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Names in India's Far-Right Games

Names in India's Far-Right Games

By J. Sri Raman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Names, as our mentors taught us all in the media, make news. What kind of news does Lal Krishna Advani make when India's far right names him as its candidate for the office of prime minister?

The answer, perhaps, lies in another name, currently being much more widely mentioned in the country's political discourse: Narendra Modi, who needs no introduction to readers of these columns. The chief minister of India's State of Gujarat, who presided over the grisly anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002, is finding far more frequent mention in the foreign media, too, these days.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced Advani as its nominee for the most powerful office in this Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, what struck observers most was the political context. The BJP, the political front of the "parivar" (as the far-right "family" calls itself), made the announcement right in the middle of a State-level Assembly election in Modi's Gujarat.

The intriguing move elicited a flurry of interpretations. Most of these have seen in the timing a clear attempt by the party's national-level leadership to tame Modi. The announcement has been seen as an answer to Modi's fans projecting him as a prime minister in the making. It has also been seen as a rebuff to sections in the "parivar" that want the party's reins to be placed in the hands of someone like Modi, who has never seen any need to restrain fascist rampages in Gujarat or elsewhere. Modi has been a favorite of the farthest of India's far right ever since the carnage of five years ago.

His admirers say he has combined the propaganda of religious chauvinism with the politics of "development." Much more real and remarkable, however, has been the way he has combined anti-minority violence with electoral "democracy." He and his administration not only connived at the carnage, with his police in particular conducting it by proxy for the "parivar," but also made political and electoral capital of it. Even while the fires were raging, he asked his party to prepare for an advanced Assembly election. The polarization of the people on religious lines paid him rich dividends and brought him a two-thirds majority in the Assembly.

"Repeat Gujarat in the rest of India" - that has been the refrain of the pro-Modi "parivar" ever since then. The slogan lost some of its sheen after it failed to win elections elsewhere. But the divide-and-rule formula of the fascist variety has had too many faithful subscribers for it to be abandoned. They are hoping Modi will work his magic once again and revive the mantra.

Modi's pogrom, it must be remembered, represented a menace not to the "rest of India" alone. He tried and succeeded in giving it an anti-Pakistan thrust as well. In rally after strident rally, at the peak of the pogrom, the "strongman" of Gujarat reviled the victims of brutal violence as the fifth column of the Islamic foe.

The pogrom, it must also be remembered, coincided with the massing of about a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers on the border, especially in Kashmir, in an "eyeball-to-eyeball" confrontation. The prospect of the confrontation degenerating into a nuclear conflict did not deter the hawks on either side - including, of course, Modi, whose flock chose this time to raise barbed-wire barriers between the Hindu and Muslim sections in Gujarat's towns and cities.

The massacre may be a memory today, though a searing one still for millions, but Modi's anti-minority offensive has never been suspended in the years since then. He has continued his campaign by denying justice to the victims and preventing a dignified return of those who fled the fascist hordes. He also extended the campaign to include an increasing number of what the media euphemistically calls "fake encounter killings" - or illegal executions of suspected "terrorists." In one of his recent election rallies, he has actually sought to defend one such execution as a patriotic duty performed very well indeed by his police.

Eighty-year-old Advani has not exactly been a model of moderate politics either, even by the fairly unexacting standards of the far right. For most of the past 17 years, in fact, he has reveled in the role and image of a warrior of a "Hindu right," the holy name given by the fascists to their political philosophy and camp. He acquired this image through a religious-chauvinist and revanchist movement that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, and led to a bloodbath across the country. The BJP took electoral advantage of that bloodbath, too, growing from a two-seat party in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India's Parliament) to the size and status of the main national opposition.

Advani played the same role in the BJP's ride to power in New Delhi in the late nineties. He rose to become the deputy prime minister by the time of the Gujarat carnage, and he used his powerful office to defend Modi to the utmost. That, however, was the highest he could rise. And it was his attempt to break through the political equivalent of a sound barrier that led to a disastrous move for image makeover.

Pundits agreed Advani's prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of the BJP, had made it to the top post because of a more balanced image. Even within his party, he was known as "the mask", which concealed or disguised the BJP's real face and made it more acceptable to power-sharing partners. Vajpayee's image survived the nuclear weapon tests of 1998 and the fratricide in Gujarat four years later, both of which took place under his prime ministership; and a wistful Advani made a belated effort to emulate the example. He did so on a visit to Pakistan last year, when he paid a tribute to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan. The statement failed to make a Vajpayee of Advani but only made him wilier than ever before. Matters were made worse for him when he returned home to a volley of protests against his alleged perfidy from within his party and the "parivar."

Ever since, Advani's main effort has been to reassure his political camp and constituency his heart continues to be in the far-right place. He has missed no opportunity or occasion to reassert his persisting loyalty to the fundamental and fascist principles of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the patriarch of the "parivar," which he joined at the age of 15. Despite the announcement of his name as the BJP's shadow prime minister, he has also been among the most ardent and outspoken supporters of Modi within the party and the "parivar."

By making Advani and Modi the names of its future, India's far right has only announced its intention to move farther right.


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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