People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 09, 2012


Two Decades after the Demolition of the Babri Masjid


Prabhat Patnaik


THE demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, was unquestionably the most significant blow against the secular fabric of the Indian nation. Today, from the vantage point of twenty years later, it is worth asking: how do we assess that event in the context of the unfolding history of our nation? And how do we see the current conjuncture in relation to the conjuncture that produced the demolition of the mosque?


The fact that the whipping up of sentiments on the issue gave the communal-fascist forces a tremendous boost, which catapulted them to the centre-stage of Indian politics from where they could make a bid for power, is obvious. In fact, it was the second big boost to these forces, the first being Indira Gandhi’s declaration of Emergency in 1975. It is also clear after their stint in power that while they can do much damage to the country, they are not yet in a position to impose their own specific agenda upon the country. Bourgeois commentators are in the habit of talking about the BJP having “mellowed” over the years; the question however is not one of “mellowing”. It relates to the balance of forces which does not yet allow the Hindutva groups the kind of power that they need for imposing their agenda upon the country. Not only was the BJP’s effort at altering the Indian constitution still-born, but even on specific issues like building a Ram temple at the demolition site, or amending Article 370 of the constitution, they could not make much headway during their years of office.




But while this must be a source of satisfaction for the secular and democratic forces, the fact that there is a creeping fascism in the country which is not confined only to the Hindutva groups, can scarcely be denied. The Hindutva groups, of course, continue to be the most significant embodiment of the fascist tendency, but the tendency itself now touches in some measure several other bourgeois parties. Whether it is Mamata Banerjee’s police taking university professors into custody for circulating a cartoon, or arresting an innocent member of the audience at a public meeting merely for asking a question; or whether it is Dr Ramadoss’ PMK openly asking for an ostracism of the dalits; or whether it is two innocent girls in Maharashtra being arrested for making comments in the Facebook that were unpalatable to the Shiva Sena, by, ironically, a Congress-NCP government; or whether it is the general atmosphere of intimidation that leads to a shut-down of Mumbai in the wake of Bal Thackeray’s death and makes everybody from the president downwards pay obeisance to a man whose life was a classic example of that of a fascist, from his emergence to power through the murder of a Communist trade unionist, to his remaining in power through attacks on Muslims, South Indians and Biharis (the so-called “outsiders”); or whether the swagger with which a Narendra Modi struts about openly projecting himself as the next prime minister; or whether it is the spreading “culture of cruelty” exhibited inter alia by the glee surrounding the hanging of Ajmal Kasab; or whether it is the prolonged communal carnage in Assam; the reality of fascism creeping upon the nation is undeniable.


To be sure, one is not talking of a re-enactment of 1930s Germany. Fascist tendencies must be distinguished from the formation of a fascist State. The existence or even the growth of such tendencies does not necessarily lead to the eventual denouement of a fascist State. Besides, a Germany-circa-1930’s-style denouement is not even conceivable in today’s world, precisely because of the change in conjuncture that has taken place in the interim. When the Seventh Congress of the Communist International had defined fascism as the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary and revanchist sections of finance capital”, the finance capital it had referred to was necessarily nation-based: the Nazis had called themselves “National Socialist”. Classical fascism therefore was located within the context of acute inter-imperialist rivalry and the fascist State came into being through the capture by the fascists of the nation-State. Today we live in a world of globalised capital, with international finance capital, with which the capitals of the various countries are integrated, as the dominant entity: it is a world of muted inter-imperialist rivalry. The idea of a nation-State being captured by fascists who combine a terrorist dictatorship on behalf of “national” finance capital with external aggression to promote its own specific imperialism, is out of sync with today’s context.


But a denouement where there is an effective strangling of democracy despite the continuous formal existence of democratic structures, because the State acts to promote the interests of international finance capital against those of the people; where this strangling is made possible by the pervasive practice of “identity politics” that sustains multiple fascist tendencies, including the overarching tendency of communal-fascism; and where the actions of this State, apart from the impoverishment they bring to the people and the oppression of the progressive forces they unleash (as is happening in West Bengal), also roll back the social and political gains made by hitherto excluded groups like the dalits, and women, and reduce the minorities to a subservient status; such a denouement would clearly be in keeping with the tenor of the current globalisation. And it is not far-fetched to imagine our country moving in this direction.




Indeed a neo-liberal State, apart from being anti-democratic in an essential sense, despite retaining the formal structures of democracy, is also socially retrogressive in so far as it encourages identity politics, including in its most reactionary form. We only have to look at Turkey to see how neo-liberalism can operate through an Islamicist regime; and there can well be neo-liberal regimes, especially in large countries like India, where, instead of a single overarching tendency of the sort characterising Turkey, there are multiple fascist tendencies sustaining the regime and ultimately serving the interests of international finance capital, without actually creating a classical fascist State.


The development of a pan-Indian national consciousness subsuming multiple local and other identities, was a product of our anti-colonial struggle. The anti-colonial struggle not only produced this consciousness but strove to ensure for it a sort of lexical priority; at the very least it strove to ensure that no other identity consciousness could override it. In the current epoch of imperialist hegemony, the struggle against imperialism is a condition for the sustenance of this overarching pan-Indian national consciousness which is inclusive and of which secularism is an off-shoot. By the same token however any backsliding in that struggle through a compromise with imperialism, such as what the bourgeoisie has been imposing on the country, especially in the era of globalisation, entails a recession in this national consciousness, and the coming to the fore of multiple other forms of identity consciousness. And the same neo-liberal regime that undermines the overarching national consciousness and encourages multiple forms of identity consciousness, also makes the different identity-group stand in antagonistic relations to one another because of the rampant unemployment and deprivation it generates. This provides fertile ground for the growth of fascist tendencies, since it now becomes easy to tell a Maharashtrian worker that he is losing his job because a person from Bihar or South India is replacing him.


When the anti-colonial struggle had promised that every Indian would have a minimum standard of life after independence, and would enjoy certain rights and freedoms, it had at the same time also fore-grounded the concept of an Indian. Implicit in the promise in other words was the concept of a nation, an Indian nation as a fraternity of equals superseding the particular identities in terms of which people had seen themselves till then. By the same token however, the reneging on that promise by the Indian State, the change in the nature of the State where it ceases, even conceptually, to be an entity looking after the interests of all classes but becomes a promoter exclusively of the interests of globalised finance capital, entails simultaneously a fracturing of the concept of an Indian, and the coming into fore of all kinds of multiple sub-national identities and a struggle among them for the ever-shrinking means of livelihood left for the people after the encroachment made by big capital.


This fracturing also suits the interests of globalised finance capital, since it facilitates the snuffing out of resistance by the people by dividing them; it facilitates the enfeeblement of democracy despite the retention of formal democratic structures. If the anti-colonial struggle had meant a forward march of the Indian people, what we are witnessing today is a veritable counter-revolution that is seeking to undo in crucial ways the gains of that struggle.      


But then the question may be asked: what does all this have to do with the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Where does that horrendous act of vandalism fit into this picture? The answer lies in the fact that that demolition was an extraordinarily significant milestone in this counter-revolution. To see that demolition as itself being caused somehow by the shift to neo-liberalism would be a simpliste argument lacking merit; but the fact of that demolition which was carried out with impunity, and one of whose enthusiastic promoters, Bal Thackeray, is even being paid obeisance to by the Indian State after his death, sent the signal that such acts were now permissible. It created the condition in other words for the proliferation of multiple fascist tendencies apart from itself. And imperialism which sniffs out fault lines within a society to further its hegemony was quick to harness the antagonisms generated by identity politics to further its agenda in a manner which we can clearly observe today.


If this situation is to be transcended, if a meaning is to be restored to the inclusive concept of an Indian nation, if the fascist tendencies engulfing us have to be fought, then this fight must also encompass a fight against neo-liberalism and imperialist globalisation. The Left has to play the major role in this fight; but it can do so only by enlisting the support of all radical forces, including those who do not accept its own ideology but who nonetheless raise their voice against the manifestations in day-to-day life of the hegemony of international finance capital.