Jump to navigation. In January, the World Bank loudly proclaimed that India was set to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world in , overtaking its slowing Chinese rival for the top spot. With the right mix of economic reforms , administrative savvy, and political leadership not to mention sheer luck , there is no doubt that India could enjoy widespread prosperity in the coming century. Predictions of a coming Indian golden age are typically based on two trends. The first is urbanization. Historically, urbanization has been linked with rising literacy, the establishment of a middle class, economic dynamism, and increasing cosmopolitanism.
This helped greatly in transforming his image in the corporate media, electronic and print alike, from that of a bloodthirsty extremist to that of an economic genius who had single-handedly led the State of Gujarat from rags to riches, a veritable Development Man Vikaas Purush in Hindi whose firm and visionary leadership India needed in this decisive moment of opportunity on the global stage.
This corporate support also helped him spend on his electoral campaign roughly the same amount as Barack Obama had spent on his, while not a fraction of it was available to his opponents. This money did wonders for Modi. The money made him marginally independent even of the RSS that had nurtured him since he was a kid; the phalanxes of the RSS cadres who streamed into his election campaign could now be paid off with corporate cash, so that they became more dependent on the electoral machine he had assembled than on the parent organisation. However, Vajpayee and others of his kind were mere members while they led other public or professional lives and went into politics early in their youth to become part of the rough and tumble of parliamentary life.
Not so Modi. We know that he joined the RSS as an adolescent but we know little else about the first 30 years or so of his life; and what we know comes only from him. He has become Prime Minister without any prior experience in Parliament. His closest crony in the national capital, Amit Shah, is his closest crony from Gujarat. Who does Modi represent? The simple answer is: the RSS and the corporate elite. But he is also filled to the brim with immense, megalomaniac self-love. Who will serve whom is yet to be seen. We will first address issues related its original formation and ideological articulations, followed by comment on its organisational innovations in the next section.
The anti-Enlightenment European Right lost faith in liberal democracy itself as having the capacity or the will to fight off such dangers, not just because its leaders were seen as weak-willed, but also because liberalism itself came to be seen as a variant of that same legacy of the French Revolution that had elsewhere led to Bolshevism. Regarding the rise of such parties in Asia or the Middle East West Asia primarily as effects of European fascisms would be erroneous; in all cases, domestic roots and exigencies were much too strong for that characterisation.
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However, a certain inspiration was also undeniable, even though different organisations imbibed it differently. Both subscribed to variants of religious majoritarianism and religio-cultural revivalism. Both found the Nazi ideology deeply attractive for its definition of nationalism in terms of race and religion, in opposition to the definition of nationhood descended from the French Revolution and based on the idea of equal citizenship for all regardless of race, religion, etc.
From Mussolini, they learned the political uses of the golden classical past; and from Nazis and fascists alike, they learned the strategic uses of force, violence, militias and spectacular public rituals in the creation of a new, hysterical kind of political will. And they imbibed the cult of the leader, a politics of mass obedience as well as contempt for the democratic form in their own organisation. The career of the RSS is remarkable in this regard: it reserves the classically Nazi organisational form of extreme centralised authoritarianism for itself, uses a variety of other fronts for exercise of violence and defiance of constitutionality whenever it so desires, even as it allows and organises obedience to constitutional norms for its political front, the BJP, currently the ruling party of India.
There are moments when the BJP itself deviates from legality but, once the fruits of deviation have been reaped, it is brought back to the norm. We shall return to this point. Founded in , some 12 years before the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha remained by far the larger organisation of that kind well into the s when it began to decay and many of its members got assimilated into the RSS and its affiliates.
In its original formation, leaders of the RSS had hardly any ideology of their own and borrowed most of their beliefs from V. Even though he published Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? Golwalkar in particular, borrowed and reframed his idea for their own organisation, and it is only after the RSS emerged as the united church of Hindu nationalism, from the s onward, that Savarkar came to be seen increasingly as its own chief ideologue. Parenthetically, we should note that even today the RSS is by far the most important organisation of the Hindu Right but by no means has any exclusive monopoly of it.
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There are many outside its own umbrella or family— parivar —as its fronts like to be called. The most notable is the Shiv Sena, but countless small groups of the most violent sort keep cropping up all the time, and it is not always possible to know which of them are covertly RSS outfits and which are not. Nor were the Mahasabha and the RSS the first originators of this outlook, or the first political expression of it.
