In recent months the U.S. public has become increasingly aware of the rise of Hindu fascism in India. However, with this awareness has come a good deal of confusion. U.S. media outlets have described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “Trump of India.” However, his organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been organzing for a “Hindu Rashtra” for over 100 years. In order to better understand the nature of Hindu fascism and the Modi government, it is important to learn the history of fascism in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center left) and fellow Hindu-fascists in Nazi inspired garb doing a Nazi-inspired salute.
In the recent 2019 parliamentary election in India the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was re-elected with a larger majority than they held before. The BJP is a Hindu fascist party which has carried out and encouraged atrocities against religious and national minorities, including mob beatings, lynchings, and rapes. During the BJP’s last term, they launched a widespread attack on democratic rights and freedoms, and in the recent few months since the 2019 elections they have intensified these attacks and launched a major assault on the people of Kashmir.
The BJP’s fascism is a screen for its pro-imperialist policies which have opened the door even wider for the corporate plunder and destruction of India’s people and resources. To get a section of poor and working people to support these policies the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has drummed up nationalism and religious tensions, blaming the economic problems in India on Muslims and starting border confrontations with India’s nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan. For the people of India, the situation is increasingly desperate, as India becomes more and more of a fascist country under the direction of the BJP. This situation has drawn larger and larger sections of Indian society into the struggle against fascism, as the Hindu fascists increasingly forbid forms of dissent or criticism. To beat back the growing tide of fascism, the people of India will have to wage a determined and relentless struggle, uniting all anti-fascist sections of society in struggle.
The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, Hindi for Indian People’s Party) is a Hindu-fascist party which is the electoral wing of a larger Hindu fascist organization called the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The RSS is a very large and well-funded fascist organization which has the backing of a large section of the Indian ruling class. It propagates an ideology called Hindutva, which calls for the expulsion or assimilation of all non-Hindus in India in order to establish an explicitly Hindu state, a “Hindu Rashtra.”
Similar to the German Nazi party, the RSS propagates an absurd and ridiculous view of history to justify their plans. The RSS says that before Muslims came to the Indian subcontinent there was a thriving and advanced Hindu society which the Muslims destroyed. They make absurd claims about this society, like saying that there were fighter jets 5,000 years ago and that Lord Ganesh, the Hindu god who has an elephant head, is proof that ancient Hindu societies had advanced plastic surgery. In the Hindutva view of history, Muslims are foreign invaders who are generally responsible for the problems that India faces. This serves as the justification for all kinds of violence and persecution against Muslims. The RSS has long propagated their view of history in their own network of Hindutva schools, but since the BJP was elected as the ruling party in 2014 they have been able to make changes in school textbooks and generally use the electoral platform to propagate their ideology on a mass scale.
RSS members practice in their uniforms. The sticks they’re holding (lathis) are often used to assault Muslims, Christians, Dalits (untouchables) and others during RSS street demonstrations.
This ideology is promoted widely by the Indian ruling class because it helps to fool the masses of people about the fundamental source of their problems. The situation for most people in India today is pretty desperate. Most people are very poor, there is very high unemployment, and for many people the only jobs they can find are in unsafe conditions for incredibly low pay.
The fundamental source of these problems is the imperialist exploitation of India by capitalists from the U.S., Japan, France, and other imperialist countries. The imperialists, with the cooperation of the Indian ruling class, constantly extract wealth and resources from India and exploit the labor of Indian workers, which keeps India overall impoverished and underdeveloped. Hindutva ideology exists to convince Indians who are being screwed over by imperialism, including the working class, peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, and small capitalists, that the source of their problems is Muslims and other minorities and not the imperialist domination of their country. It is in this sense that the Hindu fascist ideology of the RSS and the BJP is in fact a screen for the imperialist plunder of India.
The RSS has a long history of conciliation and outright cooperation with imperialism, despite the rhetoric they put out about national strength and pride. Before British India was partitioned into the independent countries of India and Pakistan in 1947 there was a very long struggle—which had various ebbs and flows—to free the Indian subcontinent from colonial domination.
This included all sorts of different struggles against British rule, including armed struggle, boycotts, strikes, and more. As long as the British colonialists continued to occupy India, the struggle to kick them out and free India from colonial domination and exploitation was the most important struggle in India.
MS Golwalkar, an important ideologue of the RSS and its second “supreme leader.” In addition to advocating subordination to British imperialism, he said that the Nazis’ Holocaust provided “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Because anti-colonial struggle was such a central and pressing problem a wide variety of different patriotic and nationalist forces were involved in it. The RSS, however, took a different approach. Although they claimed to support an independent and powerful India, they in fact worked with the British colonialists to spy on and inform on the Independence movement, and they used the platforms they had to advocate against independence. In 1940, when Gandhi and others launched the Quit India movement against the British, the leadership of the RSS met with the British colonial government and promised to support them. They even promised to encourage their members to join a pro-British guard force.
