Vinod Mubayi


India today is poised precariously between democracy and fascism. While the formal institutions of democracy, elections, legislatures, courts and so on continue to function their core is being systematically hollowed out by the ruling BJP and fascist measures are being implemented assiduously in India’s largest state, UP, where cops are acting against the Muslim minority exactly like Nazi thugs did against German Jews in the 1930s.

With the BJP enjoying a substantial majority in the Lok Sabha after the elections last May, majoritarianism had begun to run riot with surgical strikes on key articles of the Constitution, minority rights, and dissenting speech differing from the narrative of the ruling party. The guardians of what is constitutionally permissible, the higher courts, appeared to have abdicated their responsibility and seemed to be basically kowtowing to the demands and interests of the ruling party, whether in their ludicrous judgement on Ayodhya, or in deferring judgement on the mangling of the Constitution with the abrogation of the status of J&K and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

However, the passage of the CAA and the simultaneous pronouncements of Home Minister Shah in Parliament that CAA would be followed by the exercise of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the whole country seemed to have hit a nerve in the Indian body politic. Protests against the CAA, the NRC, and the National Population Register (the CAA/NRC/NPR triad) emerged spontaneously just a day or two after CAA passage in some universities notably Jamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University that were met with violent assaults by the police. Unfazed by police actions or the threatening noises emanating from BJP leaders, these protests have mushroomed to such an extent not only in India but also internationally among the Indian diaspora that they routinely figure on the front pages of the mainstream newspapers. Since they are largely leaderless, at least in terms of the current crop of opposition political party leaders and erupt from the passions of the more informed members of the educated youth and the minorities who are both sick of the lies and distortions of the current rulers and their professed goal of Hindu Rashtra, they have proved difficult to stop.

The most heartening feature of the protests has been the leading role played by women in all of them. As an editorial in the Telegraph, Kolkata newspaper of January 29, 2020 wrote:

“Home is no longer where the hearth is for thousands of women in India; it is out on the streets. Across the country, women have taken the lead in raising their voices against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Shaheen Bagh (New Delhi), Ghanta Ghar (Lucknow), Park Circus Maidan (Kolkata) are just a handful of instances of women’s resilience in the face of adversities — be it the biting cold or a State that spares neither police violence nor pettiness in the form of allegedly stealing biscuits and blankets from protesters to silence dissent. Unsurprisingly, the flagbearers of patriarchy are spooked. Leading the charge on behalf of the chauvinists is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. Not objecting to women stepping out of their homes to protest on the streets, Mr Adityanath feels, is akin to bearing silent witness to the “cheer haran (molestation)” of the nation. Evidently, Mr Adityanath is among those who subscribe to the misguided notion that a woman’s honour — tied inextricably in the patriarchal mind to chastity — resides in her body and must be protected by confining her within the home… Perhaps he also thinks that women are incapable of thinking for themselves. Women, however, have proved otherwise. Once women step out of imposed boundaries, they cannot be bulldozed back… The participation of large numbers of women in the anti-CAA protests, though, is not incidental. Women cutting across socio-economic divides are often deprived of official documents and most of them also do not possess immovable property in their name, staying under the care of one or the other male relative. The legislation thus threatens women in a bigger way than men. Also prominent among the women protesters are young, educated girls. First-generation learners refuse to have their agency snatched from them as they have seen happen to their mothers and grandmothers. What has become amply clear in the course of these agitations is that there are more natural leaders in India than society is willing to admit.”

