On March 12, the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign had a presentation from Kavita Krishnanon “Why the world should pay attention to Narendra Modi”. This was followed by a full discussion. Below is a video of the entire discussion and below that is a transcript of Kavita’s comments.
Editor’s Note: Following the chair’s introduction is a transcript of the remarks of Kavita Krishnan in her presentation to the discussion of the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign on “Why the World Should Pay Attention to Modi”. Interspersed in her comments was various discussion from the “audience”. For reasons of length, that has been left out. In some cases, where Kavita commented it was in reply to what others had said. The result is that some of this may appear to be a bit disjointed. But we hope that that does not overly distract the reader. Those who want to see the entire discussion can watch the video of it here:
In part, what Putin represents politically, is similar in many ways to what Modi represents. We think it’s also important because of the presenter here, Kavita Krishnan, who really doesn’t need a long introduction. She’s got a long history in the student movement and the women’s rights movement, and also in the struggle for socialism. And she really has displayed exemplary courage and integrity by being willing to break from long time associates over matters of fundamental principle, and unfortunately, not every socialist has displayed that same, those same qualities.
Thank you so much for organizing this talk, because I have felt for very long that when there’s a discussion of tyrants globally, authoritarian or far right leaders globally, ’till quite recently Modi would not be counted among them. And there are many reasons for that. But I do notice that more recently, there has been a little more attention to what the Modi phenomenon in India represents. And the need to understand it is, I think, important because there is a distinction between what the kind of politics in India represents, what we like to think of as a totalitarian regime. One, tends to assume that a dictator is unpopular, that their people are just waiting to rise up and get rid of them and all of that. And I think we know, certainly that that is not the case in most instances. And in India, it is a very particular kind of politics. You know, I think people struggling in other parts of the world would do well to pay attention to these forms of authoritarian rule, which are specific to India, but also are used elsewhere.
So, just to sort of very quickly lay out the historical backdrop: the Rāṣṭrīya Svayaṃsevak Saṅgh – This was a Hindu supremacist, private sort of militia organization that was set up in 1925. So, it’s almost 100 years (old). And its founding fathers — Yes, it’s a male only organization although it does have a women’s wing and all of that — but, this organization is men only and every leader of this organization has been from the Brahmin, you know, dominant caste. And this organization’s founding fathers were open admirers of Hitler. They said repeatedly that race pride in Germany, and the way in which the policies for the Jews – these are what we should implement in a Hindu supremacist India. 1925 clearly was a time under colonial rule, but the RSS is known for its non participation in the anti colonial movement. Its call and derision for that movement precisely because they kept saying that the real lack of freedom happens with Islam entering India. That is not the case, you know. Muslims and Islam were never experienced by people in this part of the world as a colonial power, which is why you had Hindus and Muslims, all of them, getting together to fight the British and that is how Indian nationalism is born actually.
And again, I do not use the word nationalism to describe Hindu supremacist politics. The reason is because in former colonial countries like India, nationalism is not a bad word, it does not have negative connotations. Iit does not connote, you know, necessarily a xenophobic or an anti democratic kind of thing, which is why I make that distinction.
But in any case, this organization was set up in 1925. And quite understandably, probably before, when the anti colonial struggle was running, then this was basically seen as a lunatic fringe. It did not have that kind of support at the time that India became independent and adopted a sort of modern constitution. The RSS says quite openly that this constitution is all Western derivative. “Where are the Indian values of caste supremacy and patriarchy?” and besides the Hindu so called kind of scripture or law book to say, “Okay, this should have been the Constitution,” and so on. And they’re quite openly Hindu supremacist Islamophobic. And one of the results — they do not claim ownership of that act of political assassination and terrorism — but certainly the person who killed Gandhi was someone who had had a backdrop who had had a RSS backdrop, and he had training in the RSS. And so he kills Gandhi out of a Hindu supremacist motive, essentially. Now, at that time, the RSS is historically unpopular, it is not a popular organization.
So it’s a long journey to explain, but from then you can imagine that now, in 2023, you are in a place where for the last eight and a half years, you have had a very leading member of the RSS as one of the most popular Prime Ministers of India. His one, two terms – he is in second term now, Narendra Modi — and this is now an organization that required recently some months ago, the RSS chief, described the Hindu nation: He said that “we are in an accelerating car that has no brakes, that is heading towards the Hindu nation, nothing can stop it, You’re welcome to get on with us on that journey. But if you stand in our way, you will be obliterated, We will obliterate you.” And this metaphor, he just used it some months ago. And essentially this confidence has come because of an electoral success of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the political wing of the RSS now — how that has happened and why is a very long story… I can recommend some really good books to read about why that is the case. But just to look at this phenomenon, as we experience it now: So, although the RSS is this very anti democratic organization, which has only Brahmin leaders and no women and all of that, what they have succeeded in doing in all these years is to is to speak in different languages, in different registers, to different audiences, and therefore, to basically create considerable support for themselves. And what has helped that RSS is one of the only organizations in the whole country, more than any political party probably for years now, to have a kind of network that goes into literally every street, every lane in India. So, it is in every village everywhere. So, they do have that network and they have a network of schools and so on.
Their ideology, in the pure sense of what they represented and what they want, is a Hindu supremacist nation that not just is part, the political contours of India today, but they consider basically what they call undivided, unbroken India or Akhand Bharat, which means basically, which which includes some 12 modern nations, which includes all of India’s neighbors, the Maldives, and Afghanistan, a whole lot of countries. So, they claim that that is all part of the Hindu Empire, and that is what they want to recover. And they say that Muslims are the biggest hurdle in the way of recovering this, because Muslims in India work as a sort of fifth column kind of thing. They are born in India, but their religion places, Mecca and so on…. So, Islamophobia is one of the major things. But also, you know, Muslims are the biggest minority in India, but Christians are also a considerable minority. So, they have a lot of anti Christian hate and violence as well, basically saying that they’re all out to convert, and this is also colonial conversion and all of that.