In June 1942 M.S. Golwalkar, a major figure in the RSS, criticized those who were pushing for an independent India, saying that “[the] Sangh does not want to blame anybody else for the present degraded state of the society. When the people start blaming others, then there is basically weakness in them. It is futile to blame the strong for the injustice done to the weak…Sangh does not want to waste its invaluable time in abusing or criticising others. If we know that large fish eat the smaller ones, it is outright madness to blame the big fish. Law of nature whether good or bad is true all the time. This rule does not change by terming it unjust.” A short time after he said these words the British engineered a man-made famine in Bengal which killed at least 3 million people. In the twisted and fascist logic of the RSS this brutal slaughter of millions of Indians wasn’t something to resist or stand up to but instead an expression of the natural order of things: the “strong” exerting their will on the “weak.”
The RSS’ line of cooperation with the colonial rulers widely discredited them during India’s independence struggle. People correctly viewed their positions as traitorous, because they sided with the hated and very brutal British colonial rulers against the Indian people, and advocated for national humiliation and subjugation instead of independence. In the present day the RSS works to minimize its pro-British history and claims that it always supported an independent India. They try to claim some of the heroes and martyrs of the Indian independence movement as their own, such as the young revolutionary socialist Bhagat Singh, who was hanged by the British in 1929. The reality of their positions, though, is that they were always resolutely pro-British when the British ruled India.
Like many other oppressors, a key way that the British, were able to maintain their rule in India was by using divide-and-rule tactics. They exploited existing divisions in Indian society, primarily along religious lines, and specifically sought to favor one group over another. This created a group who owed their better position in society to the British, and who would side with the British colonists against other Indians. The British could then play the different groups off of each other and get the more downtrodden to view the more privileged group as the source of their problems, instead of focusing their anger on the British and the colonial occupation of India.
Bhagat Singh, a martyr of the Indian independence struggle. He was a revolutionary socialist and an internationalist who was hanged by the British for taking up armed struggle against the colonizers.
This divide-and-rule strategy by the British is the origin of what’s called communalism in Indian politics. Communalism is a series of ideologies that divide the people into separate communities along religious lines, under the leadership of groups which propagate the idea that the source of problems is the existence of the other group. These leaders promote communal violence against other groups and stoke tensions with exaggerated stories of harm against their community by the other group.
For example, the RSS blames Muslims for all problems in India. They claim that the Mughals, the Muslim rulers of much of the Indian subcontinent before the British arrived, carried out a “Hindu genocide” and systematically persecuted Hindus and attacked Hindu culture. Based on these claims, they say that to create a new Hindu society the Muslims in India have to be either expelled, converted to Hinduism, or killed, as revenge for the wrongs committed by the Mughals.
While the Mughals were feudal rulers who lived by exploiting the vast majority of the people, there is no historical evidence that they ever carried out any significant, wide-scale attempts to eradicate Hindus. And more importantly, Muslims in India today are overwhelmingly poor peasants and workers who have nothing to do with the old rulers. However, for the Indian ruling class one of the key ways they have maintained their rule since independence has been by stoking communal tensions to keep people’s anger and frustration directed at other poor people rather than at the imperialists and the politicians who serve them.
The RSS has presided over terrible episodes of violence against Muslims numerous times. One of the most infamous is the 2002 riots in the state of Gujarat, when during three days of carnage more than 2,000 Muslims were killed by Hindu-fascist goons and hundreds of thousands displaced. Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time (roughly the equivalent of a state governor in the U.S.) and he made sure that the people committing the violence were not brought to justice. The police in many places cooperated with the Hindu-fascists, providing them with addresses for Muslim-owned businesses and the addresses of Muslim residents.
One of the few people to be convicted for his role in the violence was Babu Bajrangi, who was the leader of the Gujarat branch of Bajrang Dal, a paramilitary Hindu-fascist group. He bragged openly and proudly in a television interview about his participation in the particularly brutal Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 97 Muslims were murdered, and said that if he could he would like to kill 25,000 to 50,000 more Muslims. Due to the video recording the court was forced to sentence him to life in prison.
However, in a sign of how the Indian authorities view this type of bloodthirsty behavior, he was released from jail in March 2019 for health reasons and remains out of jail today. In India, progressive political prisoners, including the professor and activist G.N. Saibaba and the poet Varavara Rao, are routinely denied release from jail for health reasons, but Hindu-fascist goons who openly admitted to committing atrocities against people and enjoying it are given leniency.
Members of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu-fascist organizations which routinely distributes knives and other weapons to its members at protests.
