What it means to call today’s India ‘fascist’?

Benjamin Zachariah has been studying the history of the Indian Right and of Indian manifestations of fascism and Nazism for nearly two decades. He read history at Presidency College, Calcutta, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he completed a PhD in the last years of the previous century. Zachariah is the author of Nehru (2004), Developing India (2005), Playing the Nation Game (2011) and After the Last Post (2019). His current research projects are concerned with the nature and concerns of the historiography of India, and the intellectual histories of romantic anticapitalism and global fascism. He has taught and researched in several countries, and is now Senior Research Fellow at the University of Trier, Germany. In this moment of unrest, and brutal violence by the state and state-backed groups, The Wire asked him: is this, or is this not fascism? Ramachandra Guha recently cautioned protesters to be “careful with their words” and to not use the term “fascism” to describe what is happening. What is your opinion on this question? Well, clearly Ram Guha isn’t taking into account the long development of the Sangh parivar. They were convinced followers, first of the Italian Fascists, and then of the German Nazis, and they still follow that tradition, with a movement that is based on the use of paramilitary forces loyal to the party for extra-legal blackmail and violence. Why, then, should we be ‘careful with our words’? Having said that, I don’t think quibbling about definitions makes sense – I can see plenty of reasons to oppose right-wing movements that are not (yet) fascist movements. We can agree that some think that this lot are fascists, and some don’t, but we agree that we must oppose their attempts to turn India into a monolingual, monofaith authoritarian country. What we must ensure though is that we don’t wait till we have ‘full fascism’ to recognise a movement as fascist – by that time it’s too late to oppose them. They have captured state power and use the full capacity of the state to further their goals. Do you think that state capture is now complete? We must distinguish between fascism as a movement in search of power, and a fascism that has captured the state. The Sangh parivar has nearly completely captured the state, and coordinated its institutions so that they are subservient or loyal to the needs of the party and the leader. The courts are no longer free, the police work at the behest of the ruling party, some armed forces personnel appear to be politically supporting the ruling party, and a parliamentary majority is being misused to pass laws that are incompatible with the constitution but since the courts have been captured, who is to say so? Everyone should be familiar with, or look up, the meaning of the German word ‘gleichshaltung’, which would sound harmless enough in English because it means ‘coordination’, but was used by the Nazis to describe their control of all institutions, associations and forms of public life in the country. Nothing was to remain outside of their control. But one can argue there are many salient differences between fascists of the past and of the present. Fascism in most parts of the world was discredited after the Second World War. ‘Neo’- fascists are ‘neo’ because their old languages and practices no longer seemed credible. Now they have begun to regroup, and we can see that ‘neo’ is ‘palaeo’ too once people have forgotten that the old languages were discredited, they can also come back into use, alongside the new terminology developed in the new context. The idea of Hindus as a ‘race’, and as ‘Aryan’, would have sounded ridiculous to many people after 1945, but it’s back in a big way, and no one laughs. India has the longest-running continuous fascist movement in the world the RSS was founded in 1925. Their internal language hasn’t changed; they’re still using texts by Savarkar or Golwalkar for indoctrinating their members and Golwalkar famously thought that the Nazi example of getting rid of Jews from Germany should be followed in India for Muslims. In his We, Or Our Nationhood Defined, he wrote.