On 1 December, the Indian foreign ministry reacted sharply to comments by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, calling the ongoing farmers’ protest in India a “concerning situation” and supporting their right to peaceful protest. The ministry said “such comments are unwarranted, especially when pertaining to the internal affairs of a democratic country.” On the same day, Janet Rice, an Australian senator, addressed the country’s parliament and called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a “fascist organisation.” Five days earlier, on India’s Constitution Day, she attended a roundtable discussion on the question, “Is India becoming a fascist state?”
The roundtable was jointly organised by Amnesty International and Australia- and United States-based diasporic advocacy groups: Humanism Project, Hindus for Human Rights and the Indian American Muslim Council. David Shoebridge, a member of the New South Wales parliament—Australia has eight state-level parliaments—from the Australian Greens party, moderated the discussion. Shoebridge kicked off the session by asking if “values that are said to resonate with that liberal, democratic tradition of democracy and freedom of expression” were being upheld in India. “As friends of India, these are questions, I think, that we need to ask,” he said.
The roundtable was held over two panel discussions, the first one titled, “View from Academia and Civil Society,” had researchers and activists as speakers, and the second one on the “Role of the International Community,” included politicians from the United Kingdom and United States. The panellists discussed the activities of the Sangh Parivar—the RSS and its affiliates—and the Bharatiya Janata Party government helmed by Narendra Modi, as well as the challenges to dissent and free speech in India.
Suchitra Vijayan, the executive editor of the Polis Project—a US-based research and media organisation—provided context about the Sangh Parivar in the first panel. “The Sangh Parivar is modelled after the Italian fascists and the German Nazis,” she said. “It is wrong to assume that fascist tactics are only used in dictatorships, in totalitarian regimes,” Vijayan said. She cited the writing of Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale University and the author of How Fascism Works, which lays out various strategies used in fascist politics.
“These strategies include petitioning to a mythic past, reinvention of history, use of propaganda, creating a culture of anti-intellectualism, attacking universities and educational systems that might challenge their ideas,” Vijayan said, citing Stanley. “This is followed by constant repetition of the Hindu victimhood, obscuring law and order, and dismantling public welfare and unity. Eventually, with these techniques, fascist politics create a state of unreality in which conspiracy theories, fake news replaced reasonable debate.” She added, “In India, politicians employ these strategies regularly.” Based in the US, Vijayan said she was speaking “as a concerned Indian citizen who is watching her home being destroyed from afar.”