NEW DELHI: Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist of repute examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and other countries. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each that have been come to be accepted over the past decade as milestones defining a nation’s movement towards fascism.

The Citizen applies the 14 characterIstics to the current situation in India, looking at the facts on the ground.

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

There has been a sharp spike in assertive nationalism, with flags, slogans ---a mix of ‘bharat ma’ with ‘har har mahadev’ that have become part of the Indian landscape. The saffron religious flag, the BJP flag, and the national tricolour adorn most of the ruling party meets, in a mix that clearly seeks to obliterate the difference with time.

The Vice President of India, Hamid Ansari was dragged into a controversy by Hindutva organisations for ‘not saluting’ the Indian national flag at the Republic Day parade with photographs of the event being circulated rapidly over the social media. The response was ugly and vicious, with the Vice President being referred to as a ‘jihadi’ and ‘anti national’. The controversy subsided after his office explained that he was not required, as per the protocol, to salute the flag but like the rest stand at attention as the President of India was taking the salute. Significantly the clarification had to come from the VP’s office and not from the government that remained silent for 24 hours while the vicious propaganda sought to highlight the anti national mindset of the minorities, starting with the VP.

The neo-nationalists have also adopted Yoga as a national symbol, thereby seeking to highlight the “natural” connection between Hinduism and nationalism. Rajpath, a road associated till date with the democratic Republic Day parade was taken over by for a mammoth exercise of Yoga asanas with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lead. The same was celebrated through similar functions in many state capitals where the BJP is in power, and by the party where it is not. A not-so-subtle attempt to send out the message that this event was not being supported by the Muslims came through a tweet flashed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak leader Ram Madhav against the Vice President again maintaining that he had not attended the function. He withdrew this tweet but again not before wide comment against the VP and Muslims for being ‘anti national’ had consumed the social media. Again it was explained by the VPs office that as per the protocol he could not attend functions unless he was invited,and he had not been invited for Yoga Day.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

Human rights have been the worst casualty of the past 18 or more months. The targeted assassinations of rationalists and scholike M.M.Kalburgi, Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare has drawn widespread condemnation from civil society, but not a word of retribution from the ruling dispensation. Instead individuals belonging to the far right affiliates of the RSS have supported the assassinations by basically questioning the motives of the scholars leading another right wing outfit, Shiv Sena to lay out yet another yardstick for operations while attacking those responsible for the murders. In its mouthpiece the Shiv Sena said, “Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iraq have for long been witness to such killings. If elimination of dissidents is carried out in the country in the name of ‘Hindutva’, then India will forfeit its right to criticise excesses perpetrated by the Taliban.” The article further went on to condemn the “venomous language” used by right-wing outfits to target such scholars-thinkers and remarked that “killing old and unarmed individuals” ought to be seen as a “defeat of the Bhagwat ‘dharma’ and the Hindu religion.”

“It is an act of cowardice. The Hindu religion says that those without weapons should not be attacked,” said the article.

And then in a clear message pointing out where such action was justifiable, the article urged the Hindu radicals to divert their angst against persons like Hafeez Sayed in Pakistan and the Owaisi brothers in Andhra Pradesh.

A Muslim techie in Pune was lynched by a mob while going home from prayers last year shortly after the government had come to power at the centre. More recently a Muslim man was dragged out of his home in Dadri and beaten to death by a mob responding to false rumours that he had eaten beef. These kind of incidents---attacks on unsuspecting persons for violating whatever code of conduct the right wing organisations are imposing---are increasing in frequency accompanied by vitriolic speeches and threats by senior leaders of the affiliate organisations, and often from the ruling BJP government itself. For instance the statements by the Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma aimed at arousing divisive passions, one of these actually speaking of “cultural cleansing.” He said to the media, "We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored — be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over years."

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

This has, of course, been part of the communal narrative ever since, and before, Independence. But under the government now the effort seems to have acquired a new legitimacy, with systematic efforts to polarise along religious lines. The Muzaffarnagar violence during the Lok Sabha elections last year divided the Jats and the Muslims, perhaps permanently, with the villages bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of Muslims were displaced as they ran for fear of their lives in a horrific spurt of violence that earned considerable space in the foreign media as well.

