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Rising fascism in India: Need for counter narrative on secularism in Constitutional democratic framework

By Prashan Bhushan*
“In the 20th century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised to protect them from global existential threats, and rejected reason in favour of myth. European history shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary people can find themselves in unimaginable circumstances.
"History can familiarise, and it can warn. Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.
Now is a good time to do so.”
-- Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

***
Timothy Snyder is his scathing critique of the rise and flourish of fascist regimes in Europe, draws an unspoken parallel to the totalitarianism of Trump’s America. Closer home, where we see the Indian political and social fabric imperilled, we too need to consider this history, familiarise and be warned. As Snyder urges, we need to examine history to understand deep sources of tyranny and to consider proper responses to it.
In our country, each new days brings in fresh reports of people being lynched or beaten up by mobs and gangs belonging to the Saffron fringe. Sometimes the lynching is in the name of ‘gauraksha’, beef eating (like in the case of Md. Akhlaq) or the recent lynching of the Muslim who was transporting a cow legally in Alwar.
This has been a regular feature ever since the 2014 victory of the BJP in the general elections but it has got particularly accentuated after the massive victory of the BJP in UP and the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister.
A new manifestation of this lumpen ‘gundaism’ are the “Anti-Romeo Squads”. These have been officially created by the UP government but unofficially running in other parts of the country in the form of vigilante groups. Recently we have reports of a young Muslim man being tied up to a tree and being beaten to death by a mob of Saffron ‘gundas’, just because he happened to be friendly with a Hindu girl.
A very large number of butcher shops and meat shops have been vandalised, set on fire or shut down, particularly in UP in this so-called rise against illegal butcher establishments as well as meat shops. In all these incidents where law was taken into private hands by these vigilante groups - gaurakshaks or Anti-Romeo Squads etc. - we found that the police did not act against them especially in the BJP ruled states. On the contrary the police often victimises the victims or complainants themselves, as has happened in the Alwar incident, where cases have been registered against people who were beaten up and killed.
This has led to a very strong feeling of insecurity, fear and consequently deep rooted resentment among the minorities, particularly the Muslims. The danger that lies here (apart from the obvious terrorizing of honest citizens of the country) is that such resentment and alienation may result in Muslims (particularly young Muslims) retaliating by taking law into their own hands or worse yet, getting attracted to terrorist organisations like ISIS, for the youth would see their saviour and sympathizer in such barbaric and terrorist organisations.
This toxic atmosphere is further vitiated by statements of the CM of UP Adityanath, who has made no bones in the past about this lack of respect for the rule of law by saying that if one Hindu girl is picked up he will not file an FIR but will pick up 100 innocent Muslim girls and if one Hindu person is killed he will not file any FIR and will murder 100 innocent Muslim men in retaliation. He has now openly proclaimed that there is nothing wrong with a Hindu Rashtra, which is keeping with the philosophy of the RSS – an organisation clearly vested towards a fascist state and an anathema to our secular constitution.
On top of all this, liberal voices who speak out against this kind of Saffron gundaism are also being threatened and terrorised in a very organised way, by a large group of online thugs that have been created by the BJP’s IT cell. The organised manner in which this IT cell operates and the authority given to trolls to abuse against any dissenter (intellectual, journalist, public personality) has been written and described in detail by Swati Chaturvedi in her book “I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP's Digital Army”.
But this is not all. There is a well thought out and systematic attempt to shut down all institutions where any kind of critical thinking and questioning of this kind of right wing ideology/nationalism is being done. JNU is being clearly sought to be shut down by squeezing out virtually all the higher education programs, scholarships by drastically reducing the funding. Students are being threatened, charged, and suspended for speaking out and for questioning the established orthodoxy or even questioning the falsity of the propaganda which is being spewed out.
JNU is not an isolated case for exactly the same thing is going on in BHU, in Hyderabad University and several other institutions of higher learning in the country. Right wing saffron acolytes are being placed in charge of these institutions, including such institutions like the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) etc. These premier institutes are now being headed by people who are spectacularly unqualified for these posts but are being appointed only because of their affiliation to the RSS.
What is happening in the country today has a very large number of similarities with what happened in Germany and Italy in the 30s when Hitler and Mussolini came to power. The ideology is similar and so is the method of mass mobilisation. For example - Adolf Hitler worked as a “causal labourer” in Munich and this fact was oft-used to connect to the German masses.
Further, once Hitler was established, his party men banned the music of Jewish composers. Slowly the censorship of the newspapers also began with outright banning of some critical newspapers. To fully control the youth, universities were targeted and dissenting professors were shunted away and Hitler even started using the radio to directly communicate with the masses with his Ministry of Propaganda running his speeches on a weekly basis on radios throughout Germany. The resemblance of the Nazi methods to the ones deployed by the current political dispensation in India is disconcerting.
Today, the Constitution and the Rule of Law are both under unprecedented threats. The institutions of the Judiciary and the Media, which are supposed to normally check such threats and raise an alarm, are also not playing their envisaged role. This often happens when fascist Regimes emerge through elections. Such threats, browbeating and sometimes blackmail (which is the instrument currently being used by Mr. Modi for the judiciary) often leads to the subjugation and collapse of the regulatory institutions like the Judiciary and the Media. And that is exactly what is happening today as well, barring of course, a few exceptions.
If all this goes unchecked, the consequences will be disastrous. India will descend to the same kind of situation that Germany and Italy descended to, with the collapse of Constitution, rule of law and democracy. Lumpen gangs will roam the streets dispensing mob justice and subjugating minorities, liberals and dissenters.
This kind of fascist onslaught has to be resisted by the people. It is only when the people put up this resistance and support the regulatory institutions (like the Judiciary or the Media) then these bodies get the strength to counteract such onslaught. ‘Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning.’
The situation is grave and grim and the time is short. All right thinking people who are concerned about the rule of law, about the survival of constitutional values, about a humane society, about rights and justice, need to now quickly come together and put up a determined and organised resistance. The RSS is famous for its highly organized and disciplined structure and so too will such resistance need to be, if this threat is to be countered.
---
*Senior advocate, Supreme Court, and leader, Swarajya Abhiyan. For source click HERE 

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