National Situation

Covid-19, Citizenship Amendment Act and the End of Indian Democracy

Published on Sunday, 21 June 2020 15:44
Written by Radical Socialist

We publish below an article by Murzban Jal. He has been a regular contributor. We hope others will send their views on the artice and it will stimulate a debate.-- Administrator

 

By Murzban Jal

 

 

 

Covid-19, it seems, has come as a blessing for the capitalist politicians. While threats, even when being shot by fascist goons did not frighten the rebellious crowds asking that the  Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) be repealed because of its obvious communal colour, Covid-19 has somehow almost like magic made the crowds disappear. For the world, especially for the imperialist group of nations while Covid-19 is seen inexorably woven with the world economic crises—the crisis demanded that a lockdown of industries take place—for the Indian elites it is related directly to the Citizenship Amendment Act—to drive the crowds from the streets. What one must do is talk less of Covid-19 and talk more of the world capitalist crisis and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Not relating these would lead to tragedy. 

While a dominant view says that India is now under the tutelage of authoritarianism and fascism where a terrible form of tragedy is scripted on its bare chest, a deeper view while agreeing that fascism is a terrible form of tragedy says that it is liberalism which lies behind fascism and that because of the seeds sown by the liberalism with its free market economy one cannot confront fascism. Let us turn to Ambedkar for instance who in his ‘Reply to the Mahatma’ an extension of his Annihilation of Castesaid:

 

We are indeed witness to a great tragedy.[1]

 

What was the tragedy for Ambedkar? The tragedy was that while the Indian liberal elites instead of confronting hierarchies and inequalities simply insisted in remaining silent on these. It is this very silence of the liberals which the fascists have converted into cacophony. With the December 2019 Citizen’s Amendment Act passed in the Rajya Sabha, it seems that the tragedy that Ambedkar had warned of has indeed come.While December 2019 was the moment of the triumph of the Hindutva right-wing, Ambedkar was focused on not merely the right-wing, but on Gandhi, the liberal democrats and the Hindu reformists and their method and style of social and political leadership. According to this radical Ambedkarite perspective it was because of certain necessary reforms that Indian society was to unable to execute that the specter of fascism has risen.

It is in this sense that we recall Slavoj Zizek’s use of Walter Benjamin’s phrase “behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution”, a phrase which is apt in understanding the rise of the BJP in power, especially with the Citizenship Amendment Bill passed in the Indian parliament. What is the crux of this Act? Supporters of this Act claim is that it is nothing but an act of benevolence and those (i.e. everyone but Muslims and Jews) suffering from religious persecution would be given Indian citizenship. They say that this merely follows the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the 1985 amendment after the Assam Accord followed by other amendments in 1992, 2003, 2005 and 2015. These same supporters claim that the 2003 amendment was supported by both the Congress party and the CPI(M). So why the fuse now? The answer which the right-wing gives is that the Congress and the Left have now been seduced by extreme left-wing ideas and in a terrible fit of jealousy want to bring in god’s own appointed government down. 

A closer inspection finds something else. What the Hindytva government wants to do is to not only radically transform citizenship, but to destroy the very idea of citizenship. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) which they want to make is not going to abide by the ideology of democracy and civic nationalism, but by the fascist idea of nationhood where V.D. Savarkar’s notorious twins of “fatherland” and “holy land” will guide who is to be defined by the term “Indian”.

That this almost reflects the spirit of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws of 1935 must be spelt out. Let is turn to this to see how the Nazi turn is taking in Indian politics. On 15th September 1935 the Nazis passed the Law for the protection of German Blood and German Honour followed on 14th November by the Reich Citizenship Law. These were preceded by the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Services of 7th April 1933. That unlike almost all political parties the RSS was founded on the racial and fascist idea of “Race Spirit”. In fact it must be mentioned that no political party except the BJP follows this outdated eugenic idea borrowed from Western Europe. According to this ideology the people of the world are divided into “races”, the imagined Aryan race being the most superior. And since Jews and Muslims did not it in the spirit of the imagined Aryans these so-called races had to be exterminated. The Nazis did this with terrible consequences. Consider this foundational document of the Indian fascists:

 

The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must hold to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu religion and lose their separate existence, to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.[2] 

 

To understand how the fascist idea of who is an Indian and how those who cannot be defined as “Indian” would be expelled from the country, let us consider two statements of Indian fascism. The first is from We Or Our Nation Defined where Golwalkar said: “Race is the body of the nation, and that with its fall, the nation, ceases to exist.” and the second from Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra Darshan who said that “Nazism provided undeniably the savior of Germany”. The point that one needs to highlight is that Nazism was and is yet the basic ideological model of the Indian fascists. It guided the ideas of Savarkar and Golwalkar.

