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Is Narendra Modi a fascist?

April 21, 2014 10:55 IST

Narendra Modi

'The speeches of Modi in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Baghpat and the border areas of Bihar, overplaying the themes of terrorism, izzat of mothers and sisters, are to be read carefully to understand that he is trying to keep the fear of Muslims alive in the Hindu masses,' says Apoorvanand.

'More than a decade ago, when Narendra Modi was a nobody, a small-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak trying to make it as a small-time Bharatiya Janata Party functionary, I had the privilege of interviewing him along with Achyut Yagnik, whom Modi could not fortunately recognise... It was a long, rambling interview, but it left me in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist.'

'I never use the term 'fascist' as a term of abuse; to me it is a diagnostic category comprising not only one's ideological posture but also the personality traits and motivational patterns contextualising the ideology.'

'Modi, it gives me no pleasure to tell the readers, met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence -- all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits.'

This is Ashis Nandy, writing in 2002, recalling his encounter with Narendra Modi ten years before the Gujarat riots. Ashis cannot be dubbed and dismissed for being a Left intellectual.

Even though he is not one, he is still dangerous enough for Modi as he has been charged with creating animosity between communities for having written an article critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party regime in Gujarat and has been effectively silenced, at least on affairs related to Gujarat.

In his Indian Express column, Pratap Bhanu Mehta condemns Left intellectuals for raising the bogey of fascism to scare the Indian voter into not opting for Modi who is being presented as the most viable alternative to the ineffectual, self-destructive Congress party. The suggestion being that he is someone you can do business with.

Does fascism adequately describe the phenomenon represented by a BJP under Narendra Modi or is the F-word being used rather liberally, lazily and irresponsibly by Indian 'Left' intellectuals? The Italian philosopher and critic Umberto Eco, who had experienced fascism in its most authentic form as a teenager, says that fascism is a generic term, like 'game' or 'sports'.

To quote Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, games are different activities that display only some family resemblance. A game remains a game whether played indoors or outdoors, by 22 players or two players, competitively or non-competitively.

Eco, like other scholars of various fascist movements, enumerates 14 features which define fascism and warns that one should not wait for all to appear in a movement for it to be seen as fascist. He goes even further, arguing that appearance of even one of them is a sufficient condition for fascism to start taking shape around it.

Fear of an outsider; feeling of besiegement; putting the 'nation' first and erasing all other identities; a cult of heroism; machismo; hatred against 'weak parliamentary democracy'; and newspeak, an Orwellian term which describes a language thoroughly impoverished, an elementary syntax to prevent complex and critical thinking.

One has to flip through the school textbooks of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh under the BJP regimes to understand the gravity of the damage that newspeak does.

I find Pratap separating Amit Shah from Narendra Modi, suggesting that he may be an aberration in an otherwise modernising party. Is that so?

The speeches of Modi in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Baghpat and the border areas of Bihar, overplaying the themes of terrorism, izzat of mothers and sisters, are to be read carefully to understand that he is trying to keep the fear of Muslims alive in the Hindu masses.

A leader, who seems to be 'transcending fragmentary identity politics to put India first' not only keeps using the term Yaduvanshis to reach the Yadavs of Bihar and UP, assuring them that he has come from the land of Dwaraka, but also pins them down in a rigid occupational role identified with their caste.

It is also somewhat surprising that a political philosopher like Pratap should reduce the attraction and appeal of a Modi-led campaign to the economic factor only, namely decline in 'growth' and anxieties arising out of it.

Is not it a ruse to mobilise the Hindu electorate around the BJP?

What about the anxieties of the Muslims and Christians when they see the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh making it a do or die battle?

Are these concerns not real? Should they be ignored as they belong to a cultural realm which is less real or important than the economic aspect of human life?

There are political, economic, ideological and psychological factors leading to the rise of forces like Narendra Modi. Have not critics of Modi first blamed the Congress party for weakening the democratic structures fatally?

Who does not know that fascism derives its legitimacy from the failures of democracy? But does that mean that one should not talk about the danger posed by forces led by Narendra Modi?

How does it become fear mongering when some of us -- Left or no-Left -- find the critical features of a fascistic movement in the Modi-led BJP campaign?

One should go back to Eco again to understand our duty: 'We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares".'

'Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances -- every day, in every part of the world.'

Apoorvanand is a professor at Delhi University.