When Prime Minister Victor Orban of Hungary announced last week that “The era of liberal democracy is over,” it sounded ominous for Eastern Europe, in fact for the rest of the world too.
Orban had unabashedly been suppressing dissent for a long time. His grip on the nation has tightened. Of late he has forced the “George Soros Open Society Foundation” which was promoting democracy, civil rights, and freedom of expression in Hungary to move its headquarters from Budapest to Berlin. Orban raises alarm about the “enemy” within, referring to dissidents, and the “enemy” without, referring to migrants, to keep things under control. He is a proud defender of Hungary’s cultural heritage and knows well how to appeal to the collective psyche of the masses.
What is important to note is that this is just one instance pointing to a general trend. The world political scenario is fast changing, and too few people seem to be aware in what direction it is moving. Society is getting tired of chaotic democracy, vociferous street demonstrations that lead to no conclusions, competitive corruption that only strengthens each other, erratic clash of political lobbies that stand for sectarian interests, indecisive leaders who seek to please everybody, unreasonable expenses at elections (Karnataka elections cost between Rs. 9,500-10,000 crores to produce a hung assembly)... and most of all of inconsequential achievements of a bunch of political leaders (e.g. coalition partners) who try hard to hold their team together for their own personal interests.
No wonder people long for a “Strong Ruler.” Unfailingly social chaos has always led to the emergence of a Strong Man, whether it be among gangsters in the streets, clashing ethnic groups in the wilderness, or post-World War I European states in the 1930s. Is India’s “organized chaos” moving in the same direction in the late 2010s? Modi is hastening to exchange notes with Putin who took over as President for the fourth time with the blatant use of state power. He has done the same with Xi only a brief while ago, who holds more powers in his hands than any Chinese leader since Mao.
Now, let us come to the case of Karnataka. If the election machinery, the Governor, and the other guardians of parliamentary process thought it more important to oblige the Strong Man at the Centre than respect Constitutional propriety, we know that the Fascist State is already here. What happened subsequently does not reduce the danger. The 2019 elections will show whether the Fascist machinery, that has been tightening its strangle-hold on the nation, is here to stay for five years, for a generation, or five hundred years as Amit Shah claims.
Indeed, Fascism is not dead. Hitler’s ideas linger, they are reborn in new shapes (Gene Edward Veith, Fascism, Nivedit Good Books, Mussoorie, 2000, pg 45). We forget our history fast. Hitler and Mussolini began their political careers as leaders of democratic parties and came to power through democratic elections. Hitler did not become popular propagating terror, threatening a World War, or holding a Holocaust before the German people. He spoke of most innocent things: cultural identity, environmentalism, economic justice, as Modiji does: Sab ke Sath, Sab ka Vikas or Swachh Bharat.
No wonder that Fascism found support from politicians, army generals, doctors, scientists, economists, university graduates... and, unfailingly also from “street-smart gangsters,” like in India from cow vigilantes, anti-Romeo squads, and others. Hitler’s ideology was constructed by philosophers, poets, professors, authors, journalists, religious leaders (Veith 12). Its Indian incarnation seems to be winning similar support from democratic structures and organs of public opinion like the election machinery, Judiciary, Army, University, and the press in an unexplainable manner.
The fact that Nazism took power in Germany so easily, with so little resistance shows that it fitted well with the climate of the time. There was disappointment with the non-performance of other well-meaning people. The liberals, intellectuals, humanists... instead of looking for alternative solutions, yielded to the Nazis straight away. This is how Albert Einstein describes it: first the universities grew silent, then the press, writers, and intellectuals (Veith 107).
Once their grip on power tightened, the entire atmosphere changed in an unforeseen manner. Alfred Rosenberg, Nazi ideologue, solemnly announced, “Justice is what the Aryan man deems just. Unjust is what he so deems.” Savarkar’s translation of it into the Indian context would read: What is right or wrong will be decided according to Hindu interests.
