Politics | Narendra Modi and the Indian election: Why the corporates love a fascist

With India's general election set to begin on Monday, the BJP is widely expected to secure victory and its controversial leader, Narendra Modi, to become the country's next prime minister. Amrit Wilson reports.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Friday, April 4, 2014 21:40 - 16 Comments

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‘Modiji, is like Lord Krishna’, an elderly woman admirer of Narendra Modi, the Hindu Right’s Prime Ministerial candidate in India’s forthcoming elections, tells me outside the Hindu temple in Neasden, North London, ‘he is everywhere and everyone loves him  – people like me love him because he is traditional and young people love him too.’ In a way it is true, like Lord Krishna (or the ‘blue god’ as UK’s multicultural school curriculum calls him), Modi is indeed everywhere -at least on the internet. He is on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, stumbleonit. You name it, and he is there: speaking directly to his admirers.

It is true also that he is a traditionalist of sorts. His version of tradition comes largely from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation modelled on Mussolini’s Black Brigades, where Modi began his political life, and from the Sangh Parivar the sinister ‘family of organisations’ to which belong both the RSS and Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with cultural organisations and a number of other violent paramilitary outfits such as the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal.

In Gujarat, where Modi has been Chief Minister since 2001, these ‘traditions’ led to the state-sponsored massacres of Muslims in February 2002 in which some 2,000 people were murdered and 200,000 displaced. Court cases are still being heard which accuse Modi of complicity, including one filed by Zakia Jafri, whose husband Ahsan Jafri, a former MP, was brutally murdered in the violence. The family of two British citizens, Saeed and Sakil Dawood, who were murdered in Gujarat while on holiday in 2002 are also pursuing a civil case against Modi.

The violence was, as the  British High Commissioner noted at the time in a leaked report,  ‘planned, possibly months in advance, … with the support of the state government…. reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims is impossible while the chief minister [Narendra Modi] remains in Gujarat.’

Women and children were specifically targeted  in the pogrom. As feminist academic Tanika Sarkar wrote:

‘The pattern of cruelty suggests three things. One, the woman’s body was a site of almost inexhaustible violence, with infinitely plural and innovative forms of torture. Second, their sexual and reproductive organs were attacked with a special savagery. Third, their children, born and unborn, shared the attacks and were killed before their eyes’.

The aftermath of the violence, too, was managed by the state. As Sarkar noted:

‘Bodies were not just massacred, they disappeared, as did houses, shrines, mosques. Overnight, roads were laid, and Hindu temples were built where Muslim homes used to be. Identities disappeared as well, for refugees in relief camps have neither documents nor identification papers of any sort to prove that they ever had property, jobs, bank balances, land, families, Indian citizenship.”

In the years that have passed since 2002, Modi has never expressed any regret for what happened in Gujarat, stating, when asked about his feelings, that he felt as sad as an occupant of a car that runs over a puppy. The Sangh Parivar which declared Gujarat ‘the Laboratory of the Hindu State’ has repeated this experiment in Odisha, in 2007, in an anti-Christian pogrom, and again most recently against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh during Modi’s election campaign.

In Muzaffarnagar, as in Gujarat, the violence was carefully planned. Here Jat Hindus and Muslims had lived in harmony for decades. But last summer, Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s right-hand man and the Home Minister of Gujarat state, was put in charge of Modi’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh (a key swing state) and the forces of the Sangh Parivar began to create conflict between the two communities.

The tension had already built up when the actual trigger for violence occurred. It was a comparatively minor incident the details of which are unclear to most people in the area. As journalist Neha Dixit writes ‘a Muslim boy … ‘eve-teased’ a Jat girl (though some say it was a traffic-related incident)’. The boy was killed by the girl’s cousin and brother and they in turn were killed by Muslims. The storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar then began to whip up a frenzy of anti-Muslim hatred, with inflamatory speeches, fake videos and other materials portraying Muslims as aggressors and potential violators of Jat womanhood. Soon, mass meetings of sword-brandishing Sangh Parivar activists were held where slogans urging Hindus to save their daughters and restore their honour were followed by ones urging Hindu men to abduct and rape Muslim women. The violence against Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar was horrific, following similar patterns of cruelty to events in Gujarat.

