Things are bad in India right now. Things can never be completely good in a country as huge and diverse as India, but there is something sinister in the air and it smells like the harbinger of bad times.
In the last few weeks, we have seen no less than three high-profile Hindu nationalists uttering some rather ominous warnings of things to come. Let’s start with Pravin Togadia, a man noted for using his virulent tongue to incite hateful violence against Muslims time and time again. He’s the executive president and chief ideologue of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a grassroots organization guilty of numerous crimes against humanity and an active partner of the BJP, the same party that is projected to win the national elections in India with Narendra Modi at its helm. Togadia was caught on camera actively seeking the disenfranchisement and marginalization of Muslims, utilizing language not unlike that of the Third Reich. Or we can examine the case of Giriraj Singh, the BJP’s candidate for the parliamentary elections from a constituency in Jharkhand. He recently suggested that anyone who opposed Modi had no place in India and should be sent to Pakistan, once again gesturing towards Kristallnacht-esque tidings. Perhaps the most directly threatening of the long litany of hate speech examples can be attributed to Ramdas Kadam, a leader of the Shiv-Sena, which is a major political ally of the BJP. At a joint BJP-Shiv Sena rally he told the crowd that when Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister he “would teach the Muslims a lesson” which is language straight out of any fascist playbook.
We’re barely scratching the surface here. These people are not the lumpen, street thugs that these organizations use to do their dirty work. They are major leaders, actual electoral candidates. Their vile voices are getting louder and more confident by the day as the arrival of the Great Hindu Hope seems imminently around the corner.
But that is not all that worries me. Fascists will do what fascists have always done. Despicable specs of humanity like those mentioned above have always existed across the world. India is no exception. What really sends a chill down my spine is when so-called moderates, of clearly low moral rectitude and an abject lack of courage, flock to the fascists in the hope of grabbing few crumbs of power as they cross over, ever so greedily, onto the wrong side of history.
Like the case of Lok Satta, a supposedly moderate albeit generally inconsequential party with a small base in South India and a platform focused on “governance.” Its leadership has many upper middle-class professionals or intellectuals with little grassroots experience or mass base. They’ve now decided to link up in a post-poll alliance with the BJP, the same party that has been responsible for crimes against humanity on numerous occasions, that has vocally advocated for converting India into a Hindu theocratic state, and has a proven mass-murderer as their prime ministerial candidate in the elections of the second largest country in the world.
A brief look at an interview with their leader, Dr. JP Narayan, is telling in just how grotesquely gutless their rationalization is. On the question of how they could reconcile their alliance considering the 2002 BJP-led, Modi-inspired pogrom that massacred thousands of Muslims in Gujarat, his response can be paraphrased as: the BJP is a large national party that we cannot ignore and “we have to move on.”
No, I’m not exaggerating his callousness. You can see for yourself in the interview: http://www.thehinducentre.com/verdict/interviews/article5951390.ece
Is this the best these so-called moderates can do? This is what they can offer us? Move on? MOVE ON? Thousands of Muslims killed in 2002, women raped, acts of heinous violence and we’re told to move on?
At least with the fascists we know what they’re about. Their ugliness is on show for all of us to see.
With groups like Lok Satta, their latent fascism is covered by doctorates and grandiose statements of “governance” and “economic development” (and yes, if you link arms with fascism for your own ends, I argue that you are a latent one yourself). They might even wave the false flag of pragmatism in order to fulfil their self-ordained mission of ushering in modernity to the masses they have no base or roots in, yet seek to rule.
I know this because there’s a small personal angle here that bears mentioning. A former mentor of mine, I’m deeply saddened to say, is a major leader in this party. He’s not the party’s main leader mentioned above, but another member of the national steering committee and the party’s state president for Karnataka (a state that he had no grassroots base in nor a decent grasp of the local language when he started living there). His name is Ashwin Mahesh or Dr. Ash because in India titles are everything to an upwardly mobile political class. Growing up, I just knew him as Ash. This was a man who once stood firm in his opposition of the Hindu fascists, a person who played an important role in my intellectual and political development. We soon drifted apart politically, I moving further and further to the progressive end of the spectrum, while he moved to a more centre-right position. And while I opposed some of his ideas on fiscal policy and social programs, I still respected them because they seemed to be grounded in careful analysis. But I now wonder if they were more grounded in a bid to rule, because I never thought he would actually link arms with the fascists he once so vehemently opposed. He now stands shoulder to shoulder with them.
Perhaps his desire for power got the better of him. I know he once spoke many years back of wanting to become a Member of Parliament in India, barely a couple of years after he returned from the US with a nice chunk of money in his pocket. At the time I thought it would be good for India to have an MP as intelligent and caring as I thought Ash was. Today, I’m not too sure. Maybe it was his vision of himself as the great leader of the huddled masses, all the while ensconced in a condo in a gated community in Bangalore (I should know, my parents have a condo there as well). Possibly his ego grew to a point where he forgot that Muslim men, women, and children were slaughtered by members of the very party he now shares a political platform with. Perhaps he saw it as a necessary evil.
I think however, like countless self-selected leaders elsewhere in the world, the leaders of Lok Satta just want to hop onto whichever bandwagon allows them to hang on to a few slivers of political influence, regardless of how cravenly they supplicate to evil.
For me personally, it’s safe to say that I no longer have a mentor. But I fear that happened quite a while back, when I suspect he sacrificed liberatory principles on the altar of power.
References and links used for this article:
“Evict Muslims from Hindu areas: Pravin Togadia.” (April 21, 2014). The Times Of India. Link: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Evict-Muslims-from-Hindu-areas-Pravin-Togadia/articleshow/34017292.cms
“EC censures Giriraj Singh for hate speech.” (April 30, 2014). Deccan Herald. Link: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/403341/ec-censures-giriraj-singh-hate.html
“After Togadia, BJP faced with Sena leader’s hate speech.” (April 23, 2014). The Hindu. Link: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/after-togadia-bjp-faced-with-sena-leaders-hate-speech/article5938309.ece
“Timing of Elections Wrong, Taking Place too soon after Bifurcation: Dr. JP.” (April 26, 2014). The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. Link: http://www.thehinducentre.com/verdict/interviews/article5951390.ece
“JP defends Lok Satta’s support to BJP.” (May 1, 2014). The Hindu. Link: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/jp-defends-lok-sattas-support-to-bjp/article5966392.ece