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Electoral Setbacks for BJP Won’t Unseat Hindutva Fascism in India

While the Bharatiya Janata Party lost seats in India’s elections, the architecture of Hindutva fascism remains intact.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters to celebrate the party's win in country's general election, in New Delhi on June 4, 2024.

What will it take to defeat fascism in India — ruled by one of the world’s largest, oldest and well-funded fascist projects, Hindutva nationalism, now equipped with one of the world’s biggest digital identity surveillance databases? Though the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now been reduced in India’s recently concluded elections from its previous 303-seat majority to a 240-seat minority governmentagainst widely broadcast exit poll predictions — the broader architecture of Hindutva fascism remains intact.

Perhaps the most revealing reaction to the BJP’s downgrading was that of the global financial markets. “The numbers so far showed the [BJP’s] margin of victory may not be as large as exit polls suggested, leading to a rout across markets. Indian shares posted their worst session in more than four years,” Reuters reported. “The biggest disappointment for the market is the fact that BJP does not have a majority (yet),” commented one market analyst. “Despite this the fact remains that the BJP-led alliance is still set to win a third term, which means continuity in the government’s infrastructure and manufacturing-led drive to boost economic growth,” opined another.

How damningly telling of the international community’s willingness to sacrifice Indians to the BJP’s “stable” fascism for the interest of capitalist accumulation. For the last 10 years, world rulers operating according to this execrable equation have feted and fawned over BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi — showering him with awards and accolades — as Muslims, Dalits (formerly referred to as “untouchables”), and other minoritized communities have been terrorized by ascendant lynch mobs, targeted by segregationist Hindu-supremacist legal measures and threatened with genocidal “elimination” by mass gatherings of Hindutva leaders.

Now, in the wake of Modi’s latest electoral “victory,” the U.S. White House congratulated India for its “vibrant democratic process” and President Joe Biden hailed “the friendship between our nations […] as we unlock a shared future of unlimited potential.” Adding to the “vibrancy” of this whole “democratic process,” of course, were the police beatings of Muslim and Dalit voters at the poll booths, against the dog whistle soundtrack of BJP campaigners including Modi fulminating against “vote jihad” and “a deep conspiracy to snatch [Hindu] property and distribute it” to Muslim “infiltrators.”

In Kashmir — crucible of the world’s most concentrated military occupation, sequestered behind regime-imposed communications blackouts — hundreds of political dissidents were reportedly detained without charge during the election period. In Gujarat — where in 2002 Modi, as state chief minister, presided over anti-Muslim pogroms in which women had their wombs slit open and breasts cut off, then expedited elections to take advantage of the resulting political capital — the government bulldozed the homes of hundreds of Muslims and then disqualified them from voting for lack of residence. In Assam — laboratory for the BJP’s “Nazification” of citizenship law and accompanying mass Muslim denationalization — 100,000 were obliterated from the voters’ rolls as “doubtful” citizens.

According to the Indian NGO Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, approximately 30 million Muslims and 40 million Dalits in total have been expunged from electoral lists across the country.

In 1933, the Nazis seized power in Germany with 44 percent of the vote share; in India, thanks to the colonial legacy of the first-past-the-post system, the BJP managed to consolidate its rule in 2014 with only 31 percent. Perversely, “the process of democracy can be more repressive and more facilitative of repression then that which we recognize as out and out autocracy,” as Kashmiri American lawyer and activist Imraan Mir told Truthout.

Consecrating India’s “electoral autocracy” is an obscene pageantry of “democratic transparency.” The government of India Press Information Bureau boasted of the “largest ever global delegation to witness India’s General Election” and its “huge ‘democratic surpluses’ for the world.” In what kind of democratic state is democracy described as being in “surplus”? Participants in this exercise of fascistic election-washing included delegates from Australia (the prime minister of which has exalted Narendra Modi as “the boss” like Bruce Springsteen), Bhutan (which recently conferred upon Modi its highest civilian honor) and Israel (India’s fourth-largest supplier of weapons, duly “tested” in its own ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza).

In the eyes of less willfully delusional auditors, India’s primary surpluses register in the column not of “democracy” but of gross human rights violations. Seventy-seven percent of UN human rights experts’ complaints to India remain publicly unanswered; 445 cases identified by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concerning India since 1980 are still “pending.” The true number of state-induced disappearances in India is in fact many times higher — under Indian law, the thousands vanished into government torture centers and buried in mass graves are merely denoted as mysteriously “missing persons,” no guilty agent attributed.

Other causes for alarm enumerated in a statement by UN experts in advance of the election included “violence and hate crimes against minorities; dehumanizing rhetoric and incitement to discrimination and violence; targeted and arbitrary killings; acts of violence carried out by vigilante groups; targeted demolitions of homes of minorities; the intimidation, harassment and arbitrary and prolonged detention of human rights defenders and journalists; arbitrary displacement due to development mega-projects; and intercommunal violence, as well as the misuse of official agencies against perceived political opponents.”

State-empowered mobs and lynch gangs burn, plunder and torture Muslims with impunity, while chanting slogans and blasting “Hindutva pop” songs pledging to make “the [Muslim] skull-cap wearer bow down and say victory to [Hindu god] lord Ram.” Repeatedly, the Muslim communities most victimized are also most penalized. State agencies’ punitive razing of Muslims’ homes and businesses — a continuous stream of micro-Kristallnachts — has become so pervasive that a new term for the phenomenon has been invented by its perpetrators: “bulldozer justice.” A February 2024 report by Amnesty International — itself banned in India following the governments’ ransacking of its offices — investigated 63 such incidents and concluded that “targeted demolitions and forced evictions were used by the state authorities as a form of extrajudicial and collective and arbitrary punishment and retaliation against Muslims speaking against injustices and discrimination they were facing.”

