A treacherous saviour

INDIA / Prime Minister Narendra Modi's staging of himself has been successful enough to keep him at the helm for years. But the role models for his ruling BJP party were inspired by German and Italian fascism.

Azadi: Freedom, Fascism. Fiction
Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher: Penguin Books, USA

One night in August, an entire province was turned into a giant prison camp. Seven million inhabitants were barricaded in their homes. Internet and phones went black. The next day they were practically stripped of their special rights, including their own constitution and flag. Where was this – in the neighbourhood of a criminal dictator we know, who never tires of «liberating» people by violence?

No. This is in an avowed democracy, the world’s largest – where the Indian government in 2019, with the stroke of a pen, raped the regions of Jammu and Kashmir so effectively that the British Empire could hardly have done better. The new law, «The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act», forced India’s regions into the larger society. Among other things, it opened the way for large-scale industrial projects in the fragile ecology of the Himalayas – with its glaciers, high mountain lakes and large rivers. The citizens were given no explanation of how they could enjoy their «democratic» rights under military occupation. Hannah Arendt put it this way: «Citizenship is the right to have rights.»

Near the bottom

In Arundhati Roy’s book Azadi: Freedom, Fascism. Fiction, she specifies: «This access for business also opens up Israel-like settlements, and Tibet-like forced displacement of population. […] There has not been a single year since 1947 without the Indian Army being used against ‘its own people’, be it in Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Hyderabad or Assam.

Writer and activist Roy’s verbal artillery is mainly aimed at one man and his supporters: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Perti (BJP), a party the regime’s own police forces call fascist. She states: «In India today, it is a crime to belong to a minority. Getting lynched is a crime. Being poor is a crime. Defending the poor is an attempt to overthrow the government.»

However, Modi’s self-staging has been successful enough to keep him in charge for years – even after a series of fundamental blunders visible to the whole world. In 2016, Modi’s first year as prime minister, he announced on television that as of now, all 500 and 1000 rupee notes were invalid – more than 80 percent of all currency in circulation. He believed this was a «clinical» blow against corruption and terrorist financing. Almost overnight, jobs disappeared, the construction industry stagnated, small businesses had to close. It brought India’s economy to its knees. In 2019, The Global Hunger Index ranked India near the bottom – number 102 out of 117 countries.

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy

India in lockdown

Pandemic handling has likewise been disastrous. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Two days later, India’s Ministry of Health issued an assurance that Covid-19 would not cause a health emergency. At the same time, the country exported medical equipment to combat respiratory infections. Eleven days later, Modi appeared on television and proclaimed the whole of India was in lockdown starting at midnight. Those who had the opportunity closed themselves in protected facilities. Millions of poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, young, and old, without public transportation of any kind, embarked on a long trek out of the cities back to their respective villages. Some died along the way. Police beat others for breaking the lockdown order. Then people who had been wandering for days were forced back into camps in towns they had recently been forced to leave. But Modi survived as Prime Minister. A carpenter Roy met on the way, apologized for him and said, «Maybe Modi doesn’t know about us.» «Us» means around 460 million people.

A continent with 780 languages ​​and more nationalities and religions than the whole of Europe.

But the father of the country knew what to do. Government-loyal media included covid explanations in their anti-Muslim campaign, which spreads poison around the clock. The theories were that Muslims invented the virus and spread it as a form of jihad.

How can this Teflon double standardist (pal hugs with Putin and comforting words for Ukraine) still be hailed as a Messiah? Biographies and history contribute to an answer. India is not, strictly speaking, a country. It is a continent with 780 languages, with more nationalities and religions than the whole of Europe. This fragile social ecosystem is suddenly commandeered by a superior Hindu organization promoting the doctrine of ‘one nation, one language, one religion, one constitution’.

Or learn about The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded in 1925, the role model for Modi’s ruling BJP party. The founders were inspired by German and Italian fascism. They compared India’s Muslims to Germany’s Jews and insist that Muslims have no place in India. They belong in the graveyard or in Pakistan.

The Indian Army has been used against its own people, in Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Hyderabad and Assam.

The RSS has over 57,000 «branches», a volunteer militia with over 600,000 members. It runs schools and has its own hospitals, trade unions, farmers’ associations, media stations and women’s groups. Like other right-wing extremist organizations worldwide, they are responsible for shockingly violent attacks on minority groups. During four years, 113 deaths by lynching were reported. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS supreme leader, has declared that lynching is a western concept imported from the Bible and that Hindus have no such tradition. He explains that all talk of a «lynching epidemic» is a conspiracy to smear India.

Narendra Modi has been a member of the RSS all his life. He is its image personified. India’s 14th prime minister was supported not only by his base, Hindu nationalists, but also by big industry by the international media – as the image of hope and progress, a saviour in a saffron-coloured everyday suit, a traditionalist and an innovator.

During Modi’s reign, the RSS has moved up like never before. Roy says it is no longer a shadow state or a parallel state. It is the state.

Narendra Modi in the middle
Narendra Modi in the middle

Bhima Koregaon 16

Twenty years exist between Arundhati Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things (1997) and her latest, Ministry of the Highest Bliss (2017). During this time, she devoted herself to writing political essays. It has landed her in prison and subjected her to threats of violence. She shares her fate with a group of academics, activists, singers and lawyers who have joined under the name Bhima Koregaon 16. They are publicly vilified as «intellectual terrorists.»

In preparation for the next national elections in 2024, the BJP advertises «an India free of the Congress Party» (the country’s only opposition party). Roy’s conclusion: «It’s too late. Political elections will not turn the tide. We stand alone. This battle must be fought by each one of us. There is fire on the doorstep.»

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Norwegian journalist and regular critic at Modern Times Review.

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