What is the history of these organisations of the Hindu Right which are aiming to take control of India as a whole? The origins of their ideas are not in India’s ancient history as they claim, but deeply colonial: they emerged in the 19th century, informed by the British rulers’ ‘scriptural’ and elite-based interpretations of Hinduism, and their deliberate policies of divide-and-rule in response to the first war of independence of 1857. The strategic British rewriting of Indian history as an age-old struggle between Hindus and Muslim ‘invaders’ was adopted wholesale by the ideologues of Hindu supremacy, and continues to be used to target India’s Muslims as ‘enemies’ and ‘outsiders’.

While the RSS was established in the 1920s, in opposition to the anti-colonial movement, the other organisations of the Sangh Parivar have emerged after Indian independence in 1947. However, it is in the period after 1991 – when India, then ruled by the Congress Party (the BJP’s main rival, currently in power at the centre under Manmohan Singh), embraced neoliberalism – that the Hindu Right became a force to be reckoned with. The BJP’s specific form of nationalism, however, was not a reaction to neoliberalism, rather it shaped itself to fit in with it. The Congress’s record – its anti-Muslim communalism for example, and its pogrom against Sikhs in 1984 – had also acclimatised the electorate for the far-right BJP’s more systematic anti-minority politics.

In 1992, the Sangh Parivar launched a campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid, a 500-year-old mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The actual demolition was planned carefully in advance by the RSS with the knowledge of senior BJP leaders, and in December that year a mob of 15,000 Sangh Parivar activists, led by senior BJP leaders such as L.K.Advani, actually destroyed this beautiful building, sparking violence between Hindus and Muslims across the country that claimed some 900 lives. Against this background, the BJP rose to power and, between 1998 and 2004, ruled India in alliance with a number of other parties. This was a period during which it took the opportunity to systematically penetrate state institutions and build a framework for fascistic interventions that remains intact.

The BJP also continued to try to reshape India’s syncretic culture. Most strikingly, it has attempted  to transform Hinduism itself from a religion which had the capacity to absorb ideas and beliefs, and had no fixed religious book, into a monolithic faith. To this end, the storm troopers of the Hindu Right have demolished not only the shrines of Sufi saints and poets, who had many Hindu followers (the tomb of the well-known 18th century Urdu Poet Wali  Gujarati in Ahmadabad being one example), but also temples to Hindu Gods whose origins are in indigenous religions or those worshipped by the so-called ‘low’ castes.

This new version of Indian history, culture and tradition and Hindu religion is being used in school textbooks in the Indian states ruled by the BJP. It is also increasingly finding its way, in an airbrushed and neatly packaged form, into multicultural aspects of curricula in British schools and other representations of India in the West.

With the election starting on Monday, Modi is desperately trying to play down the many court cases which implicate him and those closest to him. These include not only the cases arising from the Gujarat massacres but the stalking of a young woman through the surveillance machinery of the Gujarat state at the behest of Narendra himself. The stalking was supervised by Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah; and that this happened under the orders of Modi is clear from what are now known in India as the ‘snoopgate tapes’. In one, for example, Amit Shah informs Gujarat Police official G.I.Singhal, who had been given the task of recording the woman’s movements, that ‘Saheb’ has told him she will be going to lunch with a young man and that they must be watched. In another, Shah chides Singhal for his errors, indicating that ‘Saheb’ (Modi) would be displeased.

If this is not considered damaging to Narendra Modi’s reputation, there are other, far more sinister, cases going through the courts too, among them the abduction, torture in a private farmhouse, and murder of 19-year-old college student Ishrat Jahan and three others in a so-called  ‘encounter killing’. The Gujarat police alleged that Ishrat and her associates were terrorists involved in a plot to assassinate Modi. But in 2009 an Ahmedabad Metropolitan court finally ruled that the encounter was fabricated and, in July last year, India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence filed its first charge sheet saying that the shooting was a staged encounter carried out in cold blood.