This way of governing, by promoting communal hatred and violence, is not unique to the RSS, although at present they represent the most extreme form of it. Other Indian political parties, in particular the Congress party, have used similarly brutal tactics as well in the past. In 1984 there was a separatist movement in Sikh-majority Punjab, and a major standoff developed between separatist forces and the Indian army at the Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh religion. Indira Gandhi, who was then the Prime Minister of India, decided to send the army in to the temple to crush the separatists. Much of the temple was destroyed and many people were killed in the subsequent fighting, and there was widespread repression and attacks on Sikhs across the Punjab. This brutal attack on Sikhs caused much anger across the country. Two of Indira’s bodyguards at the time happened to be Sikhs, and they assassinated her in response to what she had done. In response to this, the Congress party orchestrated a pogrom against Sikhs which swept across the country, leaving as many as 17,000 people dead.
The divide-and-rule tactics which Congress party used to rule India for 51 of the 72 years since independence and which the BJP uses today are a continuation of the tactics that the British pioneered to keep India in their grasp. Although the policies of the BJP represent the most extreme form of divide-and-rule-tactics, this is something that the Indian ruling classes fundamentally agree on. And ultimately, they need to use these policies for the same reasons that the British did, to distract people and keep them from resisting the imperialist exploitation of their country.
Now, more than 70 years after India became an independent country, the RSS and the BJP continue their long legacy of betraying the Indian people to foreign powers. Although India has become a formally independent country, Indian politicians like Modi have worked since independence to fool the Indian people and open up the country for exploitation by foreign imperialists. Since taking power in 2014, the BJP has carried out a number of policies which opened the country up for further exploitation by imperialists, from allowing wholly-foreign-owned companies to set up shop in India to leading brutal attacks on the people aimed at displacing them from their land in order to open it up for mining operations. These types of policies are welcomed by people like Donald Trump Jr, who has repeatedly praised Modi’s reforms and called India an “easy place to do business.” The fact that Modi’s policies are being praised by a reactionary imperialist pig like Don Jr shows how thoroughly the BJP and RSS have sold out and betrayed the Indian people.
The attacks on democratic rights and dissent in Indian society go hand-in-hand with brutal attacks on people’s livelihood at multiple levels. The situation for most people in India is quite desperate economically, and the Modi government has, since it initially came to power in 2014, generally made the situation worse for people. For the people to accept these types of policies, the government has to deal with the people’s resistance. The government can try to crush such resistance by force, by locking up anyone who disagrees with or speaks out against their policies. They can also try to convince people that resistance isn’t worth it, by brutally attacking anyone who speaks out. They can stoke nationalist and communalist ideas to try to get poor people to blame other poor people for the problems created by the Indian ruling class and by the imperialists. But the basic problem for the ruling class in India is that their policies of turning India over to the imperialists require brutal attacks on the people, which the people have a real interest in uniting to resist.
Huge lines formed outside of banks all across India as a result of the demonetisation scheme.
One particularly disastrous policy was demonetization, a scheme carried out in the fall of 2016 in which all the 500 and 1,000 rupee bills were taken out of circulation (500 rupees is around $7). In order to justify withdrawing these widely used bills from circulation, the government said that they needed to combat the “black market” and that these bills were being used for drug-related activities and terrorism. Although rumors swirled for months beforehand, the government did not confirm their plans until Modi made a surprise special announcement on November 8, 2016 that, effective immediately, the 500 and 1,000 rupee bills in circulation could no longer legally be used, and that people had 50 days to exchange any that they had for new currency.
This announcement set off a disastrous scramble as everyone tried to exchange their notes. At many bank branches the supply of the new notes was insufficient, so people had to wait in long lines and many of the banks ran out, leaving people in the lurch. In some places people went hungry because they weren’t able to change their money in order to buy food, and a few people were even denied medical care because the hospitals wouldn’t accept their old money. This change hit poor people hardest – for middle-class and wealthy Indians it wasn’t much of a problem, since a lot of their money was already deposited in bank accounts. And if they were holding large amounts of cash, they could just hire others to go change the currency for them.
Essentially, the Modi government overnight decreed that the money that millions of Indians had in their pockets was useless, and everyone had to scramble to deal with it. For the people it was a disastrous policy, but for Indian banks it was overall a win, albeit a poorly managed and messy one. The demonetization was never really about combating black market activity, but instead was focused on getting people to use cashless and electronic payment methods instead. This is a big win for the banks, both because they can collect fees from processing those transactions but also because if they can get more Indians to deposit their money in bank accounts then the banks can make more money by lending out those deposits for mortgages and car loans. The government also wants the same thing, both because they can more easily tax people’s purchases but also because payment records make it easier for them to track people’s whereabouts and surveil them.