Modi’s nationalist “anti-capitalist” language
So, right now, Modi in power, how has this been playing out in terms of policy? There’s a lot to think about there. But I’ll just say that, you know, two things to pay attention to: One is that the the nationalist rhetoric used by the Hindu supremacist politics.
It certainly plays on the very natural anti colonial sentiment that Indians quite rightly have. But it also, you know, muddies that with the sense of identity and religious supremacy and at the same time, it also conflates that with this idea of pride in India. So, the idea of pride in India is basically to say that “okay that Indra Modi is making India visible everywhere, there was never a leader like him before”. All of it is not true, of course, but you know, Jawaharlal Nehru did not live in a time of social media. So, you know, they are able to claim this statesman status for Modi. So, that plays a very big role, which is why Modi’s foreign policy, the fact that he goes around meeting all these world leaders and hugging them and shaking hands with them and making sure that these images… Those images are not to impress the foreign leaders; the those images are for a domestic distribution in which people really believe that everybody is looking to Modi to solve the Russia-Ukraine war, that people are going to listen to him. And, ridiculous as that may sound to an outside audience, it is actually believed and disseminated here. The other important thing to keep in mind is that the Hindu supremacist right has often spoken a sort of anti capitalist language.
In fact, one of the things that propelled Modi to power was his rhetoric against crony capitalism, which is again something very similar to Trump saying “drain the swamp” and all of that. So basically, what Modi did was to say “Anti Corruption is my big thing”. In fact, most of these regimes probably the most dependent on crony capitalism. You may have seen news about one of the richest men in the world, I think he surpassed Bill Gates or something, Gautam Adani. Gautam Adani is a big Indian capitalist, whose fortunes basically rose with those of Narendra Modi politically in the state of Gujarat, and then nationally. And he has recently suffered somewhat of a setback because of his scams basically. The thing is that Adani are huge capitalists, and they bankroll Modi. They control most of India’s media organizations.
And so most of Indian media, especially television, media, propagandist, openly propagandists for Hindu supremacy, as well as for Modi. So there is no independent media. The independent media is basically now reduced largely to digital media. And even that, you know, people are afraid about how long that will last. And so, this kind of crony capitalism and electoral funding in the name of transparency of electoral funding, The Modi government has introduced a law that actually allows donations come in secret donations, so the sources of those donations are unknown. It’s called an electoral bonds scheme. And so, that is an BJP is the beneficiary of more than 95% of those bonds. Who pays, whose money is coming in – no one knows. And yet this is not a policy that is discussed much. It was passed through in Parliament by the parliamentary rout, as a money bill. You know, so it was not discussed as a policy debate in parliament and essentially the government is quite open.
The BJP is quite open saying “we want an opposition-free India,” they call it a “Congress free India” because the Indian National Congress is one of the major opposition parties, but essentially by that they mean an opposition free India. And now very quickly, let me run through some of the policies that he’s brought in, which we should know about: One is of course, these pro corporate farm laws, which farmers basically agitated for a whole year and he was forced to withdraw those laws, but in withdrawing them also, just before a very crucial election. Basically it just shows you that the BJP and the Modi government is a politically very intelligent party, they are not bound by the idea of… people often say, “Oh, this government is arrogant. They’re not going to ever back off” and all of that. Sure all that is true, but they do know when to back down when they need to, and they did.
Some of the policies which we should pay attention to: One is the combined package of a national register of citizens, which the government wishes to prepare along with this, which means basically deciding who is a citizen who is not and putting out a list of those whose citizenship is in doubt. So, this happened in the state of Assam. In Assam, it was not so much targeted only against Muslims. It was a targeted against Bengali speaking people, which included Bengali speaking Muslims, as well as Bengali speaking Hindus. That rendered about 20 million potentially stateless. They are in limbo right now. But the majority of them but not did not only include Muslims. So the BJP, which wants to implement this all over the country, now has a problem that if we do this NRC, and then there’s a lot of Hindus who start figuring out that “Oh, my God, we don’t have papers, we have to prove that our… my parents’ parents’ parents basically come came to India, and they were citizens before such and such date. How am I going to prove that?” So (especially) when poor people, especially poor women don’t have documentation don’t have paperwork. So when they realize that this may become a problem, where Hindus as well feel that their citizenship may be in danger, they have brought in this citizenship Amendment Act. And Modi’s Leftenant Amit Shah, a sinister character with a series of assassination cases in which he was eventually… sort of the charges were dropped against him. He basically gave these speeches where he explained he used the word chronology. He says, “Please understand the chronology I’m assuring you please understand this is how it’s going to go: First, we will pass the citizenship amendment act, which basically means that we will welcome refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, who are, you know, to take a welcome to take to become incoming….”
[break in meeting]
So he says that, “okay, this is a law, which will allow non Muslim refugees.” And he lists it. He says,” if you’re Hindu, if you’re Buddhist, if you’re Jen, if you’re Christian, and you are a refugee from these countries, you are welcome. But if from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, because these are Muslim majority countries, if you are a Muslim refugee, you won’t be offered citizenship, you won’t be offered a fast ticket to citizenship.” So he explains this in public audiences. So understand the chronology: firstly, pass the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act]. And then we implement the National Register of Citizens. So if you’re not an “infiltrator” – and the “infiltrator” is a “termite” – these are two words that Amit Shah uses to us, basically dehumanizing words for Muslims, where he implies that Muslims in India are basically just infiltrators from other countries, they don’t belong here. And you know, they have infiltrated India’s body fabric like termites. So he says, “if you’re not an infiltrator or a termite, you will have your road back to citizenship through the CAA (Citizen Amendment Act). The CAA is there for you, you will already be… so you won’t experience a moment of lack of citizenship.
