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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 35 August 17, 2019

Sliding Towards a Fascist State

Monday 19 August 2019, by Barun Das Gupta

This article was written before August 5, 2019 when the Government of India changed the political complexion of J&K through a highly controversial operation.

So the UAPA has been amended. The Union Government has armed itself with the power to designate any person—which means any Indian citizen—as a ‘terrorist’ without following what is called “the due process of law”. Earlier, the RTI Act was amended so that the citizenry’s right to get information embarrassing and damaging to the government (which means the ruling party) is effectively taken away. Then there is the concerted move to topple every non-BJP Government in every State by shamelessly suborning the loyalty to the party on whose ticket the MLA had won elections. The BJP is moving inexorably toward its goal of making India first Congress-mukt, then Opposition-mukt and finally democracy-mukt.

And as these lines are being written there comes the news that ten thousand additional troops (equivalent of a full division) have been hurriedly dispatched to Kashmir not only in IAF planes but also in commercial flights. Why is the tearing hurry? The government would have us believe that it is to forestall any possible terror attack by ISI on the Independence Day. Others, less charitably inclined to the government, believe it is only a ruse. The powers that be have decided to abrogate Article 35A of the Constitution which empowers the Jammu and Kashmir State Government to define who are the “permanent residents” of the State. Shorn of legal verbiage, it means preventing people from other parts of India to settle permanently in Jammu and Kashmir and bring about a change in the demographic profile of the State.

Articles 370, 35 and 35A have been incorporated in the Constitution to give effect to the Treaty of Accession which the Maharaja of Kashmir signed on October 25, 1947. In terms of the Treaty, the legislature of the Indian Dominion could pass legislations only on the three subjects mentioned in Schedule 1 of the Treaty. These are foreign relations, defence and communications. The Treaty is binding on the Union of India as well. As a successor govern-ment, the Union of India cannot unilaterally do anything that violates any provision in the Treaty of Accession. To put it in simple terms, Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India on the condition that it would not be like other provinces of the Indian dominion. It will retain a good deal of freedom. When the Indian Dominion became the Indian Union, it inherited the same obligation to honour the terms of the Treaty of Accession.

It is worth recalling here what Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told the Lok Sabha on June 26, 1952:

“And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion — presuming, of course, that the people of Kashmir do not want it. Are we going to coerce and compel them and thereby justify the very charges that are brought by some misguided people outside this country against us?...

“Do not think you are dealing with a part of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Gujarat. You are dealing with an area, historically and geographically and in all manner of things, with a certain background. If we bring our local ideas and local prejudices everywhere, we will never consoli-date. We have to be men of vision...”

Indeed, Kashmir is not like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Gujarat. It has a distinct identity of its own which must be respected. We have to respect it to “consolidate” our Republic. Any unilateral rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Accession will destabilise the country by creating a situation of confrontation between the people of Kashmir and the Government of India. All Kashmiri leaders, cutting across party line, have opposed the proposed abrogation of Articles 370, 35 and 35A. It is only foolhardy men, men without vision, who can think of taking such a rash step.

But Kashmir is not the only contentious issue. There are other issues too which are causing fear and apprehension among large sections of the people, The National Register of Citizens or NRC is one such. In Assam, it has targeted the entire Bengali population—Hindus and Muslims —who are being forced to either prove their Indian nationality or become stateless citizens. Amit Shah has said he will introduce the NRC in every State to identity the ghuspetias or infiltrators.

Targeting and lynching of minorities and Dalits have now become the rule rather than the exception. Leaders of the ruling party say they are against lynching but never condemn the criminals who resort to lynching. Those who are committing this crime are known for their extreme intolerance to those who are supposed to be outside the pale of Hindutva. They believe they have the protection of the state. Very often those responsible for lynching are publicly felicitated and honoured as heroes.

Recently a group of eminent intellectuals wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on lynching. They said: “We strongly feel that such offences should be declared non-bailable, and that exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly and surely. If life imprisonment without parole can be the sentence in cases of murder, why not for lynchings, which are even more heinous?” There is nothing objectionable in the letter. But immediately the signatories became targets of attack. A counter-statement was issued by another group of pro-government intellectuals, condemning them for their “selective” protest. In West Bengal a prominent theatre personality said he had been receiving death threats for signing the letter to the PM.

In Bihar, a lawyer filed a criminal suit against the signatories in a court of law accusing them of “sedition, imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration and hurting religious feelings.” Ironically, the letter only proved what the signatories had complained about, namely, intolerance. How writing a letter to the Prime Minister can be construed as an act of “sedition” passes comprehension of any sane mind. It is only to threaten critics of lynching and such other crimes into silence on pain of prosecution or worse. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister nor any leader of the ruling party has condemned such threats or pulled up the concerned persons. The silence gives a sense of impunity to those in the hate brigade.

Little by little, India is becoming a land where State terror rules. Nobody dares protest for fear of life. The Opposition is also not building up a mass movement to defend civil liberties, democratic freedoms and to stand up against the gradual metamorphosis of a democratic polity into an autocracy. The Independence Day this year will be observed when people’s independence is being eclipsed,

The “accident” which nearly killed the Unnao rape victim—she is still struggling for life—is a very ominous sign, The truck that hit her car head-on had its number plates in front and back covered. Preliminary suspicion is that her movements were being watched and the accident was deliberately staged to bump her off. The statements made by the police officers about the “accident” have only deepened the suspicion that it was in fact an attempt at murder camouflaged as accident in which influential members of the ruling party are involved. If this is indeed the case then police inquiries would be a mere eyewash to cover up rather than expose the criminals behind it who must have enjoyed direct or indirect State patronage. A grim prelude to the 72nd anni-versary of our independence.

It is not that the present situation has suddenly burst in upon us. It has been in the making for decades. One of the pioneers of the communist movement in India was Saumyend-ranath Tagore, a nephew of Poet Tagore. He was the only Indian communist leader who was arrested and thrown into jail by Hitler in the 1930s. He was released from the Munich jail at the end of April, 1933.

On his release, he went to Paris to meet Romain Rolland, the eminent French thinker and author. Saumyendranath has recorded the details of his conversation with Rolland in a slim book in Bengali titled Troyee. He writes: “I told Rolland that you perhaps know that the nationalist newspapers of India, especially those of Bengal, are full of praise for Hitler. These newspapers have hailed Hitler as the saviour of Germany.”

Rolland told Tagore: “Yes, I know that Mussolini has become popular among the youth of India, especially those of Bengal. I have criticised this mentality many times.”

Tagore told Rolland: “Indian nationalism will also one day turn into fascism, unless a successful revolution takes place and resists it.”

This conversation with Rolland took place in 1933—86 years ago. Looking back one wonders at the prescience of Saumyendranath. What he foresaw in 1933 is becoming the reality today. This is inevitable because Nationalism to Ultra-nationalism to Fascism are but two removes. The Indian Left has to thank itself for having failed in its duty to the people. Even now they are divided and quarreling among themselves instead of taking a leading role in building up a broad anti-fascist national front comprising all parties, organisations and individuals who are against fascism.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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