The Christmas Pogrom in Orissa and the Growing Threat of Hindutva Fascism


Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of Monthly Review.  Its February 2008 issue features the following editorial. — Ed.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, many of our friends persuaded themselves that the high tide of the danger of Sangh Parivar-BJP fascism had passed.  Regrettably, looking at things early in 2008, that appears to have been an illusion.  After the victory of the bloodstained Narendra Modi in the Gujarat assembly election of December 2007 and the BJP victory in assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, a more lively awareness of the danger of fascism has re-emerged.  In the coming year there will be elections in eleven states, and parliamentary elections no later than in early 2009.  Without making a fetish of these electoral exercises, it can be safely predicted that they will take the temperature of the more basic disease of fascism in India, a threat far deeper than any one election result or another.

It is no coincidence that the flourishing of fascism has accompanied the establishment of the neoliberal regime at the centre.  The India to which neoliberalism has given birth, with one-fifth engaged in consumer excess as never before and four-fifths in deep misery, can only with difficulty persist alongside the maintenance of civil rights, democracy and periodic elections.  If the fundamental social question, imperialist capitalism vs. socialism, were ever to be put at the centre of things, the continued existence of the landlord-big business regime that has ruled since independence would be in danger, and a truly explosive situation result.

In these circumstances, the utility is manifest of Sangh Parivar-BJP fascism and the murderous false consciousness of Hindutva.  A clear case is in Orissa, where an orgy of neoliberal ‘development’ fraud is taking place in the form of brutal looting by both Indian and foreign giant corporations of natural resources, largely located in regions inhabited by adivasis and others of the most deprived sectors of the people.  Resistance to dispossession has been widespread, and social struggles focused on the fundamental issues of economic democracy have begun to emerge.  On the very day, December 23, 2007, that Narendra Modi was celebrating the fascist victory in Gujarat, Christian pastor Junas Digal was assaulted in Kandhamal district in Orissa.  He was dragged off a bus, beaten, his hair cut, and paraded naked. On December 24, Christmas Eve, a Sangh Parivar mob of thousands armed with tridents and guns, looted and set on fire the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Bamunigan village of the Kandhamal district.  The police stood by, and watched. On Christmas Day and the following days Sangh Parivar mobs attacked five parish churches, five convents, seven hostels, forty-eight village churches, and several other Christian institutions.  The local dalit Christians, mostly of the Pana community, fled for the surrounding forests and hills.  Eleven are admitted dead, and hundreds are missing.

Orissa is governed by a coalition of the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal.  The attacks on the Christians, as with the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, was carefully planned and carried out.  Police were moved out of the Kandhamal district in the days before the Christmas pogrom.  The order of RSS leader Swami Lakhanananda Saraswati for the attack was the culmination of years of Sangh Parivar efforts to Hinduise and Sanskritise the adivasi Kundhas, a majority of the population of the district.  Hostility to the Pana dalit Christians has been carefully nourished, most recently in opposition to the Pana demand for Scheduled Tribe status.  In propaganda reminiscent of the Nazis, the Hindutva fascists then blamed the Christians for their own misfortune, alleging the outrage to be a result of a supposedly massive Christian missionary campaign, although the Christian minority is declining as a percentage of the population of India, decade by decade (1971-2.60%, 1981-2.44%, 1991-2.34%, and 2001-2.30%).  In Orissa the Christians are yet a smaller percentage of the population than in India as a whole.  In fact, the fascist attack on Christians in Orissa as on Muslims in Gujarat and elsewhere is exactly parallel to the Nazi orchestrated attacks on Jews, the scapegoating of the ‘other’ as an alternative focus to divert the masses from the true cause of their misery — imperialist capitalism and its agents at home and abroad.

The chosen target for the Sangh Parivar is always a matter of opportunism.  In the cow-belt, it has campaigned against cow slaughter whereas in border states like Tripura and West Bengal it has picked upon the Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, whom they brand as ISI agents to be expelled immediately.  It is true that they make a difference between Bangladeshi Muslims and Hindu immigrants — while they denounce the former as ‘infiltrators’, they sanctify the latter as ‘refugees’.  Placing such questions at the centre of the public political agenda sets a trap for secular bourgeois politicians, unable to present the real issues as an alternative.  We recall that then Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh launched a campaign against cow slaughter, asserting that he was more of a Hindu than Vajpayee.  Soon after, members of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party jumped on the bandwagon by organising a demonstration in Dehra Dun raising slogans like ‘Ban Cow Slaughter’ and ‘Hindu Unity’.

But what concerns us here is first and foremost the response to resurgent Sangh Parivar fascism from India’s deeply divided communist movement.  This is no academic question; once fascism has come to unchecked power its first victims — even before the scapegoat ‘other’ — are the communists.  The response of the parliamentary left to the fascist scapegoating of Bangladeshi migrants has not been encouraging.  At the state chief ministers’ conference in Delhi in early February, 2007 the two CPI(M) chief ministers from West Bengal and Tripura — Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Manik Sarkar — seemed to fall in line with the Advani campaign.  Bhattacharjee said: “. . . on the question of dealing with illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh, our state government is in agreement with the government of India that whenever such infiltration is detected, the foreign nationals should be pushed back forthwith”.  His party comrade from the neighbouring state of Tripura, chief minister Sarkar, literally echoed Advani’s paranoid rant that every Bangladeshi is an ISI agent, when he asserted that the ISI, and “possibly Al Qaeda”, were operating from Bangladesh.  We think such responses mistaken on several levels.  For communists, borders are historical variables, as are nationalities and even religions.  Bourgeois critics attack communists for failing to value properly the ‘sacred’ individual, yet it is communists who ought to see not the ‘infiltrating foreign national’ but the human being fleeing from economic and/or political oppression, who speaks his language and ought to be his brother.  And on a strategic political level communists ought not to tag along behind the fascists in attacking the hapless refugee, but should focus the question where it belongs — on the failure of neoliberalism and the consequent misery, whether in its ‘Indian Shining’ or Bangladeshi ‘Islamist’ trappings.

The basic problem in the communist response is a vacuum at the ideological level.  The deeply held attraction for socialism among the masses has in practice gone largely unaddressed by those able to reach most broadly — the parliamentary left. And at the same time, continuous neoliberal assaults tear at the daily life of poor people and the Sangh Parivar gradually penetrates sections previously unaffected.  Even the most organised section of the working class with a heroic history of struggle — workers of Indian Railway — is witnessing the rising influence of BMS, the trade union wing of RSS.  In the recently held secret ballot for union recognition, BMS has captured single negotiation power in NE Zonal Railway and 13.4% (1.1 lakh) of total valid votes in the Indian Railway as a whole.  If socialism is not on the agenda, then the agenda will be set by the Sangh Parivar.

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