Between Neoliberals And Neofascists: The Case Of India – OpEd


The American activist and media critic, Norman Solomon, made me think along these lines: do we see India’s opposition parties in general, the Indian National Congress (INC), in particular, on the neoliberal side while placing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led NDA on the neofascist side? This is the distinction Norman Solomon applies to the Democrats under the leadership of Joe Biden as opposed to the Republican Party under someone like Donald Trump. 

To an article titled, “Leftists, don’t gaslight yourselves: It’s time to unite against the fascist Republicans,” Norman Solomon adds the subheading: “Think the Democrats are disappointing? You’re right. But that’s no excuse for allowing actual fascists to win.” He gives the example of France, where the leftist voters voted for Macron rather than allow the “neofascist challenger Marine Le Pen” to take power. For Solomon, the “choice is binary: neoliberalism or neofascism.” The underlying point is that a neoliberal regime gives progressive, left-leaning people a chance to promote meaningful causes that might benefit the public. This is not possible with the neofascists. As Norman Solomon puts it:

“Abortion rights, judicial appointments, climate, environmental protection, taxation, racial justice, voting rights, labor rights, LGBTQ rights, misogyny and so many other basic matters are on the line. Yes, the Democrats are often anemic on such issues. At the same time, the Republicans are much worse. And their agenda now includes nothing less than destroying electoral democracy.” (my emphasis)

In the Indian context, when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister of India (2004-2014), there is no doubt that there was freedom of expression to a degree that cannot be remotely compared to what it is now under the Modi regime. There were also many other freedoms that people generally enjoyed without being crushed under the boots of power. I don’t have much to say about the bourgeois Indian left-leaning ‘progressives’. Whatever little I saw of them made it evident that they were abusive of the freedom that they enjoyed when the Indian National Congress (INC) led UPA was in power. In fact, to an extent I credit them with the rise of Narendra Modi. With their culture of habitually defying public authority, often without basis, they created a visible chaos in the system which scared the voters enough to bring a strongman such as Modi to power to offset potential anarchy. 

The problem with the Indian left is that they are first and foremost unclear about their goals. First: you can’t be a beneficiary of the state and be anti-state in your politics. Second: the very idea of liberal democracy is that we fight for change through legal and political means available at one’s disposal. Within the parameters defined by the Indian Constitution, one can also protest to achieve one’s goals. A revolution however is nearly impossible. The very existence of the liberal democratic state is opposed to the idea of a revolution. What can at best be possible are movements for social change. India’s so-called left needs to make an existential choice, whether they can live with a liberal democracy and work to preserve it or vainly indulge in the bourgeois fantasy of a revolution.

The neoliberalism of the INC is undoubtedly the binary opposite of the BJP which is neofascist in character. It’s amazing how the Modi-led BJP is able to use organizations such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to hound the opposition, while the corruption of the ruling party is conveniently ignored. I’m not saying that the corruption of the opposition should be ignored. Let them be prosecuted. But why is that the same logic does not apply to the BJP? In fact, every opposition party member who is corrupt and afraid of getting prosecuted is ready to jump on the Modi bandwagon, only to save their skins. 

When common people lose faith in the system, there comes a point when they are determined to take the law into their hands, thus making life unlivable for everyone. This is what has been gradually happening in India under the neofascist Modi government. Pervasive lawlessness, unprecedented in independent India, is the order of the day. This is bound to result in violence. There will be victims among those who preferred silence because they thought it was the right thing to do. Violence is not always physical; what is worse is psychological violence. 

Human relationships go to the dogs in a tyranny. People naturally begin to distrust one another. The atmosphere of distrust will have a terrible impact on personal lives too. Where opportunism becomes the norm, cheating on one another is the logical outcome. A dishonest and dangerous government is bound to be reflected in a dishonest and dangerous society. Those who think that remaining silent or blindly supporting a neofascist government is the right thing to do, sadly for them the chickens are coming home to roost.

I can give an example from my personal life. I worked as a professor at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad from 2009 to 2022. This is for the first time in the history of independent India that certain members of a student organization called the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), student wing of the BJP, are able to decide who the heads of academic institutions will be. Apparently, one does not need scholarship or administrative skills to reach these positions. One also does not have to go through the selection process which involves being rigorously interviewed by a panel of experts with knowledge of academic leadership and what it involves for the teaching and student community. Those processes have more or less been rendered to meaningless and ineffectual tokenisms. 

The same specific members from the ABVP, who de facto select the Vice-Chancellors, are able to provide the necessary political backing to heads of institutions to do whatever they like as long as it does not come into conflict with the party in power. This just means that once you declare your unwavering loyalty to the party in power, you are allowed to play God within the institution and treat people like disposable commodities. I believe that this is the case with almost all central universities in India. 

I have not seen 100 percent corruption in my entire life except now. Not only Vice-Chancellors, but also teachers in universities are recruited, based on their direct or indirect loyalty to the Modi government, apart from the mandatory bribe collected for the position. We only have to imagine the state of public universities with Vice-Chancellors and teachers without basic integrity and the impact it is going to have on generations of students. This kind of lawlessness usually precedes a civil war or a state of perennial unrest where violence is completely normalized. 

The Modi narrative of India with a cult-like character to it is a procrustean bed leaving no scope for any individual or system to function on its own. Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian (1982) is a fair analogy of what I am talking about. It has to be the Modi way or the highway; in fact, the highway has also been reduced to the Modi way. So, the idiom is the Modi way or the way of Modi.  Same difference. You just have to sing songs in praise of the way and you basically get to do whatever you like. Heads of institutions and organizations, certain members of the executive and the judiciary, have learnt to do that because it means you get to wield power without accountability. As a subscriber to the Modi way, the Vice-Chancellor who removed me from service, had effectively demonstrated that he could violate the law with impunity because he had opted to go the highway, sorry, the higher way aka the Modi way. You don’t have to believe in the Modi way. You just have to pretend to be seriously engrossed in prayer while the bhajans are going on. A lot of people have been doing that in fact.

As much as I am opposed to the neoliberal policies of the INC led UPA government, I think it is important to oppose neofascism in all its manifestations. Some experts have already pointed out that the BJP is not completely sure of a victory. This can be seen in the way they have been projecting an overwhelming victory for themselves. If there is one thing that a person in power is afraid of losing, it is his or her position of power. Donald Trump is the best example of a man who nearly went crazy when he lost power. Same would be the case with PM Modi. Megalomania comes with a heavy price. Fortunately, tremendous opposition among the masses is slowly building up to the Narendra Modi-centered-brand-of-politics, which is a euphemism for neofascism. 

With the Modi-government’s agenda of destroying electoral democracy, do you still think the opposition parties led by the INC are disappointing? You’re right. But that’s no excuse for allowing actual Modi-led-BJP neofascists to win.

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is an independent scholar who, until December 2022, was a professor at The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, India. He was “removed from service” for making allegations of corruption against an unscrupulous university administration and is currently challenging his dismissal in the court of law.

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