A ‘fascist’ democracy: the oxymoron we live with
It’s no longer the individual or the people but chants of ‘one nation, one state, one leader’ that have come to mark our tryst with destiny. You cannot speak of workers’ rights or anti-labour policies
On May 2, the present ruling dispensation eventually confirmed the suspicions of sceptics about India being a democracy. The Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of Justices, A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, in the Supreme Court that citizens could not claim “absolute” right over their bodies. He waxed eloquent exemplifying it by the laws against committing suicide, termination of pregnancy and drinking that embarrassed even the Supreme Court. But it incidentally bared the fangs of the beast in the garb of democracy. It effectively meant the Indian people, who were supposed to be sovereign could be sacrificed at the altar of the State at the latter’s sweet will.
This is precisely what Mussolini proclaimed in his fascist doctrine. It emphasised the importance of the State and accepted the individual only insofar as his/her interests coincide with those of the State. We were supposed to be a liberal democracy that granted citizens certain rights which could not be overridden by the State. Fascism rejects the liberal notion and reasserts the rights of the State. “The concept of freedom is not absolute because nothing is ever absolute in life. Freedom is not a right, it is a duty. It is not a gift, it is a conquest; it is not equality, it is a privilege.” These familiar phrases being thrown these days by our Jaitleys and Rajnath Singhs are actually the Doctrine of Fascism. In their adoption and reiteration, the Indian State has come to affirm the same fascist doctrine.
Our fundamental rights: Up till now we were told that we had certain rights which were enshrined in the Constitution as fundamental. Article 19 of the Constitution speaks of six rights, viz., right to freedom of speech and expression, right to assemble peaceably and without arms, right to form associations or unions, right to move freely throughout the territory of India, right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India, right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation trade or business.
We knew they were not absolute in sense that they could be circumscribed by legislature in certain circumstances which were spelt out in the Constitution. For instance, Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution enabled the legislature to impose certain restrictions on free speech under following heads: security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offence, and sovereignty and integrity of India.
They were numerous and vague enough to be potentially misused by the rulers who, however, were expected by the Constitution makers to be gentlemen with minimal level of morality. The restrictions could be imposed, only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action. But we see it having degenerated to the level where they simply shut up people.
If you speak anything except for singing praises for the government, you risk your life. You could be easily charged under sedition or under any of the many draconian laws and sent for life imprisonment, if not hanged. Sixty six students of the Panjab University were booked on sedition charges just for protesting against the huge fee rise. If you speak against the hangings of Afzal Guru or Yakub Memon or protest against the hooliganism of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), as the Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University dared to do and subsequently the Left wing students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and others repeated, you could be pushed to become Rohith Vemula or to suffer incarceration like Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Omar Khalid.
If you speak against the anti-labour policy like contractisation of regular work, of the management, you could meet the fate of Maruti Suzuki workers, who were en masse incarcerated for years and now sentenced to life imprisonment. If you speak against the land grab operation of the government you could be labelled as Maoist and simply done to death.
The Muslims, the other of the junta, are any way the anti-nationals and terrorists. The Adivasis in Bastar or Niyamgiri, in effect, merely spoke out against the unlawful handing over of their forests to the capitalists to incur the States’ dirty war on them. The security forces are unleashed on them to rape and maim their women and kill their youth with impunity.
If you take cudgel for victims of the State’s crime as human rights activists, you could meet the fate of Dr Binayak Sen, Soni Sori or Sai Baba. Last December, a seven-member team of the Telangana Democratic Front (TDF), on a fact finding mission into incidents of human rights violations in Bastar, was arrested on the way. It is still in Sukma jail being denied bail. There is not a shred of evidence beyond the police concoction. These are not isolated examples; they pervade all over the country.
Indeed, it has degenerated to the level where the State tells people what to speak and to whom; what to eat and where; where to stand and when to sit; whom to love and whom to hate; effectively moulding us into automatons in service to the State.
It 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. Notwithstanding a plethora of details about the affinity of the Hindutva progenitors like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Balakrishna Shivram Moonje, or Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar to Mussolini and Hitler, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its organizational fountainhead echoes the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, "Voluntary Militia for National Security"), which was originally the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party and, after 1923, an all-volunteer militia of the Kingdom of Italy. For the last three years, we have seen a working prototype of what a fascist regime is like. It almost echoes ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer – "One People, One Empire, One Leader."
India’s claim to democracy, rather as the world’s largest functional democracy, solely rests on its record of regularly held elections. Although they are more of a ritual observed with massive money and muscle power than the expression of the will of the people, they have sustained the illusion of democracy. The entire framework of it given by the much eulogised Constitution of India rather betrays the intrigues of the native ruling classes against the people.
The illusion was reinforced by projecting Dr Ambedkar, the messiah of the downtrodden, as its chief architect. His coming out of the dazzle of praise within two years of the constitutional working and disowning it in the strongest possible words did not help. His warning that what the Constitution gave was just political democracy and unless it was supplemented by social and economic democracies, the former would not last, also did not work.
The de jure democracy has always been de facto plutocracy, the rule of the money bags. It was a matter of time that it would be transformed into an organised, centralised, authoritarian democracy, which is what fascism is.
The oxymoron in the title sadly characterises this reality of India.
Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst, and General Secretary, CPDR, Maharashtra
- Kanhaiya Kumar
- Benito Mussolini
- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
- Supreme Court
- Rohith Vemula
- Rajnath Singh
- Mukul Rohatgi
- Adolf Hitler
- Soni Sori
- Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad
- Anirban Bhattacharya
- Indian Constitution
- fundamental rights
- Dr Ambedkar
- fascist democracy
- Dr Binayak Sen
- Sai Baba
- Maruti Suzuki
- Omar Khalid