In the article ‘Regarding fascism’, Pratap Bhanu Mehta admonishes left and “liberal” opinion for characterising Narendra Modi as a “fascist” and suggests that these are the bleatings of an old elite scared of the imminent decline of its privileged status (IE, April 11). The real story, Mehta says, is that a vast number of citizens (the non-elite and a new elite, presumably) are concerned about stymied economic growth under the UPA regime. And that economic growth is the panacea for violent identity politics. You don’t have to be a supporter of either the old elite (a sociologically impossible category to define nowadays) or the Congress to suggest that this perspective begs interrogation.
It is, of course, technically correct that “fascism” refers to certain historical conditions — those present in post-World War I Italy, for example — that cannot be found in 21st century India. What many refer to as “fascism” in India cannot be said to be the spectre that terrorised early 20th century Europe. The problem is that by this logic, we would not be able to use terms such as “democracy”, “civil society” and “citizenship” for societies beyond the West. Non-Western democracies, civil societies and citizenship are, surely, quite different in both their past and present manifestations when compared to the models on which they are based.
And yet, we do use these terms in India, and a large amount of public discussion is based on them. We don’t use them to measure how well we approximate to their source, but rather to express an entire range of aspirations, hopes and anxieties. When democratic rights are threatened, we don’t say, “We shouldn’t really be using this term because it belongs to a different historical context.” Similarly, the use of fascism can’t be subject to an inflexible law of historical verification: it is the flip side of an equally imprecise use of and concern for democracy. It reflects the characterisation of certain styles of leadership and the strategic use of identity politics for the purposes of power.
Is the carping on fascism the particular characteristic of an old elite in its death throes? A “yes” to this question suggests we are clearly able to recognise the differences between the old elite and newer groups. A great deal of social analysis flounders on the rocks of easy differentiations. Irrespective of whether the old elite means culturally or economically privileged classes, different sections within