Let us not make any mistake. In this respect, we are well advanced. A true report of the Babri Masjid riots of 6.12.92 was dismissed casually as “anti-Hindu” (Veith 30). Any condemnation of anti-Muslim pogroms, harassment of Dalits, criticism of social evils, opposition to the BJP ideology, resistance to Modiji’s one-sidedness...all earn the same epithet, anti-Hindu. This approach we have come to accept as normal. Years ago, V.S. Naipaul wrote in his “India, a Million Mutinies Now” what the citizens here feel, “The Hindu idea is that government must have every right to do as it pleases” (Veith 15). Those who think differently must be re-educated, ‘Indianized.’ Some have described it as brain-washing to bigotry, hatred, exclusion.
Rahul was not wrong in saying that the Karnataka election was a competition between Bengaluru and Nagpur—RSS headquarters. And Nagpur has won, at least at the first instance. Compliments were showered on the “Parivar” in abundance. They set the tone, they held the command. They want to proudly claim with Mussolini “We control political forces, we control moral forces, we control economic forces” (Veith 71). The boast of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has often been of that tone.
In the Fascist education process, rational discussion is replaced with psychological and rhetorical manipulation. Power struggle takes the place of search for truth. Other people are not people who differ from you intellectually or philosophically, but enemies. What the Nazis want is not assent, but conformity. Those who will not, are not sceptics, but enemies. Their dissent can only be resolved by force... not persuasion, but coercion, elimination (Veith 122). What the Fascists do to justify their aberrations is not to refer to the constitutions, democratic values, or to some principles of political thought; they appeal to mythology, tales, folkish images, outlandish traditions. They seek to mesmerize the subconscious, bewitch the collective psyche. “The Fascists sought to recover the mythological consciousness” of the sacred community, to hold up a divine hero (Veith 47).
Their Indian incarnation in our own days, which means the RSS-instructed political leaders today, try to show their supercompetence in the Epics, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and the Puranas. They do not refer to Sankaracharya, Ramanuja, or Aryabhatta. They know nothing about them. On the contrary, they happily lead their followers to astrology. Our book stores are full of astrology, fortune-telling, and the occult. People are having frequent recourse to oracles, sacred objects, palm-reading, horoscope, predictions .
As the Nazis referred ‘exclusively’ to the Nordic race (Veith 103), their Indian followers refer to the ‘exclusive’ Hindu community. Only the Hindu is an authentic citizen; everyone else is a rival, a foe. Indian Fascists positively encourage communalism, conformity, group cohesion, always at the exclusion of other communities. People of other traditions are illegitimate competitors, invaders, plunderers, looters.
The Nazis were sure that once the wellsprings of irrationalism were released, a path would be opened to authoritarianism, a longing for an Absolute Power that would not rule out violence of any kind (Veith 105). The Nazi film “The Triumph of the Will,” which was screened at the Nuremberg rally was precisely about that: Hitler embodies the Collective Will of the German people, he is the symbol of their triumph (Veith 122). Is there someone emerging in our nation who is presented as representing the “Collective Will” of the Indian people? Has he stood by while his supporters taught a violent lesson to the Muslim minority, for instance, in 2002? Have similar things been happening ever since, in connection with the food habits of people and cow-transactions?
Well before the Nazi days, a philosophy based on Nietzsche’s Superman was gaining ground in Germany. Nietzsche’s “Futurists’ Manifesto” had declared: “We want to glorify war—the only cure for the world—and militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for women. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism, and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice” (Veith 152). This philosophy had won over a section of the intellectuals, even in the universities. Hitler acclaimed, “Nothing makes me more certain of the victory of our ideas than our success in the universities.” What is happening in our Indian universities? Many Nazi killers in fact had college degrees (Veith 108).