The chilling truth, that Ishrat Jahan and many others were murdered simply to boost Modi’s popularity, is now emerging. As the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association notes, between 2002 and 2007:

‘Modi’s super cop D.G. Vanzara eliminated a series of “terrorists” on mission to Gujarat to assassinate Modi. Sadiq Jamal (2003), Ishrat Jahan (2004), Sohrabuddin Shaikh (2005), Tulsiram Prajapati (2006). Years later it has emerged that these were cold-blooded executions… Vanzara and his gang of men are since then in jail (and Gujarat didn’t see any more attempts on the life of its Chief Minister). These fake encounters however helped Modi build his image as the Hindu Hriday samrat [king of hearts] – forever in the firing line of “Islamic terrorists”‘

These deaths are still haunting Modi, who does not want them discussed in Gujarat. Last week, five jeep-loads of police officers prevented film maker Gopal Menon from showing his documentary about encounter killings in Ahmedabad.

In the eyes of corporate bosses, however, all this does not matter. In fact, Modi’s image as a strong man who can sideline the law is seen by them as an advantage. Currently, transnational companies are targeting India in a massive land-grab. India’s central belt is crawling with mining companies like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, South Korea’s POSCO, the British multinational Vedanta  and the Indian-owned Essar and Tatas, eager for the coal, iron, aluminium and other minerals under the ground.

Here, forests which are a source of livelihood for local people, fertile agricultural land and sacred sites are being taken over, whole villages uprooted and  thousands of indigenous people are being robbed of their homes, livelihoods and culture. Many of these companies are also ignoring environmental laws and destroying the land itself, not only in the present but for generations to come, as they rip off the topsoil and pollute rivers and streams for miles with toxic effluents and poisonous mud.

The corporates know that if Modi comes to power nationally he will smooth their path far more effectively than the Congress Party has done. They can see from experiences in Gujarat that they will be given land at a pittance, that  tax regulations and environmental and labour laws will be ignored and, more than anything, Modi’s ruthlessness will mean that he will crush all dissent, particularly the people’s movements which have been resisting this massive looting of their land. ‘Encounter killings’ are already widespread in the mineral-rich belt of India, but Modi will have no qualms in intensifying this form of warfare.

Experiences of the communities destroyed in these corporate land-grabs, and the apparently very different experiences of women and children in the context of the Hindu Right’s anti-Muslim and anti-Christian pogroms, may seem worlds apart, but they are  two inseparable aspects of the politics of Narendra Modi. While triumphal Hindu supremacism provides this version of fascism with a base built on fear and intimidation, its ruthlessness on behalf of, and complete identification with, corporate capital means that it can draw sustenance from and be celebrated by financial institutions and western governments.

Amrit Wilson

Amrit Wilson is a writer and activist on issues of race and gender in Britain and South Asian politics. She is a founder member of South Asia Solidarity Group and the Freedom Without Fear Platform, and board member of Imkaan, a Black, South Asian and minority ethnic women's organisation dedicated to combating violence against women in Britain.

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narendramodifacts
Apr 6, 2014 10:05

This is an excellent list of reasons why a Modi-led BJP government will be a serious set-back for democracy in India: minorities, the poor, the environment, all will suffer. Women’s rights and the rights of sexual minorities will be further undermined, and a new era of increased moral policing will be ushered in. Contextual and historical readings of religious texts will be removed from circulation, and textbooks will be altered to present myth as history. There may not be any sudden apocalype – but the pace of these steps backwards will accelerate. As Amrit points out, for the corporate elites backing Modi, these losses are a price very much worth paying for the “efficient governance” Modi promises, which includes decreased regulation, and the crushing of social movements which stand in their way.

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Apr 7, 2014 7:42

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GPJA #497 (3 of 3): International news and analysis – 7/4/14 « LiveNews.co.nz
Apr 7, 2014 8:12

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Ibrahim Shishmahal
Apr 7, 2014 8:39

Well written!

PYSCHO ANNA
Apr 9, 2014 11:33

MAIN BAARISH KARDU PAISE KI JO TU HOJAYE MERI … WITH LOTS OF LOVE SONIA GANDHI

DiegoMaradona
Apr 12, 2014 5:31

The article is factually accurate and completely unbiased, every journalist should take lessons from Amrit Wilson.

Parag
Apr 13, 2014 21:43

Yet another poorly researched semi-factual piece published by a westerner who consumes the fruits of a rich and industrialized society while condemning the natives to poverty and subsistence living.