Certain upper caste clusters in late 19th century Bengal had provided a rather impressive nursery for the incubation of revivalist longing and nostalgia for a Hindu Golden Age in the classical past; some of these ideas had played a powerful role in the Swadeshi movement in early years of the 20th century. At the other end of the country, highly influential political, social and educational movements were emerging already in late 19th century Maharashtra to combat the Brahminical caste order, for advancement of the untouchable castes and so on.
There were countless such developments, large and small, not only among Hindus but among sections of Muslims as well. There is no space to retrace those histories. Even so, it would be useful to understand at least conceptually some fundamental aspects of the colonial dispensation that served to greatly strengthen the political valence of religious and caste identities. The basic fact is that a colonial subject is not a citizen, and no colonial society can be based on rights of common citizenship.
Conditions were thus exceptionally unfavourable for secular, democratic institutions and practices to take root and grow despite the sort of administrative modernity that the colonial authorities had assembled. Development of the classes of modern society itself remained weak, thanks to the colonial blockage of industrial development, which was then reflected in the weakness of class organisations and the proliferation of non-class pressure groups, organised from above; the proletariat remained small and rather few among the numerically very small modern bourgeoisie, who were particularly bourgeois in their social and cultural outlooks.
In such circumstances, organisations of the modern type arose more in the social arena than in the political, and most such organisations arose along the already available fault lines, such as denominational community, religious sect and caste association. Under colonial conditions, such entities lost much of their earlier amorphous character and gave to themselves, with no little encouragement by the colonial government, far greater solidity in social life and representational claim in the newly emergent political arena.
Prohibitions on the politics of equality, even in the simple juridical domain, served to enhance savageries in the politics of difference. Even the types of social organisation that worked for reform, such as educational societies or philanthropic trusts, arose mainly to serve caste and communal ends. In other words, the emergence of modern forms of power, in the shape of the state of colonial capital, required the emergence of corresponding political forms through which the colonised could represent themselves.
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However, in blocking collective representation in the form of equal citizenship rights and universal suffrage, the colonial state fragmented the emergent nation into its social units and greatly accentuated the existing cleavages, even though the fact of being governed by the same colonial state gave to each of these units a certain investment in nationalist rhetoric and some rudimentary form of nationalist consciousness.
Such remained the structure of the colonial polity until after the First World War. When the era of mass politics began, Indian colonial society was already organised, socially as well as politically, around the axes of caste, religion and region. The specific ideological positions of Hindu nationalism need to be seen against the backdrop of this much wider landscape of heightened religiosity.
In its formative phase, Hindu nationalist ideology had three distinctive components. The latter element accounts for the great ambivalence of Hindu nationalism toward colonialism and imperialism. And although they would like to claim some anti-colonial lineage, there is scant evidence of their actually having participated much in those struggles.
Ideas of the Hindu Golden Age and Muslim tyranny were elements often imbibed from colonial education, hence widespread among the educated Hindu elites. In that respect, Hindu nationalism could appeal to them quite credibly. The intensities of Brahminical caste anxieties were a different matter, however, and those remained a major source for the isolation of the RSS in the heyday of the anti-colonial movement, , and during the early decades of the Republic.
The Indian national movements mobilised more peasant households for mass agitation than any other political movement in history, a mobilisation that was, in this respect, rather comparable to the Chinese Revolution. Gandhi could not have achieved this level of agrarian unrest under bourgeois hegemony without anchoring his organisational structure for the countryside in the middle and rich peasantries who tended to be drawn from the middling castes, or without waging highly publicised campaigns on the question of untouchability, to appeal to the oppressed menial castes.
That necessarily earned him the ire of the more orthodox among the upper castes even though Gandhi never rejected the basic four-fold division the varna ashram of the Brahminical caste system. And one forgets now that Muslims counted for a quarter of the Indian population before Partition, before two-thirds of them got regrouped in what we now know as Bangladesh and Pakistan. No leader or organisation that sought to represent the whole of British colonial India could afford to ignore this demographic fact or to define India as a purely Hindu nation.
