The eminent French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that “Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims but by the way it kills them.”
The Fascist face of the RSS-BJP is mirrored in the numerous killings by way of mob lynching in India, and the impunity with which these are carried out by elements directly and indirectly related to the ruling party since 2014.
While I wrote this article in the country (Italy) which is considered the cradle of renaissance and admired for its architecture, cuisine, and language, I was equally aware of the paradox of this land being the epicentre of fascism in twentieth century Europe under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.
Whereas, Italy has come a long way from its fascist past, back home in India, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) through its political front Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has fortified its position to transform India into a modern fascist state as envisioned by the founding fathers of the ‘Sangh’. It has been poignantly referred to in the British intelligence report of 1933, which stated that “it is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that the ‘Sangh’ hopes to be in future India what the ‘Fascisti’ are to Italy and the ‘Nazis’ to Germany.”
It is no secret that from 1920 onwards there were direct contacts between right-wing nationalists and the fascist regime in Italy. The latter often being a subject of admiration in speeches by influential right-wing Hindutva proponents and associated publications that were instrumental in spreading right-wing nationalist ideology.
It is a well-known fact that the former head of Hindu Mahasabha, Dr. B.S. Moonje (mentor to the founder of the RSS and former secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar), had drawn inspiration to reorganise the RSS along Fascist lines after his visit to Italy, and his meeting with Benito Mussolini at Palazzo Venezia in Rome on March 19, 1931. During his stay in Rome, Dr. Moonje had visited various Fascist organisations and shown keen interest in, and admiration for, youth organisations ‘Opera Nazzionale Balilla’ and ‘Avanguardista’- vital instruments for the indoctrination of the youth in Fascist Italy.
This admiration is evident in an excerpt from Dr. Moonje’s diary where he asserts that “the Balilla institutions and the conception of the whole organisation have appealed to me the most... Our institution of the RSS in Nagpur under Dr Hedgewar is of this kind, though quite independently conceived. I will spend the rest of my life in developing and extending this institution of Dr Hedgewar all throughout the Maharashtra and other provinces.”
He continues that “India and particularly Hindu India needs some such institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus” and that he had informed the Italian dictator of having already started an organisation of his own conceived independently with similar objectives, referring to the RSS.
The representative elements of Fascism are prevalent in the RSS and the BJP’s organisational and functional structure. The current coalition of right wing political parties under the leadership of the BJP and its ideologue the RSS, manifests common Fascist attributes.
These may be enumerated as ultra-nationalism and chauvinism, the golden age syndrome, growing sexism, obedience to one leader, disdain for intellectuals and artistic expression, the merging of state and religion, and euphoria around youth. It is also seen in the increasing use of government agencies against rivals and dissenters, support of a police state, rebuffing democratic institutions, undermining parliamentary democracy, heightened exhibitionism and rhetoric, identification of perceived foes as a unifying factor and, most importantly, the glorification of violence as an instrument for politics.
Benito Mussolini after meeting Dr Moonje in Rome in 1931 had wished him luck for his organisation and remarked that his was an uphill task. Eighty-five years after that meeting, having placed a lifetime ‘pracharak’ of the RSS as the Prime Minister, an RSS loyalist as the President, and with a staunch RSS man now set to become the Vice President, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has reached the pinnacle of realising the dream its founding fathers had, and of an India of the future they had anticipated.
As I stand at Piazzale Loreto in Milan at the very spot where fifteen activists from the city were executed during the summer of 1944 for resisting Fascist regime, and where less than a year later on April 29, 1945 the corpse of Benito Mussolini was hung upside down marking the end of more than twenty years of Fascism under Mussolini in Italy, the forces whose ideology and core values are inspired and based on Fascist ideology must not be allowed to grow and continue to carve out a space in India and turn our motherland into a modern Fascist state in our name.
(The author is President - SOAS India Society, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)