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Symptoms of Fascism
By Ram Puniyani

Fascism, a phenomenon which emerged in Europe in Post First World War period has haunted the humanity since then. Its brutality, its crushing of democratic norms, its targeting of minorities, its megalomaniac projection of power of the nation, its ultra nationalism, projection of its leader as a ‘strong’ leader, the charisma built around such a leader are etched on the memory of human race as a lesson as to what should not happen anywhere in the world again. Since then two words, Fascism and Hitler have also become part of the popular vocabulary, expressing the nature of the dictatorial regime and a tyrannical dictator. At the same time these words many times get diluted and used in a loose sense for any dictatorial regime, any authoritarian leader or person. The socio political characteristics of the political phenomenon are very specific and one has to keep them in mind while labeling some person or a regime as fascist or a Hitler incarnate.

The debate around this got revived with Rahul Gandhi hinting that Narendra Modi is like Hitler. Not to be left behind, BJP’s Arun Jaitley went on to say that the only leader in post Independence India who can be compared to Hitler, is Indira Gandhi, as she was the one who imposed internal emergency, got her opponents arrested and abolished the democratic freedoms during that period. It’s true, that she did impose the emergency on the country, which is most condemnable act on her part. It is also true that the coterie around her exercised her powers like a dictator. But was it a fascist regime? Can she be compared to Hitler? No way. We must understand that there are many types of dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, military dictators, the few surviving Kingdoms even now. But fascism is a different cup of tea (? poison) to be sure.

The major fascists in Europe have come to power through democratic route and then abolished the democracy by and by to assume the role of a dictator, who presents himself as the savior of the nation, who also tries to expand the boundaries of the country claiming neighboring countries to be as their own part at some time in history. The two other major defining characteristics of fascism are the unstinted support by the big Industrialists, who in turn get all the state facilities in a smooth fashion and the second one the targeting of minorities, who through propaganda, by various means are presented to be as anti nationals, threat to the nation due to whom, all the problems of the country are there. Starting from here the mass pogroms against them take off with the silent or vocal sanction of the large sections of society. The massacre of innocent minorities is passé and there is a silent or vocal sanction for this. The overarching ideology of this political phenomenon is sectarian nationalism, which takes legitimacy from race or religion. (in case of Hitler it was race to the fore).

In post colonial states the leftover of ideologies emerging from feudal sections and picked up by some middle classes-upper castes have such fascist potentials. The same characteristics can also masquerade through political fundamentalism, where the particular narrow interpretation of religion is imposed on the society and cruel treatment is meted out to the dissidents, some groups are targeted. Many an Islamic countries are victims of these Fundamentalisms. In India also the politics in the name of Islam has fundamentalist-fascist potential; fundamentalism being a close cousin of fascism. In India these tendencies have potentially been there in the politics in the name of religion. Nehru very aptly understood this. A warning of Nehru sounds particularly appropriate today. As per him Muslim communalism is in its nature as bad as Hindu communalism, and may even be stronger among Muslims than its counterpart within the majority community. "…but Muslim communalism cannot dominate Indian society and introduce fascism. That only Hindu communalism can" (quoted in Frontline, January 1, 1993)

In India the nascent seeds of fascism-fundamentalism begin with the rise of Muslim and Hindu communal politics from the decade of 1880s. The Muslim communal politics had its own trajectory and it tormented Pakistan’s civil society to no end, in India it is having its own negative impact. The Hindu communal politics beginning in parallel did assume the fascist potential. M.S. Golwalkar, the major ideologue of RSS outlined it in his book, ‘We or our Nationhood’. This book draws heavily from the German Nazi Fascism, appreciating most of their concepts. It upholds racial pride, brutal methods to deal with the ‘oth­er’ (in this case non-Hindus), calls for adoption of Hindu culture as national culture, exhorting people to glorify Hindu race and nation, treating others as subordinates to Hindus, curtailing ‘other’s’ privileges and citizens rights on the lines on which German Fascism under the leadership of Hitler did to Jews in particular. Appreciating this Golwalkar writes, “…To keep up the purity of nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races-The Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how neigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by. (We or Our nationhood Defined P. 27, Nagpur 1938)

The major formative tool of fascism is constructed around and followed by a ‘social common sense’ directed against ‘the other’ community. This is where anti Muslim and anti Christian violence is different from the horrendous anti Sikh violence of 1984. Muslims and Christians have been deliberately demonized and have been ‘constructed as the ‘other’ in the popular imagination, and so there is a silent social sanction for regular repeated violence against them,

The RSS ideology is the Indian incarnate of Fascism. The ultra nationalism, the ‘construction of ‘other’ (Muslim and Christian), the concept of Akhand Bharat (most of South Asia as India), the loyalty to Hindu nationalism in contrast to Indian nationalism are the ideological foundations of Indian fascism. Mahatam Gandhi could see some of the symptoms of RSS even then when he called it a ‘communal body with totalitarian outlook’. Till the rise of Modi one wondered how can RSS inspired movement be a fascist one as there is no charismatic leader, as fascism does require one. Modi has emerged and constructed as such a leader post 2002. As such the fascist persona of Modi was not in doubt to serious scholars and social scientists even before his emergence as a big leader, as he is projected today. Ashish Nandy wrote much before Gujarat carnage, “ More than a decade ago, when Narendra Modi was a nobody, a small-time RSS pracharak trying to make it as a small-time BJP functionary, I had the privilege of interviewing…it left me in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist. I never use the term ‘fascist’ as a term of abuse; to me it is a diagnostic category comprising not only one’s ideological posture but also the personality traits and motivational patterns contextualizing the ideology.

He (Modi) had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defense of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence – all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cool, measured tone in which he elaborated a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that painted every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist. I came out of the interview shaken and told Yagnik that, for the first time, I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer. (

In a similar way when a German delegation visited Gujarat (April 2010), one of the members of the delegation pointed out that he was shocked by parallels between Germany under Hitler and Gujarat under Modi. Incidentally in Gujarat school books Hitler has been glorified as a great nationalist. ( Gujarat has been the laboratory of Hindu Rashtra. Post carnage 2002, one knows that despite the propaganda the conditions of religious minorities is abysmal.

Can we say that Fascism is specific to Europe only and it cannot a phenomenon in India? Fascism is essentially a phenomenon which emerges from sections of society which are opposed to democratic polity and are out to abolish the democratic space by projecting imaginary fears and assert a need for a strong leader to set the things right. It harps on ultra nationalism and has aggressive attitude towards neighboring countries and targets minorities. In that sense it can come in any country, where the social movements are either weak and fragmented or not vigilant about the dangers of this phenomenon. Some say, India is a very diverse country and so fascism cannot come here? It is a good thought, and partly it has been a factor in holding back the fascist forces in India. With time many factors become evened out and the similar tendencies grow all around. So it is not ruled out, especially with the rise of the mass support for such a phenomenon. Only a concerted struggle to nurture democratic ethos, values of pluralism and correct diagnosis of fascist forces alone can save our democracy.