At the same time that Narendra Modi made his first mealy-mouthed intervention on Manipur, the London Review of Books published an excellent piece on liberal naivete under Mussolini. It begins with the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, leader of the Unitary Socialist Party by the Fascists after he gave a powerful speech against the use of violence on May 30, 1924.
As John Foot writes, “There was widespread revulsion at Matteotti’s disappearance…For a short time, power seemed to drain away from Il Duce. But the king (in whom Amendola had pinned some hope) didn’t act to dismiss Mussolini, and there was no mass movement capable of acting decisively. The moment passed, and Mussolini took full control in January 1925, after a speech in which he claimed responsibility for the actions of the gang that murdered Matteotti and dared Parliament to indict him.”
Unlike the Fascists that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh emulated at its founding, though, the latter have never had the courage to claim their murders.
Their leader will not do so now.
But that is where the differences end. Ever since he first ran for an election as chief minister in 2002 – he was ‘appointed’ before that in 2001 – Narendra Modi has campaigned on blood and bigotry, happy to thrive in the murder of Indians by Indians. In more than two decades of election campaigns he has never deviated from this, domestically, even in the last election rallies in Karnataka full of religious bile and portentous lies.
He cannot run on economic growth – whether it is the malnutrition in Gujarat under him, or the absolute disaster of half-baked ‘masterstrokes’ like demonetisation or a mass curfew called within four hours – the man has been a disaster. The less said about foreign policy, the better, as he has left India cowering against China since a stupid policy of confrontation lost us military lives and whatever prestige we might have accrued. Whether it is during its stint at the UN Security Council, as the rotating head of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, or the G20, the best that anybody expects from India is that it will keep its trap shut and take no decisive action. As our power has bled away with a series of economic and strategic blunders, India happily obliges.
It is another thing altogether that the US-led alliance, in its fear that they will be displaced from their positions of power by a Chinese-led alliance, is happy to coddle Modi like a favourite pet, much as they do with tinpot dictatorships like Egypt and Tunisia. If these ‘leaders’ torture and kill their own people, what does it matter? Much like the Ukrainians are welcome to fight and die for the defence of NATO which will not give them membership, India is supposed to rattle its sabre on the front line – where no NATO troops are to be found – with China. Although since there are few blond and blue-eyed Indians, our deaths are likely to arouse even less condemnation.
Anyway, that is for foreigners. On foreign soil Modi is happy to mewl about democracy and equal rights. Like his forebears in the RSS, the approval of White Men means the world to him. Domestically, he has long learned to keep his mouth shut, or mutter some inane phrase, like his good friend Donald Trump when he said “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides” between a mob and its victims.
And yet, every time a bloody conflagration grips the country, when a child is raped or genocidaires advocate copying their inspiration in Myanmar, there is inevitably this appeal for the PM to speak up, to do something.
What does one expect from a man who started his political career by overseeing the murder by mob of thousands of Indians? Is it that now that he has campaigned over the dead bodies of so many to the highest office in the land, he will suddenly grow a conscience, understand the concept of shame? Is it that – after eviscerating all constitutional morality in a single-minded pursuit of power, whether it is by illegally installing governments in places like Maharashtra, implementing a dictatorship in Kashmir, or bribing the most corrupt into his party – he will somehow start respecting the laws of the land?
I recall a friend saying to me, in 2014, that once he was in power, he would be constrained by his office. My response was that anybody who wins power by blood and bigotry only has greater power to unleash them. I take no pleasure in being proved correct, but it baffles me that so many years afterward, there is this naïve expectation that Modi will disavow the very people he has nurtured.
Omair Ahmad is an author and journalist.