To follow-up the disastrous anti-people demonetization policy the government came up with a new scheme, called the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST, which was implemented in 2017, is a new unified tax system which applies to a whole range of products, from food to clothing, in the same way across the whole country. Previously many of these items were taxed by each state, with different rules and regulations in each state. The GST was advertised as a reform to make India a better place to do business and to get rid of needlessly complex regulations. What the GST was really about, however, was collecting taxes from a whole set of informal transactions which were previously untaxed. People used to be able to buy all kinds of goods, from inexpensive food to clothing, from informal sellers without paying any taxes.
An anti-GST protest in Punjab. The imposition of the GST led to a number of protests across India.
GST made taxation on a wide range of these types of goods mandatory, so the prices that poor people paid for all kinds of everyday goods increased, often by quite a lot. In its first term, the Modi government also pushed through a whole series of policies which opened India up to further exploitation by foreign imperialists. One change that made it much easier for foreign capitalists to do business in India was a change in the regulations around foreign direct investment (FDI).
FDI refers to investment from outside the country in things like factories, infrastructure, real estate, and so on. FDI is an innocuous-sounding name for a method of imperialist control and exploitation. It’s part of what Lenin, in his 1917 work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism called capital export. When capitalists from countries like the U.S., Japan, Israel, or China invest in countries like India they set up factories, infrastructure, and so on in those countries which are under their control. In the factories they set up the foreign capitalists have the final say about how factories are run, and they own the profits which are produced in those factories through the blood and sweat of the workers. These profits are constantly pulled out of the country by the foreign capitalists, continually impoverishing India.
Previously, in most sectors of the economy there were formal limits on the percentage of FDI that was allowed in a given project –usually limited to 49%, so 51% of any given project had to be owned by an Indian, and only 49% would be owned by the foreign capitalist. Modi changed the regulations to allow for 100% FDI in a whole series of different important sectors of the economy, from retail operations, pharmaceuticals, and civil aviation to defense. Previously, projects were allowed to go beyond 49% FDI only after being specifically approved, so these changes didn’t lead to the first 100% FDI projects in India, but it does represent a shift to make this the norm. These changes will deepen the imperialist exploitation of India. Now factories and operations set up by foreign capitalists will be 100% under their control, and the profits made in those factories will flow out of India at a greater rate.
For big multinational corporations like Apple this is great news. With the U.S.-China trade war threatening their manufacturing in China, they are looking to relocate their operations. Foxconn, the subcontractor that produces iPhones and other goods for Apple, started opening factories in India in 2015, and announced this year that they were ready to start producing iPhones in India. The Foxconn factories in China have become notorious for unsafe and exploitative working conditions. Workers are forced to work extremely long shifts with few breaks, and the repetitive, high-speed work and intense management pressure drove many to commit suicide.
The number of suicides increased so much that the factories installed suicide nets to prevent people from jumping. For the BJP and the Modi government this is exactly the kind of “development” they want to bring to India. By allowing 100% FDI in wide sections of the Indian economy, they have opened the country up almost completely for the free reign of the imperialists.
The Modi government’s pro-imperialist and poorly managed reforms have created a real economic crisis for people. In the wake of demonetization and the imposition of GST, and the related economic turmoil, there have been big increases in the number of jobless people. The government’s official unemployment figures say that India has around 6% unemployment, but this is a very misleading figure. This is contradicted by absurd stories, like several thousand people with PhDs applying for a single entry-level police job. It is also contradicted by the massive numbers of people who are living in slums around big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, barely scraping by on odd jobs or the income of a family member.
A better estimate comes from the labor force participation rate, which describes the percentage of people capable of working who are doing at least some work. In 2018, the labor force participation rate for India was only 49%, meaning that fewer than half of all people eligible and able to work are working. This number has actually gone down during the BJP’s time in office, despite Modi’s claims that India has no joblessness problem at all. This means that huge sections of the Indian population are barely able to survive, depending on temporary work here or there or on the income earned by a family member. In many Indian cities these sections of the population form huge slums where millions of people live in unsafe conditions, without access to clean water, medical care, or sufficient food.
At the same time that this major joblessness crisis grips India, some of those who do have work are also dealing with very desperate situations. Farmers, and particularly small farmers, have been driven further and further into debt, with the result being that huge numbers are committing suicide. This is the result of being forced to purchase expensive GMO seeds and fertilizers to remain competitive with larger farms. In order to finance these purchases, the farmers have to take out crushing amounts of debt, which can put them in a situation where one crop failure or bad year leaves them unable to pay their debts. In a grim twist, a lot of farmers have killed themselves by drinking these same pesticides.