Here one must point out that the fascist ideas of who an Indian is and the secular idea are both radically different. Also it must be noted that for the Indian fascists right from 1922 it is the idea of “Race Spirit” which guides their ideology and action. And what is this “Race Spirit”? It is the nothing but the “Caste Spirit” expressed as “Aryan Race Spirit”. It is thus that we ask: “What did this fictitious “Race spirit” now drunk on the Aryan-Hindu fantasy talk of?” It talks of the “Hindu nation” based on the imagined “Hindu race”. Now it is well known that it was Savarkar’s Essentials of Hindutva where Hindutva was invented as a racial category where the categories “Hinduness”, and “Hindudom” were created borrowed totally from European feudalism’s idea of “Christendom”.  That is why it is important to say that these ideas of “Hinduness”, and “Hindudom” came into the lexicon the Indian fascist movement from fascist Europe. The problem with the Indian fascists who want to prove that they are the only true and authentic Indians, is that almost all their ideas are borrowed by from the ideological cranium of the 19th and 20th century European right-wing. That is why we say that iIn no way can one claim that the idea of Hindutva is indigenous to Indian civilization. If the brutal form emerged from European fascism, the early Romantic version, especially as found in the works of Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel. Consider Novalis’s 1799 work Christianity or Europe:

 

Those were beautiful, magnificent times, when Europe was a Christian land, when one Christianity dwelled on this civilized continent, and when one common interest joined the most distant provinces of this vast spiritual empire without great worldly possessions one sovereign governed and unified the great political force. Immediately under him stood one enormous guild, open to all, executing his every wish and zealously striving to consolidated his beneficent power. Every member of this society was honored everywhere. If the common people sought from their clergyman comfort or help, protection or advice, gladly caring for his various needs in return, he also gained protection, respect and audience from his superiors. Everyone saw these elect men, armed with miraculous powers, as the children of heaven, whose mere presence and affection dispensed all kinds of blessings. Childlike faith bound the people to their teachings. How happily everyone could complete their earthly labors, since these holy men had safeguarded them a future life, forgave every sin, explained and erased every blackspot in this life. They were the experienced pilots on the great uncharted seas, in whose shelter one could scorn all storms, and whom one could trust to reach and land safely on the shores of the real paternal world.The wildest and most voracious appetites had to yield with honor and obedience to their words. Peace emanated from them. They preached nothing but love for the holy, beautiful lady of Christianity who, endowed with divine power, was ready to rescue every believer from the most terrible dangers.[3]

But it is important to note that Savarkar was no romanticist. What Savarkar did was that he took the Romantic idea of nationalism bereft of its modern and aesthetical sensibility. Thus while Savarkar’s work smacks of the unacknowledged borrowings from Novalis and Schlegel on the Romantic idea of nationalism, he most certainly cannot be compared to either of them. For Novalis and Schlegel the ideas of beauty and liberty stood central to their works. For them the political state had to be formed around the idea of beauty. The European Romantics wanted a unity of politics, identity and religion. Savarkar created the absolute identity between politics and racial-religion. What he did was that merely politicized in the right-wing sense, religious prejudices, and transformed these into the ideology of racial superiority.  But what he primarily did was he feudalized Indian nationhood—in fact feudalized it in a very Catholic Church type (and thus papal type) borrowed from feudal Europe. Thus what he did was transform feudal Europe’s idea of Christendom into the idea of Hindudom. Strictly speaking Hindudom is a total fiction. It has never existed, just as no “Hindu Church” ever existed. Savarkar continuously talked in Essentials of Hindutva of a “Buddhist Church”.  What Savarkar did was that he created a fantasy of “Hindutva” borrowed totally from the lens of feudal Europe. What Golwalkar and the RSS did was transform this fantasy into a phantasmagoria. Hindutva since Golwalkar was possessed by the spirits of the long dead. And just as commodities seized by these spirits (as in Marx’s Capital) began to dance, so too Hindutva since the late 1930s did their ghostly dancing. See one concrete fascistic ghost dancing:

 

Hinduism, once, used to extend over what is now Afghanistan, over Java, over Cambodia. Powerful Hindu India could reconquer these lands and give them back the pride of their Indian civilization. She could make Greater India once more a cultural reality, and a political one too….She could teach the fallen Aryans  of the West the meaning of their forgotten paganism; she could rebuild the cults of Nature, the cults of Youth and Strength, wherever they have been destroyed; she could achieve on a world-scale what Emperor Julian tried to do. And the victorious Hindus could erect a statue to Julian, somewhere in conquered Europe, on the border of the sea; a statue with an inscription, both in Sanskrit and in Greek: What thou hast dreamt, we have achieved.[4]

 

It must be noted that the above quote indicates imperialist ideas of Indian nationhood. For the Indian fascists, for its very existence, one must expand one’s national territories. The Nazis had talked of Lebensraum or “living space”. What one needs to do is to relate these imperialist fantasies with the modern idea of democracy where the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity would guide citizenship. One should also emphasize how Ambedkar repeatedly claimed that this triad of democracy was not possible under Hinduism and that nationalism built on the idea of Hindutva would be disastrous.  If authentic democracy was not possible under Hinduism, under Hindutva the democratic ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity would soon be transformed into the fascist reality of infantry, artillery and cavalry.