Since then at every turn, the Muslim is attacked with the new and aggressive ‘beef eating’ stereotype being added to the others of ‘jihad’ and ‘terrorism.’ This is ongoing with communal violence becoming the norm rather than the exception in several states although Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra seem to be leading the campaign more successfully than others.The ‘love jihad’ campaign that preceded the current ‘beef eating’ campaign was also directed at what the right wing rumour machinery claimed at curtailing the “urges” of the Muslim youth who were “abducting” Hindu girls in large numbers.

The Christians have also been targeted with a rash of attacks on churches and priests. The ghar wapsi’ program launched by the Hindutva affiliates across Uttar Pradesh in particular was directed at both the Muslims and the Christians, effectively showcasing them as aggressive votaries of conversion, taking hapless villagers and making them leave their Hindu faith for these religions.

Others who are in the line of fire---apart from the Dalits who remain on the periphery of tolerance---are the secualarists, the liberals and the Left. The Congress party has supported the right wing agenda during its years in government, by large scale arrests of minority youths in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh after every ‘terror attack’ and in joining the right wing outfits to demolish the Left liberals across the country.

This is currently an aggressive campaign, being run relentlessly through India during, before and after each election.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

The military in India has always received a disproportionate amount of government funding, at great and critical cost to the social sectors that remain at the bottom of the scale. The BJP government has also slashed the health and education budgets as have others before them.

The military is glamourised, in fact more than that, war and conflict is projected as a historical achievement and a desired end. The celebration of the 1965 war by the state was a case in point. As is the continuous ruling dispensations threat to go to war with Pakistan, teach the neighbouring country “a lesson” as the Indian military is bigger and better than any other.

However, given the tall promises to the military at the time of the elections the government has not been able to deliver. The One Ran One Pension scheme has been a Waterloo of sorts and this has cost it its image amongst the one constituency the RSS and BJP had wanted to pump up. However, there is a natural affinity between the two that ensures that this story is not over.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

This is work in progress but being met with stout resistance from the feminist groups and the liberals. A ‘pink chadhi’ campaign against a votary of sexism in Karnataka had under the last government embarrassed and humiliated Pramod Muthalik, heading an affiliate organisationSri Ram Sena in Karnataka. He and his supporters had entered pubs at the time and beaten up women. The anger was sufficient to ensure that the BJP was unable to field him as a candidate in the last Lok Sabha elections.

However, the traditional role of women is being over-emphasised, a position however, taken by almost all political parties except for the Left. The far right of course, believes in aggressive advocacy with the ‘right to choice’ of the woman being attacked in the virulent ‘love jihad’ campaign in which all the major Hindutva outfits had participated, or at least openly supported.

Congress and other regional party leaders are not far behind the BJP when it comes to sexist comments and anti-women behaviour. If a Goa BJP leader could insist from the rooftops that women should not wear bikinis, a Congress lawmaker from West Bengal Trinamool Congress leader was not far behind in almost justifying rape as “revenge.”

Significantly the anti-women campaign in India has been justified by the political class and is in place as a tool of feminism that just needs to be ratcheted up, through a more orchestrated and high decibel campaign, at any time of the extreme right’s choosing.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

Control of the mass media was started during the last ten years, and is now more systematic and comprehensive. In India it is still not effected through direct laws but indirectly, with government point persons exercising control over the media corporates who then ensure that news is fitted into the agreed-on glove, and does not spill out.

However, mobile phone services, internet facilities are snapped with more regularity than before at the first signs of trouble. This practice has moved out of the border states, the north east and more so Jammu and Kashmir where it has been prevalent, into even Gujarat and more recently Punjab. The Gujarat government cut off the above services during the Hardik Patel agitation, resorting to this several times during the weeks long agitation. Similarly in Punjab the protests across the state has made the state government break internet and mobile contact as well.

Journalists are attacked by name in the social media for writing against the government. In the states they are beaten up, and on several occasion killed by warring groups.

(Tomorrow Part 2)