In this overall situation, where vast sections of the population are in desperate economic situations, a lot of people have serious contradictions with the system. As the economic conditions for people get worse people are pushed more and more to rebel against the conditions that they are living in. To deal with this, the BJP government has launched wide and deep assaults on democratic rights and dissent. Of course, even before the BJP came to power India brutally attacked people who dared to seriously raise their voices and stand with those most oppressed and exploited by the brutal development policies of the Indian elite. G.N. Saibaba, the progressive scholar, activist, and political prisoner whose story has inspired activism world-wide to agitate for his release, was actually arrested under the previous Congress government. However, the policies of the BJP represent a dangerous escalation in these types of attacks and are a real danger for the people of India.
Many people have come out to protest against the existence of fascist laws like the UAPA and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
India is quickly becoming a fascist country. During the first term of their rule, the BJP took drastic steps to curb basic democratic rights and retaliate against their critics. Now any disagreement with or criticism of the government and its policies can be grounds for imprisonment, torture, or worse. Many progressive lawyers, activists, scholars, and artists have an imprisoned under draconian anti-terrorism and anti-sedition laws, which can carry huge jail sentences. The government has broken its own laws and dispensed with parts of the normal legal proceedings which it finds inconvenient. Many of those accused have been implicated or arrested on the flimsiest of pretexts, with next to no evidence of the crimes they have supposedly committed.
Since the 2019 election this trend has accelerated rapidly. The BJP government, emboldened by their re-election, has passed a series of new fascist laws which deepen their attacks on democratic rights and dissent. The most serious of these laws amends an existing law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to make it easier to designate someone a terrorist. This law, the UAPA, is the same law which was used to send G.N. Saibaba and thousands of other brave activists and revolutionaries to prison. It allows for harsh penalties, including life imprisonment, for involvement in “illegal activities,” which typically means any activity aimed at really threatening the ability of the ruling class in India to exploit India’s natural resources and the labor of its people. In the past, in order to convict someone under this law it was at least formally necessary for the government to prove that the person was involved in something “unlawful.” Of course, the government often made up evidence, policemen often lied, and so on, so even this legal requirement could be skirted by the state when necessary.
Now, the UAPA has been amended to allow the government to designate any person a terrorist or designate any organization a terrorist organization without any evidence at all. This change removes any real legal requirement for the government to prove that a person has done anything illegal before they can be charged under the UAPA. It means that anyone who criticizes the government or dissents at all can be labeled a terrorist and subject to harsh punishment and incarceration. It remains to be seen exactly how this law will be used by the government to attack dissidents and stifle criticism, but it is clearly part of an overall trend towards increasing the repressive power of the state and towards an openly fascist form of government.
In addition to changes to the UAPA, in the few months since the 2019 election the BJP government has also been able to pass several other big pieces of its legislative agenda. One is an amendment to the Right to Information law (RTI), a law that is similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S. Previously under the RTI there was an independent office to which people could submit requests for government documents and information. This office was supposed to coordinate the release of any materials which weren’t state secrets. In practice, of course, things were often delayed or requests denied without any reason, simply because the material would be inconvenient for the State to deal with if it got out. Now, though, the RTI has been changed so that the office is no longer even nominally independent, and the government has authority over its operations. The RTI itself was a victory that people won, and documents and pieces of information released under the RTI exposed major scandals and outrages by the Indian government. By amending it the BJP has completely hollowed it out and rolled back this gain by the people.
A map of Kashmir, showing the Indian and Pakistan-occupied sections of the nation.
The Indian government has also, in just the past month, taken extraordinary steps to attack the people of Kashmir. Kashmir is a region in the Himalayas to the north of India which is culturally and linguistically distinct. It is also rich in mineral resources, and is a very beautiful place, making it a highly desirable location for tourism. Part of it is occupied by Pakistan, part by India, and a small part by China. When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned by the British, Kashmir, which is majority Muslim, was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja called Hari Singh who was a much-despised figure.
He initially wanted Kashmir to remain a separate country, and not join either India or Pakistan, but his onerous taxation led to large protests breaking out, and some forces from Pakistan came to join the protests against the Maharaja. The Maharaja, worried that events on the ground were going to take Kashmir into Pakistan whether he wanted it or not, asked for assistance from India. India agreed to help him out, but only if he agreed to join with India. Indian forces invaded and occupied part of Kashmir, while Pakistani forces invaded and occupied the rest. This laid the ground for the present situation, where there is a cease-fire line between the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan and the part occupied by India.