            What one needs to emphasize is that the bourgeois state in its liberal stage claimed to be fascinated by liberty, though in actuality would not do anything about this.  Now in its fascist stage it is infantry, artillery and cavalry that would fascinate the bourgeois state. Once upon a time, the Indian liberals heralded the welfare state; now under the guidance of the Washington Consensus and the Breton Woods system of monetary management the fascist descendents of the liberals now unleash the warfare state that is being ready for not only external wars but basically civil war against Indian citizens.  And in this terrible evolution from liberty to artillery, the liberals would be dumbfounded. This is because their own aims of creating a welfare state, they could only preach and never practice. It is also because the Indian liberals were scared to even implement the basics of the programme of the Indian freedom movement. They thought that they would take refuge in the state, instead of going to the masses. But the Home Minister Amit Shah under whose personal supervision the CAA has been enacted will not allow them refuge in the state. This is because he wants to create a exodus of refugees fleeing the nation. For him “Hindu Raj” is the final goal. The CAA and the NRC is the final solution.   

“If Hindu Raj becomes a fact”, so Ambedkar so famously said then “it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country”.[5] The problem is that Hindu raj has become a reality and we are without doubts facing calamity. Why is this calamity? It is calamity because democracy which the people of India so hard fought has now been out on the altar of the destruction of reason and humanity.

            That is why we say that the Citizen’s Amendment Act is a mere ruse which in actuality is the Constitution Amendment Act or the Destruction of Constitution Act. The core of the Indian Constitution is the assertion of democracy especially the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. And without doubts it has been the genius of Ambedkar to reflect these principles as well as to synthesize these. Now it is well known that equality and liberty have been having a tense relation and both the liberals and the 20th century socialists could not harmonize these.

            Etienne Balibar Masses, Classes, Ideas mentions this tension and says that one needs to invent the idea of “equa-liberty”.[6]  And it was Ambedkar who in his States and Minorities (some would say that this fantastic document is the philosophical basis if the Indian Constitution). Suspension of this radical idea of democracy where human freedom is its essence is that of the imagined “Race Spirit” searching for war with other imagined races. What this Act will do is that it will absolutely destroy the very idea of citizenship and bring in the idea of caste and re-order the caste system in new fascist lines. This is what caste looked like earlier:  

 

 

1.      Caste looked like enclosed class reified as a closed clan system with its parasitical bureaucratic system with its “clannish aloofness”.[7]  It is an “enclosed class” (from Ambedkar’s Castes in India) and as “warring gangs” (from his Annihilation of Caste). And as “warring gangs” and also as “semi-barbarian, semi-civilized communities” (to recall Marx)[8], the caste system manifests itself as a clan system, creating the structures of extreme hierarchy and the ideology of rank worship. Rank worship is the essence of the caste system. The totem of purity and the taboo of pollution rule its ideological guidelines, whilst economic and cultural stagnation are its two main pillars. The entire system of caste is based on “gradation of castes forming an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt”[9]. What is important is that in this site of closure and hierarchy one heralds the principles of graded inequality (where various labouring- subaltern castes are unable to recognize their exploiter, but are themselves graded within themselves unequally) and division of labourers (where within the proletariat class  there is a marked internal division based on the ideology of caste-hierarchy)—which are recognized as the main markers of caste society—now are mobilized by fascism. Fascist politics perfects these principles of graded inequality and division of labourers. But it also perfects the principle of the castrated male who is bent on creating riots and wars.

2.        The second site is that caste appears as a form of racism, albeit of the South Asian variety, where the upper castes are understood as being of higher biological stock and the lower ones considered as inferior. For the India right-wing, this idea of caste as race forms the leitmotiv of its fascist politics. Both V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS respectively based their right-wing politics on the idea of race and racial superiority. What we get now is the castrated male suffering from a form of racial superiority. I thereby claim that not only is it a peculiar system of class—or reified and ossified classes based on the ontology of segregation—but it is also equivalent to race in the South Asian sense. “Varna”, one must insist, means “colour”, and social classifications and stratification are according to race-inspired markers. Whether varna, as it appeared in Vedic literature, implied the ‘race’ perception of the early Vedic Indo-Iranian warrior tribes’ disdain for the dark skinned dasas and mlecchas of the Gangentic plain is debatable. But with the fusion of the Vedic fetishes with the fascist imagination since the 1920s the cocktail that we are making is only going to be a deadly one. As I said earlier on the Nazis were fond of Vedic literature, Himmler (as we noted earlier) was an avid reader of early Hinduism and had with him a leather bound version of the Gita. Caste, as we know it, has to be seen as a form of racism and casteism and its contemporary incarnation of communal form of racism. And that is why we insist again that casteism (at least in its modern bourgeois avtar) is equivalent to racism. And it is in this double-bind of class and race that we re-imagine caste and its process of its economic base of stratification, clannishness and fragmentation; and its ideological superstructure of superstition and rituals, whereby the upper caste elites govern through this very strange type of power and control. And if one wants to understand the basic classes in India, if one has to re-imagine the proletariat, one has to actively confront this very strange and uncanny apparatus. The uncanny (das Unheimlich), as we know from Freud is the feeling of dread and terror (1990). And since the fascist RSS has classified the Muslims in the same caste-like hierarchical manner, the importance of understanding and annihilating this uncanny and dreadful system is of extreme importance. 

