by Serene Kasim and Saurav Sarkar, crossposted from Jacobin
On August 31, the right-wing Hindu Indian government labeled 1.9 million of its residents as stateless.
The official purpose given by the government was to root out undocumented people. But it is widely known that the true motivation was to displace Bengali Muslims from the northeastern Indian state of Assam. This was made obvious in speeches and promises made in the run-up to the recently held national elections that brought the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government back to power for a second consecutive term.
A noxious act in and of itself, the implications of the roundup are likely to be even more consequential for the future of the Indian polity, furthering a project of isolating and punishing Muslims while expanding detentions of undocumented people, Muslims, and others.
The instrument stripping 1.9 million people of rights is the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a now-arcane institution that was created in 1951 to identify who belonged to India at the time. It was reincarnated in 2014 and completed its work in Assam this year.
1.9 million people amounts to 6 percent of the total population of Assam and is two times the number of Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh.
The current incarnation of the NRC’s purpose was to identify undocumented immigrants from neighboring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh. But its reach goes far beyond.
The new NRC forced all of Assam’s residents to submit documentation like passports, land records, or birth certificates to show they had been in the country or were descended from people who were in the country on or before midnight of March 24, 1971, the day when Bangladesh went to war for independence from Pakistan, with India’s eventual armed support.
Given the paucity of paper documentation in India and the cumbersome nature of its bureaucratic machinery, an unsurprisingly large number of people have been adversely affected. 1.9 million people, including those as old as sixty-five, are now legally forced to go to tribunals and the courts to prove that the only country they have ever lived in should not detain them.
In the absence of a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, it is unclear what will eventually happen to those who are held in detention for ostensibly being undocumented migrants from Bangladesh; there is currently no legal avenue for deportation.
Concurrently, the government has ordered states to build detention centers across the country in places as far flung as Assam in the northeast, Karnataka in the south, and Maharashtra in the west (all states that have BJP majority governments, incidentally). It has indicated that its inclination is to round up Bangladeshi undocumented migrants across the country.
India has elected its first fascist government.
At no point in the last three decades had the electorate given such a resounding mandate to a political force so hardline. The previous BJP governments were dependent on coalition partners and a need to softsell the party’s hard right partnership with RSS. No longer. With the award of a clear mandate to Narendra Modi, the hard right of the hard right is now in power.
India has elected its first fascist government.
“If the BJP becomes dominant in the next government, the Sangh juggernaut will likely begin rolling, entering a period of potentially unprecedented activity to fulfil its broader social goals.”
The quote above is from an excellent article in the Caravan on the RSS, the political mobilizing force behind the BJP. If the BJP is the electoral arm of the Hindutva movement, the RSS is its torso and its legs, keeping it strong and keeping it moving. In conjunction with the BJP, the RSS represents the threat of fascism in India. As the head of the organization said in the article, if the BJP wins this election, it threatens to rule for 25 years.
Whether or not that belief is accurate, the 2014 Indian election is an enormous moment for India, for the future of apolitical Hinduism, and for secular politics. Those concerns make this election important for Indian workers: you can’t have political consciousness in the working class if they are brainwashed into rightwing religious politics, especially once that politics descends into national or international violence as in Sri Lanka and the U.S. imperial wars. Avoiding that kind of catastrophe, among others, is what this election is about for the international working class.
If you want to save India, start this year, by defeating a prime ministerial candidate that is already linked to religiously inspired pogroms and a fascist ‘volunteer’ organization. He, Narendra Modi, is the poster child for the RSS-BJP alliance. And if he wins, RSS will have at least a few years to start implementing ‘Phase 2’: rolling out out their policies and programs with the imprimatur of the Indian government.
I don’t want to wake up in a couple of decades wondering how it all went wrong, why a national and maybe even an international humanitarian catastrophe wasn’t prevented. I don’t want to see a repeat of the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 on an international scale, I don’t want to see an increasingly aggressive nuclear-tipped standoff between India and Pakistan, I don’t want to see an entire generation of ordinary people brainwashed into rightwing lies through schoolbooks and the media.