So, they implement these two things, but there’s an enormous movement against it. And the movement basically, in phase phases. Its participants are attacked in huge riots in Delhi, which begins around the time that Donald Trump visits India in January, and because the protests basically spiked around that time, and then of course covid lockdowns hit and enduring lockdown the government basically used an anti terror law, which basically allows the government to arrest anyone based on any kind of laughable, ridiculous claim. But because you’re allowed under that law… under that law, the judiciary has very little leeway to give you bail. So until the police so called “concludes” their investigation and a trial begins, the police can just drag out that process, and you will find yourself in prison for years on end without bail and without trial. So this is what has happened to a whole lot of young people who participated, who led that movement who participated in that movement.
And the other thing to pay attention to is the use of Pegasus software. This is a software that is developed by an Israeli firm, which is sold only to state actors. So the Israeli government actively sort of… It’s part of its foreign relations policy, and its trade policy to basically sell practices to various you know… You know, they only sell it to states, not to random political actors.
Indian Government has never yet said on record, whether they did buy Pegasus or not, but there is enormous evidence that Pegasus was used and continues to be used to spy on a whole range of people, a large number of people, including journalists, political activists, opposition figures, some figures in the ruling party, who, presumably Mr. Modi does not trust. But apart from that, you know, judges, you name it, a very, very long list of people. And this is software that basically can use your phone to spy on you at all times, basically, including in your private relationships or anywhere. And so that’s one thing to keep track of. The other policy thing that we can talk about is that the Indian Constitution is in place.They keep saying, “if anybody from abroad, from anywhere in the world says, ‘but you’re not a democracy, you’re doing this, you’re doing that,'” they say, “India has this wonderful constitution.” And sure enough, it does.
But you know, one of the when the head of the constituent assembly, who was drafted in the US Constitution, you know, when the when it was submitted on the floor of the constituent assembly, the first draft, then the person who headed that committee, Dr. Ambedkar, who was also a liberation leader of the most oppressed castes in India, and a very remarkable figure, he said something which was very unusual to say, at a time, when which was a triumphant time of post colonial sort of constitutional nation building. So he presented that constitution and he said, “Look, we tried to, you know, make it democratic,” but then he said, “Look, democracy is only in the topsoil in India. Indian society is very anti democratic.” And he should know. He was from an oppressed caste that was considered untouchable. And he’s talked about this, and then he said, that “look, I feel for a day,” because Indians like to worship a political leader. And he kept saying that however great a political leader is, do not surrender your liberties at the feet of that leader. And he specifically said “I see an electoral route to this kind of dictatorship in India. No, they will not have to replace the Constitution. This can happen just if you get a landslide, you know, one sided political victory, and the opposition is weak, because then this popular leader could just keep the Constitution in place and get all the way out.” And, essentially that is his sphere coming through. He had also said that if India becomes a Hindu nation, that would be the biggest disaster possible for the country. So that’s what we’re basically witnessing happening here.
An “inversion” of language
You know, it’s been very frustrating to us to see that sometimes it looks as though the far right presents Indian politics and domination of Indian politics seems to be illegible to people who are secular democratic, in many parts of the world. Now, of course, I mean, when I see what’s happening to Ukraine, and the fact that Vladimir Putin and Russia seem completely illegible to all my friends in India. You know, I keep telling them that this is what you were complaining about, when people do not understand what is happening in India, because India has a thriving democracy, people vote and all of that.
So, one of the things to watch out for is that that I see in Modi’s government’s policy, in its language in its presentation basically an inversion where – and that is a very common strategy, which is also in used, by the way in Russia and in other places — where you claim to be the victim of exactly what what you are inflicting on others. And that kind of inversion takes various forms. One very common one is that for instance, if you take a BBC documentary recently on Narendra Modi — it was a two part documentary, very excellent one which came out. It was about the anti Muslim violence in 2002, in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister. And then the most effective parts of that documentary is interviews done by a BBC reporter at that time with Modi. That was a time when Modi gave interviews to the BBC. In the last eight and a half years, he has never given a he has never addressed a press conference. And he has never given an interview to a journalist who has not already been given the set of questions to ask and which he is willing to reply to. So that was a time when he did, and so his response there is very revealing. He comes out and his full sort of intimidating and quite sinister out there. Basically telling the BBC reporter that you are part of this foreign conspiracy and all of that. So, in the wake of that, there was also a speech somewhere by George Soros who said, you know about this crony capitalist, Adani that, “oh, his fortunes are falling, and maybe Narendra Modi’s fortunes may follow.”
One side note: It doesn’t really help for Soros to be saying any of this. Because, you know, say it, if it happens, why are you you’re saying it doesn’t help, it can really do harm. But the point is that the government’s response to this. So, Jaishankar, who is a very, very articulate Minister of External Affairs and a very intelligent dark articulator of Hindu supremacist politics today, because he does not appear to be so. He looks like a very, very modern democratic speaker, and he uses the language of democracy, and anti colonialism and anti imperialism, which is what I hear Putin doing as well. I think Jaishankar does it even better, by the way. So he says, he got the BBC documentary, he said, “Look, these are all these colonial people. All this is a colonial mindset. You know, the British and BBC, you know, it’s part of British politics.” And he is implying that somebody is doing it because somebody wants Muslim votes in Britain, or that, in America, if America raises questions about in human rights in India, and violence against Muslims, then he’ll say “you’re doing vote bank politics in America. So basically, you know, you want Muslim votes in America.” That’s one thing. The other thing he says is that “this is colonialism. You are telling the world how to live, you are telling us that we aren’t capable of ruling ourselves, you know, you British, you always said so you’re saying so again.” So he said this in response to the BBC documentary in response to Antony Blinken in response to any criticism of his government’s policies.
