Andre Beteille, well-known liberal and internationally reputed scholar, has become the latest liberal to endorse the BJP. He has suggested that too many terms in government by any one party is not good. Hence it would be good for India, apparently, if the BJP was voted to power.
More interestingly, if interesting is the proper word, Professor Beteille has said that the Westminster model of Parliamentary Democracy is a colonial hangover and may not be suited for India. This intervention is helpful, in a sense, because unlike a number of others, whose switch over to the fascists had been clouded by attempts to argue that they are really not fascists, and so on. Professor Beteille does not go into the nature of the BJP. He is making certain key comments which we need to understand.
First, we need to remember that the choice of Modi was not initiated by the RSS or the BJP. It was the ruling class which came forward. The biggest names in Indian capitalism, Anil Ambani, Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, all have declared faith in the Mighty Modi, superhero of contemporary Indian capitalism. Their major concerns are, how to expand the scope of the “free” market, how to reduce to literally bare minimum subsistence levels the share of labour in the GDP; and how to smash through stupid things like environmental protectionism.
In a developing country, so goes the rhetoric, such laws, such coddling and pampering of labour, are all harmful. That Modi lives up to these expectations is by now well established. The Congress, under stalwarts like Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, or his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee, was no friend of labour and environment. But despite its efforts it could not do enough at the service of capital. Moreover, in attempting to enrich capital, it got caught in several cases of corruption. And so, Modi’s role in 2002 could be redesignated as an aberration and he could be promoted as a guru of development.
What Modi’s development model means should be well understood by all working people. When the Central Government set up the new Pay Commission to look into the pay scale structure of Central Government employees, Modi opposed it. His grounds were clinically precise. If the Union Government employees’ pays are raised, State Government employees start demanding raises. If they get it, private sector employees also expect a raise. This uncalled for wage rise expectation has to be opposed.
The Modi model of development should also be understood by looking at the deaths of RTI activists in Gujarat. The biggest number of RTI activists killed or assaulted anywhere in India are the Gujarat activists. Environment related RTIs are routinely tossed into the waste basket, if at all possible. In other words, the “strong man” who sat silent and under whose rule the pogrom of 2002 took place, is dynamic in flouting environmental laws and in helping to put down the rights of workers. But the full agenda even of India’s capitalists seemingly cannot be met by the parliamentary path.
The Indian parliament is too complex. The lower House has 543 seats. The Upper House has a lesser number, but elected from each State Assembly. As a result, getting a solid majority in both Houses is a tedious, long term, and in today’s political situation, with so many caste, region and ethnicity based parties, almost impossible job. So the ruling class needs a different solution.
Professor Beteille is coy about the alternative. But there are basically three alternatives, which eventually resolve themselves into two. One can shift to a US style imperial presidency. One can shift more power to the bureaucracy. And one can have an open fascist rule, when an initial phase will see the domination of an enraged petty bourgeoisie which will use mass violence “from below” (backed by state assistance from above), but when, afterwards, the matter will resolve into a heavy bureaucratic rule, albeit a new bureaucracy into which the upper echelons of the fascists have been absorbed, and one that will therefore be profoundly infused by the specific dynamics of the fascist movement of India – communalism, upper caste domination, and the lot.
It is also worth remembering that the argument about the Westminster model being a colonial hangover is not novel, not an invention of Professor Beteille. Anthony Elenjimittan, a Christian convert to the RSS outlook, explained back in the 1940s: “The RSS from the very inception of the movement hoisted Bhagva flag, Dharma Chakra and Satya Meva Jayte as their symbols, and have grown around these patriotic ideals. Hence, the RSS youth, given more favourable circumstances can be in India what was Hitler youth in Germany, fascist youth in Italy. If discipline, organised centralism and organic collective consciousness means fascism, then the RSS is not ashamed to be called fascist. The silly idea that fascism and totalitarianism are evils and parliamentarism and Anglo-Indian types of democracy are holy, should be got rid of from our minds ….” (The Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj, 1951, pp.197).
We are confident that Professor Beteille is not advancing a Marxist critique of the limitations of bourgeois democracy, for then he would have talked about the experience of the early Soviets and councils in other countries, and he would certainly not have called for a support to the BJP.
So, though Modi represents a terribly anti-labour, anti-poor, anti-environment, and also anti-Dalit option, Beteille has no hesitation endorsing him. One needs to argue, in addition to what has been said above, that this represents the necessary culmination of all those who in the name of the universal reject preferential action for the most oppressed and exploited. Beteille opposed the decision to extend reservations to OBCs, arguing that “We can either move forward and create centres of academic excellence or go along with the demands of identity politics based on caste and community, but we cannot do both.”
But obviously, he sees no problem in endorsing Modi, whose rhetoric of Indian nationalism is embedded in a fierce divisiveness, targeting both Muslims and lower castes and adivasis. Gujarat under Modi was the country’s fifth highest in terms of atrocity cases against dalits.
According to an article by Yoginder Sikand in INSAF bulletin, Gujarat had at least 400,000 child labourers, the bulk of them dalits and adivasis. But Prof Beteille, believing that caste was an issue whipped up by the media for elections; saw no problem in endorsing Modi. What all this shows, ultimately, is that liberalism, including the liberal intellectual, and are poor fighters against fascism.
The economic bonds between liberalism and fascism prove stronger than the fine nuances of political theory. Prof. Beteille would like rotation, so that occasionally the BJP too could come to power. If the fascists, in power, in a system that is no longer the colonial Westminster model but a brand new bureaucratic Presidential model, refuse to give up power, the liberal will sometimes shed pious tears, at other times find why even this is good for the nation “as a whole”, even though some marginal groups like workers, poor peasants, dalits, adivasis, people of minority religion, are a bit inconveniences, perhaps all the way to prisons or worse. Not by relying on liberal lesser evils, but by building working class alternative with unity of all the oppressed, can we resist fascism.