The Kashmiri people were never consulted about any of this. In 1948 a U.N. resolution decreed that in order to resolve the situation there should be a vote in Kashmir to see what the Kashmiri people want. It would have two options: join with Pakistan or join with India. Theonly really democratic solution to this problem is to ask the people what they want and abide by the will of the majority. This should include the option for Kashmir to become an indepedent country. To this day this has not happened, and the Kashmiri people live under a brutal military occupation. Currently there are around 1,000,000 Indian soldiers stationed in Kashmir, making it the most militarized place in the world, with one Indian soldier for roughly every 7 Kashmiris.
For years the Indian army has employed secret torture centers, mass killings, arbitrary lockdowns and curfews, and more, to try to beat the Kashmiri people into submission. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed in this brutal occupation. The Indian troops often open fire on protests with pellet guns, indiscriminately blinding people in the crowd.
The Kashmir valley is filled with thousands of unmarked graves, holding the bodies of Kashmiris killed for fighting back or simply for being too defiant during a humiliating search operation. The violence has taken a tremendous toll on people for generations, but the Kashmiri people have waged a very long and brave struggle for freedom, and the brutal methods of the Indian army have not broken the Kashmiri people’s spirit and drive to fight for freedom from national oppression.
The recent changes by the BJP government have changed the situation considerably. The Indian central government has unilaterally revoked the small measure of autonomy that Kashmir had to determine its own affairs, and to keep control of the situation they have imposed a complete siege on Kashmir.
The recent attacks on Kashmir have sparked large protests, despite fascist restrictions put in place by the Indian army. Kashmiris have also organized a general strike throughout the nation.
They’ve cut off access to phone, internet, and television networks, instituted a curfew, and placed checkpoints all over the territory. People are often unable to go in or out, and Kashmiris are unable to access basic medicines. There is a widespread belief that this is the preamble to a vicious all-out assault on Kashmir that would turn the resources over to Indian corporations and turn part of Kashmir into an open-air prison for the Kashmiris, similar to the conditions for the Palestinians living in Gaza.
Narendra Modi has said constantly that this move is “good for Kashmir” and that the previous differences in the legal code in Kashmir were a major “obstacle to development.” But the basic question on the table is, if this is good for Kashmir and Kashmiris, why were they not allowed to have any input on these changes? Why was the whole area put under a military siege while the changes took place? Clearly if the changes were in the interest of Kashmir these measures wouldn’t be necessary because people would support them. The reality is that these measures by the BJP go entirely against the will of the people of Kashmir, who have been fighting for independence for generations. After more than 70 years of oppression at the hands of the Indian state Kashmiris do not want to be part of India, and they want Azadi (freedom in Hindi, Urdu, Kashmiri, and several other South Asian languages).
Previously the Indian-occupied portion of Kashmir was governed as a state within India, called Jammu and Kashmir. There was also a special article in India’s constitution, Article 370, which granted some special status to Jammu and Kashmir, including prohibiting people from elsewhere in India from buying land there. This offered the territory a small measure of autonomy, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t all that much. For instance, under this Article the people of Kashmir did not have the power to expel the Indian army or to hold a plebiscite on independence, but the prohibition on non-Kashmiris owning land in Kashmir did put a brake on the total loot and plunder of the land by Indian corporations. Now after imposing the blockade and changing the territory’s status, the government has signaled they plan to open the territory for wholesale loot and plunder by Indian and multinational corporations.
This fascist move to unilaterally change the situation for Kashmir has big implications elsewhere in India. In the northeast part of India, which is linguistically, culturally, and even geographically distinct from the rest of India, there are multiple ongoing struggles for national liberation in Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram. The people in these areas do not want to be part of India, and they have been fighting for national liberation for a long time. Now the BJP government has shown it is willing to go to extreme lengths to attack national liberation movements and to forcibly retain peoples who want to separate from India. This has been the policy of the Indian government for a long time, but the BJP has shown that it is willing to “take the gloves off” more than previous administrations.
India’s northeast, which is culturally, linguistically, and geographically distinct from the rest of the country. There are several ongoing national liberation struggles being fought there.
The BJP has been able to rapidly make these changes because it currently a sizable majority in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha. The BJP actually increased the size of this majority in the 2019 election, so to pass their legislation they don’t need the support of any opposition parties. Right now, the BJP itself holds 303 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha. The BJP is also the leading party in an alliance called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which holds 356 seats altogether. In the upper house of the parliament, the Rajya Sabha, the NDA does not have a majority, holding 116 out of 245 seats, but they have thus far been able to effectively split or neutralize the opposition parties in order to pass their legislation. This situation overall has made it so that the BJP is more or less able to simply introduce the legislation it wants to pass and pass it as-is, with very little in the way of any debate.