For the first quarter century of its existence the RSS displayed no tendency toward innovation and concentrated on self-preservation and expansion, with the distinct novelty that it concentrated on recruiting as many young boys into its local branches shakhas as possible, in keeping with the view that cultural transformation can be deep-rooted only if a corps of cadres are indoctrinated into its protocols from an early age.
Strikingly, it stipulates that any boy who comes to its shakha must do so with the prior consent and daily knowledge of elders in his family, assuming that there are countless families in the country who would welcome such an opportunity for their son and who will then get directly involved in the social life of the organisation. It repeatedly proposed mutual cooperation with the British colonial authorities in opposition to the Congress and the communists.
It floated its first front organisation under duress for women in to protect its own all-male character and to ward off pressure from some particularly enthusiastic and vocal women who wanted membership to be offered to women as well. No membership in the masculinist fraternity, the RSS declared, but you can have an organisation a samiti for yourself under our guidance.
The real turning point came in , on the eve of the first general election, when a political front was floated in the shape of a brand new political party to participate in the election, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh BJS , which was then dissolved in to be immediately reincarnated as the BJP.
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The BJS won three seats in but as many as 35 seats in , with 9. But the majority of the Indian bourgeoisie continued to support the Congress, at times grumbling and sullen, and the minority of investors and traders who did not support it worked through other parties such as the short-lived Swatantra Party.
After that the RSS grew steadily and at times rapidly, even though some of that aura lasted for the Congress through the Indira Gandhi years and collapsed only after she had abrogated civil rights and declared a State of Emergency in the country in Other fronts followed thereafter. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh BMS for the working class, floated in , has, by now, become the single largest central trade union organisation in India, claiming a membership of over ten million workers and affiliation of over four thousand trade unions.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad VHP came in , with the purported aim of propagating Hindu culture abroad, and remained in the shadows for two decades when, in , this particular front was selected to spearhead the vast machinery of violence and rabid ideological hysteria that rolled across the country over the next decade and which brought the BJP to power in Delhi, for 13 days in and then, at the head of a broad-based coalition of political parties, for six consecutive years from to BJP leaders have asserted time and again that its ability to rise from an isolated minority fringe in to secure governmental power by was owed very significantly to the mass mobilisations and the periodic pogroms that reached a particular intensity between and , culminating in the spectacular destruction of the Babri Masjid, that the Supreme Court had sought to protect through agencies of the Indian government.
However, Indian liberalism itself has never acknowledged that the reaping of such rich electoral dividends from years of violence by the RSS and its affiliates, and the fact that so many large and influential political parties have joined the coalition led by the BJP, means that something very fundamental has changed in the very fabric of the Republic. It was during those years that Modi, the current Prime Minister, saw what was there for all to see: that communal killings, images of Hindus killing members of Christian and Muslim minorities, are good for winning elections.
Since staging his own ethnic cleansing in he has not looked back. He increased his majority in the State Assembly by a solid 10 per cent in the aftermath of those killings, won two more State Assembly elections, and then led his party to spectacular victory in the recent national election.
The RSS plays its fronts like pawns on the chessboard of Indian politics, mixing legality and illegality, electoral politics and machineries of violence, in full view of agencies of law and organs of civil society. And coercion has had and will continue to have a specific form: small doses, steadily dispensed; no gas ovens, just a handful of stormtroopers, here and there, appearing and disappearing; and a permanent fear that corrodes the souls of the wretched of the land, while the liberal democratic machinery rolls on with no formal suspension of civil liberties!
That, then, is the first innovation: a large inventory of very different kinds of fronts, to perform very different kinds of functions, at different times and in different spheres of society, to see if violence that is required for a revolution from the extreme Right can be practised alongside the pursuit of legitimacy through parliamentary elections as bourgeois legality and subjectivity require. Second is the issue of the relationship between political parties and affiliated organisations fronts, in common parlance.
It is normal in India for large political parties to have fronts for different sections of society: women, students, workers, peasants and so on.
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The Congress has them, as do the parliamentary communists. By contrast, the innovation here is that the RSS, which floats and controls the fronts, is not a political party but intervenes comprehensively in all aspects of political and social life without taking any responsibility for what it does through its fronts; that the political party, the BJP, is not, strictly speaking, a political party but only a front in which virtually all the key leaders and organisers are drawn from the RSS.