Opposition to “Western” democracy
So the problem is… let me give you one particularly interesting example: In 2021, I think when there was some Freedom House report I think which said India’s an electoral autocracy. So he said something about “these rules, these standards, these definitions of democracy, they’re all imposed by the West. And, you know, we have our own standards of democracy. Who are you to dictate things to us?” Let me give an example: He said, “at least in our country, nobody questions election results.” So this was a comment on Trump. Alright, but the point is that Trump is Modi’s best pal. I mean, they campaign for each other, you know, Modi, and Trump, you know, deliberately coined, you know, Modi’s own slogan, “abki baar Modi sarkar”, “this time vote for Modi government”. He used the same thing in a huge rally for Trump. And Trump has used the same phrase himself and all of that. So, you know, Hindu supremacist groups in India love Trump.
So this is one thing that Jaishankur does. The other thing he does very often – there’s a speech of his where he tells the West that the the world does not revolve around Europe. And you people should remember that, you know, we are no longer your subjects and all of that. And this went really viral. It was viral in China. It was viral in Russia, certainly viral in India. And, you know, a lot of people, including, by the way, those who do not approve of the Modi government were very, very appreciative of that particular speech of his. The thing is that’s the problem because he’s using the strategy of associating democracy with the West, and then saying that the West has double standards in democracy. What is left unsaid is that there should be no standards, who are you to set standards, so if any standards or Western standards, any rule of law internationally, these are Western rules, and so we don’t have to. Anti imperialism means that these laws don’t apply to us. We have a civilization discourse.
And Narendra Modi himself has said this at various places, international fora, he keeps referring to India as the mother of democracy. What is meant by that is two things. One is to say that we have a civilizational history of democracy, which is not Western. And so we don’t need to follow Indian Western standards of democracy. So the idea is that, you know, democracy is beyond just electoral democracy, which means that you respect you ensure the dignity and rights of minorities, that that dignity and rights of dissent of protest of, you know, of the individual tribes. This is Western.
And so what is the civilization democracy Modi’s talking about? Well, on the Constitution Day this year, he made that very clear where there is basically a guideline that was put out by the Indian Council for historical research, which is also in the hands of these people now. So, this note basically said to cut a long story short, it said that India has always had democracy. What does he mean by that? that these village councils – now the village councils are basically a caste supremacist councils and councils that are always men and cast supremacist. And, you know, when Dr. Ambedkar, who the person I told you about who had the constituent, you know, constitutional drafting committee, in that speech, he had said that we have discarded, we were asked and we said no, we decided that we cannot consider this to be a form of democracy, we are firmly opting for individual rights, not for these village councils, which, you know, are basically extremely anti democratic and violent organizations. He said so, in very, very strong words, this time, they’re not openly doing debate with Ambedkar. But they are just saying, “Okay, this is India’s democracy. And that is what we stand for. And that’s the way we will do democracy. And this is Hindu civilization and all of that.”
One last thing is that the use of the term here “Hindu phobia.” So you see Islamophobic policies define the RSS, they define the Modi government, but in the rest of the world, especially in America, and in the UK, I have known, I’ve seen them doing that, weaponizing the idea that Hindus and Indians are a minority. The problem is that it isn’t just Hindu Indians who experience racism in the US, right? I mean, it is it is Indian citizen, Pakistani. So it’s a subdivisions of so many kinds. You’re not getting picked on just because you are only Hindu. And the idea that this is Hindu phobia – what is Hindu phobia? Any criticism of caste supremacy, any attempt to relate caste discrimination in America, the UK, any attempt to basically criticize the Modi government, all this is Hindu phobia. And so, you know, that is a phrase which they use to try and, you know, invert, basically the understanding of democracy.
And the other thing, which really hurts me a lot, is the way that even people I respect in the US would fall for the RSS and BJP’s feminist language, you know, which is absolutely appalling to me. I feel like before you write, maybe you should call up an Indian friend and ask an Indian feminist what they think of this language. So for instance, in Modi’s policy of protect daughters, you know, “save your daughters.” So basically there was a very well known feminist in America actually wrote that, “this is feminist language, finally, Modi’s terrible, but this is feminism speaking”. Even in other contexts, for instance, the attempt to prevent hijab from being born and worn in schools and all of that. These are packaged as feminism in certain parts of the world. It’s actually quite the opposite. Bu these are things to basically watch out for.
I think all the questions opened up really interesting stuff that it’s important to get into, but before that, I’ll just clarify a couple of facts: One is that at the time of Trump’s election in 2016, in India, so many of us commented on the fact that, “of course, it’s terrible in America, but you know, various institutions to different effect and different degrees are kind of standing up. I mean, they’re not completely supine before it.” and that included the media, and, you know, the corporate media obviously. In India, all news is Fox News on steroids. I sometimes watch Fox News, and I think “all right, there’s, somebody who can be invited on Fox News, who’s say a Muslim and arguing intelligently against Islamophobia. And he’s able to finish his sentences, he’s able to speak argue and then leave.” Indian television is not like that. I mean, 2015 onwards, I avoided like the plague because, basically it’s a stage show where, essentially there are good guys and bad guys. And if you go on it, you’re basically going to be there but Gary, and your voice will be shut down, they’ll just mute you and then you know, get people to yell at you. And it is so toxic. So corporate Modi In fact, as I said in 2002, after 2002 Modi was considered politically an embarrassment for even the BJP a liability outside Goodra so various parties which allied with the BJP but which wanted you know, which had a Muslim constituency
Capitalist support for Modi
We are with the more liberal elements in the BJP no more. We don’t want to share a platform. Modi mustn’t come and campaign in the state where we ruling in alliance with BJP. that kind of thing that changed and that and bringing about that change. Our huge role was played by the television media. And that was across with very few exceptions. And that was not much of that media was not owned by Ambani, Mukesh Ambani. At that time it was in fact a lot of it was owned by Ambani, who is another like very, very big capitalist over here. And Ambani, in fact, was known to be Congress party’s you know, crony capitalist or before this, in fact, he was infamous for having referred to Congress as “Oh, the Congress is my shop, I can just go and buy what I like, over the vacation.” Ambani was somebody who is infamous for saying again, that, “Oh, we don’t have to break rules when we make them, you know, we just get get, we don’t have to break laws because we we get to make the laws.” So that kind of thing.
