Many definitions have been advanced to describe what is happening in India today, as the ruling dispensation comes down heavily on protesters, journalists, comedians and citizens of all hues. Undeclared Emergency, authoritarianism, even fascism. Those inordinately fond of the minutiae of political science may call it proto fascism, a precursor to the real thing.
All of these terms can be applied, but none of them really covers it. To try and understand the current situation, and the manner in which repressive force is being used, we must not look at foreign ideologies, traditional political thinking or even recent history, when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency, with the fig leaf of legal legitimacy.
What Yogi Adityanath and his political and ideological bosses are doing is something different – it is classically Indian, completely homegrown and drawn from Indian tradition and social conditions. It is the product of a mind that thinks Indian and was trained in an Indian way of thinking. It is a completely locally spawned ‘ism’, just like Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge was a totally Cambodian variant, with his elite education and Marxist-Leninist inclinations. Even that is not available to our Hindutva warriors.
The RSS may have admired Hitler and one of its big heroes, V.D. Savarkar, may have known of European fascism of the 1930s, but what local recruits learn is Indian mythology and history, as seen by the organisation. For the record, Adityanath is not from the RSS – he belongs to the Gorakhnath school, which once was eclectic and syncretic, with even Muslim yogis among its adherents.
This piece by an American scholar is very enlightening. The Gorakhnath school has now been corrupted, and Adityanath is its most virulent Hindutva soldier.
Adityanath, or the others sitting in Delhi, Nagpur etc., are all fully Indian, with insular Indian values. Their often brutal methods of dealing with dissidence are steeped in Indian patriarchal traditions, the caste structure, feudalism, and a strong anti-Muslim bias. The ‘Sanghi’ sense of the ideal social structure is based on these attributes – a society and a family with clearly defined hierarchies which are dominated by upper-caste Hindu males.
Everyone knows their place – the oldest man in the house takes all decisions and his word is final. The others follow his instructions, no questions asked. He is supposed to be the font of all wisdom, kindly and fair and patriotic, and cannot be opposed or defied. The women do housework, tend to the cows, obey their husbands and male elders and strive to please and satisfy. The men earn for the family. The children listen to their parents.
Such families collectively make up Hindu society – rigid hierarchies and clearly defined roles, according to a pre-ordained set of laws, which assign specific tasks to everyone. Thus, Brahmins are the repository of all knowledge and information, Kshatriyas rule and fight battles, Vaishyas trade and Shudras clean up everyone’s dirt, while also keeping their head down. These societies were atmanirbhar, with no need for external relations. Everyone was happy and satisfied.
In a society like that, there is no place for outsiders and outliers – no dissidents, no questioners, no rebels, no sexual deviants and most of all, no Muslims. They just don’t fit into their worldview. Marauding raiders like Mohammed Ghazni and the grand Mughals are seen as interlopers who disturbed Hindu rule, which, the Sanghis would say, was ideal and fair. Thus, there cannot be even an acknowledgement about the great Akbar or the architectural creations under the Mughal rule. Either they need to be demolished or reclaimed as Hindu monuments (Taj Mahal as Tejo Mahalaya).
But the reality is that India has 120 million Muslims and countless other malcontents. They cannot be sent back to wherever because they are Indian, very much part of this land. That is what disturbs this worldview. So what to do with them, because they obviously cannot be absorbed into mainstream society?
Violence against individuals has been tried, but has only limited impact. The devious way that the BJP government therefore came up with was to make them non-Indians, through the mechanism of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people in Assam have been rendered stateless and this model would have been followed elsewhere if the anti-CAA protests hadn’t happened. The removal of Article 370 in Kashmir was another way to undermine mainly Muslim Kashmiris, and thus wipe out their identity and their lands.
The farmers’ agitation too flouts the entrenched, Hindutva sense of order. Arguing against the sarkar and its leader, who know what’s best for you, is simply unacceptable. Second, farmers are getting above themselves – they should simply do their work because the ultimate reward is in fulfilling one’s duty. If the control of the farms is being handed over to the mercantile class, it is because it is their job to trade. Plus many protesting farmers are Sikhs – not really from within the family, though the RSS strongly believes that Sikhs are Hindus.
The completely ruthless methods employed to browbeat and cow down farmers may look modern – the shutting down of the internet, setting up concrete barriers to stop traffic – but they stem from the same fantasy of how the king should deal with a rebellion.
If all this sounds totally antediluvian and medieval, it is because we don’t anymore live in those times, even if they existed. We are not in the world according to Amar Chitra Katha but in a dynamic, 21st century globalised economy which is connected to other societies, other economies, other points of view. Women go to work and take their own decisions. That fact cannot be changed.
In a globalised society, everything is everyone’s business. Indians freely comment on American elections, and there is no reason that Americans should not comment on Indian afairs. We may chafe at tweets by global leaders and youth icons like Rihanna about the farmers’ protests, but they see images that our mainstream media and Korean channels do not show. And their views matter. They have followers and real influence – railing against them and abusing the singer may please the local bhakts, but will not in any way limit the damage to India’s image and prestige being caused by the way the protests are being handled. Nor will it stop international media freedom NGOs from issuing statements about journalists being harassed by the Indian state. That has thrown the government off balance – when did we last hear of the exalted Ministry of External Affairs issuing a statement against a western celebrity?
Yogi Adityanath may never have heard of Rihanna and he wouldn’t even care. He may not even worry too much about for due process or the constitution. But ultimately, he is a man out of sync with the times.
As for our Central government, to see our leaders barricading themselves against Indian citizens with concrete fortifications and accordion wire is to wonder if we are at war. This may thwart the farmers temporarily, as will the internet shutdown, but their cause is now already a global one. Homegrown authoritarianism may look sinister and unstoppable, but it is a losing battle.
But Hindutva and its heavy-handed ways will be around for some time. Its proponents have the levers of power in their hands. It is more than possible that more ruthless measures will come, and come soon. The Modi government has already shown its propensity for giving sudden shocks to the system. Seeing it all slipping out of their hands, there is no saying what they will do.
They have millions of devotees ready to blindly follow them, equally out of touch with the modern world and resentful of how it excludes them. Millions of innocent Indians will pay a price – India ends up being bruised and damaged.
But like all such regimes, it will end, and end badly for its perpetrators. The sheer hubris and drunken power seen today will ultimately consume them. The continuous defiance of the farmers, of thousand of anti-CAA student activists, the journalists and the comedians and countless other citizens shows that while our rulers may have power, their sway does not extend over everyone. And if there is one thing such authoritarians cannot handle, it is the feeling of losing control.