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South Asia

An Indian Politician Has Warned of the ‘Early Signs’ of Fascism in Her Country

Mahua Moitra’s speech against India’s rising authoritarianism and intolerance in India is unlikely to turn the tide against extremism in the country.

Mahua Moitra, a member of India's Lok Sabha or lower parliamentary house, from the All India Trinamool Congress Party. (Image Credit: Parliament of India)
Mahua Moitra, a member of India's Lok Sabha or lower parliamentary house, from the All India Trinamool Congress Party. (Image Credit: Parliament of India)

A newly-elected parliamentarian gave an impassioned address before the lower house of the Indian parliament on Tuesday on the creeping “fascism” in her country. The speech has garnered praise from India’s embattled liberals, but with the secular opposition in disarray, its broader political impact is likely to be marginal.

In her speech on Tuesday, Mahua Moitra—a member of a regional opposition party, the Trinamool Congress Party or TMC—warned: “If only you would open your eyes, you would see that there are signs everywhere that this country is being torn apart.”

Inspired by a poster once sold at the U.S. Holocaust Museum gift shop on the warning signs of fascism (contrary to the claims of many, it was never officially on display there), Moitra listed seven ways in which she believes India is taking an authoritarian turn:

  1. “There is a powerful and continuing nationalism that is searing into our national fabric. It is superficial. It is xenophobic. It is a lust to divide. It is not a desire to unite.”
  2. Religion and government are now intertwined in this country.”
  3. “There is a resounding disdain for human rights that is permeating every level of government.”
    • Moitra added: “People who have lived in this country for fifty years are having to show a piece of paper to prove that they are Indian in a country where ministers cannot produce degrees to show that they graduated from college. You expect dispossessed poor people to show papers, to show that they belong to this country.”
  4. “There is an unimaginable subjugation and controlling of mass media today. Five of the largest news media organizations in India are today either indirectly controlled or indirectly indebted to one man in this country [i.e. Prime Minister Narendra Modi]. TV channels spend a majority of air time broadcasting propaganda for the ruling party [i.e. the Bharatiya Janata Party].”
  5. “There is a complete disdain for intellectuals and the arts. There is a suppression of all dissent.” Moitra noted that “Funding is being cut for liberal [arts] education” and “secondary school textbooks are being manipulated and distorted in order to indoctrinate.”
  6. “New enemies are being created every day.”
    • “The lynching of citizens in broad daylight is being condoned—from Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan last year to Mr. Ansari in Jharkhand yesterday. The list is not stopping.”
    • “We have redefined what it means to be a citizen with the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, we are making sure that it is only one community that is the target of anti-immigration laws [i.e. the Muslims].”
  7. “There is an erosion of independence in our electoral system. The election commission is being used to transfer key officials.”

These are the very themes we’ve highlighted in our third podcast, which featured historian Audrey Truschke and journalist Rana Ayyub and discussed Modi’s project to create a “New India.” Truschke went into detail on the campaign by the BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, to obstruct and eventually eliminate the objective study of India’s history and replace it with an alternative infused with the Hindu nationalist ideology known as Hindutva. In particular, the BJP and RSS have targeted the premier liberal arts university in the country, the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

While Moitra’s speech has earned praise on social media and in some of the international press, it’s unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the ground. As Moitra herself noted, India’s largest media organizations are beholden to the BJP. Their focus has been to demonize the BJP’s political rivals and promote and uphold a myth of Modi as a great, transformative leader—despite the country’s underperforming economy.

Moreover, Moitra’s party, the TMC, is a regional party. And India presently lacks a national opposition party that can go toe-to-toe with the BJP. The Indian National Congress, which ruled India for its first three decades post-independence, is now a shell of its former self. It lacks the leadership and a narrative to resonate with a majority population that now favors a muscular Hindu nationalism.

A multiparty anti-BJP alliance may be what’s needed to fill the vacuum and provide a robust opposition to the Hindu nationalist party, which returned to power at the national level for the second consecutive time after this spring’s elections.

It seems as if a Muslim has been attacked or killed every day since the BJP’s victory in the recent general elections. “There is fear pervading everywhere,” Moitra says. She’s right. But with a diminished opposition and servile media, India’s embrace of a brutal majoritarian Hindu nationalism is only likely to harden.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News and host of The Pivot podcast. He's contributed to publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, and POLITICO Magazine, and has appeared on broadcast outlets such as Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio. Rafiq is also a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

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