Totalitarian state vs. authoritarian state

By Irfan Engineer,

The campaigns for 2014 Lok Sabha elections have already begun. Media and many other players are expecting it to be a match between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. If that is what the match is going to look like, the contestants are nothing to choose from.

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But the real contest is between authoritarian state that the Congress wants to build, and a totalitarian state – “Hindu Rashtra” that RSS-BJP combine wants to construct. The differences may not be sharp and apparent but not difficult to find if you know where to look. In an authoritarian state, the elites try to limit democratic rights of the citizens and place authoritarian laws and structures which tends to centralize power and restrict accountability and inclusion of diverse interests through devolution. Authoritarian state suits elite with futuristic goals like liberalization and growth of corporatization as against a federal state where the elite of diverse nature and interests are included and fruits of development benefit more interests than in authoritarian state. The authoritarian state facilitates the elite to set their agenda as that of the nation. In India, authoritarian structures are unstable and temporary with diverse interest groups resisting and favouring federal system and voice of social justice being strong.

Narendra Modi [TCN Photo]

The RSS-BJP combine’s polity and ideology however, go a step further with a goal to build totalitarian state with Savarkar’s motto of Hinduizing the society and militarizing Hindudom. For the BJP, power is not the end, but a means to reconstruct a Hinduized society to ensure homogenization and semitization of Hindu society, using state to impose a certain religious practices and culture that justifies hierarchies as desirable. Thus introduction of draconian and intrusive cow-protection legislation, surya namaskar and teaching of Gita in schools are some examples. The totalitarian state or what they prefer to call Hindu Rashtra, that RSS-BJP wants to build would draw from the selective authoritarian traditions of upper caste Hindus and a culture of intolerance with civil society’s autonomy being seriously eroded. The reconstructed hierarchical society and culture ensured by state does in no way conflict with the agenda of growth, liberalization and protecting the interest of the economic elite – the corporate sector as we are witnessing in Gujarat.

The biggest challenge for secularists, human rights activists and democrats in this election is therefore to protect and strengthen democracy and to ensure that most marginalized sections of the society enjoy the protection of the Constitution to form their interest groups unhindered and further their struggles for justice and equality. There is therefore no hesitation in giving a call to defeat politically the totalitarian designs of the communal forces.

The secularists will have to do that deftly and consistently, looking beyond its traditional methods that are aimed at appearing to be politically neutral and equating the danger of authoritarianism with totalitarianism. The secular democrats will have to issue statements and campaign actively making people aware of the danger of totalitarian agenda and ideologies even accepting the risk of appearing partisan. All available means should be adopted to focus the campaign on the totalitarian nature of polity of communal forces, including traditional media, new social media and through various election meetings. The totalitarian Pakistan that was created on the slogan that all Muslims have same culture could not survive as a single nation, and it is now imploding from within due to totalitarian forces dominating there, targeting, among others, even Shia Muslims. It is only because the Constitution of India embraced diversity by giving freedom of conscience to all persons; liberty of thought and action; equality; social justice, dignity of all individuals and ensured that India survives as one nation in spite of its rich diversity and in spite of the fact that India houses second largest Muslim population in any country.

However, the forces that threaten Indian democracy are growing stronger by the day and are no more marginal and are in a position to pose real threat to Indian Constitution and democracy and the idea of diverse, democratic India with freedom of conscience. The functioning of democracy faced many challenges in the country but it has survived so far. This election will be yet another trial for democracy. We can only work tirelessly for survival and deepening of democracy. It would be foolish to believe that weak secular, democratic and human rights activists would be in a position to take on the totalitarian and authoritarian forces together. Today we can protect the democratic institutions by focusing our fire on totalitarian forces.

Irfan Engineer is the Director of Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution in Mumbai.