As in the wake of the Nazi Kristallnacht, the immiseration of the dispossessed has been further compounded by falsely labeling them as the aggressors and ordering them to pay millions of dollars in “compensation.” What is this, except a manifestation of what renowned scholar of India Christophe Jaffrelot named as Hindutva’s “majoritarian inferiority complex” — a hallmark of genocidal ideology — which persists despite the overrepresentation of Muslims in virtually every metric of social marginalization and oppression, from rates of pre-trial incarceration, to poverty, to political erasure and exclusion.

Neoliberalism requires neofascism, as esteemed Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik has repeatedly warned. As inequality in India under the BJP-enabled “Billionaire Raj” is now even higher than under the colonial British Raj — according to a March 2024 report from the World Inequality Database — almost every previous BJP campaign promise of social advancement has been unfulfilled except for the advancement of totalizing Hindutva-ization.

Under the BJP’s penchant for converting public goods into privatized profits, even the local defense airport in Jamnagar was temporarily transformed earlier this year into a “private” international facility to service the $152 million pre-wedding celebrations of the son of top BJP crony Mukesh Ambani while impoverished Indians from children to elders who have been deprived of welfare benefits suffer hunger at record levels. Postmortems of some of the starved have found not even a single grain of food in their stomachs. As of October 2023, India had the highest rate in the world of child wasting due to undernutrition.

Modi’s economic “magic” is, in reality, a cauldron of “bullshit” — concocted of hidden data and manipulated statistics. As explicated by Princeton University philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “bullshit” is not simply the refutation of truth but, more dangerously, the wholesale rendering of truth as irrelevant.

In the furtherance of this neofascist project, almost every Indian state institution has been turned into a bastion of ethnonationalist supremacism: entrenching changes likely to long outlast the reign of their BJP instigators. Standardized school textbooks have been revised to make them less “biased” and more “inspiring,” by expurgating Muslims from Indian history and extolling Hindutva’s fascist antecedents; for example, with chapters bearing titles such as “Hitler, the Supremo” and “Internal Achievements of Nazism.”

Universities and academic posts have been stacked with right-wing ideologues — Yellapragada Sudershan Rao of the Hindutva RSS History Wing, for instance, was installed as chair of the Indian Council for Historical Research despite his dearth of any peer-reviewed publications — while academics like Sabyasachi Das have been demonized and discredited for documenting possible BJP election manipulations, and world-recognized historian Ramachandra Guha barred from a university position for supposedly “strengthen[ing] the activities of national disintegration, reckless behaviour in the name of personal freedom, [and] freedom of Jammu and Kashmir.” In BJP-dominated Gujarat, the Times of India reported that the state has promulgated a list of 82 “suitable” Ph.D. thesis topics.

India’s courts too — long implicated in the subjugation and brutalization of Kashmir — have been co-opted under the boot of BJP domination as all-purpose state crime-laundering mechanisms. During the elections, the Supreme Court roundly dismissed all petitions challenging Modi’s hateful provocations, the absence of any independent electronic poll results verification, and the BJP’s executive takeover of the appointments process for the Election Commission in direct defiance of the court’s own prior decisions. Instead, it was the petitioners seeking to curb the state’s unchecked power who were impugned by the judges as “vested interest groups endeavouring to undermine the achievements and accomplishments of the nation.”

“The BJP did not have to invest much effort to convert institutions,” remarked eminent Dalit public intellectual Anand Teltumbde, himself a target of political “terrorism” prosecution in the infamous Bhima Koregaon case. “It’s with very little effort that institutions started complying with whatever the BJP would want them to do, they started doing on their own.”

As in Germany under Nazism, the alacritous “coordination” and collusion of state “justice” institutions with fascist government cloaks authoritarianism in a veneer of legitimization.

“The administration of law, instead of being an instrument for maintaining peace and harmony, has become the means by which the minorities can be kept in a state of perpetual fear,” wrote more than 100 former Indian civil servants in a 2022 open letter to Modi. Indeed, demonstrating the fascistic talent for word resignification, “law and order” in the Hindutva lexicon now means the extrajudicial, extraterritorial exertion of the state’s self-accorded license to assassinate: already long and liberally deployed against “internal public enemies” such as Indian Muslims, Dalits, Indigenous Adivasis and Kashmiris. “This new India comes into your home to kill you,” as Modi announced at a rally in April.

Yet still, the American drones and French-made fighter jets continue to flow into India’s arsenals, social media corporations furnish platforms for Hindutva hate and give awards to “influencers” who live-stream their vigilante tortures, while British companies like JCB provide the instruments of state vengeance by bulldozer. From genocide in Gaza to fascism in India, self-proclaimed human rights paragons continue to reveal their comfortable complicity in “ambient” atrocities: the tolerated degree of violence against the past and present colonized, perpetually written off as the cost of business and profit extraction as usual.

In the face of this permitted state terror and limited possibilities for transformation through the official channels of opposition, Indian organizations, movements, activists, lawyers and scholars — including those we spoke to for this piece — continue to bravely attempt to create the conditions for a world organized differently.

As prominent Indian Muslim peace and pluralism advocate Irfan Engineer told us, “Authoritarian government in one country encourages authoritarianism in other countries. The threat to human rights in one country is a threat to human rights world over. So we have to stand up together for democracy, for human rights, for humanization.” For those of us outside India, the first obligation of solidarity is working to remove our own states’ culpability for upholding and obfuscating the Hindutva fascist behemoth.

For more solidarity resources see, for example:

South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network

Equality Labs

Kashmir Law and Justice Project

Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network

Hindus for Human Rights

Indian American Muslim Council

Justice For All

The Polis Project

With thanks to Anand Teltumbde, Irfan Engineer and Imraan Mir for generously sharing their time and wisdom.

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