So these are the organizations that completely shifted towards Modi, that built the Modi image as someone who was a development man and he’s gone beyond all that, you know, anti Muslim rhetoric, and you know, he is going to take India forward into the 21st century does that. So unfortunately, no, I think there were very, very few, maybe one or two very much minor capitalists who were not part of this cabal that was celebrating Modi. So that’s one thing.
“Multipolarity” and democracy
The other thing about multipolarity, the question asked about multipolarity. I think multipolarity the kind of thing, which is said, you know, and this is, as Ted observed, these are very conflicting interests, they’re all over the place, they may be in conflict with each other here and there. But basically, they are united on one thing, that we want to talk about civilizational spheres of influence, and civilizational ways of basically getting rid of this notion of an international rule of law and the very expectation of, you know, certain standards of democracy.
So they do this by saying,” okay, democracy is the thing that the Western elites are imposing on everyone.” For that matter, Trump was saying that, so this is not just like non western people who are saying that, right. But the point is what they deliberately obscuring is that democracy, and what it means is something that people all over the world are wanting and demanding, you see, and that is not, you know, people fighting for democracy, what they mean by democracy. And they do not mean this kind of, you know, authoritarian civilizational stuff. But the point is, if you define it that way, then anyone who is demanding democracy in India, say, is basically an agent, they are paid by some George Soros, or whatever it is, like, so they just want a regime change. And that is where the language, you know, which disturbs me is where the left basically helps to bolster. It’s not just damaging for the left, you know, the left, even when it is tremendously weak, has moral capital. And that moral capital is put into basically saying exactly the same thing. That is what is deeply disturbing. This other thing I want to just talk about is what Bradley asked about, which is about was it really No, I think that I’ve asked about the Indian left. No, it you know, there are Indian left, there are many, many kinds of the Indian left. Yes.
But, you know, of all of them, you know, across the various sections, I would say that, you know, more than one thing is true at the same time. I think that among the most courageous and consistent opening opponents and, you know, challenge Jers of Hindu supremacist politics, right, since its inception, have been on the left. They continue to have faced violence from those quarters to have been killed by those squatters, and to have been jailed by the squatters and all of that many of the people in prison right now. And the various charges under that terror law that I talked about, many of them are on very much on the left in India, they are not part of left parties, but they are certainly on the left, they become themselves to be on the you know, the Marxist left. So the thing is that, that is true.
The left in India
And I think that that is why many people in the world don’t understand. For instance, they asked me, you know, those who are for Trotsky, this persuasion among my friends, internationally, they say it took you 32 years to realize that these are the leftist Stalinist, you know, and you stuck around in a Stalinist party for 30 years, but you know, that is not what people join these parties for. They are not you know, Those of us who joined join because these are parties that are fighting such courageous struggles against caste caste based violence. They’re fighting courageous struggles for women’s rights and for workers rights. And these are mass parties, these are no tiny little, you know, they are not they are not cliques, these are mass parties and so, they are the only parties that seem to be consistent on issues of democracy in so many ways.
So, I cannot stress this enough that no the BJP’s rise is not because of a failure of the Indian left. I think that there are complicated reasons for the flaws in Indian democracy and definitely in the policies, which Indian governments have followed, which over the years include a ruling parties, which have allowed this, you know, the BJP to grow, but that’s for another day. I think that’s one thing.
The other thing is what you’re seeing internationally with the Indian left basically being in chorus with Putin on on all these things, the point is that that is a little bit of that has shown up in India, especially where the CPI-M [Communist Party of India-Marxist] which is one of the largest Indian left parties, they were in government in West Bengal and Kerala, two Indian states. So, in West Bengal, they are not in power anymore, they are very much weakened. But in their campaign against the non BJP ruling party there, which is you know, which has its own enormous problems, and in no way holding up flag for that party. But essentially equating that party with the BJP and therefore, speaking in BJP is language against that party saying that, you know, in an in the state elections, they’re basically saying that don’t vote for that party, which by implication meant that a whole lot of left voters voted for the BJP. And so that kind of thing.
And in Kerala, for instance, the CPI-M has a very strong government, there it is the left, it is their government, it’s the CPI-M, government left-led government, and that government is you know, basically punishing people for protesting against Adani setting up a port in Kerala. And, you know, they love this anti terrorism law and use it all the time, all of that.
So there are these issues, but I’m just saying in terms of these parties, and most of the people who are recognized to belong to these parties, those are recognized as speaking truth to power most of the time. So, it is a complicated situation there and one cannot write off these parties in any easy way.
That’s what in fact, makes so much more deplorable the fact that they seem to be, speaking the language. Just to give you one example, one of India’s leading newspaper’s most leading journalists, he has edited papers, which have really been very, very democratic have reported on a whole lot of very democratic issues, he is known to be a voice against Hindu supremacy. Two days before the anniversary of the Ukraine invasion he goes to the Russian cultural center in Chennai, South India, and he watches an exhibition on ordinary Nazism, which basically says all Ukrainians are everyday Nazis, and then gives a speech there, in which he says, “okay, Ukraine basically belongs to Russia, because of something in the 10th century, because of the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. And so, Zelensky shouldn’t be aligned with Nazis to go and disrupt this.”
