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Modi unleashes Islamophobic pogroms

Phil Hearse analyses the wave of Hindu-fascist violence across large parts of India.

27 February 2020.

RSS Hindu-fascist thugs on the march. Indian premier Narendra Modi is a member.


Western media reported violence in north-east Delhi on February 25/26 as ‘inter-communal clashes’ between Hindus and Muslims. These reports concealed the truth of what was going on. In reality, Hindu supremacist mobs attacked protestors against the new citizenship act, who had taken advantage of Donald Trump’s visit to highlight their campaign.


Attacks on demonstrators morphed into a pogrom against Muslim areas in which around 40 people were killed, hundreds injured, and many houses burned. Behind the mob attacks was the fascist National Patriotic Movement (RSS).


This movement has more than five million members, thousands of full-time organisers, a paramilitary youth wing, and front organisations in many sectors of society. Indian premier Modi came into politics through the RSS, which gave birth to the ruling BJP (Indian People’s Party) – and he remains an RSS member.


In the 1920s and 1930s, the RSS was an extremist fringe organisation with little influence on national politics. The post-war consensus that India was a pluralist social-democratic state held for four decades, reflected in the hegemonic grip of the Indian National Congress.


It was only after neoliberal counter-reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that the RSS’s influence began to grow, until it achieved the mainstream status it has today, represented by the success of its political wing, the BJP, including the election of one of its members to the premiership.


The BJP government is engaged in a sustained attack on democracy, using Hindu supremacism and anti-Muslim communal hatred to stay in power. In particular, it is rushing through plans to detain and deport millions of Muslims.


‘Illegals’ and ethnic-cleansing

The citizenship act provides a path to Indian citizenship for ‘illegals’ whose families came from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladeshi after the 1947 partition that followed independence – provided they are from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Pari, Jain, or Christian backgrounds. Muslims are excluded.


This is the first time religious background or ethnicity has been a criterion for citizenship in post-independence India. The law has created the basis for the mass arrest and deportation of Muslims.


As part of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), a National Register of Citizens has been created. Muslim ‘illegals’ cannot get on the register, but non-Muslims can. Many people in India do not have birth certificates or other vital documents, so many Muslims who are ‘legal’ citizens, are likely to be unable to prove it. This foreshadows ethnic-cleansing on a giant scale.


An estimated 38% of Indians do not have birth certificates. Muslims without them are liable to arrest and deportation, even if their family has lived in India for decades.


To put the BJP’s Hindu supremacist plans into operation, massive detention centres are being created across the country. The first one under construction is the size of seven football pitches.


Two million places in these camps will be in the state of Assam, near the border with Bangladesh. People sent to the camps can at best expect months or years of detention, but many are likely to be forcibly deported – often to countries they have never visited.


Bangladesh has shown in its treatment of the Muslim Rohingya refugees, who fled from Myanmar two years ago, that it does not want refugees on its territory. And people deported to Pakistan or Afghanistan face a very uncertain future.


What is being prepared is a humanitarian disaster on an enormous scale. It is no accident that Donald Trump gave the Modi government a thumbs-up on democracy during his visit. He is a co-practitioner on the politics of ethnic victimisation and detention camps – as well as Islamophobia in general.


Modi’s anti-Muslim concentration camp Gulag is likely to outstrip China’s mass internment system, where an estimated one million Uighur Muslims are held.


To seek out and victimise Muslims, repeated sweeps of Muslim areas by the police and army are likely. The danger is that an atmosphere of anti-Muslim hysteria will lead to repeated pogroms and individual attacks on Muslims.


Kashmir


The CAA came alongside the August 2019 revoking the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir. Since independence in 1947, this status has given limited autonomy to the region, recognising implicitly that Kashmiris are a separate nation.


Kashmir, where the overwhelming majority are Muslims, is divided between Indian and Pakistani administered areas. Indian Kashmir is the most militarised region in the world, with more than half a million Indian troops deployed there for the past 30 years.


In preparation for revoking the territory’s special status and the likely demonstrations against it, India forced Kashmir into lockdown. Tourists and foreign students were told to leave immediately. Hundreds were forced into detention and all outside communication – mobiles, internet, and land lines – were severed. The 14.7 million population were placed under house arrest, making access to food and medicines extremely difficult.


New settlements for military families are being opened, giving rise to the suspicion that Indiawants to modify the demographic profile of the country through external settlement of Indian people, to dilute the Kashmiri character of the region – just as has happened on the West Bank with Israeli settlers and in Tibet through the settlement of Han Chinese.


Hindu-fascist violence against a Muslim man. These are not 'communal riots'. They are fascist attacks on Muslim communities sanctioned by the BJP regime and its police.


Fascism and Hindutva


The BJP’s sister organisation, the RSS, is probably the mass organisation which most closely resembles 1930s fascism in the world today – except that it has been around since 1925 and has been allowed to embed itself deeply in Indian society, thanks in part to the way in which Congress governments failed to take effective action against it.


It is based on an explicitly racist ideology, that of Hindu supremacist ‘Hindutva’, and it is a mass movement with a strong paramilitary component. It uses mass political mobilisation together with street-level violence against its enemies, which is sees as Muslims, Dalits (‘untouchables’), the Left, and liberals. Like the Nazis in pre-war Germany, it has a highly visible ethnic-religious minority to act as a lightning rod for ethnic hatred – this time Muslims, not Jews.


The inner workings of the RSS are secret, but are likely to include continued discussion about and supervision of the policies of the Modi government.


Modi is an unswerving supporter of neoliberal globalisation, while promoting Indian nationalism. The autarchic economic nationalism that characterised fascism in the 1930s is impossible today. But state-driven strengthening of Indian capitalism is a central Modi policy objective.


In October 2019, a European parliamentary delegation of far-right parties – including the Alternative for Germany(AfD) and France’s National Assembly – visited Kashmir to give their support to Indian repression and Islamophobia in general. This is part of a growing alliance of the RSS-BJP with European neo-fascist and far-right parties.[1] The British Conservatives have also been happy to give Modi the thumbs-up.


Mass victimisation of Muslims in Indiaand Kashmir will be grist to the mill of Islamists, and could polarise opposition to Modi on confessional lines. Internationally, the Left will have to wage a long campaign not only against the occupation of Kashmir, the concentration camps and deportations, the pogroms and police violence against Indian Muslims, but also to build an anti-fascist movement that unites working people and the oppressed on the basis of class solidarity.


Phil Hearse is a veteran revolutionary socialist active in Mutiny and Socialist Resistance.


  1. [1] European ideologues like Savitri Devi (born in France as Maximiani Portas) described Hitler as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Nearly four decades after she died, her ideology remains popular among American white nationalists. The manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011, also expressed an affinity for the Hindu nationalist approach to Islam that highlights many contemporary European attitudes toward Muslim immigrant populations. Breivik said in his ‘manifesto’:'The only positive thing about the Hindu right wing is that they dominate the streets. They do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things get out of control, usually after the Muslims disrespect and degrade Hinduism too much. India will continue to wither and die unless the Indian nationalists consolidate properly and strike to win. It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.' See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-41757047