Prof Dibyesh Anand is the head of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Westminster, London. He is the author of the monographs, Geopolitical exotica – Tibet in Western imagination; Hindu nationalism in India and the politics of fear.” He has spoken and published on varied topics including Tibet, China, China – India border dispute, Hindu nationalism in India, Islamophobia, conflict in Kashmir etc. He identifies as queer in personal and political terms. In an extensive conversation with Asian Lite’s Abhish K. Bose, he discusses many current issues. Twitter @ dibyeshanand
Excerpts from the interview
ABHISH K. BOSE: What is your take on secular democracy in India?
PROF. ANAND: Pay attention to the non-BJP parties. How many of them dare to call Hindutva what it is – fascism? Hardly any. Not even the constitutional Left parties, leave alone Congress. The moment there is mild criticism of majoritarianism in India in foreign countries, many Indian politicians speak of “non-interference”. Frankly, they are already ceding ground to the BJP. Very few defenders of secular democracy are vocal now. It is correct that Hitler initially used democratic institutions to enter into power and then subverted those very institutions.
ABHISH K. BOSE: If you were to counsel the opposition parties in India, what would have the most fundamental principles –do’s and don’ts- you present to them?
PROF. ANAND: Recognise the BJP for what it is. Recognise what is lethal about the BJP and do not emulate it. Work together, or differently, to expose BJP rather than pussyfoot around it or copy it. Mobilise the masses. Speak out. Speak up. Don’t only focus on elections. Do what the RSS did between 1950-80s. Work at the grassroots to transform significant parts of India. There is no shortcut to education and mobilisation.
ABHISH K. BOSE: What is your advice to the Indian media in the present context, with the history of European fascism as the framework of reference?
PROF. ANAND: Media is meant to be a watchdog of liberty and not a stooge of nationalism. India media is sadly becoming the latter. For various reasons including corporate control, fear, and shared worldview, media is becoming more propagandist than ever. One can give advice to those who don’t fear listening.
ABHISH K. BOSE: There were intellectual affinities between the Indian Hindu nationalist ideologues and the fascist philosophers. Whether the collaborations are still active or have it come to an end?
PROF. ANAND: There is a difference between intellectual and political affinities and actual collaborations. There is no much direct collaboration these days. Historians of early Hindu nationalist ideologues have highlighted the various ways in which they admired the fascist ideas of “pure nation”, “strong state” and “violence as ennobling”. In contemporary times, modern Hindutva ideologues are more politically canny at hiding their admiration for European Fascism. However, they use tropes of “Islam as the enemy number one”, “multi-party democracy as weakening”, “liberal and radical dissent as anti-national”, “indigenous majority is under siege”, that are very similar to those used by the Far Right in Western countries. At the same time, such majoritarianism, intolerance of minorities, admiration of strong leaders, legitimisation of violence against dissenters, are confined to neither India nor West for similar ideologies and political movements are thriving in places as diverse as China, Turkey, Russia or Brazil.
ABHISH K. BOSE: What do you think of the influence that an author like Joseph Mazzini had on Gandhi, which Gandhi himself acknowledged? How should be read Mazzini in relation to the fascist literature in Italy more or less at the same time?
PROF. ANAND: Ideas travel, influences can be multiple. Same idea and same personality can be read differently by different political actors. That Gandhi was partly influenced by Mazzini’s democratic nationalism, his idea of self-rule, and even his focus on humanity, is clear. Mazzini can be read as a cosmopolitan as well as a nationalism; several of his ideas were what’d be seen as progressive. However, Mazzini’s ideas were also used by the fascist movement in Italy. The idea of a nation or national community, despite cosmopolitan interpretations, will invariably facilitate a strong politics of Self and the Other. Fascism is not extra-ordinary, it is an extreme form of an ideology that is pervasive in the world – nationalism.
ABHISH K. BOSE: The RSS was conceived as a cultural organisation. However, the political ambitions of RSS were explicit when Jana Sangh and later BJP were floated. Did the RSS get any training or other of kind of assistance from the fascist and Nazi parties of Italy and Germany for the launching of the above parties?
PROF. ANAND: I have not come across evidence of tangible and financial assistance provided to RSS from fascist parties. This does not mean it did not exist, but I am not a historian of RSS. My primary focus is on contemporary Hindutva. The question of RSS’s affinities European fascism is not the most interesting one for me because what is more important is it its Indianness. How did RSS tap into insecurities of, and manufacture and generate insecurities of, some or many Savarna Hindu Indians? What nationalist vocabulary was shared between RSS and dominant Indian nationalism? How did Congress legitimise or challenge RSS? Wasn’t it the framers of Indian constitution who often interpreted Islam and Christianity as “non Indic”? How was the RSS allowed to continue to work, and flourish, as a social organisation and thus gradually shift the common sense of Indian public of “Indianness”, “foreign religions” and “Hindu magnanimity”? These are more pertinent questions for me because the search for “foreign influence” takes away the agency of indigenous Hindu nationalism in developing a very Indian form of fascism.
ABHISH K. BOSE: Do you think the RSS ideology based on alienating Indian Muslims and Christians?
PROF. ANAND: A short answer is – no. European fascisms were about one single party, one single powerful leader, pure nation, violence as legitimate, and protecting the indigenous self against all internal and external enemies. These are shared by not only Hindu nationalism but many forms of nationalisms. Think of Maoist China and Cultural Revolution. Think of Stalinist Socialism in One Country/Nation. The fact is that dehumanising will of nationalisms goes beyond Italian fascism or German Nazism as “originary” source of the problem. Even without these specific European fascisms and their influence, RSS would have developed its politics of Self and the Othering. The idea of India as primary homeland of “Hindus” and Muslims and Christians being foreign bodies was there in late 19th century too. Even Congress nationalists adopted that view. The notion that India is a secular place because it is Hindu majority went hand in hand with the myth of Hindus being essentially accommodating and peaceful. I would urge analysts of Hindu nationalism to now move away from what influenced them to how they have managed to become the dominant ideology in India today.