the Hindutva ‘moral code,’ defending the BJP-version of the Indian ‘culture’: ek jati, ek party, ek dharm. They forget that the core Indian value is ‘concern for the other,’ recognition of diversity.
The Saffron Brigade claims to be defending women, in fact they are disgracing them. Going further, religious warriors whom the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat praised recently are turning out to be anti-Muslim, anti-dalit, anti-women, anti-youth, anti-intellectual, and anti-dissenter. The alarming dimension of it is that this frenzy has a ‘multiplier’ effect, the passive majority being brainwashed into a ‘culture of hate.’
India’s newly appointed Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, attributed her recent rise to “cosmic grace.” Borrowing from her vocabulary, a “cosmic process” is going on, truly in an over-refined manner, weakening the separation-of-powers in our Constitution, especially by controlling the judiciary through selective appointments and interferences. The same process is at work, staffing universities with personnel compliant to Hindutva ideology, re-writing textbooks with a skewed presentation of facts and a biased re-interpretation of history, making the media toe the Ruling Party line, enlisting the support of gurus and godmen for catching votes and for investing money at tax-havens, using unemployed youth from humbler communities to get the more unpleasant works done, like chaotic protests, street violence, and masjid destruction.
When guru-power is added to muscle-power and gun-power, anything can get done. When spiritual cronyism goes to strengthen business cronyism, they grow up as an undefeatable force. A Pakistani journalist recently described how the radicalization in Pakistan took place over the years: gradual indoctrination, silencing of dissent, changing of curricula, re-writing of history. That is just what is happening in India...quietly but steadily until this nation is made to mature into a new “Terroristan,” (with due apology to Sushma Swaraj).
But the elusive and insidious “cosmic process” goes on. For example, it seeks to divide communities along lines of religion (Hindu-Muslim) in external relationships to keep power in Saffron hands, and then to divide Hindus internally along caste, community and region basis, to keep power in the Dominant Hands, which most people define as Upper Caste Supremacy. That is Fascism with an Indian touch. India has emerged as the world leader in “unequal growth rate”, said Palagummi Sainath recently at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
What is most devious is: to use the discontented elements in weaker and smaller communities against their own people; to impose Hindutva-defined patriotism on fellow-citizens; and keep distracting public attention with tensions at the borders and with the visits of dignitaries. A jingoistic atmosphere is steadily growing in the country, glorifying the performance of soldiers, exaggerating border tensions, the army chief making statements too frequently. Thus comes true the dream of Savarkar: “Militarize Hindudom!”
Rahul Gandhi was most forthright in criticizing the PM. He compared Modi’s way to power to the one that the Islamic Brotherhood used. He accused him of promoting hatred, stirring up emotions through fake news, fomenting polarisation, dividing communities, diverting youth anger against minorities and against institutions. What is taking place in India today is a ‘civil war,’ he said. India has become more centralised than China, where at least the Communist Party controls the Government. Going further, Rahul called Modi another Rodrigo Duterte, promoting community-based hatred and showing scant respect for democratic institutions. Small wonder how hate-words thrive within democracy.
The first testing ground of Hindutva was Gujarat. But now, Yogi Adityanath of UP wants to assume leadership. When he took over as Chief Minister, he had promised to free the state of every form of social disorder and crime. He applied himself to the task seriously. There have been more than 433 police encounters since he took up power, which really means more than 433 extrajudicial murders. And no voice is being raised. The police is being honoured, but citizens are being shot down.
Yogi’s formula to eliminate crime seems to be the elimination of opponents, persons of other communities, fellow-citizens. And yet what continues to reign in UP, Mayawati swears, is ‘ maha jangal raj.’ Undoubtedly, the Gujarat model gives way to the UP model with 52 cities listed as dirtiest in the country, more than 2000 children dying every year in Yogi’s own hometown, communal clashes, hate-vocabulary.
We are told that Yogi went on an election-campaign to Kerala. The weapon he had in hand was the alleged Marxist murder of 120 RSS personnel since 2000. Yogi’s performance during six months went higher. He could have given a few lessons on cow-related lynchings in self-defence. He could have boasted about his record of deaths in railway accidents, communal clashes, and countless children in hospitals...and of the number of medical and educational institutions defended by paramilitary forces. Undoubtedly, he has emerged as a symbol of Religious Theocracy combined with Secular Totalitarianism, which is far more than what Stalin or Mao succeeded to do. The UP model is all set to win the next elections!
(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)