Seema Syeda reports on the countrywide upsurge against the Islamophobic racism of Modi’s Hindu chauvinist regime.
23 December 2019
Mass protests have broken out across the Indian subcontinent against Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law, which directly discriminates against Muslim migrants. The law allows Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Bhuddist, and other religious minorities who migrated to India illegally before 2014 to gain citizenship, extending citizenship to those who claim to have been persecuted in Muslim-majority countries.
The law is explicitly discriminatory and is yet another ratcheting up of Modi’s Hindu chauvinist nationalist agenda. Thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees who have fled to India to escape genocide in Burma, for instance, have been denied citizenship by the rule.
The law is a culmination of Modi’s neo-fascist political philosophy. As we argue in Creeping Fascism (here), Modi and the BJP’s rise to power signify a shift in Indian politics to the extreme right. Modi himself was a full-time worker for the fascist group RSS, which glorified Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s and was responsible for the assasination of Gandhi.
Modi, when he governed Gujarat, ruled the province with an iron fist, and oversaw a period of mass-communal rioting in which over a thousand Muslims were killed. As Prime Minister, he has allowed vigilantes to lynch Muslims with impunity, has cracked down on media freedom, has turned a blind eye to the assassination of left-wing journalists, and has promoted an exclusionary vision of India as a Hindu nation.
Modi ties his far-right social conservatism to a free market, neoliberal economic agenda, deepening wealth inequalities whilst scapegoating India’s large minority Muslim community for the social misery many low-income Indians experience.
The rise of resistance
But Modi’s ascent to power, achieved through electoral means, has been met with stiff resistance in the labour movement and on the streets. In 2016, 150 million public sector workers across India participated in a 24-hour general strike against the government’s privatisation plans. A similarly large strike took place in January 2019, as reported in Notes from Below (here).
Now, millions of students, academics, and ordinary people across caste and religious lines have come out on the streets to demonstrate against the exclusionary citizenship law. The Modi government has responded with authoritarian measures, banning public gatherings of groups of four or more, but the people have defied the order, resulting in thousands of arrests. Protests continue despite these attempts at repression.
Most notably, India’s pre-eminent political historian, Ramachandra Guha, was arrested earlier this week. He has chronicled the history of Indian democracy from the fight for independence to Indira Gandhi’s notorious ‘Emergency’ in the 1970s, where elections were suspended and a dictatorial regime was temporarily introduced. He believes Modi’s actions pose just as serious a constitutional crisis, stating,
It’s the sign of a paranoid, insecure regime who can not deal with dissent in any way... We’ve had difficult times in our republic but this is one of the worst I’ve seen in my 60-year lifetime.
India has a secular constitution, much of it designed by B R Ambedkar, a dedicated fighter against the caste system. Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act turns this on its head.
Protests have been taking place across the continent, from New Delhi to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh to Assam. The current death toll is 23, and likely to rise.
In 2014, India was one of the first long-standing liberal democracies to give way to a far-right populist leader implementing a neoliberal economic programme. Since then, similar political movements have surged to power across the globe, from Trump’s America to Orban’s Hungary, Salvini’s Italy to Boris Johnson’s Britain.
India’s experience is an indication that to counter the far-right capture of the electoral system of many erstwhile liberal democratic polities, resistance from below must be organised, in workplaces, on campuses and estates, and on the streets.
Seema Syeda is a Labour activist and joint author, with Samir Dathi, Neil Faulkner, and Phil Hearse, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.