All of this has created a very dangerous situation for the people of India. Many members of the BJP and RSS have openly stated their intentions to launch attacks on minorities, to clamp down on dissent, to stifle democratic rights, to open the country up for further domination and exploitation by imperialism, and, in short, to create the fascist Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) that they’ve been talking about for almost 100 years. They now have state power, and this goal is within their grasp. They can change just about any law that they want to, and the only check on their power is opposition from the people.
All of this is possible because there are significant sections of the Indian population which currently support the BJP. However, the base of support for the BJP is somewhat unstable, because their own policies negatively affect sections of their base. For instance, the reactionary section of the Indian petty bourgeoisie is one part of the support for the BJP. These people, whether they are small shopkeepers or office workers, are squeezed by the imperialist domination of India, and were also negatively affected by policies like demonetization and the imposition of GST.
If the BJP can keep up the narrative that the economic problems these people face are due to Muslims and other “enemies of the Hindu nation” they will be able to retain the support of these people. On the other hand, if large sections of the petty bourgeoisie realize that it is actually the Indian ruling class and the imperialists who are screwing them over, then the BJP and RSS will have big problems on their hands.
This is a core problem for the BJP and the RSS. Unlike the fascist movements that developed in Germany and Italy leading up to World War II, the RSS is not able to buy off a large section of the population due to the fact that imperialists dominate India. The Nazis and the Italian fascists were based in imperialist countries, where the profits made by exploiting other countries gave the ruling class the ability to buy the loyalty of big sections of the working class by giving them a relatively higher standard of living. These fascist movements were fundamentally imperialistic, and represented the open dictatorship of the most reactionary, most expansionist, and most imperialistic sections of the bourgeoisie. They sought to expand their access to markets, territory, and resources by outright, naked force, ultimately leading to an inter-imperialist World War fought against rival imperialist powers (the United Kingdom, the U.S., etc).
Fascism in India is different because India is not an imperialist country. India does have expansionist ambitions, and given its large area and very large population it is often able to act as a bully in relations with its neighbors, like Nepal and Sri Lanka. But outside of its immediate region India is not able to exert the same type of influence that the U.S., France, China, or even weaker imperialist powers like Israel and South Korea are able to exert. India is a poor country, and a big chunk of the profits produced by the labor of the Indian people belong to the imperialists. These profits constantly leave the country, so the Indian ruling class has less wealth at their disposal.
Poster calling for defense workers to go on strike. The call was issued by a union controlled by the RSS.
Recently, a major RSS-run trade union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian Workers Organization), called a big strike in the munitions sector. They criticized the “pro-corporate” policies of the government, and advanced demands against a privatization of the munitions factories. In any capitalist country the section of workers who produce arms are one of the most important groups for the ruling class to buy off. In the U.S. they are one of the best-paid, most reactionary, and pro-U.S. sections of the working class. This is important for the ruling class because the “defense” industry isn’t just about making money but serves an underlying strategic need as well. In short, they need to be able to count on the loyalty of the people who produce their weapons in order to be ready to confront rival powers, and they are willing to cut into their profits a little bit in order to do so. The fact that in India big sections of defense workers in an RSS-controlled union are going on strike shows that the Indian ruling class is not able to buy the loyalty of these workers in the same way that the U.S. ruling class is.
Fascism in India serves to both disguise the imperialist plunder of the country and get a section of the people to support all-out crackdowns against those who resist. This means that in order to really oppose fascism the people of India will also need to strongly oppose the imperialist domination of their country. The current state in India, founded in 1947 and engineered by the British, is inadequate for doing this, as are the current electoral opposition parties. This includes the main opposition party, the Congress Party. This is because the current Indian state is a state set up to serve imperialism, so just participating in the elections and really trying to get elected within that system necessarily involves making compromises with imperialism.
Congress Party and some of the other electoral opposition parties do oppose some of the more extreme policies by the BJP and RSS. But their opposition is quite halfhearted, and the Indian people cannot count on them to provide a different way forward. For one, they showed in the most recent election that they cannot even defeat the BJP electorally – the BJP’s “get out the vote” machinery for voter intimidating, vote-buying, election fraud, etc. is simply stronger than the Congress’.
Recently the extent of the BJP’s organizational machinery has come out, when some investigative work revealed that it’s quite common for BJP organizers to manage 1,500-2,000 chat groups on WhatsApp. Some of these groups have hundreds of thousands of members, and are an incredibly powerful and widespread mechanism for rapidly distributing propaganda. This is just one example of how, during their time in power so far, the BJP and RSS have been able to cement their position in society and build infrastructure that will let them strongly shape Indian society. Congress, despite its very long history in India, cannot rival this level of organization at present.
Sikh protesters demand justice for the brutal pogroms that were organized by the Congress Party in 1984. The Congress Party is not an alternative to the BJP and RSS, and in fact has more in common with them than not.