Moreover, all the other fronts are also fronts of the RSS, an extra-parliamentary entity; the BJP, being a front itself, has no control over those fronts. Fourth innovation: none of it is secret, as all is public and comprehensively documented, time and again, just a normal part of liberal democratic freedom. Fifth, intricacies of law and Constitution are carefully sifted through to determine exactly to what extent the RSS itself can function in the public domain as a legally constituted entity without having to reveal much of what it is and what it does.
Liberal protections are thus utilised for secretive authoritarian purpose. In all this there are two distinct claims which the RSS throws around as if they were identical. The two claims are of course incompatible. And the final, most far-reaching innovation: the sheer number of fronts, running surely into the hundreds, possibly thousands, no one knows. The Anthropological Survey of India holds that the Indian population is comprised of thousands of distinct communities, sociologically so defined by custom, speech, location, cuisine, spiritual belief, caste, sub-caste, occupation, what have you.
The RSS is the only organisation in India which has the ambition to have fronts for as many of these diversities as possible and does indeed go on creating more and more of them.
In this sense, it is a spectacular missionary organisation, and the mission is religious, cultural, social, economic, educational and, of course, political. Contrary to this reality, the RSS has fairly precise ideas of what it means to be a Hindu, based on its own doctrine that being a Hindu is not merely a religious category, divorced from other kinds of subjectivity or conduct, but an entire way of life, from cradle to grave. It wants to make sure that the ideal type it has invented becomes the normative standard among that 80 per cent.
Its commitment to creating a cultural homogeneity out of this ocean of diversities, and to translate that cultural homogeneity into a unified political will, means that it wishes to become both church and state simultaneously. That ambition is at the heart of its fight against secular civility and the specific content of its authoritarianism. That so comprehensive a civilisational project would wholly succeed appears implausible.
The undertaking is audacious, however, and the success so far, although partial, is also undeniably impressive. The first lasted from to It was premised on four values of the Nehruvian paradigm: secularism, democracy, socialism, non-alignment. Even so, a certain degree of liberal-left hegemony did survive and got eroded only gradually.
The end of the first phase and the beginning of the second coincide in the massive ambiguities of that movement famously led by Jayaprakash Narayan J. Yet that was precisely the process that served to legitimise the RSS as a respectable force in Indian politics and to confer on its political front a significant place in government for the first time in Indian history. I might add that the RSS made exponential strides between and , for five years after the Emergency was lifted, owing to its newfound reputation as a defender of democracy against dictatorship.
On the whole, though, that force also got splintered owing to its own contradictions and the phase of relative political crisis of the bourgeois state in India continued, in which the older power bloc, led by the Congress, was no longer capable of stable rule but none other had emerged to replace it either. That crisis lasted for over two decades, ending fully only with the advent of the second BJP-led government in the first had fallen after 13 days in The neoliberal policies that the Congress had inaugurated almost 10 years earlier had by then taken root, inaugurating a new phase in which a drastically reorganised power bloc, consisting of all the non-left parties and ranging from the Congress to the BJP, gave a new stability to bourgeois rule in India regardless of which coalition of those parties wins the elections at one point or another.
The decisive turning points had, of course, come earlier, nationally and internationally, during those momentous three years from to Internationally, those years witnessed the historic collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and in southeastern Europe more generally, with the U. Inside the country, those same years witnessed the onset of the neoliberal regime with the so-called Rao-Manmohan reforms, and that decisive turn in the institutionalisation of communalism in structures of the Indian state, which began with the tacit agreement between the Congress and the VHP at the time of shilanyas in and even more dramatically during the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Conditions remained highly unstable for a few years, however.
By , neoliberalism had become a consensual position among the propertied classes and their representatives in various spheres of the national life. At the same time, the far right had made rapid gains and began concentrating on consolidation of its newfound power. Extreme violence of the early s was no longer required. It was much more important now to give the BJP a mildly liberal face so that it could be accepted as a party of bourgeois rule and an alternative to the Congress.
The coalition government it formed in lasted for six years, leading then to 10 years of a Congress-led government that only ended with the return of the BJP in with a firm majority in Parliament. Remarkably, these changes in government have witnessed no appreciable changes in policy. In this sense, India has become a mature liberal democracy in the neoliberal age, like the U.
At the heart of this new consensus in the Indian ruling class is close alliance with imperialism externally, and the imposition of neoliberal order domestically.
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