Thank you, bit no thank you. This write up will be popular with the leftist and academia elite, but what we Indians want is economic growth, jobs and improved quality of life. Please peddle your Goebbelsian propaganda elsewhere.

indiafirst
Apr 14, 2014 20:12

When u say RSS is violent and anti muslim and like Mussolini brigade it shows either ur hateness towards India or lack of knowledge.RSS is based on values of hindutva.Hindu is only religion which ask its followers to respect all religions .while Islam says whoever not believe in Islam and Allah will go to hell.Hindus have never invaded any country.They have been most pieceful religion in world .They have welcomed people who have been thrown and insulted by other countries like Tibetans,Bangladeshi,Jews.Gujarat violence which u talk about u mansion it was planned.U………don’t deserve even my abuse.You know 56 Hindus were burn alive in a train by ur innocent hotty totty Muslim mobs.Then out of anger Hindu attacked Muslims and rest is as all we know the favourite topic of people like u…u don’t know anything abt India…Hindu …..modi….RSS anything …this article is bias…written badly……one sided..story…….a total piece of rubbish

KK Singh
Apr 16, 2014 5:09

The BJP’s specific form of nationalism, however, was not a reaction to neoliberalism, rather it shaped itself to fit in with it!
Well said! By the way, RSS joined British to oppose Indian freedom struggle. RSS has history of treachery and Jan Sangh, BJP have it in their blood!
Modi butchered Gujarat Lokayukta, when he fought 10 years till SC and once defeated made the worst Lokayukta, fit to suit his corrupt and criminal acts along with his friends!

Nandini Altekar
Apr 18, 2014 4:18

This article gives the usual accusations without adding any insights or understanding. The truth is that all over the world the last few years have been a growth process for all who believed too strongly in their own traditions without seeing the fanatic ways in which some from their culture were interpreting or exploiting ideologies. The strength brought in by the RSS was its discipline and ability to work selflessly to bring succor and organization to activities especially in times of emergencies – this has been something of a failing of great Indian work due to over-stress on individualism and difficulty in coming together in great teamwork. However the RSS was over-zealous in its belief in Hindu saintliness – due to that very individualism, live-and-let-live culture, many Hindus had little awareness of what went on in some other communities or areas. In the pragmatics of suddenly taking charge of such a huge number of disparate elements, value-based leadership appears to have been provided only by those who believed too strongly in their religion, while those who focused on development too often used power and resources in cynical, opportunistic ways. Modi was a man of strong beliefs; along with many who believed in values the riots, the massacres and other such horrifying events were never imagined by these although they found it hard to come to terms with reality and accept that indeed a much higher approach is necessary even within the tolerant, value-based and open-hearted frame of so-called Hinduism. If indeed there was any support for the massacres at anything but a minority level, India would have long ago succumbed to such forces -even a movement involving a lakh people at its height is a minority in a country of over a billion. But in the cacophony of voices and cultures, relatively easily giving way to opportunistic corrupt compromise at all levels, it is apparent that a strong leader is required at the top: this is the appeal of a Modi whose vision has improved sufficiently to address evils within his own party and especially developed the ability to take charge of extreme elements inside and outside through a full understanding of ideological motivations as well as cynical ones.

modi hatao
Apr 19, 2014 10:38

Great piece of writing.how brutal these RSS goons can be?we all know that the gujarat violence was planned in advance.they had the electoral rolls to pinpoint exactly where the muslims were staying so that they can be butchered.RSS and their organisations committed unspeakable acts of violence and terror.now modi and his coterie are marketing themselves regarding their false development.

Shantanu Chatterjee
Apr 19, 2014 12:39

Many facts are distorted and the biasness is quite evident. And to remind that such Hindu-Muslim divide in India was a creation of British colonialists, thus the British have no moral right to speak against it.

asit guin
May 31, 2014 6:30

When stream of lies was flowing in nandigram and singur against LF in bengal , many respectacble creatures danced branding communists as fascists. Respectable creatures should understand that the day , when TATA nano got shelter in gujrat by narendra modi , that day coporate house found an ally in him. Let the suishiil samaj enjoy fascism now.

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