Professor Jairus Banaji, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, delivered the Fifth Walter Sisulu Memorial Lecture organised by the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution on Monday, March 18 at the Edward Said Hall. The topic of his talk was “Trajectories of Fascism: Extreme Right Movements in India and Elsewhere.”
Dr Banaji evoked Karl Jaspers – a German philosopher – who had, in the aftermath of the Second World War, talked and written about the notion of collective guilt on the part of the German people for the atrocities of the Nazi Regime. “I, who cannot act otherwise than as an individual, am morally responsible for all my deeds, including the execution of political and military orders” – this was moral guilt as set forth in Jaspers’ work, ‘The Question of German Guilt’.
The concept of Passive Complicity (and the German term Mitläufer) – in simple terms, people who stood by and did nothing about the horrors being committed by the Third Reich – were used by Banaji to rehash the earlier talked about notion of collective guilt. This complicity could also be applied in the context of the much condemned acts of violence in Gujarat and Kandhamal, Orissa in recent years.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s critique of French Algeria was referred to as well for the same purpose. Simone de Beauvoir – Sartre’s lifelong companion – had also spoken out against the ill treatment of Algerians. She had called herself an “accomplice” in this enterprise. The underlying message was that every French citizen was a murderer because the very abuse of the Algerian people was being done in the name of all French people.
Taking a segue, Dr Banaji explained that the state can never be regarded as the totality of a majority of individuals. It is all ‘seriality.’ Seriality or labelling people can result in rich political dividends. It had to be kept in mind that people voted in seriality. Manipulated seriality – the “heart of fascist politics” – presupposes well-organised groups.
With this, Jairus Banaji turned our attention to fascism in India. According to him, “the distinctive feature of Indian fascism is that the mass of the people remain committed to democracy.” Fascist tendencies in India were both direct and indirect with the former being the very “organic” mobilisation of people and the latter – more so in recent times – taking the form of “relentless parliamentary agitations” by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The latter could also be described as a “protracted war of attrition against Indian democracy.”
The speaker posited that Indian fascists had been successful in creating a “state within a state”. There were many institutions in the country already under their control. Indian (and increasingly, foreign) capital wanted Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs as soon as possible. Extreme right movements had always been favoured by industrial capitalists, said Dr Banaji.
While Professor Jairus Banaji expressed satisfaction at the integrity of the Supreme Court of India, he conveyed disappointment at the disposition of the Indian Left. “Left doesn’t protest” and hence “hastens the success of the far-right.”