At the first look, the above quoted words seem to represent a mood and a situation remote from the Indian world...but not when we learn that a cultural centre and library were ransacked in Pune, that the reputed painter M. F. Hussein had to flee his homeland to save his life, that films of social criticism were stopped and related equipment were vandalised before the very eyes of the official machinery, that a statue was toppled and opposition-party offices were pulled down in Agartala, that women of minority communities were raped while the women and children of the dominant community watched and cheered, that houses of the weaker sections of people were ransacked and burnt in diverse places, that people who depended on cow-trade were impoverished and killed in UP, Rajasthan and other states with the approval of the Administration, that lakhs of volunteers are being trained to continue this mission under the valiant leadership of Mohan Bhagwat. It is being experientially discovered that inflicting pain on others can yield immense pleasure to those who have lost their human sensitivity.
That is what happens when we move away from balanced thinking, intelligent reflection, careful analysis, and reasoned debate. Our Parliament today represents nothing more than street demonstrations. In such a situation, one surrenders one’s independent thinking to the Big Boss, to the mass, of which one becomes a blind follower. Hitler says in his “Mein Kampf” “The mass meeting is also necessary...In the crowd the individual always feels somewhat sheltered...with thousands of people of the same opinions around him...he is swept away by the three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm...succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as “mass suggestion.” There is something of a mass effect, mass influence, mass consciousness, created by the power of propaganda and collective performance (Veith 53).
Joseph Goebbels, who was in charge of the propaganda, took to producing films. The Nazis produced 1,363 films on historical epics from folkish culture and action films lauding the military (Veith 181). Nuremberg rally with 140,000 men moulded a mass of men into a mass-machinery to have recourse to anything, including extreme violence (Veith 186).
Our Hindutva stalwarts were not far behind in imitation. The films on Mahabharata, Ramayana, other epics and other folkish themes that have been displayed during the last several years have gone deep into the collective psyche of a community that has surrendered independent thinking to the instruments of mass persuasion. Add to them Rath Yathras, yajnas, temple-building programmes, statue-erecting campaigns, threats to bring down the Taj Mahal, Muslim-taunting statements, Dalit-humiliating utterances, threats to rename Akbar Road as Rana Pratap Road, and most of all the image-building effort that raised the Prime Minister of the country to the level of a Superman, an Avatar.
But unfortunately, mass provocation on one side invites mass anger on the other. Those who are under the influence of hallucination do not see the anxiety they are causing to other people, other communities. Assam is astir with protests. There is unease in Andhra and Maharashtra. BJP allies in Tripura are angry with the regime. There is anger everywhere. If Nitin Gadkari threatens people with bulldozers, there is something enraging in the air.
Referring to Kashmir, General Bipin Rawat asked, “Where did all this anger come from?” Could he ask himself in response, “Did we provoke it?” Kashimiris alone know what has been done to them and is being done to their people. Sankarshan Thakur describes the situation thus, “Kashmir is a target-rich environment, oozing a toxic alchemy of anger, indignation, frustration, alienation, aspiration...wound begets wound until it begins to hurt no more.” Hurt and humiliated, young people in Kashmir are willing to die. The provocation at the Aligarh University is the least. But at the psychological level even such hurts leave scars behind. The army’s proposed Rs. 15,000-crore ammunition production and weapons’ self-reliance plan cannot heal the wounds that are being inflicted with indifference.
Meantime what are the concerns of those who are at the helm of affairs? Yogi was taking time recently to convince Akhilesh that Hanuman was born in Karnataka. In Brahminic understanding, the lesser gods could only come from the periphery of Aryavarta. In Haryana, the leading question that the Junior Engineers Staff selection Commission set for the selection examination was about good and bad omens! And Modi’s chief gift to Nepal during his last visit there was a Rs.100-crore road between Janakpur of Sita and Ayodhya of Ram. The Chinese were more realistic offering assistance for economic needs, not for devotions. People fail to interpret the pious styles that camouflage the Fascist goals towards which our leaders are taking the nation in headless haste.(Published on 04th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 22)