So I wrote about this saying that, you know, this is a man who knows that when Hindu supremacists in India talk about, undivided India, he knows what that means. And he can’t hear the same thing? He is saying he thinks Putin is right when he says he has a right over Ukraine and various other places because of the history of the church? I mean, how can they not tell? You know, how could they not see the same same situation? The problem is, and he has enormous credibility beyond the left, he has enormous credibility across all democratic circles, not just among socialists or leftists, so whatever.
So that’s what I mean about the power of these ideas when they are sent by people who have earned quite genuine credibility.
The other thing I want to talk about was that, regarding immigrants: Yes, I would say that you see in the UK, for instance, and in many other European countries, definitely a very large number of immigrants who are going there have traditionally been working class. And all immigrants are by no means are there only the Hindu immigrants from India. There are immigrants of all kinds. Not only upper caste. There have also been many oppressed caste immigrants as well. In the US, there’s been both kinds. As you said, there is the Silicon Valley kind who would be upwardly mobile, or so called middle class and all of that. But what I am told by friends who have been working in such areas in the US have has been to caution against the idea that most Indians from a Hindu background are basically Modi supporters. That’s not really true. What they tell me is that there is a section of it, of course, which is very vocal and organized, but that younger people, especially who have these kinds of jobs, you know, tech, tech jobs and so on, are very often not supporters of Modi at all. In fact, they have a conscious opposition to this kind of politics. So I would really caution against assuming that kind of thing. Of coursethere are those huge rallies, and all of that do show that there is a section. But what I’m told is that basically, younger immigrants are of a different persuasion, and we should be careful without assuming [something].
Another thing is that this whole anti West kind of language that Modi speaks or that and you’re asking how it squares up – anti West or anti Muslim – how it squares up with his being great pals with so many Western rulers or so many Muslim heads of state and all of that? So that’s the thing that it’s fits in with that whole multipolarity idea that it’s basically that “okay, this is the Hindu nation coming into being and being seen in power. Putin can be a Christian leader. Trump can be a white supremacis Christian leader. Whatever. But we get to sup at the same table and not have fingers wagged at us about democracy.” And so when they say anti West, even when Putin says anti West, he gets applause even among sections, which ought to know better, because if they listen a little more carefully, he is not saying his anti West, he is saying is against so called Western elites, which means he supports people who are racist, who are homophobes who are transphobe. He says this quite clearly, but people are not listening. Likewise with Modi, I mean, when you’re talking about anti colonial, anti imperialist, and anti West, you’re fine with right wing Westerners, you’re fine with, you know, big corporations who are wanting to take over Indian agriculture or whatever. You’re quite fine with that.
Dugin and Evola
Another little thing about Yes, going on Evola very important and Dugin does take his thing from them. One thing which I keep telling my friends in India here is that we should be really alarmed that Dugin is now used in via going on Evola, but he’s introducing elements of the Hindu supremacist ideology here, taking it into global anti democratic ideology language. For instance, the use of the term Kali Yuga. So Kali Yuga, is basically a term from Hindu scriptures well as mythology, where essentially it is used in Hindu epics and all of that. I wouldn’t even call those Hindu epics. But yes, these are epic poems which use this language. So in there, the Kali Yuga is basically a, a time of chaos and confusion. When proper order of the world, the heirarchical order of the world, has been turned upside down. It’s a world turned upside down. We know that kind of phrase from so many other cultural and historic situations but here it’s a very specific thing that’s meant the order and hierarchy is a caste order and a patriarchal mode. It is quite explicitly so.
So Kali Yuga is described as in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance. It is described as a time when the oppressed castes will rule and women will be loose, loose. They will run loose, free from the family obligations and constraints. And essentially, this means that women will be allowed to have relationships, you know, upper caste women with lower caste men and all of that. And that will lead to myths. It’s basically like the mixture of castes, which is like the word “miscegenation” for black and white people. That kind of thing. So basically, where caste is concerned, a mixture of caste, this is what a mixture of castes is supposed to produce. And you know, the word for that in Sanskrit, basically, what the product of that – people could be born from those unions are supposed to be sort of abominations of nature, okay. The [unclear] is what Dugan now uses to describe what’s happening in the world, through what he calls liberal hegemony, democratic anti heirarchy ideology, as he puts it. And so he says we have to restore proper [unclear] to society and to the world, and which has been disrupted by Western elites. We should be paying attention.
The future for socialist organizing
The last thing I’ll just say, is that I have no interest whatsoever in a socialist International, or whatever, resurgence of that kind. As I tell people now, my point is, we should be fighting for greatest… Even in India, when Modi says, you know, the Congress wasn’t democratic and so on. Of course, the Congress wasn’t. Of course, Congress did all kinds of terrible things. I think the point is that when we say Congress has been terrible, or Biden is imperialist, or Obama was imperialist, and democracy had racism under these people, and you still do once, so on and so forth. Of course, that’s true. I think the point is that it’s not about saying, this is anti democratic, and therefore the others were all perfect democracies.
The issue is that people matter, and there are people able to fight for more democracy, that should be our worry. And these authoritarian ideologies and regimes, the rise of these regimes means that the scope to fight for more democracy shrinks enormously. And I think that the primary priority we need right now is for people across the world who are concerned about this fight for more democracy, to basically get together. And in more democracy, of course, you know, the right to healthcare, the right to education, the right to basic dignity and labor that is safe and dignified – all of that. Work that is safe and dignified. I mean, all of that, of course,
That should be our fight. And I think that the old definitions in which we have often found ourselves trapped in terms of… I feel like anybody who thinks of themselves as a socialist today should actually… We are worth only what we are doing to create that space to fight for democracy, or any other definition, I am completely sort of done with trying to fit this kind of struggle into the categories or the language of, you know, Leninist or Marxist Leninist language, and having to justify it in those terms, in terms of class analysis, and this and that. No, I mean, not going to do that.
