Disaster for Democracy: How The Modi Wave has flooded India with Fascism (Part III)

Pieter Friedrich

Modi’s Regime: Birth of an Authoritarian Democracy

Modi was elected in May 2014

His election followed a three-year campaign by OFBJP operatives in America, which began with training camps in 2011, followed by tours of the US by RSS and BJP executives in 2012. In 2013, then BJP president Rajnath Singh toured the US and Modi gave three video conferences.

OFBJP sent activists to India to canvass for the BJP in the state elections. Their campaign culminated in 2014, when thousands of volunteers staffed US-based phone banks, while nearly 2,000 activists – including a team of 650 led by Barai in person – traveled to India.

After floating to power on a Modi wave for the first time, the BJP wasted no time implementing its agenda to saffronize the country.

2014 witnessed joint strategy sessions between the BJP and the RSS as they sought to rewrite the history taught in the Indian school curriculum. Then controversy broke out, as RSS-affiliated groups were accused of forcibly reconverting hundreds of Muslims to Hinduism.

Subsequently, Rajnath Singh (who had transitioned from the BJP presidency to a ministerial post) and Amit Shah (who had replaced Singh as BJP president) suggested that the country adopt a national anti-conversion law to criminalize religious conversion without state permission.

2015 saw the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq, a Muslim man, who was dragged from his home at night and beaten to death on the suspicion that he had slaughtered a cow. Local BJP activists were implicated in Akhlaq’s murder. This was one of the earliest and highest profile of what were to be many beef-related mob lynchings.

Over the ensuing years, similar killings of Muslims and Dalits were replicated time and time again. Meanwhile, states like Maharashtra and Haryana responded by criminalizing cow slaughter, Maharashtra made even the possession of beef punishable by five years in prison, while Haryana imposed a ten-year sentence for cow slaughter.

2016 opened with the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, who took his own life after he was suspended for protesting an RSS-affiliated event. Protests over Vemula’s death continued for months and even spilled over onto the international stage.

In India, mass student protests bookended the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru University student union president Kanhaiya Kumar, who was charged with sedition over the slogans allegedly used by some protestors.

Kumar later claimed that the country was in the “clutches” of the RSS. As protests continued to spread, Modi expanded the central government’s cabinet, stacking a third of it with members of RSS-affiliated groups, including at least a dozen pracharaks.

In 2017, Yogi Adityanath was appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. While previously serving as a member of parliament in 2015, he had promised to install statues of Hindu deities in “every mosque.” Earlier, while campaigning, he had promised to kill 100 Muslims for every Hindu killed by a Muslim.

His claim to fame included organizing the reconversion, voluntary or otherwise, of thousands of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Soon after Adityanath took office, Chhattisgarh’s chief minister Raman Singh called for the hanging of anyone who slaughtered a cow.

Meanwhile, dissenting voices were being stifled. “If you speak anything except for singing praises for the government, you risk your life,” wrote Teltumbde that summer. “You could be easily charged under sedition or under any of the many draconian laws and sent for life imprisonment, if not hanged.”

The state, he concluded, “has raised jingoist nationalism above people and unleashed the Hindutva gangs to carry out its writ reminiscent of the black shirts of Mussolini and brown shirts of Hitler. For the last three years, we have seen a working prototype of what a fascist regime is like.”

The truth of Teltumbde’s warning was brutally demonstrated when Gauri Lankesh, a journalist known for her candid criticism of the RSS and BJP, was assassinated in Karnataka. The investigation implicated an RSS affiliated activist. It also connected her murder to the 2015 killings of rationalists Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi.

2018 began with a rally of hundreds of thousands of Dalits in Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra. The gathering devolved into chaos as Hindu nationalist outfits launched an attack. In response, Dalits called a bandh (shutdown), blocking roads and railways.

The unrest, asserted attorneys Arun Ferreira and Colin Gonsalves, was the result of “three and a half years of belligerent Hindutva rule at the center and in various states, with its rabid cocktail of blatant communal polarization, increasing atrocities against Dalits, lynching of minorities, gender violence and bans on inter-community love enforced by ruling party stormtroopers, state crackdown on dietary choices, and clampdown on universities, all accompanied by a shrill pseudo-nationalist discourse that paints all dissent as anti-national.”

They argued that Modi’s regime bore “similarities with Nazi Germany” and “more and more people are coming around to identify it as a form of fascism.” Because the danger was “more long term,” they warned against exaggerating the importance of the 2019 general election and urged people to instead “forge a front against fascism.”

Then, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, an eight-year-old Muslim girl was abducted, held for a week, and repeatedly gang-raped before she was murdered. When her killers were arrested, Hindu nationalist outfits staged rallies in their support. Two BJP state ministers joined one of the rallies: they later claimed that their party had instructed them to do so.

Meanwhile, unrest expanded across India as Dalits launched a bharat bandh (national shutdown) later that year. A teenage girl set herself on fire outside Yogi Adityanath’s home to protest his administration’s refusal to arrest a BJP state legislator whom she accused of rape.

Eight men convicted of lynching a Muslim man for allegedly transporting beef were released from jail and immediately escorted to the home of Jharkhand’s chief minister Jayant Sinha to be honored with garlands.

There were staggered waves of arrests of prominent activists, writers and attorneys in multiple Indian states. Ferreira and Gonsalves, having warned about rising fascism, were among those taken into custody. K Satyanarayana, a professor at a Hyderabad university, was not arrested but his home was searched.

Afterwards, he reported that police had interrogated him about why he was “reading Marx” and keeping photos of civil rights icons like B R Ambedkar “instead of gods and goddesses.” These actions informed Teltumbde’s conclusion later that year that “the country’s pretensions of being the largest democracy in the world have been fast falling apart.”

In 2019, Swami Aseemanand, the pracharak who had confessed to a string of terrorist attacks in the mid-2000s, was acquitted. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur was nominated for a seat in parliament, despite the fact that she was still facing trial for the same terrorist acts in which Aseemanand was implicated.

BJP President Amit Shah sparked outrage when he referred to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as “termites,” while Adityanath accused the opposition of being “infected” by a “green virus” (a reference to Muslims).

Also, in 2019, at the height of the Modi regime’s crackdown on dissenters to date, Anand Teltumbde was arrested. Only one year previously, he had accused the government of criminalizing dissent, writing, “The message is loud and clear to all others: to not speak against the government.”

Over the years since Modi first took office, countless students, teachers, activists and common people from all walks of life have been arrested – often on sedition charges – for sharing political memes and posting comments on social media variously labeled by the state as defamatory, derogatory or obscene. Some face charges for creating, or simply disseminating – pictures mocking Modi, other officials or even the RSS itself. Others are accused of nothing more than calling Modi names.

More to follow
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue