The most common question being asked about the ongoing Indian elections is: Will Narendra Modi win? This in itself is strange, because India has a parliamentary, not presidential, system, and the usual question asked is: Which party will win? If the focus has shifted to an individual, it is worth asking why.
Modi has been a member from childhood of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has a large number of affiliated organisations, popularly referred to as the Sangh Parivar (‘Sangh family’), which includes the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Its ideology is Hindu nationalism or “Hindutva”. According to Marzia Casolari:
The most important organisations of Hindu nationalism not only adopted fascist ideas in a conscious and deliberate way, but this happened also because of the existence of direct contacts between the representatives of the main Hindu organisations and fascist Italy.
Their admiration of Italian fascism began in the early 1920s. In 1931, RSS leader B.S.Moonje spent time in Europe, met Mussolini, and after his return to India played a key role in moulding the RSS along Italian fascist lines in the hope of achieving self-rule with “a Hindu as a dictator like… Mussolini or Hitler”. V.D.Savarkar of the related Hindu Mahasabha supported Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies in the late 1930s.
The secular nationalism of the Indian National Congress was anathema to the Sangh Parivar. Mahatma Gandhi, despite being a devout Hindu, was hated. After several failed attempts, members of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS succeeded in assassinating him on 30 January 1948, after which the RSS was banned.
This is the history Modi invoked when he called himself a “Hindu nationalist”. It is completely compatible with his most famous exploit: presiding over the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. On 27 February 2002, while Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, 59 Hindu activists were killed in a train at the town of Godhra when their carriage caught fire while being attacked with stones and rags soaked in kerosene by a Muslim mob. Well-planned retaliatory attacks on Muslims thoughout the state by Sangh Parivar storm-troopers left around 2000 dead and 100,000 homeless and dispossessed. Scores of women and girls were gang-raped and mutilated before being burned alive. Victims desperately appealing for help from the police were told, ‘We cannot help you, we have orders from above’; in many cases, the police colluded with the attackers. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW):
Muslims in Gujarat have been denied equal protection under the law. Even as attacks continue, the Gujarat state administration has been engaged in a massive cover-up of the state’s role in the massacres and that of the sangh parivar.
In 2012, with Modi still in power, “Authorities in India’s Gujarat state [were] subverting justice, protecting perpetrators, and intimidating those promoting accountability 10 years after the anti-Muslim riots that killed nearly 2,000 people” (HRW report). Not a single perpetrator has been convicted without intervention from outside Gujarat; police officials who prevented massacres were punished while those who participated in them were promoted. Meanwhile, a series of “fake encounters” (extrajudicial killings) of people falsely charged with being terrorists conspiring to assassinate Modi was carried out to enhance his popularity among Hindus. The complete breakdown of governance and the rule of law in Gujarat is illustrated vividly by the bizarre ‘Snoopgate’ scandal, in which Modi employed the Gujarat Crime Branch, Intelligence Bureau and Anti-Terrorist Squad to tap the phone and track every move of a perfectly innocent young woman.
How can such a man stake a claim to be future Prime Minister of India? His first argument is that the courts have given him a ‘clean chit’ in the Gujarat massacre. The basis for this claim is that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the carnage concluded that there was no prosecutable evidence against him, and recommended closure of the case. This closure report was accepted by a lower court in Ahmedabad. However, it takes considerable imagination to construe this as a clean chit. First, the SIT was headed by a former police officer, R.K.Raghavan, who had allowed a suicide bomber with a vest full of metal pellets into the secure zone where she later blew up Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others in 1991, and he had later lied about it under oath; his lack of integrity was evident in the SIT investigations too. Second, amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran, also appointed by the Supreme Court, came to the conclusion that there was enough evidence to prosecute Modi. Finally, lower courts in Gujarat cannot be trusted, having acquitted all those who have subsequently been convicted of rape and murder, and the decision regarding the closure report has been appealed in a higher court.
The other smokescreen concealing the carnage of 2002 is the claim that India needs Modi’s Gujarat model of development in order to boost growth, reduce inflation and create employment. The reality is the opposite: Gujarat was a developed state with high rates of growth long before Modi took over as chief minister, and since then its lead over the Indian average in terms of growth rates has fallen, poverty has increased, and Gujarat’s Human Development ranking has fallen from 10th to 11th. Employment has stagnated, corruption is rampant, more than 65% of households defecate in the open, and uncontrolled pollution has destroyed the environment. Growth has been bought by gifting huge subsidies, land at throwaway prices and free electricity to big business, resulting in the highest level of per capita debt of all the states in India: a level that would be disastrous if extended to the whole country.
The same business elites who profit from this ultra-neoliberal model have been conducting aggressive propaganda for Modi, while criticism of Modi in the media is being suppressed. The link between Modi and the Ambani company Reliance India is particularly close, with Parag Shah, General Manager of Reliance Industries, doubling as the Officer on Special Duty (IT) for Modi.
The BJP/RSS is going all out to win this election for Modi; there have been pogroms to eliminate Muslim voters, voting machines programmed to ‘vote’ only for the BJP, and massive electoral fraud in favour of the BJP. The success of these forces would not only deal a deathblow to democracy in India, but have global consequences. Modi’s belligerent anti-Pakistan rhetoric and the BJP’s promise to review India’s ‘no first use‘ policy raise the spectre of nuclear war. There are still strong links between the extreme Right in India and Europe, and the victory of one will strengthen the other. Modi is the ‘dictator like Mussolini or Hitler’ for whom the Hindu nationalists have been waiting.