Furthermore, several non-BJP ruled states have explicitly announced that they will not implement the CAA/NRC/NPR triad. Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal have passed legislation to this effect in their State Assemblies and Kerala has formally moved the Supreme Court to declare CAA unconstitutional. The non-participation of states ruled by opposition parties, which currently account for a narrow majority of India’s population, in the NRC/NPR process would render the whole exercise infructuous since local officials would be needed to carry it out. This tussle between the Central and State governments is an important aspect of India’s federal structure that the Supreme Court will likely have to rule on. The Centre is probably going to push back strongly on the powers assigned to states by the Constitution as it has already shown in its eagerness to intrude in the Elgaar Parishad arrests in Maharashtra after the BJP government lost in the last state elections and was ousted. Left-wing activists fighting for democratic rights of workers and Dalits dubbed “urban Naxals” by BJP were arrested by the Pune police in 2018 when the state was ruled by the BJP. After a new state government took over recently, some serious questions arose about the veracity of the police evidence. Under the Constitution, the police operate under the control of the state government but in this instance the Central government suddenly rushed in to transfer the case to the National Investigation Agency, which is under its own control. This issue will likely also go to the courts for resolution.

Meanwhile, the pertinent question is how the BJP regime and, more importantly, the shadowy RSS that anchors it, will respond to these challenges. The fascist genes that are part of the RSS DNA are not in doubt. One of the RSS founders, Guru Golwalkar, praised the German Nazis for what they had done to the Jews, and the current leaders, including Modi, presided over the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 and have condoned the lynch mobs that have murdered scores of Muslims and some Dalits in the last few years. Where the BJP is in power, i.e. at the Center and in some large states like UP, Assam and Karnataka, the police response has been reminiscent of fascist atrocities of the 1930s.

Deb Mukharji, retired Indian official and former Indian ambassador to Nepal, wrote recently in the Telegraph, Kolkata of January 21, 2020 about the “extraordinary horrors inflicted on the hapless Muslims of UP.  Unable to accept the message demanding equality as citizens from the peaceful protesters sheltering behind the national flag and the Constitution, the saffron-clad chief minister of the state [Yogi Adityanath] asked for ‘revenge’…a unique instance, from any corner of the world, of a person responsible for the welfare of those in his charge seeking ‘revenge’ because they would not bow to the majoritarian diktats of his party.” A People’s Tribunal, made up of retired Supreme Court and High Court judges and other former government officials of which Mukharji was a member wrote that “one of the most chilling revelations… was that hospitals would not admit seriously injured people as they were concerned about displeasing the government. As a consequence, some died without treatment…such conduct would be a violation of Article 21 [of the Constitution], Supreme Court rulings and international treaties to which India is a signatory.”

Of course, India is not unique in its current embrace of Modi and authoritarianism; Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, Duterte in the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey, and Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka are cut from the same cloth. It is thus entirely fitting that the extreme right-wing Bolsonaro was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebration on January 26.  

One test of whether the protectors of democracy and the Constitution who are protesting the CAA and related measures have created enough positive awareness among the people so they can prevail against Modi-Shah and their bhakts will come in the elections in the Union Territory of Delhi on February 8. Although this government is currently led by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has limited powers (it does not, for example, control the Delhi police), nevertheless the election will be an important test of public sentiment in the nation’s capital. The BJP campaign, as befits its usual practice, has been thoroughly communal and divisive attempting to polarize the electorate on religious grounds. AAP, which has ruled for five years, has a decent record in providing essential services like health and education, and essential commodities like water and electricity to the Delhi public, especially the poorer sections. BJP’s national record on the economy, meanwhile, is miserable; unemployment is the highest it has been in almost half a century, economic growth is plummeting and prices of essential foodstuffs are skyrocketing. Moreover, some BJP leaders have been shouting thoroughly reprehensible slogans against the other parties such as “desh ke gaddaron ko/goli maro salon ko” (shoot the damn traitors to the nation).

Which campaign the public responds to will reveal something of where India is headed as a nation. It will show if Modi and his cohorts have managed to transform the mentality of the common members of the public into that of the bhakts of Hindutva or if the people, at least in Delhi, have finally managed to discover that Modi like the Emperor in the old fairy tale has no clothes. But the Delhi election is only about one, albeit important, Union territory. The Centre-State tussles and their resolution will reveal more about whether India’s survival as a nation respecting its constitutionally protected religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity can be preserved.

Top - Home