A “life and death struggle”
I think that this is a life and death struggle for people across the world and certainly in the countries where these kind of people are in power, to basically fight for it, to open up the spaces to just fight for more democracy. And people do not have to identify as socialists to do that. It is up to those of us who think of ourselves as socialists to basically make sure that in that struggle, we expand that struggle to include all kinds of rights, you know – not just the right to protest, but the right to not go hungry so that you have more time for protest and all of that. I mean, I think I may be putting it in a very garbled way, but yeah, that’s what I mean.
So briefly, about migrant groups in other countries: Take Nepal, for instance. There has been a lot of efforts by the Indian far right, and the Indian government under Modi, to basically push a Hindu nationalist agenda in Nepal. And Nepal is a complicated place. But yes, I mean, everyone in Nepal, you know, Nepali nationalism is to some extent Hindu nationalism. Even on the left lots of problems with that, but it’s there. But the point is that, that Hindu nationalism is not yet an anti Muslim, a Hindu supremacist nationalism. Let me put it that way. This is sort of Hindu cultural nationalism. A lot of people in Nepal don’t understand that it’s quite different in India. So a Nepali leftist friends asks us, “oh, why are you letting the BJP be the nationalists? You also should have been the real Hindu nationalists.” And so it’s it’s not a good place, but basically, they try to influence that. So even in the other diaspora communities, yes, there are efforts to push this. But as I said, for this to work, you need that enemy, and for Hindu supremacist nationalism to work, they basically need to have a substantial Muslim minority. If not, then whether the Hindu majority without that target it doesn’t… that’s what they get the fuel from.
“Clash of civilizations”
You know, one interesting thing: I have recently been reading Huntington again. And revisiting that and finding that what he was saying was actually misrepresented quite a lot. The way we received it on the left in India, certainly. So I think that whole phrase, you know, “clash of civilizations” and all of that – we received it as was a sort of encouragement for Western civilization to try and follow Islam or whatever it was. I think that the problem right now, is that Huntington was saying something much closer to, in fact, what today’s far right is saying in terms of multipolarity, and what the left is saying as well, basically. The idea that there should be common ground that should be sought. Sure, there are all these civilizational differences. Where the left language differs is that they may not use the word “civilizations”, but because essentially they are not confronting the fact that other people are using the word “civilization” and the concept of civilization, their own language is then bolstering that idea that different spheres of influence exist, and we need the so called Western, whatever, you know, political or civilizational, take your pick, based on whether you’re left or right wing. The idea that (we) should be finding common ground, with everyone everywhere, including all the authoritarian and far right, regimes everywhere.
So, I find that you’re absolutely right, that there is a very distinct similarity and distinct ground there that needs to be explored more between Huntington and what’s happening today. But again, to be much more explicit, you see, it’s much more explicit basically saying quite clearly that “these are different civilizations and that we want a fascist system and we won’t be stupid, like Hitler was and all of that. We are kind of much more fascist in the purest sense,” and all of that. That’s what he talks about. So, yeah, I’m just on the other other question.
When you say, international solidarity is basically workers solidarity or just working together among various people who are socialist and principled. And on the right side of history where democracy is concerned, let me put it this way: that I’m kind of finding my way here. Since I left the party, it is not that I have… I have not entirely found exactly what kind of organizing to do here. I’m basically part of various kinds of feminist collectives, and we are doing what we have been doing for some time, but I am still figuring out what best to do and how. But I should say that, you see, one of the things which I’m beginning to realize now is that, because we tend to find a common cause, for instance, in Ukraine, with Ukraine socialist groups or left groups broadly or so on, the problem there is that your solidarity, because you seek your solidarity there, and I don’t see that that’s wrong…. But I’m just saying that you will, I think… I’m beginning to recognize that even those groups in many parts of the world are rather fringe groups there. And your solidarity with a larger movement cannot be only with who you think to be the representative of workers there, which is why when the minute we say, workers, the problem is that workers are being represented by a revolutionary kind of representation is not very common anymore. And if you went for that kind of thing, in India, for instance, you would end up with groups which have, yes, sure they are absolutely on the left wing they’re workers, but they have no… there are no notion of solidarity with something, for instance, with Ukraine. There’s nothing like that going to happen.
So basically, then what are you going to do? What kind of, you know… Why aren’t we talking, you know, in a very, sort of broad way? Because we may be individuals who find out, or small groups, which find ourselves to be socialists, and not basically food for Putin, but we don’t represent entire working workers struggles and all of that. and I don’t think we should imagine that we do at least I can’t say that.
So basically what I’m trying to say is that I think that our effort, as people who believe in a world which is not ruled by capital, and which is basically what we would broadly call socialist, is that we have to recognize that a lot of people… just to give you another little thing that I’m finding: The best people I’m reading today, who explained the world as it is today, to me, or whom I find it… I may not agree with them on every word, but I do find their analysis, their insights to be very, very useful. Very few of them are Marxists, very few of them are leftists. They are not. And yet I find their analysis to be more materialist, more intelligent than almost everyone I can think of on the socialist socialist spectrum among even among intellectuals and writers and so on, which is what makes me pause.