3.      The last site is of neurosis-psychosis which creates cultural and political schizophrenia and the creation of the ideology of neurosis-psychosis and cultural and political schizophrenia. This form of cultural illness and the ideological superstructure which caste creates is unable to generate critical thinking and a democratic culture. The main thing that this new form of cultural illness does is that it breeds the contempt of other social groups. The creation of authoritarian fascist politics is an essential part of neurosis-psychosis. I am here bringing in the psychoanalytic concepts of neurosis and psychosis and then I am claiming that in late capitalism, neurosis (as the eternal recurrence of the self-same trauma) and psychosis (as the complete withdrawal from reality) reaches a new stage that I call “neurosis-psychosis”. In early capitalism neurosis and psychosis were separate phenomena. In late capitalism dictated by finance capitalism, we see a new stage of mental illness called “neurosis-psychosis”. Caste in this age of late capitalism perfects this strange phenomena called “neurosis-psychosis”. Like the neurotic return of the self-same trauma, caste is negated only to return once again. Marx’s celebrated statement that the Indian “self-sufficient communities that constantly reproduce themselves in the same form, and when accidently destroyed, spring up again on the spot and with the same name”[10] is understood in this neurotic understanding of caste. The idea of the caste system as “a sort of equilibrium, resulting from a general repulsion and constitutional exclusiveness, resulting between all its members”[11] fits in Marx’s theory of alienation, whilst the idea of the “wild aimless, unbounded forces of destruction”[12], fits in the theory of “neurosis-psychosis”.

 

Now with the state shedding of all pretensions of democracy and taking lines of fascist exclusion with their detention camps and attacks on universities it will take a form which would be totally disastrous. One will have to act and not pretend that nothing will happen. It is in this sense that we recall Martin Niemoller’s anti-fascist poem that he wrote in Nazi Germany, First they Came….:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

One should learn from history. When in 1918 a distant parent of Covid-19 entered the scene of history calling itself the “Spanish flu”, the Bolsheviks did not go along with the liberals and proto-fascists saving so-called “humanity” from this dreaded flu. It is very simple. Flu, like sickness in general, is woven in the belly of the capitalist mode of production. When the patient Monsieur Capital is terminally sick, and in this sickness creates riots, wars and diseases, there is no use sanitizing ourselves, washing our hands endlessly, wishing that this terrible Monsieur does not come close to us.  For Monsieur Capital is not merely close to all of us, he is sitting on our heads, his hands are in our pockets and if we do not throw Monsieur Capital away, he will go beyond sitting on our heads with his hands merely in our pockets.  

 



[1]B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Reply to the Mahatma’, in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.319.

[2]  See Shamsul Islam, Golwalkar’s We our Nation Defined. A Critique with the Full Text of the Book (New Delhi: Pharos Media, 2006), p. 14

[3]  Novalis, ‘Christianity or Europe. A Fragment’, in The Early Political Writings of the German Romantics, ed. Frederick C. Beiser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 61-2.

[4] Savitri Devi, Warning to the Hindus (Calcutta: Hindu Mission, 1939), p. 142. Also see my ‘In Defence of Marxism’, in Critique, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2012.

[5] B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of of India, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Writings and Speeches, Vol. 8 (Bombay Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1990), p. 358.

[6] Etienne Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas. Studies on Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx, trans. James Swenson (New York and London, Routledge, 1994), pp. XII, XIII.

[7]See his The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in Historical Outline (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 2000), p. 50.

[8] Karl Marx, ‘The British Rule in India’, p. 40.

[9] See B.R. Ambedkar, ‘The Political Rights of the Depressed Classes’, in Thus Spoke Ambedkar. Vol. I. A Stake in the Nation,  p. 21.

[10] Karl Marx Capital, Vol. I, p. 338-9

[11] Karl Marx, ‘The Future Results of the British Rule in India’, in On Colonialism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 81.

[12] Karl Marx, ‘The British Rule in India’, p.41.