More importantly, though, Congress Party is not fundamentally opposed to the politics of the BJP. If BJP is the party of hardline Hindutva, then Congress represents “soft” Hindutva. The Congress party presided over some of the worst massacres in the history of the Indian state, including the 1984 massacre of Sikhs and the declaration of Emergency from 1975-1977. The Congress party is also not an anti-imperialist party, they are a pro-imperialist party which worked hand-in-hand with the British to set up the current Indian state in 1947. Given that the fundamental basis for the existence of the BJP and its electoral success is the imperialist domination of India, any party which is not really opposed to imperialism cannot really oppose this.
A large section of Indian society is oppressed by the BJP and by the imperialist domination of Indian farmers, workers, progressive petty bourgeoisie, national minorities, religious minorities, etc. This force must be unified into a large, united front against imperialism and fascism. For this, it’s necessary for the proletariat to play a leading role, since the other classes do not have the same interest in totally opposing imperialism, and could be liable to compromise at the last minute. There have been unfortunate examples of this in the last few years. In Egypt and in Sudan the working class wasn’t organized and prepared to play the leading role in mass struggles that developed to overthrow imperialist-backed repressive governments. As a result, in both cases, the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois leadership of the movements compromised with a section of the existing power structure. In Egypt this led to the establishment of a brutal military dictatorship. In Sudan the protest movement, led by the petty-bourgeois Sudanese Professionals Association, recently accepted a compromise, joining a coalition government made up of civilians and members of the armed forces, who are backed by various imperialist powers.
These failures to really throw out the imperialists are not personal failures by these individuals, but an expression of their class position. Even under a military dictatorship the petty-bourgeoisie will enjoy a position of comfort relative to the working class, and so members of this class will tend to be open to compromises with the power structure. At the same time, though, the active participation of all classes who have an interest in opposing imperialism is necessary, because this struggle is not just a working class struggle, and although other classes do have a tendency to waver they all have an interest in opposing imperialism.
A protest in London during Modi’s visit there. People in India and around the world are increasingly coming forward to protest the rise of fascism in India.
Ultimately, a new form of the state will be needed. The current Indian state is a decadent, bloated bureaucracy built to serve imperialism. It has a huge military and police force designed for oppressing the people, and vast sections of the country are totally unserved by schools, hospitals, transportation, and other important infrastructure. The Indian state has also presided over wide-scale environmental destruction, including the destruction of jungles to clear the way for mining and the pollution of India’s rivers.
A new form of the state is needed which can address the needs of the people and the needs of all the democratic and anti-imperialist classes and sectors of society. The Indian people will have to lead a revolution to overthrow the current decadent and oppressive state to build a new one in its place. Most importantly, this state must be actually anti-imperialist to the core, and it will have to kick all foreign imperialists out of India immediately. India is a large country with a very large population and abundant natural resources, so there is a strong basis for the Indian economy to be developed towards self-sufficiency. This has to be pursued so that the economy is not dependent on goods imported from foreign countries, since this is a form of power that the imperialists wield over others to control them.
This new state must also adopt a progressive policy towards the oppressed nations in India. The people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, and other minority nations within India have to be given the right to self-determination as nations, ultimately including the right to form a separate country if they so desire. However, at the same time, the state and the people of India must struggle to address the national oppression that the people of those areas have faced, including struggling to eliminate prejudices, addressing disparities in quality of life and access to services and infrastructure, returning funds gained through the plunder of natural resources, etc. If these issues are handled correctly there can be a basis for the oppressed nations to remain part of a new revolutionary and anti-imperialist India, but this can only be done on the basis of a conscious and voluntary association. The oppressed nations can’t be forced to remain part of India at gunpoint, as they are currently.
For the Indian people the rise of the BJP to state power and the increasingly fascist nature of the Indian state is a big challenge. The BJP and the RSS continue their long legacy of selling out the country to foreign imperialists, sponsoring mob violence and lynchings against religious and national minorities to distract the Hindu majority from the imperialist plunder of India. This is creating a disastrous situation for the majority of people in India, who are dealing with rising unemployment, inflation, displacement, and deprivation.
Many people in India are also struggling to live under an onslaught of fascist violence, from the police and security forces, as well as from mobs of Hindu fanatics. This is the method of rule that the Indian ruling class has settled on, and in order to defeat it the Indian people will have to wage an all-out struggle against the fascist forces and against the imperialist domination of their country. Many different sections of society which can oppose fascism will have to be brought together into a strong united front, to defeat Hindu fascism and put a new, pro-people and anti-imperialist government into place. People here in the U.S. and internationally should do everything they can to support this struggle, since it is part of the international working-class struggle, and it is our internationalist duty to support the people of the world in the struggle against the forces of reaction.