Professor Radhika Desai (Radhika.Desai@umanitoba.ca) is with the Department of
Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.
This essay reconstructs Narendra Modi’s path to power.
The story of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise is explained
in terms of its ability to gain the support of the
“provincial propertied classes” in certain states, mainly in
northern and western India. The immediate background
to the 2014 elections and the making of the nexus
between the capitalist classes and Modi’s BJP is
recounted. The essay also looks at the extent and limits
of Modi’s electoral achievement and concludes with
reflections on the possibilities of resistance.
History never repeats itself exactly. So, though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a creation of India’s own fascist movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)1 – won a majority in the 2014 elections, though its leader is more an RSS product than any other leader hitherto, and though he was backed by the capitalist class with a unity
and enthusiasm unprecedented in history, it would be inaccurate to say that a fascist government has taken offi ce in New Delhi. It is not that 2010s India is not 1930s Germany or 1920s Italy, nor that concepts can be stretched to meaninglessness. We just do not know as yet. If, as Nicos Poulantzas2 pointed out, a fascist state is, like a Bonapartist one or a military dictatorship, an exceptional form of capitalist state, what distinguishes it
from the other two is that it is able to supplement state power with its own autonomous political force – such as the fascist or Nazi movements or the RSS – in the service of bourgeois interests. Whether the Modi government crosses the bounds of constitutionality or the norms of bourgeois rule – which in India, with its everyday police brutality, judicial malfeasance and executive and legislative corruption, are admittedly rather wide in any case – to become an exceptional state, and whether it supplants or supplements state force with Sangh parivar goons, and does so in ways that assert their autonomy from its
capitalist backers remains to be seen. Events may (is one being too hopeful?) unfold in ways that sidestep these possibilities. That the new government contains these possibilities is not in doubt. Its character and path to power evince similarities to fascism strong enough that it would be a dereliction of intellectual duty not to consider them in trying to determine what it means and portends.
Similarities to Fascism
Not only is the BJP part of the cadre-based Hindu-supremacist Sangh parivar which also has a mass base; cults of personality and “decisionism”3 surround Modi. RSS cadres have campaigned for Modi on a scale and with zeal they never showed any other BJP leader.4 Moreover, as Ian Kershaw reminds us, a fascist movement or party “can gain power only if the traditional elites prove incapable of controlling the mechanisms of rule, and if they are ultimately prepared to help engineer a fascist takeover and collaborate in fascist rule”. Not only has the Indian capitalist class felt frustrated in attempting to “control the mechanisms of rule” via United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments, the chief reason it backed Modi with such gusto and munifi cence is that it expects him to restore that control.5 Furthermore, ostensibly Indian capitalists back Modi for his “decisive” leadership style and good governance, not his roots in the RSS or the exceptional mechanisms of rule, such as the ability to organise violence on a truly grand scale
and extreme centralisation of government power bypassing the civil service and even the party, whose efficacy he demonstrated in Gujarat.
(for the full article see EPW Economic & Political Weekly, August 30, 2014, vol xlix, no 35, pp. 48-58)