When the left defines itself as being not the liberals, the move from “we are not liberals” to “we are anti liberal” to be an illiberal is a very, very fast and quick thing, which I keep seeing happening and I sort of find it in India, certainly. My appreciation for liberal for, for people who are just, you know, liberal, in the best sense of the word, in terms of just being tolerant of other opinions, and not arrogant enough to imagine that their view of looking at the world is necessarily the final word. I find that that becomes a more you know… people of that persuasion I find easier to speak to, quicker to be in solidarity with, for instance Ukraine, quicker to understand how Putin and Trump and Modi and so on band together, while anybody, even the best people, okay, even the ones who are anti Putin on the left, socialists on the left who are anti Putin somewhere or the other… You know, the minute you start talking about analysis of Ukraine, that is not me by a Marxist, they’ll say,” oh, but be careful, because so and so is basically… they’re not Marxist.” And I say, “No, I can’t just read Marxists alone, I don’t have to. Neither should I have been forced to accept. What I’m saying about the world today in something that ticks certain Marx’s boxes.” That is the way I’m thinking right now. That is what I’m trying to think about in terms of what I write and what I do. Naturally, many of the people I speak to, and I find the common cause with all over the world are naturally socialists, like I am. But, you know, I feel as though all of us need to also be looking for common ground with those who don’t identify, as such, you know, do not identify as necessarily anti capitalist in the sense that we do, who basically… I find it… let me put it this way, for me, the bar is set at this level, that as long as you don’t identify capitalism as the defining thing about democracy. As long as for you democracy… you’re you’re you’re willing to see that capitalism is anti democratic, I don’t require you to say, “All right, I’m for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism,” in order for me to respect what you’re saying about the world, and maybe learn from you. And maybe you may be right on things that I’m wrong about that kind of thing.
Consciousness of workers
What you said just now about workers. I mean, absolutely same in India, also that the large part of the working class basically says that “Modi sounds like someone like us. He speaks to us,” and even if they are not supporting his Islamophobic agenda openly or completely, even if they’re not really recognizing that and voting for that. They are still, you know, voting for the idea of a authoritarian ruler, who [they think] “it’s comforting to think that he must know what he’s doing and that we don’t have to think about it. And he’s better than everyone else, because we don’t see anyone else on TV.” That kind of thing. But, you know, to me, basically, as you said, even those on the left who adopt, and I don’t mean in India… I mean, even in the US, friends of mine who who I’ve known all my political life, probably, um…
I find that for some time, I’ve been uneasy with the idea that when they define for instance, feminism… If that entire attack is on whatever is liberal feminism, and the idea that liberal feminism is just, you know, it’s just capitalism packaged this way…. And so, you have to define feminism in this whole kind of, Marxist way. And, you know, “the workers, workers, workers, workers,” that’s what I feel very uneasy about, because that will be said, Now, the point is, I used to think even then, yeah, maybe they have to do it this way in America, because maybe, you know, liberal feminism is whatever… Hillary Clinton is an automaton. You have to, but the point, even then it used to strike me, but that look, when there’s a Hillary-Trump confrontation going, there’s a lot of anti feminism being directed against Hillary Clinton as well. I am not with her [as far as the meaning of] feminism, but the fact is, I do recognize that there is an anti feminism working against her and for Trump.
And at the same time in India, I would keep saying that, you know, in India, what my left friends in America saying about feminism, means nothing here, because there’s anti feminism here, and so many of those of people like me, who joined the left movement in our, in our college days, in the 90s, we had to fight every inch of the way, inside left movements and organizations to change the idea that mark… You know, the fact that being left meant you were not a feminist, meant that they were anti feminist, therefore, you were homophobic, and absolutely misogynist. And this was what women’s organizations associated with the left. It was hard going to change these things there. And then to say that even now, feminism is not common sense in India. So, you know, it feels as though if there’s an international language of feminism we are talking about, then it’s difficult to talk about some kind of anti liberal feminism, because in India, that’s just a liberal feminism. To speak about the right of women to wear short skirts in India, for the longest time, and even now, to some extent, you have left women leaders in India, certainly, but in Nepal, even now, even now, saying that, “Oh, that’s capitalism. That’s just capitalism.” I’ve heard Nepali women leaders of the of the highest rank in the left say these things.
So again, what I mean that the distinction from liberals is the last priority and think it shouldn’t be on our minds at all. Yeah, distinction from you know, capitalist bigwigs? Yes. You know, from capital? Yes. But not from liberal ideology.
Yeah, I think it was very, very useful for me as well, very helpful for me to have this conversation. And, as I said, I think that this is a process for me of not being sure of too many things, except I’m absolutely sure of what I have this anti democratic language and politics or shared politics and political language that I’m hearing. And right now that is something I’m sure about how exactly to organize against it. And how exactly. I would define my politics more broadly, I think those are things I’m in the process of exploring.
Democratic Party and Ukraine
But one thing: When I say liberal, by no means do I mean, you know, liberal in the sense of, you know, the Democratic Party or the Congress Party in India and all of that. That is not my position at all. I mean, in terms of voices that are genuinely advocating for various kinds of democratic movements and struggles, but who do not describe themselves or think of themselves as being socialist There are many examples. I don’t want to get into specifics there. But I would say that absolutely, I think that’s the whole thing, that we would be criticizing the Biden administration for not doing enough for Ukraine. We would not be criticizing it for doing too much for Ukraine. And basically, that’s what Trump would say. And that’s what media which mainly say that, why aren’t we focusing on our problems? And why are we spending money on wars abroad? So everybody from Ron Paul to Mearsheimer to Medea Benjamin to the Biden administration are many in the Biden administration.
So I think that what we mean when we… and the same thing goes for so many other things – for migrants rights for police, state kinds of things, all this… I think that the the government and the party – these are not obviously, these are not liberal measures. So, any democrat in a genuine, and I mean, a small “d” democrat, must fight back against these measures. I think that all I’m saying is that having anti capitalism as one’s calling card is not a guarantee that you’re really serious about fighting for democracy. And that’s all. That’s all. It doesn’t mean that in order to fight for democracy, you do not have to fight for capitalism. I don’t think that that is what I’m saying.