What is there to say about Modi that isn't widely known by now? The man is arguably a fascist. He doesn't run a fascist regime, nor lead a fascist party. He has not overthrown parliamentary democracy. But he is a longstanding member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which Chetan Bhatt describes as:
"a secretive, militaristic, masculine cult; a distinct Indian form of fascism that was directly inspired by Italian Fascist youth movements ... Its founders greatly admired Hitler and Mussolini".And he is most certainly, which seems like a tautology, a racist murderer. Modi has direct, hands-on expertise in organising the communal massacre of Muslims. This massacre was characterised not just by slaughter but by the most gruesome sexual violence, undertaken by the parties of the Hindu Right with - according to dozens of independent reports - the collusion of the state of Gujarat and its chief minister, Modi. And the 2002 pogroms don't exhaust the grim reality of Modi's period in charge of Gujarat. As soon as the Hindu nationalist BJP took control of the state of Gujarat in 1998, they embarked on a systematic attempt to purge the state apparatus of Muslims - particularly its repressive apparatuses - and to marginalise and exclude them as far as possible. And the iron fist doesn't stop at bashing Muslims. Bhatt writes:
Modi has treated legal and democratic institutions in Gujarat with contempt. He has acted with tenacious vindictiveness against journalists, human rights activists and police officers who have crossed him. Modi’s choice of close aides— Maya Kodnani, Amit Shah, among others— are not examples of poor political judgment but egregious moral failures that are visible internationally. There remain the unsolved murders of BJP MLA Haren Pandya and environmental activist Amit Jethwa. With Modi in power, which investigations are likely to be sabotaged? Which human rights activists and lawyers are going to be targeted further?
In addition to attacks on minorities, we see an emboldened Hindutva assault on other basic freedoms and liberties in civil society that are a source of international concern— from the policing of women and romantic love on streets and campuses by self-appointed Hindutva mutaween to the attacks on university curricula, the pulping of books, and attacks on artists, filmmakers, journalists and writers.
So, let's say it. "The world's largest democracy" has elected a fascist. He took it with a 14% swing in favour of the BJP, giving him a 12% lead over the Congress candidate. The National Democratic alliance, of which the BJP is the leading coalition partner, now totally dominates parliament.
There is no mystery about how this happened. The Congress party was running on empty, corrupt, presiding over a steep rise in inequality. The Left was complicit in this - particularly the Left Front in West Bengal, which has been imposing neoliberal accumulation-by-dispossession in a brutal way, lost badly in the recent elections.
And Modi, who has already spent years building his own base and leaving no doubt as to his Hindu nationalist credentials, reached a broader audience by deploying some fairly classic populist interpellations on the theme of Congress corruption. He attacked the traditionally dominant party of Indian capitalism as a party of corrupt elites that was responsible for the injustices and inequalities visited on the country's poorest. He said that this corruption was holding back Indian development. If the country's capitalist base could be expanded and deepened without being beholden to Congress and its cronies, the people would prosper. And although Modi's BJP machine is every bit as tightly imbricated with favoured businesses as the Congress machine, this worked.
Of course, Modi organises his support base around a fanatical personality cult - during the recent elections, he 'appeared' in dozens of towns and villages by projecting a 3d hologram of himself. This isn't because he has personal charisma but because he effectively markets himself as a hard bastard who can 'get things done'. This ideologeme of the 'Gujarat model' of capitalist development, which is entirely bullshit and hype as far as any claim to commanding growth goes, is very much linked to his reputation as a hard man. For example, the boss of India's biggest business conglomerate, the Tata group, reports glowingly on how Modi facilitated the transfer of a car plant to the state of Gujarat within days. He gives the impression of being a technocrat able to suppress and transcend the quarrelsome arguments and grasping hands of the parliamentary political machine, in order to 'get things done'. So much the worse for troublesome minorities if he has to be a bit rough with them in the process.
And that seems to be why much of the business press admires him. So what if the reasons they so admire him are inextricable from the reasons for his hitherto pariahdom? This is the bourgeoisie we're talking about: they aren't known for being sentimental about mass murder. That is why the rush to normalise and redeem him is on. Mark The Economist ganting for Modi's open door to capital. 'He's a strongman, he'll knock some heads together, he'll get the country open for business again.' Hark at Fareed Zakaria gushing about India's "inspiring" election, creaming his pants for the alliance with American business. Look at American politicians enthusing about his 'economic reforms'. Witness Obama signalling the end of Modi's global pariah status by inviting him to the US despite the visa ban.
This is not an accident. There is a generalised tilt toward authoritarianism in the neoliberal era, which is based on an attempt to rescue capitalist state authority from the overload of demands that postwar democracy was placing upon it and allow it to pursue optimal neoliberal accumulation strategies. This is linked to new sources of legitimacy in class democracies (racist, nationalist, ethnic, patriarchal, etc), and punctuated repeatedly by periods of technocratic despotism. So in a period of protracted global crises and stagnation, the elective affinity between business-minded authoritarianism and violent exclusionary ethnic absolutisms is hardly unexpected.
And yet, so brazen about it. So cheerfully contemptuous of the survivors, refugees, advocates, and human rights bodies. So blasé about the mutilated and deceased. These are capitalism's liberal advocates and apologists - this is how they speak in public. They dare to talk openly like this now.